Disclaimer: I do not own the Magnificent Seven. The Mirisch coorperation and CBS do. Don't sue me. I'm not making profit off these characters. Thank you.
They rode into the town without ceremony, without flags or celebration. They were seven dusty, extremely tired riders come all the way from Stamford to Sweetwater, Texas. It was a good five days' journey and they just wanted some rest.
The lead rider, a man in a black duster coat, scanned the bustling town. They had three saloons, two general stores, a post office, and numerous shops and concessions all around. The people however shied away from them. They were nervous about newbies in their town, especially ones in such large groups.
The one getting the most attention, however, was a man in a red coat. He had a black hat and was clean shaven, riding a chestnut mare in about the third spot. He tried to look straight ahead, tried not to draw looks and stares, but it proved a futile effort.
"Lord o' mercy," he muttered under his breath.
Chris turned to look back at him. "Why do you say that?" he asked teasingly.
"I suppose you never heard of a little thing called stage fright, my friend," the lanky southerner's drawl penetrated the quiet stillness of the town.
"Nope," Chris replied, still smirking. He loved seeing Ezra squirm. They were back on good terms since the stint with the judge a few months before. Since then, he had allowed Ezra to ride up front with him sometimes, an almost coveted space between the six.
Ezra shook his head. They rode on in silence, finally stopping in front of a brightly painted saloon in red and white with the name of "Goldstar Saloon". They dismounted quickly, each tying his own horse to the post outside. It only took a few seconds to walk inside the bar and sit down to order a drink.
Ezra didn't immediately go to the bar for whiskey. Instead he took a seat in the corner table of the bar, ready to spot any trouble that might happen along. Suddenly, an old man with a cropped white beard loomed up in front of him and he jumped.
"Whoa, there, sonny," the man wheezed through a gap in his front teeth. "I ain't gonna hurt ya none."
Ezra forced himself to relax, trying to trust the man. He did, however, keep his right arm in front of him in case any trouble should arise. He had always kept the derringer well oiled for times like these. You never knew when you'd need it.
"What do you want?" he asked. "Who are you?"
"Second question first, sonny," the man said. "My name's Dawson, Billy Dawson."
Ezra reached out his left hand to take the stranger's. "Ezra Smith," he replied.
"Well, now that we're aquatinted, I'll answer the first question." He leaned closer, as though he were about to give away a great secret. "I want you and your boys to get outta town."
Ezra sat up a little straighter at that. What right did this Dawson have to tell him to get out of town? It was a free country. "Why?"
"It's for your own good, sonny. There's an epidemic of sorts running through here, has been for a few weeks. People's gettin' sick and dyin', there's no doctor. If you value your life, you'll heed that."
"What kind of epidemic?" Ezra asked, extremely wary.
Dawson leaned in even closer. "Typhoid," he whispered.
Ezra paled. "You're not serious," he whispered.
"I'm dead serious, sonny, and you remember that. Now," he said, standing up, "get your boys and leave if you want to live." Then he was gone.
Ezra had no idea how long he sat, there, stunned, thinking about the man's words. It was only when Chris hurried over with Vinn and Josiah behind him that he started, staring at them through slightly glazed eyes.
"What's wrong?" Chris asked, immediately disturbed at his comrade's behavior.
Ezra took a deep breath then swallowed. "We've got to leave this town," he said quietly, standing up and motioning for the others to come over. When they had gathered, he sat them down quietly and said, "That man I was just talking to, his name is Dawson." He paused. Chris nodded at him to continue. "He said that this town has an epidemic and that we might all very well die if we don't leave soon."
Chris started. "Did he say what it was?"
Ezra nodded grimly.
"Well?" Buck asked impatiently, not caring to be left in the dark.
"He said it was-," Ezra took a deep breath and plunged in. "He said it was typhoid!"
Chris drew back, alarmed. "We're leaving."
The others took in the look on his face and within a minute, had mounted their horses and were riding out of town.
As they left, Dawson looked at their backs. When they were well gone, he turned back inside feeling queasy and achy. He shook it off. I'm just getting old, he thought. Then he collapsed in the doorway.
"So what are the symptoms of typhoid?" J.D. asked as they sat down to a meal of Josiah's Brunswick Stew.
"Nausea, muscle aches, headaches, twitch in the mouth, fever, real high fever," Nathan put in, neutrally.
"You forgot to mention the red spots on the stomach that cause the cramps," Ezra said, correcting Nathan for once.
"How do you know?" Nathan and J.D. asked at the same time. They paused to look at each other then back at Ezra.
"You weren't the only one who fought in the war, my friend," he said to Nathan. He continued. "I was in Alabama company 10, fighting near Shiloh," he began. He looked at Nathan who nodded. "It was 1863, it was cold, we had been camped there for about three weeks. It was filthy, dirty, wet and infested with rats."
"And everyone caught typhoid," J.D. said, talking half to himself.
"Bright boy. Yes, everyone caught the typhoid. Our doctors, of all people went down first. We had to make do with the stretcher bearers and anyone with any training at all to try to save those people. It killed half of my company in five days." Here he stopped, quiet. "It took my brother with it."
J.D. and Nathan said nothing, knowing it was not the time to ask questions about the matter. Their silence startled him out of his reverie. "Well," he said, jumping up, "time to hit the sack." Then he was gone.
Nathan was quiet for a moment. "I wish I hadn't judged him like I did."
"It's not your fault. You were on different sides. You had your own opinions during the war, Nathan, don't beat yourself up about it."
"I'm not. It's just that when you're of different races, you tend to forget that we're all human." Now J.D. was silent. They both sat for a while, each contemplating what Ezra had said. They turned in for the night.
In the distance, a coyote howled, long and loud.
When they awoke the next morning, Ezra was feeling a little woozy. He shook it off, though, and walked into the camp to face the morning with a false smile on his face.
"What are you so chipper about?" Josiah grumbled good-naturedly.
"Oh, not much. Just feel good today knowing the sun's out." He smiled and walked on.
Josiah shook his head. "Damned if I can figure that character out," he muttered and went back to brushing his horse.
Chris walked from his makeshift bed to the horses. "Morning, Josiah. How are we this morning?"
"Tired. I want to get a decent night's sleep for a change."
Chris smiled. "Don't we all. Anyway, we should be at Mary's in a few hours. Then you can sleep all you want."
They rode into the town at about two o'clock that afternoon. Vinn, Buck, JD, and Josiah rode on toward the saloon. Nathan hurried toward his small infirmary to check and see if anyone needed tending to. Chris and Ezra rode over to Mary's small newspaper. Ezra grinned at Chris' ill-hidden haste to get there.
"What are you grinning at?" Chris demanded.
"Oh, nothing," Ezra answered and immediately burst into raucous laughter.
"What's so funny?"
"You, Chris, you're so funny!"
"Why is that?" Chris answered, growing angry.
"Aw, don't take personally, Chris, it's just that we all know you're falling in love again." Ezra said it quietly, knowing about his family's death. He looked Chris straight in the eye. "It's not a bad thing, you know."
Chris looked down. "Well," he started, then stopped.
"Well, what?" Ezra asked, curious.
"Do you think she's a good choice?" Chris suddenly felt very vulnerable.
Ezra burst into a genuine grin for the first time in a week. "Of course, Chris! Believe me, if she weren't, one of us would have said something long before now."
Chris grinned and clucked to his horse.
Mary took one look at Chris and burst into a wide grin. She had been looking forward to his return for a week and now that he was here, she was thrilled. Then she saw Ezra. A slight frown found its way to her face and he saw it before she could cover it up.
He saw what she was trying to do and hurriedly tried to cover it up before Chris noticed.
"Hello, madam, I don't think we were ever properly introduced. Ezra Smith," he said, smiling brightly for her benefit.
She smiled a little and allowed him to take her hand. "Mary Travis," she responded and turned to Chris. "Won't you two gentlemen come inside?"
Chris was no fool. He had seen the exchange and was grateful that nothing had come of it. He would have to thank Ezra later.
Ezra walked down the street silently, not noticing much, just thinking. It was nice to be back in Clarion, but he longed for a little excitement. *Maybe if mom came to town,* he pondered and immediately dismissed the idea.
"Good old mom," he muttered to himself. "Nice of her wanting to cheat the old guy out of his hotel." He shook his head. His mother amazed him sometimes. He walked around the corner.
"Well, well, what have we here?" a voice laughed quietly in one ear.
Ezra jumped. "Jesus, Vin, what the hell do you think you're doing?!" he yelped.
"Oh come on, Ezra, you should know better than to go walking down alleys by yourself," he chided.
"Don't patronize me, dammit, I'm not a child," he growled.
"Of course not," Vin rolled his eyes. "Be careful though. I heard that some of the typhoid patients are headed this way from back east a ways. If you see any, don't get around them. Anyone can catch it," Vin said, very serious, not joking around anymore.
"I know," he finished quietly and continued down the sidewalk.
Vin rolled his eyes. "You're too damn proud for your own good, Ezra. I'm serious!"
Ezra didn't bother to turn around. He knew he shouldn't have snapped at Vin like that, he was just upset. "Too much going on in this quaint little western neighborhood," he sighed to himself.
He didn't get much farther before his head clouded and he sank to one knee in the dirt. His vision clouded and for a moment, he thought he had gone blind. Then, his eyes cleared and he saw Vin running toward him. "Oh, lord," he whispered under his breath before his knee buckled and he pitched, unconscious, into the dirt.
Vin had been watching Ezra since he took off. He was ticked off at him, not just because of what he had said, but because of the way he had said it, like he couldn't have cared less about the situation. "He just doesn't get it!" he had hissed to himself.
Then he had seen Ezra fall. He knew right away what was wrong. He thought he might be able to catch him before he cracked his skull in the street, but no such luck. When he got to him, a thin line of blood was trickling from his temple into the dust that covered the road.
"Nathan!" he yelled as loudly as possible, hoping anyone would hear.
Josiah ran out, Nathan just behind, from the church they were renovating. They saw Vin crouched over Ezra's inert form and Josiah's eyes widened. "What happened?" he asked, as they reached the two.
Vin quickly explained. Nathan checked Ezra's pulse and found it to be weak. "He's sick," he said.
Vin rolled his eyes. He resisted the urge to say ‘We know that' but it wasn't the time or the place for such nonsense.
"Help me carry him inside," Nathan said. Vin grabbed Ezra's ankles while Josiah took his arms and together they carried him to Nathan's room above the paper.
Ezra never made a sound.
Nathan looked at him once they were inside. "God help him," he whispered under his breath and began his work.
Chris and Vin were sitting morosely outside Nathan's place when Josiah walked in.
"How is he?" he asked.
"Not good," Vin sighed. He didn't really know Ezra very well. They had never spent much time together. He usually hung out with Chris and Ezra stuck with Nathan and Josiah.
Josiah sat down stiffly. "Damn leg," he muttered.
Chris snorted, but said nothing.
"Well, we might as well say a prayer for him," Vin said, looking at Josiah meaningfully.
He nodded. "Lord," he began, "We are but your humble servants in this life. We do what we can to serve you and spread your message through the world. But now one of us needs your help. Please, Lord, guide him back to us. Heal him with your loving and care and bring him back to us. Amen."
Vin nodded reassuringly. "Thanks, Josiah. I think he'd appreciate that."
"I think he would too," he replied and sat back to wait.
It was only a little while before Nathan opened the door, wiping his hands on a towel.
Vin jumped up. "How is he?" he asked.
Chris and Josiah stood as well, Josiah leaning on the wall a little for support.
Nathan looked at each in turn. "Not good," he said finally. "It's typhoid." He saw Josiah lower his head a little and Vin pale slightly. Chris froze, standing still. Nathan took a breath. "It came up pretty quick. He's conscious, but he's in a lotta pain. He's delirious so he probably doesn't know what's going on. Until we know he's better, I can't risk anyone getting close to him."
Vin shook himself mentally from his daze. "Nathan!" he called. Nathan looked up at him. "What if just Josiah went in there?"
"What I mean is, what if he just went in there to pray? If it's as bad as you make it out to be, then he might be needing some prayers."
Nathan looked at Josiah. He raised an eyebrow. "You up to it?" he asked.
Josiah never dallied. "Of course I am," he said. "If you think he needs me, that is."
Vin nodded emphatically. "He needs you, Josiah. You're the only one who can bring him through this spiritually."
Josiah didn't reply, but there was a twinkle in his eyes that Nathan was sure he hadn't seen since when he'd met him.
*Maybe it'll do Josiah a little good to be needed again,* he thought. "All right," he said finally. "Come on in."
Josiah stepped into the dimly lit room. He took in the surroundings somewhat warily. The iron bed was positioned in the center of the room with a washbasin beside it. There was a chest of drawers with a mirror to the left and a small bookcase to the right.
He stepped up to the bed. He saw Ezra lying there, still and pale. He was sweating but was otherwise the picture of death itself. Nathan glanced at Josiah. He grabbed the chair and pushed him into it.
Josiah looked at Ezra for the longest time. He wasn't aware of Nathan leaving and shutting the door, wasn't aware of Vin poking his head in to see if everyone was okay. He just sat there and thought.
He thought of how Ezra had laughed good-naturedly at his crack about the crows on the way down here. He thought of how Ezra had taken the children under wing at the village and kept them busy and out of everyone's way. He never the kids feel that they were unnecessary or in the way. He taught them tricks and played with them while getting vital work done.
He remembered how he had his chance to run away but for the first time in his life, had come back to save them from renegade confederates because he had friends. He thought of how he had taken little Olivia and distracted her when her mother had been kidnapped. He had been furious when she was taken and had gone without a thought to himself to help rescue her.
He saw in his mind's eye how Ezra had waited while Nathan had stitched JD up, nervously drumming his fingers until he was sure the kid was okay. Josiah finally shook his head and released himself from the images. What he saw when he opened his eyes was Ezra watching him quietly.
He lay there, just looking at him, not moving, not wanting to upset him. Josiah looked at him. "How ya feeling, Ezra?"
"Like I've been stuck in a furnace. It's hot," he croaked.
"Sorry, but we can't take the blankets off. They'll keep the fever off," he said, not unkindly.
Ezra made an attempt to smile but grimaced instead, starting to cough. Josiah reached over and sat him up and fluffed pillows up. He eased Ezra back down and gave him a little water. Ezra drank it gratefully and asked, "How long was I out?"
"Not too long," Josiah said. "About and hour and half."
Ezra nodded slowly. "It's typhoid isn't it?" he whispered.
Josiah nodded sympathetically. "I'm sorry," he said simply.
"There's not much Nathan can do, is there," Ezra asked.
Josiah shook his head. "You know there isn't. There's just--," he stopped suddenly when he noticed Ezra wasn't listening. He had turned his head and closed his eyes, looking as though he was sleeping. Josiah knew better. He let it go, though, and tiptoed out of the room. "Rest easy, my friend," and shut the door.
Once the door was shut, a muffled sob escaped Ezra where he had hidden his face in the pillows.
*Flashback, 1863, Shiloh*
"Corporal Standish!" Major Adkins bellowed in the early morning mist outside the tents.
"Yes, sir!" Ezra yelled back.
"Why weren't you on duty last night, corporal?" the Major hissed in his face.
Eighteen years old, Ezra was already disillusioned and sick of war. The blasted idiocy of it all was that he was fighting his own. These were Americans, this was the country of those wishing to be free. And they were killing themselves over a bunch of darkies.
"The doctor has taken ill, sir. All men nearby were ordered to tend to the sick, as he was unable to do so."
"Who gave this order, Standish?" The Major asked.
He swallowed. "Colonel MacDonald, sir." He said.
"What has the doctor taken ill with?" he asked.
Ezra shook his head. "They're uncertain, sir. They believe it's influenza or the like."
"It's too early in the year for influenza, boy!" the Major yelled. "What is it?"
"I'm not certain, sir. The stretcher bearers don't know. The doctor from the next regiment won't be here for awhile yet. We can't ascertain anything until he arrives." He mentally winced, preparing for the imminent explosion. When it didn't come, he looked up.
"Dismissed, corporal," the major said. He turned on his heel and strode away. Ezra trembled slightly and let out the breath he'd been holding.
The sudden boom rocked everyone from their posts. Ezra fell to his hands and knees in the mud and looked up. Smoke was taking the place of the fog and the cries of wounded soldiers were all around him. "What's going on?" he yelled.
A drummer boy ran up beside him. "The Yanks have cut through! They're coming!" The boy took off quickly. Ezra turned around and ran up to the Major.
"Sir," he began, but the major cut him off.
"To your post, corporal!" he bellowed. Then he was running as well behind the drummer boy, away from the battle.
Ezra suddenly realized what it meant. *He's running away,* was his last conscious thought before another concussion hit and he fell into welcome blackness.
Vin jerked up at the sound of screams coming from inside the room. Chris was already at the door, waiting as Nathan barged past him inside. The screams stopped abruptly and Nathan returned shortly.
"What was that?" Vin asked.
"Fever dreams. He was yelling about Shiloh and the bombs and such, but he never fought there when the actual battle went on."
Vin was puzzled. "What's that mean?"
Nathan shrugged. "His memories are all jumbled up. It happens with typhoid." He stopped.
"Nathan," Vin pressed. "What does it mean?"
He sighed. "Sometimes, with typhoid, the victim will start to hallucinate, like Ezra's doing now. Most of the time, people see manifestations of death or something." Here again he paused, unsure to go on. "Pretty soon after that, they die."
Vin took a step back. He had just started to really like Ezra. "Can't you do anything?"
"There's antibiotics and such, but I just don't have enough. We're too small a town to warrant any interest in real doctors. He'll have to fight it off himself. I can't do anything else for him." Nathan hung his head miserably.
Vin lifted his head determinedly. "Not if I have anything to say about it." Within a few moments, he had hurried down the steps and was mounting his horse, turning down the street.
Chris looked after him. "Vin, where are you going?"
"Eagle Bend!" he called back. He spurred his horse into a gallop. *He's not gonna die,* he thought to himself. *I won't let him.*
Vin rode the horse into a lather until he reached Eagle Bend. When he arrived, he jumped off and tied the horse to a post, away from the water trough. Then he strode up to the telegraph office.
"May I help you?" a pleasant young man asked him as he walked in.
"I need to send a wire to Dallas," Vin said.
"All right, just a moment." The clerk dropped down and popped back up with a piece of paper and a pencil. "Go ahead."
"This is to the doctor in Dallas," Vin said. "Need antibiotics. Typhoid fever, contained. Four Corners."
The clerk paused and looked at him. "Did you say typhoid?"
Vin gave him a hard look. "Yes, I did. Now send it."
The clerk gave him a frightened look but hurried over to the telegraph and sent the message. "Sir, you should get a reply in tomorrow. Where shall I find you?"
"Hotel." Then he was gone.
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