Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Mag 7 boys, although I'd sure have some fun if'n I did. I'm just borrowing them for a while, and I'll bring them back in basically the same condition in which I found them. I'm also not making any money off of this, even if that would be pretty cool.
It's not natural for him to be this still, this quiet. He should have a deck of cards flying through his fingers and a devil may care grin twisting his lips. He should be trying to con Nathan into letting him get out of bed and planning an elaborate scheme to escape for when Nathan refuses. Five-dollar words should be sliding off his tongue like honey.
But none of these 'should be's' change the fact that he's not. Instead, he's lying on the bed, his face far too pale and his breathing far too shallow. Even though I hate to see him looking so lifeless, I can't make myself look away. I'm afraid that if I do he'll slip away while I'm not watching.
I don't know exactly when Ezra got under my skin like this, but I do know when it started. I first realized that there was a good man hiding under all those fancy clothes when he came back in that soldier's stolen coat to save us. And I see it every day that he stays and puts up with my black temper. And part of why I can't let him go is because I've never told him how grateful I am that he decided to stay when most sane people would have packed up long ago. We just wouldn't be whole without him.
Nathan said that if Ezra survived the first twenty-four hours that he had a chance. Well, the time isn't up yet but it still feels like it's been twenty-four hours of midnight. It's far too quiet in here, and despite the lamp it seems much too dark. I managed to convince the others to go and get some sleep, but I know that I wouldn't be able to even if I wanted to.
It should be me lying in that bed, not Ezra. The stubborn Southerner wasn't even supposed to be down there. He should have been up here in the clinic recovering from his bout of influenza. Instead, at the first sound of gunfire he stumbled down the stairs and into the street just in time to throw himself in front of a bullet that was meant for me.
I've been on my knees for half the night, praying for him to wake up so I can thank him for saving my life. Right before I throttle him for pulling a fool stunt like that in the first place. If he hadn't already been sick that bullet wouldn't have done as much damage. But he's been fighting the fever for so long that his body may not be strong enough to fight off the infection this time.
I've been wiping down his face and neck for hours trying to cool his skin, but I can't feel any difference. His fever is still much too high and it hasn't shown any sign of coming down. He was delirious earlier, tossing his head on the pillow and calling out for someone. His voice was too weak for me to tell exactly who. But his stillness now is even more frightening. It means that he's losing what little strength he had.
If there was any way that I could trade places with him I would, no questions asked. In the years since I've met him he's become more than just a man I work with, more than just a casual friend. Somewhere along the line, Ezra became my brother just as much as any of the others. And that is the real reason that I'm sitting here with him. Because if my brother dies tonight, I want to be there with him. I want him to know just how much his sacrifice means to me.
It's nearly morning before he stirs. At the first slight movement I'm leaning over him, daring to hope that he just might make it after all. His green eyes are still glassy, but all that matters to me is that they're open. I only realize what a goofy grin my lips have curled up into when I see the puzzled expression on his face.
He opened his mouth to speak but all that came out was a hoarse croak. The glassy eyes lit up when I reached for a cup of water and he swallowed it greedily until I was forced to pull the cup away.
"Not too much, Ez, or it'll make you sick."
He leaned further back against the pillows and just looked at me. This time when he tried to speak, I could actually make out the words. "What happened?"
I had to swallow the lump in my throat when the image of him sprawled in the dirt suddenly flashed through my mind. "You took a bullet that was meant for me, Ez." I don't know where I got the will to do it, but I forced my features into my trademark glare. I almost ruined the effect by smiling when his eyes widened. "And I have only one thing to say to you, Standish."
"And what might that be, Mr. Larabee?" His voice was weak, but he was putting on a show of not caring what I was about to say.
My glare melted into a smile. "Thank you, Ezra."
He looked absolutely shocked. "You have nothing to thank me for, Mr. Larabee. You would have done the same for me, I'm sure."
I met his eyes, making sure that he could see just how deadly serious I was. "Yeah, Ez. I would."
A slow smile twisted his lips as he relaxed. "Then it is I who should be thanking you, Chris."
"Well, now that we've both been thanked, how about you get some more sleep?" The words were hardly out of my mouth before his eyes closed. Once his breathing evened out I sank back in my chair, the tension of the night suddenly gone. I spared a quick glance up at the ceiling before I closed my eyes as well. Thank you, Lord, for letting him live.