Sequel to Never Asked
Disclaimer: Okay, they are not mine, I just let them have some fun for an adventure, although Ezra might disagree. The only thing I get out of this is pleasure. Kristen named Chaucer. Thanks to Sihn, Jesse, Karen and Nicole!
Ezra lamented leaving Eagle Bend and the soft bed it represented. He'd had a virtually non-verbal ride out and he expected much the same for the return trip. He had accompanied Chris Larabee, at his request, for a legal document that needed verification and Larabee figured that Ezra Standish would be able to tell the difference. Ezra wasn't sure this was in any way a complement, more that the esteemed leader of the peacekeepers believed that Ezra had in the past created believable false documents and would be able to spot a fake.
Once again, Larabee's true opinion of himself was easy to read. Ezra couldn't help these thoughts, he felt more separated daily. The only reason he didn't leave, was the promise of not running out. He shuffled these thoughts as he pulled his jacket tighter about him. He then noticed the clouds bunching up and darkening the sky. They were sure to hit some rain before they reached town.
The rain of bullets was not the type of rain that Ezra had expected. The gambler was hit in the side and knocked off his horse as Chris jumped off his. Both had weapons drawn and were returning fire. The gunslinger took a bullet in his left thigh and left arm. Ezra had taken a second hit in his upper chest. Their attackers were minus three members but the eight still standing easily cornered the two injured men.
They were dragged and tied up at the base of a tree. A large man, with a scar running down his cheek, walked up to the tired pair and pushed his hat further back on his head. "Well, Larabee, I've finally caught up to you, and you'll pay for killing my brother." He kicked Larabee in the bleeding leg.
Chris didn't let out a sound, just stared at the man who thought he had an upper hand. Chris then noticed that Ezra was working the ropes around his wrists against the tree bark. He spoke to distract the man. "Don't know you or your brother."
"Johnson, Wyatt Johnson. You killed him outside of Kansas City, ten years ago." Ben Johnson kicked Larabee again, willing him to remember.
"Don't remember no Wyatt Johnson." Chris said to keep Johnson focused on him.
Ignoring the pain in his chest and side, Ezra worked on the ropes. He believed that Chris was distracting their captors, as he had noticed Chris' glance to his back. The ropes were chaffing his skin but he was slowly breaking through the rope.
Ben Johnson was madder than baby rattler and shouted at Larabee, "Make no never no mind. You and your friend die in the morning. Same time you killed my brother." With that pronouncement, he stomped away.
After the man was out of earshot, Larabee asked, "Ezra, you hit?"
"I'm fine, Mr. Larabee." Ezra was wearing dark clothes so the blood did not show readily.
"You free yet?" The gunslinger's voice held a touch of pain as he tried to move closer to Ezra.
"One more minute, the last is....ah, there. I am free." Ezra kept his hands to the back, so as not to alert anyone in his change of status.
"Go for help." Chris commanded.
"Why not let me free you and you escape also." Ezra asked.
"My leg is in too much pain. You'll do better alone." Chris' voice was firm.
Resigned, the gambler sighed, "As you wish."
Their captors didn't bother with them the rest of the evening. They didn't bother feeding them, there was no point to waste food on the soon to be dead.
Chris fell asleep as did all the men in camp. No one had been left to watch them. Ezra let his head list to the side, waiting for the camp to be silent. When he felt it was safe, he slowly inched his body away from the tree into the shrubbery. His body hurt. He'd put his handkerchief to the chest wound and he had held it to his side to stem the blood flow. The bleeding that had ceased for a while, had started up again. Moving slowly, steadily, he made it far enough away that he could try standing up. He bit on the inside of his mouth to keep from making a sound aloud. He kept moving 'til he figured it was safe enough to whistle.
After making the short, high sound, the Southerner waited in place. He didn't have to wait long to hear the hoof beats of his beloved horse. Forcing himself into the saddle, he whispered in her ear and she took off for home. Ezra leaned forward in the saddle, trying to do as little as possible on the ride. The sun was coming up as the town came into sight and Ezra straightened himself in the saddle. He didn't want to give the game away until after they set back out. Didn't want to waste time on him before they got to Chris.
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Chris woke mid way through the night and noted that Ezra was gone. He wished he could believe that Ezra would bring help back. But a part of him wasn't sure that the conman could truly be trusted. He had to admit, if only to himself, that Ezra has proven to be particularly useful on numerous occasions. Chris had to shake his head at himself, useful, shit, Vin was right. He was unfairly hard on the Southern gambler.
He just couldn't warm up to the man. Their interests were so different. Money always seemed to be his driving force. After meeting Maude, he realized that wasn't entirely Ezra's fault. But still the man never stopped eyeing the main chance. Vin had asked him if he had noticed the changes in Ezra the last year. He hadn't. He still saw him as he was on their first fight together. Maybe he did need to look closer.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra buttoned his jacket as he spotted Josiah at the church. He nudged his horse and arrived quickly at the church steps. "Josiah, we need to rescue Chris, he's been injured. We were ambushed. Chris was in too much pain to leave with me. We don't have much, they intend to kill him later this morning." Ezra hoped that's all Josiah needed, he didn't have much strength left.
Josiah took control, "Ezra, get a fresh mount. I'll round up the others." With that Josiah jogged down the street. Not really noting the condition Ezra was in.
Ezra went to the livery and tipped the hand to saddle a fresh horse. He paid him extra to take good care of Chaucer. The boy started right in on taking care of the horse and paid no attention to the discomfort that Ezra displayed getting on to the fresh mount. Finally up on the horse, the conman straightened and went to meet up with the others.
Vin already had his horse saddled as he was just about to start his patrol. Ezra joined him and tried to stay focused on JD's story, Vin was the one that noticed too many little things. Josiah, Buck and Nathan with his bag, gathered around Ezra and he explained where they were ambushed.
They took off at good clip, realizing how crucial time was. The men rode hard for two hours. Ezra was fading rapidly, but was at the back of the group and it went unnoticed as the other five were anxious to be in time to save Chris. Ezra let them draw further ahead, then turned his mount toward the river. He wanted a drink as he was feeling extremely hot. As the horse neared the edge of the bank, he stumbled on a rock and reared. This jarred Ezra and he was unable to catch his balance and fell off, rolling down the steep bank. He was unconscious before he reached the water's edge.
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When Johnson and his gang awoke to find Ezra gone, they were rather upset. Chris feigned sleep until they woke him. He looked around then asked of the abductors, "What you do with my friend?"
Your sayin that you didn't know he left?" With a sneer in his voice.
"Don't care what you believe." This was the truth. Chris would of loved some water, but had no intention of asking for it.
"Well, you still die in an hour. Then I go after yer fancy friend." Johnson stomped away.
Chris sat back relieved that Ezra was gone. But didn't believe that help would arrive in time. As he looked to where the gambler had lain yesterday, he noticed two dark stains. The gunslinger realized that the stains were blood and that Ezra had lied to him about his condition. This made him even less hopeful than he'd been. Damm Ezra.
The men returned in less than an hour and dragged Larabee to the open area of the shrubbed region. He leaned the gunslinger against a tree. Johnson was preparing for a shot. Before he could pull the trigger, a shot sounded and Johnson fell to the ground.
Vin had aimed and shot, jumped off his horse and pumped his mare's leg, ready to shoot another.
Chris sagged against the tree in relief at seeing the five men enter and take over camp. Buck shot one and Vin shot his second before the other five surrendered to them.
As Buck and Josiah kept their guns on the men, JD relieved them of their weapons. Nathan rushed over to Chris, closely followed by Vin.
"Where you hit?" Nathan asked of the gunslinger.
"Thigh and arm. Arm's really nothing. Can't get the bleeding to stop on my leg." Relief replaced worry and the adrenaline rush subsided, leaving a weakened man in its wake. Chris did look around and asked, "Where's Ezra?"
"He was right behind us," Nathan answered, never looking away from the leg wound.
Vin did look around and stood up to see if he was with Buck and them. Couldn't see him anywhere. He looked back to Chris and shook his head.
"Nathan, you fix his injuries?" Chris asked as he grimaced in pain.
"What injuries?" Nathan said as he shook his head.
"There was blood in two spots where he lay. He lied when I asked if he was hit." Chris hissed as Nathan had cut his jeans and was preparing to dig the bullet out.
"Ah, hell," was Vin's response. "I'll backtrack." He turned and went straight to his horse.
+ + + + + + +
The rain that had been threatening, started with a downpour. Nathan got Buck and Josiah to help drag Chris under a canopy of trees to keep him as dry as they could. He needed to make another fire for his equipment. JD hurried to get dry kindling from under tress and bushes that hadn't been soaked with the rain yet.
The outlaws complained loudly about being left in the rain. Josiah's voice boomed that they would need a lot of rain to cleanse their souls. They were ignored as they continued to complain.
Nathan finally got the bullet out and was packing the wound to stop the bleeding. JD got the water boiling and fixed up one of Nathan's 'teas' that would help with the pain.
+ + + + + + +
Vin noticed that only five horses had ridden close to the camp. He was hoping to find when that had changed, but the rain changed his chances. The fast, hard deluge wiped out any tracks that were on the ground. Vin was left with riding back to where he last remembered speaking with Ezra.
The dirt turned to mud and the mud slowed his horse down. The tracker pulled his hat down lower over his face to keep the rain out of his eyes. Frustration built as the rain continued. All chances of a trail were completely dead and he hoped that didn't mean that Ezra would end up that way too. His promise to find the gambler, no matter what, meant a lot to him. He intended to follow through. He finally came to the spot that he last remembered seeing the man.
The tracker spied movement off to his left and drew his weapon as he made his way there. He came upon the horse that Ezra had used. He was real sorry that Ez hadn't been on Chaucer. He was almost sure that horse could talk and at least would be able to have led him to the stubborn man. He got off his horse and approached the gelding. After picking up the reins Vin checked the saddle and shoes to see if he could glean any clue. A small pebble in the shoe suggested a river to Vin. He secured the horse to a shrub. He'd pick it up on the way back. He made his way to the river. He found a safe way down the bank and slowly walked down stream. The tracker could tell that the water was rising steadily.
Up ahead he spotted a green that didn't belong to its surroundings and made his way to it. As he drew closer he saw it was the gambler's jacket and hurried his horse along. It looked like the water might carry him away, so Vin jumped off his horse and sprinted to the fallen man. He just caught him by the arm before the water carried him down river.
Vin turned him over and Ezra's skin felt very cold to the touch. He put his ear to his chest to listen for a heartbeat. Vin held his breath, as he hoped. Very faint, but he could make one out. He called out the gambler's name but received no response. He dragged him up the bank, 'til he was out the water's way. He looked at the man's chest and discovered two bullet entries. No exit wounds could be found. He needed Nathan.
Ezra's fine clothes were soaked and coated with mud, that made him heavier to get up the bank. Vin opted for getting his horse and slinging the gambler's body over the saddle and get them all up the bank at the easiest spot. Ez was murmuring, but Vin couldn't make out any clear words.
Vin got them up the embankment and sought out the driest area. He laid Ezra down and used his bedroll to cushion the unconscious man's head. Vin spoke aloud to his friend. "Found ya right away. You weren't forgotten. I need ya to wake up. Find out how bad yer hurt." He still received nothing for an answer. He rested the man's head in his lap and used the bedroll to half cover the gambler's body.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan had Chris taken care of, bullet and both wounds cleaned. But the patient was as uncooperative as usual. Kept saying he was fine and could ride his horse. Nathan shook his head at the stubbornness. Though, for the life of him, he couldn't figure why it should surprise him, Chris was no different than the rest of them. They were all bad patients.
The healer finished fixing his tea for pain and would stuff it down Larabee's throat before he let him up on any horse.
Chris was fussing with Josiah. He wanted the large man to get him up on his horse so they could leave. Josiah just grinned at the injured man as he watched the healer signal behind him. "Chris, it appears that Nathan will agree you can ride, if you drink his tea first." Josiah smiled at Chris' predicament.
Chris commented over his shoulder, "Don't want to fall asleep Nathan, then I'd have to shoot ya when I woke up."
Nathan grinned, "It's for pain, if you guys would sip the stuff, instead of gulping it down, you all would be able to tell the difference." He handed the cup to the gunslinger.
Chris stared hard at Nathan for a few seconds, then accepted the cup and gulped it down. "Now, Josiah, help me into the saddle." The request sounded more like a command, but Josiah took no notice, cause he understood that Chris hated being incapacitated in any manor.
Buck and JD put the five outlaws on their horses, two without their hats. All five still complaining about being wet. Buck grew tired of this and yelled, "Shut up or the next thing you'll be complainin on is being put in your graves wet." Buck used Chris' no nonsense look and the men shut up.
Buck turned his back to the outlaws and winked at JD as he joined Josiah and Chris.
JD swung up onto his horse and approached Chris and Josiah. Looking at Josiah, JD asked, "Think Vin found Ezra yet?"
"Hope so, son." Josiah said quietly, praying for the best.
The five men took off with five subdued charges. The rain, now a fine mist, didn't obscure their vision. JD moved up next to Josiah and asked another question. "Vin can track in the rain too, can't he?"
Josiah shook his head, "Not much to work with when the rain washes all the tracks away." JD didn't reply, just took on a somber expression.
They weren't moving very quickly, deliberately, making it an easier ride for their leader. An hour later, they came upon the other horse.
"Ain't that the horse Ezra used?" JD asked.
"Yeah, Kid, I think it is." Buck agreed.
Josiah boomed out, "EZRA! VIN!" They all could hear the sound reverberate around them. Then they all heard a gunshot from the right. Josiah took off after the sound, with a look at Chris, Nathan took off after him.
JD was all set to but Chris stayed him, "Still have to look after our outlaws." JD nodded, unhappy, but resigned.
Josiah rode in the direction of the gunshot for a bit, then called out again. This time he heard a voice shouting his name.
"Over here. Ezra's hurt."
Josiah and Nathan found the two men on the ground, under the thickest part of the brush.
"Can you tell where he was hit?" Nathan asked, by way of a greeting.
"Chest and side, still bleeding slowly. He' only a bit warmer than when I found him in the river." Vin answered.
Nathan already had the gambler's jacket and shirt opened, looking at the wounds. "Looks like the bullet in his side went clean through. But the one in his upper chest is still there." Nathan noticed how fast Ezra's body was warming up. He had a fever. "The water is the only reason he's still alive. Got him so cold, slowed the blood flow. I'll haveta work on him here." The healer opened his bag and took out his meager equipment. Need a fire, haveta clean these." Indicating his scalpel and needle. "Gotta make sure it's clean. Used these on Chris already." Nathan thought to himself that if he'd kept all the bullets he took out of these guys, he'd have a barrel full.
Josiah stood, "I'll let the others know. I'll return."
Nathan looked up at the sometimes preacher man, "Bring a couple of bedrolls, to help keep the rain off Ezra." Josiah nodded.
He rode back to the others and broke the news. Chris nodded. He turned to Buck and JD, "We have to get these men to jail first, then you can bring out a wagon."
JD looked to Josiah for a sign about Ezra's condition. Josiah answered the silent appeal, "Nathan'll fix him." Not sure it that was the truth or not.
The three peacekeepers took the five prisoners and headed to town. Josiah and the three bedrolls, headed back to Ezra.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was in pain. He had to get away, but it was so hard to move. He had to get them, he had to let them know. He tried, but his throat wasn't working. He had to tell them or Chris would think he'd run out on them. He tried again. He swallowed and then croaked out, "Find Chris..........he's shot........'ll kill him." Ezra's throat was so dry, he swallowed again and tried to speak once more. "Must find Chris. Leave me. Go."
Vin heard the soft ramblings about Chris and tried to reassure him. "Ez, we found Chris. He's okay. Why didn't you tell us you were hurt?"
Ezra heard a voice, figured it was Vin. He knew Vin was the only one who'd look for him, but he had to get him to go find Chris. Chris was going to die. Anxious, he repeated, "Go, gotta find Chris. He's hurt."
"Ezra, you're hurt too." Nathan told him.
Recognizing that voice, the conman realized that Nathan was fixing the wrong man. "No! Go to Chris. No one will want me back if I let Chris die. Go find Chris. Chaucer knows."
Ezra said this as Nathan started to dig out the bullet. The gambler screamed in pain and mercifully fell into unconsciousness. Nathan worked quickly and got the bullet out. He cleaned the wound out thoroughly as Ezra couldn't currently feel it. That would help prevent infection. The man's skin was already getting hotter. Nathan knew that even though the water had probably saved him, that same time in the water caused the fever. They needed to get him back to town. After he finished bandaging the wounds, he said as much to Vin and Josiah.
Josiah took off any extra weight from his horse as Nathan packed up what little belongings they had. Josiah climbed up onto his horse and waited for Vin and Nathan to lift Ezra into his arms. Nathan covered the gambler's face so the rain wouldn't effect him. The took off for town.
Three quarters of the way back they met up with Buck and JD. They had the wagon and extra blankets. Josiah was willing to release his charge as his arms were aching. The dead weight had made it an awkward fit for the preacher to carry the gambler in his arms comfortably. JD climbed in the bed to cradle Ezra's head.
When they finally arrived back in town, Josiah carried the still unconscious conman up to Nathan's room. The healer turned him on his back and took off his boots and gunbelt. Nathan turned to brew the tea mixtures and JD took his place by Ezra, replacing the cool cloths on the gambler's forehead every few minutes.
Vin entered the healer's office with a question on his lips. "How's he doin?"
"Runnin' a fever. Made some teas, one for fever and one for pain. We'll haveta dribble it in his mouth." Nathan took for granted the others would help tend. They usually did. The healer showed both JD and Vin what he wanted done.
Vin shared as an after thought, "Chris says that two of the criminals that we brought in got shot."
Nathan looked puzzled, "Didna know that they got injured yesterday."
JD smiled, "Didn't." JD smiled even bigger, "Chris shot em on the way in. Wouldn't stop their whining.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra felt hot and like he'd been running. Only he couldn't remember where he was running to. He might figure it out if only he could open his eyes, but they were so heavy, they wouldn't budge. He concentrated, but that still didn't work. He'd rest a bit, then try again.
He heard voices around him. He could hear Vin and Nathan. Then he heard Buck.
"......It was leading a dishonest life and not knowing when to keep your mouth shut, that got you shot. Nothing less than you deserve."
Ezra was saddened that Buck still felt that way about him. He'd actually believed that they had started a friendship of sorts. But he also realized, that he was a close friend to Chris, and that would prevent him from ever truly trusting the dishonest gambler.
Sighing, Ezra didn't want to deal with the emotions this brought up and ceased fighting the blackness that beckoned.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan worked on the arm with the bullet wound. "Went clean through. You'll be fine."
"That Larabee's nuts. You can't just haul off and shoot a guy."
"Seems like that's what you and your gang did." Buck retorted.
"That's different, we were paid to do that. That's a job. Larabee shot us for no good reason." The wounded outlaw said in his defense.
"He had a great reason, you were annoying as hell. You're just lucky he didn't kill ya." Buck smiled as he said that, remembering.
"We shouldna got shot." He winced as Nathan cleaned out the wound.
Buck was fed up with the whining baby, "Know what got you shot? It was leading a dishonest life and not knowing when to keep your mouth shut, that got you shot. Nothing less than you deserve." Buck glared at him, rested his hand on the gun in his holster, daring him to speak some more.
Recognizing the stare, the whiner averted his eyes and kept quiet.
Nathan secured the bandage and nodded to let Buck know he was done and could take the man back to jail.
"Hey Nathan," JD said, getting the healer's attention. "Ezra moved a bit, almost came to, but seems like he unconscious again.
Nathan went over to check on Ezra as Vin stood watching. He'd noticed the same thing as Buck was talking.
Nathan checked his pulse and eyes first, then answered, "He's still unconscious. JD, try to dribble some more of the tea in him. His fever's still too high." The healer looked over to Vin, "Bring Chris up here. Need to check his wounds, but tell him we need him to talk to Ezra. Maybe hearing his voice, he'll hear that Chris is all right." Vin nodded and left to get the gunslinger.
Vin found their leader in the saloon with Buck, drinking coffee. Vin sat next to him. "Nathan wants ya to speak to Ezra...."
Buck jumped in, "He's awake?"
Vin shook his head, "No. Still unconscious. When we found him, he told us to leave him and go help you. Refused to let us help him. He was fevered then too. Nathan thinks, maybe if he hears your voice, he'll know you're okay."
Chris nodded and stood slowly, his own leg really hurting. Buck grabbed Vin's arm before he followed Chris. He whispered, "This Nathan's way of getting to check over Chris?"
Vin just half smiled at Buck, giving him all the answer he needed.
Vin went up the stairs behind Chris. Knowing instinctively that Chris would refuse any offered help. Even though Chris was in obvious pain, he wanted to go up the stairs himself. Vin was ready to catch him if need be.
Chris was hurting bad as he entered Nathan's but his face gave very little away. Nathan saw the extra lines about Chris' eyes and knew he was in pain.
"Chris if you would talk to Ezra, maybe your voice will allow him to let himself come out of it. While you do that, I'll just check your wounds and change the bandages. That way you won't have to come back later."
Chris looked at Nathan, seeing if that was really what he wanted, but his face seemed earnest when he encouraged him to begin speaking. Chris told Ezra how the others showed up and saved him and that now five of them were in jail. He told the gambler how he'd come to shoot two them, "Real cocky mouth, but their words weren't as cultured as yours." That had gotten a laugh from JD and Nathan. Vin was just intent on watching Ezra. He thought that Ezra was paying attention to Chris' voice.
Nathan finished up redressing both of Chris' wounds and left with him to get some food.
Early the next morning, Ezra opened his eyes to Vin and JD. JD was the first to speak, "Hey, Ez, sure glad that you're finally awake. I was startin to worry." JD tried to sound chipper through his weariness.
Ezra tried to smile, but found his mouth so dry, he swallowed instead. Vin put a cup of water to his mouth. The gambler nodded his thanks. Wetting his throat, he sighed. Looking at Vin, he asked, "How long?"
"Yesterday." Vin answered.
"Chris?" Urgency in his raspy voice.
"Fine. We found him in time. Thanks to you." Vin told him.
"Ez, how come you didn't tell anyone you were hurt. You were hurt worse than Chris." JD asked in his innocent way.
Ezra was prevented from having to answer as Nathan walked in. He was delighted that his patient had regained consciousness. He checked and changed the dressings, satisfied that they were well on their way to healing.
Nathan shooed JD off to go get some sleep. Noting the expression on Vin's face, he wasn't even going to try there. The healer started the preparations for a new batch of teas.
Vin leaned over quietly and reasked JD's question, "Why didn't you say somethin about being shot?"
Ezra, still weak physically and emotionally, answered without thinking. "His life is worth more than mine. Always has been, always will be." It was said without self pity. Instead it was said with a resignation of a man that accepted he was measured and considered less than others.
Vin felt a squeeze in his chest at the knowledge that he knew no way to alter Ezra's perception.
Nathan felt a momentarily twinge at the self deprecating tone. But as usual, he sluffed it off as he always did. A part of him believing that it was true anyway.
+ + + + + + +
After two days, no one could take anymore of Ezra's grouchiness and Nathan said he could return to his own bed.
That was all that Ezra wanted, to be in his own room. Problem was, he didn't feel any better there. Felt like he didn't really belong anymore. It was completely unsettling.
Ezra ended up at the tables by the afternoon. He was only able to hand shuffle the cards, the full shuffle still hurt too much.
It was another week before Ezra was gambling at his table with ease of movement. But Nathan still wanted him to take it easy for another week before resuming patrol.
Nathan was also giving Chris a bad time about resuming duty too soon and not letting his thigh heal up completely. Nathan threw up his hands in defeat at his two stubborn patients.
+ + + + + + +
Chris and Buck were sitting outside the saloon in the afternoon sun. The ruckus from inside drew their attention. A loud crash of a broken table had them out of their seats.
"What trouble has Ezra got into now?" Chris said over his shoulder to Buck as he drew even with him.
"Probably cheated someone that took exception to it." Buck answered as he grinned.
Both men were startled as a voice from behind commented, "This is one confrontation that you will not be able to lay the blame at my feet, gentleman." The gambler's outward expression was his usual poker face. Inwardly, Ezra was shocked and dismayed by the erroneous conclusion that Chris and Buck automatically jumped to. He followed the two men into the saloon and the three of them quickly dispatched the ruffians. While Buck and Chris took the men to jail, Ezra proceeded to his room.
Emotions warred within. The hurt caused by Chris' assumption was greater than the gambler felt comfortable with. He realized that he had truly hoped that Chris Larabee would be able to develop some trust in him. He now knew this was an unattainable goal and he was only conning himself if he thought different. He also realized that he was only in for future disappointment if he were to stay. With a heavy heart, Ezra packed a bag.
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