by Jo Summers
Part 8 added 16 October 2004
Part 9 added 16 April 2005
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I don't own the boys or the rights to them. They belong to whoever produced, or aired the series. As much as I would like to, I own none of them *is sad* All I own is the creative ideas that are in this story - they belong to me! *is tempted to do a Gollum impression, but desists* I humbly thank whoever owns the boys for allowing me to borrow them!
Summary: The Seven are brothers living on a ranch in the present day. None of them are related by blood. Josiah (along with Chris and Buck) adopted Vin, and JD when they were small children. Nathan came to live with them from a foster family, and stayed after his blood family were killed in a car accident. Ezra was adopted when his mother abandoned him.
Ezra has a secret that he is hiding from all of his brothers - but it has caused him great problems, and his brothers have noticed. Concerned, Vin pushes Ezra too far in his search for the truth... and finds himself caught in a bind when he finds out what is truly bothering his brother. Sworn to secrecy, but knowing that his brother's life is in danger, Vin struggles to work out what to do...
Warnings: Some mild swearing. Also, this fic deals with mental illness/conditions. I've tried to handle it in a sensitive way, but if reading about it upsets you for any reason - maybe a family member/friend is suffering - please don't read it. I don't want to upset anyone. Also, chapter 4 deals in part with teen suicide/self-harm. It's not graphic at this point, but I feel the warning is warranted.
Feedback: Feedback will be rewarded with cookies! And flames will be assigned to the Great Trash Can In The Sky… ie, they will be deleted.
Notes: Part 8 was a very difficult part for me to write, and then to actually post. Your feedback would be very much appreciated.
Part 9 Notes: DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) is a very serious condition, and also a very complicated one. Every person's experience with it will be different; this is one reason why treatment is so difficult. Others do not want to be treated, even though there are drugs which have been clinically shown to 'remove' the alters (other personalities). This is a choice for each person to make individually depending on their situation - what is right for one person is not necessarily right for another.
The above is one of the reasons that this chapter of "Going Under" will be the last as it stands now. I apologise to anyone who would have liked a longer story, but I feel that, with my writing style, experiences, and views, it would be inappropriate for me to continue further. If, however, anyone else feels inspired to write a spin-off/sequel type thing, be my guest; please just let me know before you publish it. I'd love to read what you guys come up with! I may continue this story myself, but this is by no means a sure thing...
If not, I will continue writing for the m7 fandom - it's too much fun not to!
Thank you to everyone who has read/reviewed this story - your feedback means a lot. I apologise for my lengthy absence, and I assure you that it was not intended by any stretch - Real Life hasn't been kind to me over the last few months, and I've barely had any internet time or any writing time. But, hopefully I will have more time now.
Passages between ~~~~~ and ~~~~~ are flashbacks...
Vin walked into the darkened room, his eyes searching for his brother. He spotted him sitting against the wall. He frowned, concerned. "You OK?"
Ezra looked up, startled. "I am quite fine," he replied, slipping his poker face back on.
Vin shook his head. "No you aren't. What is it?"
Ezra hung his head, and Vin saw his shoulders start to shake. He moved quickly to his brother's side, putting an arm around his shoulders as a few tears fell down Ezra's face despite his best efforts to hold them back.
"I can't hold it back any more," Ezra whispered. "I'm not strong enough."
Vin sighed, holding his brother, trying to sooth him. He thought back to the day his part in this had all begun...
The midday sun beat down, as the brothers rested in the shade, trying to remain oblivious to the argument going on in their midst.
"But why -"
"Because I say so. NO." He glared at his youngest brother, and JD sat back momentarily.
"Buck?" he asked hopefully, craning his neck to look at his older brother.
Buck laughed. "Ain't no way I'm going against Chris on this one, kid," he said jovially, rubbing JD's hair affectionately. "Hell, I ain't suicidal."
"I'm not a kid," JD retorted, half-angrily. He grabbed a water pistol off the ground nearby and pointed it at Buck, who raised his hands.
"You win, short stuff," he said, grinning at his younger brother. JD grinned for a moment at his triumph, then frowned.
" 'Short stuff'..." he said menacingly, checking how much water there was in the pistol. "I'll give you 'short stuff'," he replied, spraying Buck with a large dose of water.
In seconds, the fight was on. Vin grabbed his own water pistol and soaked Nathan thoroughly before his elder brother managed to find his own weapon and retaliate. Chris and Josiah sat back a little from their chairs a metre or two away from their soaking wet - but very happy - brothers, and sighed.
"Guess we should join in," Chris remarked.
"Reckon so," Josiah replied, wincing as Buck was ambushed by JD, Vin, and Nathan. "Can't let Buck get beaten."
"Certainly not," Chris returned with a smile, hefting his own super soaker in one hand. "Come on, Josiah."
Josiah eyed the ruckus, and looked heavenward. "Lord protect me," he murmured fervently, before plunging into the fray.
The only figure not joining in the fun was Ezra. His disdain for such activities not withstanding, he would usually participate after a suitable period of complaining and snide comments - most of which were incomprehensible anyway. Vin noticed however that this time, Ezra was sitting completely silently to one side, not even looking at them, his eyes fixed on a spot on the ground. His mouth moved like he was having a conversation with someone, but no sound emerged from his lips.
Vin frowned, pulling back from the fray as he watched his older brother with concern. This was not like Ezra at all. As he watched however, Ezra shook himself slightly, and his eyes lost their glazed look as he looked up, briefly surveying the scene. His eyes locked with Vin's for a second before he looked away quickly.
'He's afraid,' Vin thought, recognising the look in Ezra's eyes. 'He's afraid. But... what is he afraid of?'
Ezra had always been secretive, but over the past few years he had been getting worse and worse. His brothers were feeling increasingly left out of the young man's world. They all knew that Ezra had a lot to deal with - the manner of his adoption for one - but that did not explain why he refused to discuss what was bothering him at all. Vin had overheard Chris and Josiah discussing it; as Chris had said: "If it's the adoption bothering him, he's just gotta say 'I'm thinking about the adoption; I don't want to talk about it' and that would be fine. It's NOT knowing what's bothering him that worries me the most."
Vin agreed with Chris. It scared him to think that Ezra might have something that he found too frightening to tell his brothers. What on earth could it be that Ezra was frightened of?
Vin knew as he instinctively ducked a shot from Chris that he had to find out - whether Ezra liked it or not, he needed to talk about it.
"Hey Ez!" he called. "You going to join in?"
'A single word answer from Ezra? That's not like him either.'
Chris and Josiah had noticed this too. Vin wondered if they would get to Ezra before him. Ezra looked away briefly, then looked back.
"Mr Tanner, I am quite capable of knowing my own mind," Ezra told him grimly, keeping his voice steady. "However talented and versatile your capabilities may be to the untrained eye, to the best of my limited knowledge, they are not yet psychical."
Ezra rolled his eyes. "You are not a mind reader," he explained, with a slight edge of distaste at having to explain himself.
"Nah," Vin said, grinning. "I'm your brother." The grin did not reach his eyes as he locked gazes with Ezra, telling his brother all too clearly that Vin meant business.
Ezra swallowed, hiding his discomfort. 'He knows something is up,' he thought, with mild alarm. 'Relax - he can't possibly guess if you don't tell him.' Taking refuge behind his poker face, he replied sarcastically, "At some point during our acquaintance, I had noticed this detail."
Chris frowned slightly. He had detected the undercurrents, and made a mental note to talk to Vin later about what had gotten him so concerned - and then to grill Ezra. If Ezra thought he could get away with hiding whatever it was that was bothering him for any longer, then he had another think coming - and that think was coming in the form of both Vin Tanner and Chris Larabee.
"Come on Ez," JD yelled happily, tossing a super soaker at him. Ezra caught it, and looked with mild distaste at the weapon in his hand.
"Mr Dunne," he replied, tossing the weapon back to his surprised brother, "as I have explained to your esteemed older brothers, I will not be participating in this boorish exhibit you gentlemen have been enacting today." He got to his feet gracefully. "I will meet you back at the ranch in time to partake of the evening meal tonight." He tipped his hat with a brief smile, then walked away.
The other men looked after him. JD was bewildered by Ezra's display, while Vin, Chris and Josiah were deeply concerned by the boy's display. Buck too was worried - it was unlike Ezra to behave in such a way. Nathan was concerned for a different reason - the only times Ezra ever pushed his brothers away this obviously was when he was hurt. Nathan got to his feet to follow Ezra, but Vin forestalled him.
"I'll talk to him," Vin promised grimly. "I'll find out what's bothering him."
Chris nodded. "Nathan, sit down. Vin will handle it."
"OK," Nathan conceded, "but if he's injured, you bring him straight back here, understand?"
"Yep," Vin affirmed, before turning to follow Ezra.
Josiah shook his head as he watched Vin follow the trail his brother had left. "I have a feeling that today is going to be a day of great revelations," he mused.
Chris overheard him, and nodded, giving a terse "Yep."
"He had better not be hiding an injury," Nathan growled, menacingly. "I am in no mood to listen to his excuses or pleas. If he's hurt, he goes straight to hospital."
"Amen to that, brother."
"Buck?" JD asked, "can we go to the zoo now?"
"Chris said no, short stuff," Buck told him, little humour evident in his voice. "We'll go another day. Promise."
"What's wrong with Ezra?"
Buck sighed. "I don't know, kid."
Vin walked cautiously around a bend in the path Ezra had taken. Ezra must have started running the moment he got out of sight, as Vin had not caught him. He could hear a voice around the corner murmuring, but couldn't make out the words.
He saw the kneeling figure start, and jump to his feet. "I - what is the meaning of this?" Ezra asked.
"Came to make sure you're OK," Vin replied evenly, moving to stand near Ezra.
Ezra frowned. "I am quite well, thank you." He paused, clearly wishing Vin would leave. "Was there anything else?"
"Yeah... how are you really feeling?" Vin asked bluntly.
Ezra looked taken aback. "Fine - like I told you."
"Ezra, that was a lie and you know it damn well," Vin retorted angrily. "We've all seen it - you've always been secretive, but... over the past few years, we've gotten the feeling that you're pulling back from us... and even more recently. They're worried." He paused, taking a deep breath. "I'm worried," he conceded. "I wanna help - whatever it is that's making you pull away. I wanna help you."
Ezra looked a little taken aback by his normally reserved brother's display of emotion. "Uh... Mr Tanner, I thank you for your concern for my well being, and I am truly touched - but there is no need for this concern," he finished firmly. "I am fine. Quite fine."
"Oh really," Vin said quietly, regaining his equilibrium at his brother's refusal to admit his weakness.
"Yes," Ezra replied, becoming a little angry. He quashed it quickly - he knew where anger led. He did not want to walk that road again.
Vin noticed Ezra's brief turmoil. "What are you holding back?" he asked calmly. "I know there's something. You're trying to keep yourself out of the conversation - not getting involved. I can tell. You don't wanna get angry at me - is that it?"
By the look on Ezra's face as his poker face fell briefly, Vin knew he had guessed right.
"Why, Ez? What is so bad about you getting angry with me? Everyone gets angry with their brothers at some point - why are you holding back? It's natural to feel anger." This was the most talkative he had been in a long time, but Vin knew that he had to say these things.
Ezra sighed. "To quote from a comic book - I cannot believe I have stooped to this..."
" 'Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I get angry'." The tone of his voice was subtly different.
"You're telling me you can turn into a huge green monster?" Vin asked dryly. To his relief, Ezra laughed. However, after a second, Vin realised that this was nothing to be relieved about. Ezra got to his feet, looking suddenly formidable and frightening. Vin swallowed nervously. He had never seen Ezra look this - deadly.
Ezra continued to laugh, but it was like nothing Vin had ever heard from Ezra before. Ezra sounded - well, 'evil'. His eyes glinted dangerously. "Believe me, Mr Tanner," he said slowly, "you do not want to make me angry."
"OK," Vin said quickly, placating, holding his hands up in a position of surrender. "OK. I understand. Not a problem."
Ezra paused, blinking rapidly; he put a hand to his head.
"You OK?" Vin asked, getting to his feet in concern. "Ezra?" He put a hand on Ezra's shoulder.
His brother reacted instantly, pounding a fist into Vin's stomach and sending the slightly built boy crashing to the ground. Vin coughed violently, trying to recover his breath.
He lay there struggling for breath for about ten seconds before he felt a hand on his shoulder. He couldn't help it - he flinched away from the touch of his brother.
"Vin? What's wrong?" Ezra asked, sounding genuinely confused. "Are you OK? Who hit you?"
Vin frowned, also confused. "You... you did," he stammered, watching as his brother's eyes widened in shock and horror.
"Oh no... Vin I'm so so sorry," he said, abandoning any trace of formality. He helped Vin to sit up, then moved back a little. He was staring off into space again, and his lips were moving silently.
"Ezra - what is going on?" Vin asked, breathing lightly so as not to strain his bruised torso.
Ezra jumped, and looked back at his brother, his face worried and saddened. "I can't tell you."
"The hell you can't," Vin replied angrily. "If I'm going to get punched in the chest, I expect to know what the hell caused it - and why you can't remember it."
Ezra paused, thinking. At last he nodded. "OK... where are the others?" he asked looking suspiciously around the clearing.
Vin read Ezra's thoughts. "They let me follow you alone. They aren't listening in."
Ezra nodded. "Good." He sat down beside Vin. "What I'm about to tell you... you can't ever repeat. You have to promise me that."
Vin shook his head. "You know I can't promise that unless I know what it is."
"Ezra, in matters where your health and well being are concerned, I do not trust you."
"But I trust you," Ezra exclaimed, then hung his head at the revelation.
Vin smiled a little at the admission. At last - Ezra had felt comfortable admitting it. "I know," he replied softly, putting a hand on Ezra's shoulder to comfort him. "I know. Tell me what's wrong. I won't let you down."
"Vin, you have to promise not to repeat it. I do not want anyone else to know. I accept that I owe you an explanation... but no one else."
Vin paused. He knew it would be the best he would get. "OK Ezra," he said. "That'll do for now."
"That'll do, full stop," Ezra corrected irritably.
Vin held up his hands defensively. "OK, Ez. Whatever you want." He put his arm back around his brother's shoulders as a gesture of support. "Now what's wrong?"
Ezra sighed. "You won't believe me."
"It'll take too long."
"We've got all day."
Ezra laughed humourlessly. "You aren't going to let this go, are you?"
"OK." He sighed again in resignation. "I have - how do I explain this?..."
Vin waited, not trying to jump in and help Ezra explain. He realised that Ezra needed to say whatever it was himself. Otherwise, he would remain frustrated.
"I have..." Ez paused, and steeled himself against the incredulous response he expected. "I have two personalities."
Vin felt winded in shock. Of course that explained it all - the violent mood swings that he had noticed (or as violent as Ezra's mood swings could get), the withdrawal into himself - it all fitted.
He realised that Ezra was waiting for a response. "OK," he said softly.
Ez seemed floored by this response. "OK," he stammered, before anger took over. "What do you mean, 'OK'? What about this is 'OK'?"
"I meant, I understand," Vin said placatingly.
"I don't want you to understand, I want you to..." His voice died away.
"You want me to - to help you?"
Ezra stared at the ground, embarrassed. "Yes," he whispered.
"OK, Ez," Vin said. "It's OK." He paused, trying to work out how to ask more without offending or angering Ezra. "So... you wanna talk about it more? Reckon I need to know what's happening if I'm to help you."
"Yes... you have a remarkable way with words, Mr Tanner," Ezra acknowledged. He shrugged. "What precisely did you wish to know?"
"For about ten years. It's a 'he', by the way. The other personality." He refused to meet Vin's eyes.
"Does he have a name?"
Ezra smiled. "No. Not as such. Though... I had always pictured him with a name like Dusty... I am not sure why."
Vin patted him on the shoulder, unsure as to what to do. "You wanna -"
"No. I don't want to talk about it. Let's go back to the house." Ezra stood up. The topic was obviously closed.
Vin dragged his mind back to the present, as Ezra shook his hands off and got to his feet quickly.
"I'm fine," he said firmly, trying to convince himself of it. "I'm fine."
"No, you aren't," Vin countered. Ezra turned on him furiously.
"What the hell would you know about it?" he hissed. "Nothing! That's what - absolutely nothing."
"Well, I can't know anything about it unless you talk to me," Vin replied evenly. This was not the first time they had had this conversation, nor - he thought dismally - would it be the last.
"Talk to me Ezra. Trust me." He tightened his grip on his brother's shoulder. "I won't let you down."
Vin sighed a little. The hot Sun beat down on him as he sat on his own outside the school. Another year, and he'd be rid of the place. He could have been rid of it the year before, but Josiah had insisted he complete his education, and Chris had backed him up, telling Vin in no uncertain terms that he would remain in school until he finished, no matter how long it took. Vin had protested that he had learnt enough to get by in whatever field he so choose, but Chris had been unmoved.
Ezra also found school an interminable chore, but for completely different reasons to Vin - the Gambler (as his classmates had nicknamed him) was way ahead of his classmates in every subject, and found the routine classroom work boring and all too easy.
Vin didn't look up as a body came to stand beside him; he knew exactly who it would be. "Hey Ez," he said.
"Mr Tanner," Ezra acknowledged. He sat down next to Vin. He was silent, staring into the distance.
"What do you have next?"
"Geography," Ezra replied, the flat tone of his voice making it perfectly clear how dull he found the subject, "with the delightful Mavis Beaverwood." He sighed. "Far be it for me to criticise any member of the fair sex, but..."
Vin laughed. "Come on; you know you like her," he said jovially.
Ezra drew himself up in mock-affront. "Mr Tanner, I fail to see how a - creature like that can possibly be allowed to teach children of any age."
Vin punched him lightly on the arm. "I'm telling you; she likes ya!"
Ezra responded with a glare. "She'd better not push me..." His tone was cold; no hint of the humour of the previous minute was present.
Vin froze momentarily, eyes betraying his alarm, before he said quickly, "Hey, at least she's not like Mrs McGlin. Now that would be just wrong." His attempt at lightening the situation worked, as Ezra laughed. The tension of the previous moments eased, and Vin allowed himself to breathe again. Talking about Mavis Beaverwood always brought out a violent reaction in Ezra... Vin was not exactly sure why; he believed it was something to do with events in Ezra's past. Ezra's background was full of shadows and secrets that no one - with the exception of Ezra - knew that whole of.
He really hated it when stuff like that happened... when he didn't know if he suddenly was going to have to be physically restraining Ezra; whether the house of cards they had constructed was about to come crashing down about their ears.
The bell rang out, interrupting his thoughts. With a sigh, he clambered to his feet. He glanced over at Ezra, who remained unmoved. "We'd better go," he said neutrally.
Vin groaned silently. 'Oh boy... not again'. "Why not?"
"I'm not going to her class."
"Ez, I hate to cross you, but if you don't turn up, she'll come looking for you... she'll probably ring Chris and Josiah too."
Ezra crouched down, holding his head. Vin crouched beside him. "Ezra?"
"You do not understand," Ezra said slowly, after a second. "If I go into class and she irritates me, I will loose control and he will come out. Recently, Eric has been - irritable. You know what he's like when he's irritable. I will not be held responsible for anything he does in there."
Vin glanced around quickly. All around them, kids were heading into class. Very soon, they would be the only people left in the school-yard. "What do you wanna do?" he asked.
"I want this to end," Ezra exclaimed angrily, jumping to his feet and pacing angrily. "I do not want to go to class and have to bear that - that abomination of a creature anymore!"
Vin realised what he was going to have to do. "OK, Ez. I'll talk to her and say you aren't well or something like that. Just - just wait here. Promise me you won't go anywhere."
Ezra nodded. "But of course, Mr Tanner," he returned, struggling to regain his composure. Vin patted him on the shoulder, then moved quickly off towards the classrooms. He found his own teacher - Mr Harrington - first, and explained to him that his brother was unwell, and Vin needed to stay with him. As he expected, Mr Harrington merely nodded, told him the exercises he would need to complete for Monday, then let him go, adding his best wishes for Ezra's "recovery". He made no mention that this was - in fact - the third lesson Vin had missed in the last two weeks due to his brother being "unwell". He knew - as did most of the staff - that Vin and Ezra were good kids. The staff also knew that Ezra had a serious health 'issue', and that his brother bore the brunt of it. They were all determined to ease the burden on the brothers as much as possible.
John Harding wondered again as he watched Vin walk away, whether the two boys' brothers knew about Ezra's condition. He could not imagine them being unaware of the problem, as from what he had seen, they were a very tight-knit family, yet he could not imagine them letting Vin deal with so much on his own, and them not making Ezra seek help. He decided then that he would have to have a chat to Josiah Sanchez and Chris Larabee - the self-appointed heads of the family - about the two teenagers, and see if they were aware of the extent of the problem.
Vin's - unaware of Mr Harding's musings - proceeded towards his next assignment - to convince Mrs Beaverwood that while Ezra could not come to her class, she should not come looking for him to make sure he was OK, as she had tried to one other time. He found her standing at the doorway of the classroom.
"Excuse me, ma'am," he said politely, trying to get her attention.
"Ah yes, Vin Tanner is it not?" she asked, peering at him through her glasses. "Ezra's brother?"
"That's right ma'am," Vin told her politely. "Ezra isn't feeling too good at the moment, is it OK if he sits out of class until he feels better? It's nothing major, just a headache, but it really helps if he can just sit down outside, somewhere quiet."
Mrs Beaverwood considered the proposal carefully. "Well, I don't foresee a problem with that," she told him. "Tell him to continue work on the essay we started yesterday; I expect it to be handed in on Monday." Like John Harding, Mavis was well aware of the fact that Ezra had serious problems, and that his brother was his support mechanism. For Vin to be looking this concerned - however much he tried to hide it, she could still see it - she knew that something had to be wrong. She was under no illusions as to Ezra's feelings towards her; she knew that he disliked her, and she didn't think that she ought to be the one to check on him. 'Maybe', she thought, 'I'll have a word to John. Ezra likes him, and Vin trusts him. Yes, John would be best'. "I hope he's feeling better soon," she said to Vin.
Vin nodded. "Thank you, ma'am. Have a nice weekend." He turned and hurried back to where he had left Ezra. He was pleased to see that the older boy had stayed there. Ezra now leant against the tree with his eyes closed.
"Vin," he acknowledged, as his brother approached, without opening his eyes. "I trust you have persuaded the lovely Mrs Beaverwood that her assistance is not required?"
"She ain't coming over," Vin replied. "I talked to Mr Harding too, and he's fine with it." As the silence following this announcement deepened, Vin reached out a hand to cautiously touch Ezra's arm. Ezra shook him off angrily. Vin sighed mentally, though was careful not to show any exasperation externally. 'So, it's going to be one of those days...' "I don't want to do this anymore," Ezra said, breaking the silence. "I'm sick of living like this. I mean, why don't I just let him out more; it's what he wants. Maybe then he'll give me a break!"
"But you don't want that, do you?" Ezra challenged, turning to Vin. "You're afraid - afraid of what he might do."
"I just don't think it would be a good idea," Vin said placatingly.
"And what would be a good idea?" Ezra yelled. He slumped back against the tree, fighting for control. "What would?" he whispered. "Vin?"
"I'm here," Vin said, putting an arm across his shoulders. He waited a few seconds, before beginning with: "Josiah -"
Any ground Vin had gained vanished in an instant. "Vin," Ezra said slowly, "I do not need to hear this from you of all people. The next thing you will say is, 'Josiah loves you. He sees you as a son. You should tell him about Eric.' Vin, I cannot do that. You have to understand that. You have to promise me that you will never tell him, or any of the others. You know by accident. I have no intention of ever letting them find out. I have brought enough trouble to them without adding this."
"No, Ez, that isn't true," Vin protested.
"It is! And that's enough. No, Vin. I don't want to talk about this anymore. Just promise."
Vin nodded slowly. "OK, Ezra. I promise." He had the horrible feeling that he had just made a serious mistake, but he didn't know what else he could have said.
Vin glanced up, and swore under his breath. "Ezra... Mr Harding's walking towards us."
Ezra leant back against the tree and closed his eyes. "Oh Lord..."
"Vin," John Harding acknowledged as he reached Vin and Ezra. "Ezra, how are you feeling now?" he asked, crouching down beside the older boy.
"Better," Ezra replied, forcing his eyes open. "Thank you for your concern."
"I've called your brothers," John told them, nervously waiting for their reaction. "They're coming in to pick you up."
Vin felt suddenly sick. 'Oh God, Ezra, please don't lose it, please don't lose it...' "Thank you sir," he said quickly. "That was - very thoughtful of you. We'll go and wait out the front of the school for them." He tightened his grip slightly on Ezra's arm, reminding him that he was there and that Ezra should try to maintain control for at least another few seconds.
John Harding nodded. "A pleasure, boys. I'll walk you out there."
Vin helped Ezra to his feet. "Oh, uh... thanks, but you don't have to do that. We'll be fine."
"It's not a problem," his teacher replied. "Let's go."
Vin maintained his hold on Ezra, noting with alarm that the boy was practically shaking in anger. "Let's go, Ez," he said, helping his brother across the school grounds. Vin's plea of Ezra having a headache had not been a fabrication; Ezra could most definitely feel a migraine coming on. Suddenly he was glad of Vin's hand under his elbow, holding him up.
John escorted the two boys to the front gate of the school. "I'll wait with you, if you like," he offered.
Vin shook his head. "It's OK... we'll be fine; they won't be long, anyway." He shook John Harding's hand. "Thank you."
John nodded. "A pleasure. Take it easy, Ezra."
Ezra nodded a little, and John walked away. Vin carefully lowered Ezra to the ground, leaning against the fence. Ezra lashed out suddenly, landing a solid blow on the ground and causing a minor dirt-storm. "What the hell did he think he was doing?" he growled. "What right did he have to do that? I'll be fine!"
"He's just worried," Vin told him. He knew from long experience that when Ezra was angry enough to start talking 'normally', there was a serious explosion coming up.
"Well he has no cause to be. Matters of my health are none of his concern."
Vin glanced up, hearing a car, and saw Chris's truck driving down the road. "Time to get up, Ez. Chris is here."
Ezra groaned a little. "And no doubt he will be in his usual pleasant frame of mind." He latched onto the fence with one hand and pulled himself up, pushing Vin's hand away, just as the truck drew up and Chris, Josiah, and Nathan got out. Nathan made a bee-line for Ezra, who attempted to bat his hands away, but found himself trapped between Nathan, Josiah, and the fence of the school. He considered jumping the fence, but his eyesight was failing, and he couldn't be sure he would make it. Nathan took advantage of his preoccupation to put a hand against his forehead and check his temperature.
"Headache? Dizziness? Sight blackouts?"
"I'm fine," Ezra replied.
"What wasn't what Brother Nathan asked," Josiah told him, supporting Ezra as he stumbled.
"All of the above, if you must know," Ezra conceded, with very bad grace. "It will pass, Mr Jackson, rest assured."
Vin, meanwhile, had been cornered by Chris. "You wanna tell me what the hell happened?" Chris asked.
"Ez weren't feeling too good, so we sat outside for a while," Vin replied.
"And you couldn't go to the clinic?" Chris asked. Vin shot him an incredulous look.
"You've gotta be kidding! Anyway, Ez says his headaches get better if he's outside and in the quiet somewhere."
Chris sighed, running a hand through his hair. "OK. We're taking you boys home with us now... John gave us permission to take you too, Vin. But I'd better not get another phone call like that, OK cowboy? If either of you feel sick, you go to the clinic, and that is an order."
Vin nodded. "Sure Chris." 'And do you want to convince Ezra of that, or will I have to?' he wondered silently, already knowing the answer. Again, he wished that there was some way he could tell Chris and the others about Ezra's problem... but without breaking his promise to Ezra.
They arrived back at the ranch about fifteen minutes later. Ezra - shaking off Nathan's concern - walked up to his room, and from there quickly climbed up onto the roof. His headache was receding slightly, and he knew that he would be better sitting on the roof than trapped in the middle of his worried brothers. He shook his head slightly as another bout of dizziness hit him. He felt so - no, not lonely. He could never be lonely, not with a voice in the back of his head. He was never truly alone.
He pushed them away; despite their obvious concern. He didn't want his brothers having to deal with this on top of everything else. He was grateful to them for taking him in; he did not want them to think of him as a hypochondriac. 'I can take care of myself,' he thought firmly.
'Who the hell are you kidding?' Eric crowed at him. 'One little push and you're spilling your guts to Vin. You're pathetic, you know. You really are pathetic sometimes.'
Ezra sank his head into his hands. He hated it when Eric was vitriolic like this. 'Failure... failure... failure...' The word echoed around his skull, beating at his senses until he whimpered under its onslaught.
'It feels like I'm falling...' he thought, 'but no one can hear me scream...'
They were concerned, Vin knew. They had been watching him surreptitiously for the last ten minutes, trying to decide how best to ask. Even JD was unusually subdued; the tense atmosphere of the living room was getting to him.
Vin looked up at Chris. "Ezra had a headache and wanted to sit out of class. I stayed with him. He thought it might develop into a migraine." He berated himself mentally for the lie, hating the situation he found himself trapped in.
"Why didn't you go to the clinic?" Nathan asked, his voice betraying his anger. "How many times do I have to tell you boys -"
"Nathan," Josiah said, laying a hand on his brother's arm to silence him. "Vin, does Ezra have any kind of - problems?" he asked gently, watching intently for Vin's reaction.
Vin glanced up at him. "No more than anyone else," he lied, "why do you ask?"
Josiah lent back in his chair. "He seems to be getting these migraines very often recently. Mr Harding told us that this was the third lesson you'd missed in two weeks as Ezra had been unwell. I was wondering whether there is some kind of problem that we should know about?"
"He says that he gets them occasionally," Vin replied. "He said he's been feeling a little off-colour recently; maybe that's been a part of the problem." He shrugged. "He didn't give me many details."
"If he goes to see a doctor, he could get a prescription for the migraines," Nathan said. "Should I take him this weekend?"
"I'll go see how he's doing," Vin offered quickly. "I'll get him to come down if he's feeling well enough." He left quickly.
Josiah shot a significant look at Chris. "Did you pick up on it too?" Chris asked. Josiah nodded.
"Pick up what?" JD asked, confused.
"Brother Vin was lying through his teeth to us," Josiah told him. "He's very - unsettled at the moment, and I have a feeling it is to do with Ezra. There is more to these 'migraines' than meets the eye."
"So what do we do?" Buck asked, cutting Josiah off. "Hell, we've all noticed Junior is getting very stressed out, and Ezra's been getting more and more distant from everyone."
"I'm considering sending them to a psychiatrist," Chris revealed. JD promptly fell off his chair.
"A psychiatrist?" he exclaimed incredulously as Nathan and Buck pulled him back to his feet. "Ah hell, Ezra is not going to take that well."
"I don't care," Chris responded, grim-faced. "This has gone on long enough. If they won't talk to us, they'll have to talk to him."
Vin knocked hesitantly on the door of Ezra's room. "Ez?" he called. "You in there?" There was no reply after a few seconds, and Vin pushed the door open.
The room was empty. It was in its usual neat state; only the open window and fluttering curtain spoiling the order of the room. Vin walked quickly to the window and twisted out it to look up on to the roof. "Ezra?"
After a few seconds, he heard Ezra reply, "Mr Tanner." Vin took this as permission to pull himself up onto the roof to join Ezra.
"I assume that you have been sent by our concerned brothers?"
Vin nodded. "Yeah." Silence hung between them for a few seconds, before Vin spoke again. "They - they're getting more concerned."
"You didn't -" For a few seconds, Ezra's mask of composure fell and panic laced his voice.
"No!" Vin exclaimed. "I did promise, Ez," he told him quietly. "Anyway," he continued with a wry smile, "you think I'd be the only one up here if I had?"
Ezra forced a smile. "Indeed. I imagine that my presence is required?"
"Only if you're feeling well enough. They think it's migraines."
Ezra grimaced as he clambered to his feet. "It IS migraines, Mr Tanner. At least in part." He swung down off the roof into his room, and Vin followed quickly.
"How is..." Vin trailed off, unsure as to how to continue the questions.
"How is Eric?" Ezra finished, a slight edge of distaste in his voice. "He is - well, he is not in a pleasant mood. I would ask you to go before me and tell our brothers that I am still feeling unwell, and am not to be pushed. I do not think I would be able to hold him in very well, and I do not want him to hurt anyone."
Vin nodded, and patted Ezra's arm. "OK, Ez. Come down in a minute or two."
He walked quickly down the stairs. The other brothers looked up as he entered, and he nodded in greeting to them. "He's coming," he informed them. "He's not feeling too good though, so - just tread carefully, OK?" He tried to hide the fear that these words evoked in him. Ezra only ever gave him warning like that when Eric was being especially vitriolic. Every single time after such a warning, Eric had taken control within ten minutes. Vin sincerely hoped that that would not happen today. He didn't feel confident in his ability to restrain Ezra/Eric successfully and stop him from hurting any of the others in the process. It was better when there was just the two of them; at least then he could simply walk away and wait out of sight until Ezra/Eric calmed down sufficiently for him to approach.
Chris noticed the tension in Vin's voice and in his posture. He straightened slightly on his seat, and frowned. What had gotten Vin so riled up?
A step on the stair announced Ezra's arrival. He still looked a little too pale, but was considerably better than he had looked during the drive home. "Gentlemen," he said by way of greeting.
"Take a seat, Ezra," Chris told him. "We need to discuss a few things - as a family."
Ezra sat on the proffered seat. "Certainly."
Josiah began with: "Is there anything you would like to tell us about this afternoon?"
Ezra resisted the temptation to begin talking about the weather of that afternoon, instead saying coolly, "I had a minor migraine, Mr Sanchez. It was not an especially uncomfortable migraine, and has now past. I apologise for asking Mr Tanner to stay with me throughout the lesson."
"Why did you not go to the clinic?"
"I find that the migraines generally pass more quickly if I stay outside," Ezra replied. "Sitting in a humid room with an overbearing matron breathing down my neck does nothing to help."
Vin stifled a smile at this; visualising the school matron; a stick-like creature who wore large glasses that made her look like an insect.
Josiah lent towards Ezra a little. "Is there a - wider problem here, Ezra?"
Vin felt a sick sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. 'Oh hell, Josiah... you idiot.' He watched Ezra closely, searching for the almost imperceptible signs of anger - and sure enough, he saw the slight tensing of Ezra's shoulders, the slight clenching of his fists. Vin slid forward a little in his seat and braced himself, ready to jump up and grab Ezra if physical restraint should become necessary.
Ezra blinked rapidly. "A wider problem, you say?" he said, the tone of his voice subtly changing. Vin resisted the urge to start beating his head against the side of the sofa. Ezra had either lost control or given it over. Neither option was particularly promising as regarded his health and safety, and that of his brothers.
"A wider problem?" Ezra/Eric continued, the pitch of his voice rising as he got to his feet. Ezra felt the anger run through him as he allowed Eric to take control. He was letting the anger show now; letting them see just what they were messing with.
"I don't know," he continued, cocking his head to one side. He turned to Vin. "Am I a problem, would you say? You know me, after all."
Vin hedged desperately, not wanting to aggravate Eric. "I don't know," he replied. "You should be the judge of that."
"Oh? But you've called me a problem so many times." He grinned as the others turned accusing glares on Vin. Vin sighed, realising that the others did not understand the situation at all.
"Not what it looks like," he pleaded desperately. 'Please just back off so I can get Ez out of here before it's too late.'
In a sudden movement - but not wholly unexpected to Vin - Ezra lashed out. Had Vin not been expecting the blow, it would have landed on his nose and knocked him off his seat. As it was, he threw himself to one side and came up quickly, snaking his arms around Ezra's torso and pinning his arms to his sides. He heard the others jump to their feet, but concentrated his attention on Ezra, who was fighting to escape his hold.
"Let me go!" Ezra protested, attempting to knock Vin's legs out from under him.
"You gonna calm down?" Vin asked, calmly evading the move. Ezra jerked forward again, but Vin maintained the hold. "Back off!" he called at the others. "Give us some space." He sensed Ezra beginning to calm down, but did not loosen his hold. The last time he had been taken in by that, he had nearly ended up with a broken arm.
"Vin..." Chris began nervously.
"Back off!" Vin ordered, not caring that Chris was probably going to give him a tongue-lashing later for disrespect. "Please, Chris." He had to get Eric calmed down to give Ezra a chance to retain control. Only then would he - and the others - be safe.
"Let me go, Mr Tanner," said his captive, now sounding very tired and resigned. Vin loosened his hold slightly, surveying Ezra with a wary eye.
"Yes, Mr Tanner," Ezra replied. Vin sighed in relief, realising that this was indeed Ezra again. 'Crisis over,' he thought, although not without some trepidation. He cautiously loosened his hold completely and then stepped back.
Ezra stood upright for a few seconds, then stumbled slightly. In an instant, Vin was there, supporting him to the sofa. 'What did I do to deserve a brother like Vin?' Ezra wondered. 'One second he's restraining me because I'm trying to hit him, the next he's supporting me so I don't fall.'
Josiah was the first to approach. "Ezra, son - are you all right?"
Ezra looked up at him as Vin retreated slightly. "I am," he replied, maintaining his composure. 'Please stop questioning me so I can just get out of here.'
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I apologise for my - lack of control," he said, sensing the change in the atmosphere of the room. Fear. Shock. Confusion.
'I should not have let him out,' Ezra realised. 'Now they are really concerned.' "It was a momentary slip, I'm afraid. It will not happen again."
'Vin. Oh Lord. Please Vin. Don't tell them; not now of all times.' "Mr Tanner," Ezra replied, the warning clear in his voice.
Vin sighed a little, wishing for the nth time that it was someone else stuck in this bind, not him. 'Hell, when did it get this bad?' he wondered angrily. 'I made a promise,' he thought then. 'I can't break it...'
Josiah watched carefully. Something was very, very wrong. Vin had wanted to tell them, but Ezra had warned him off. His mind ran through the possibilities: anger management problems, stress, some kind of psychological disorder... or just a plain bad temper. He discounted the latter, though; there had been too much going on for the problem to be purely 'a plain bad temper'. If it was a psychological problem, then there were a myriad of possibilities; but the upshot of his considerations was definite: Ezra - and most likely Vin as well - would need help. If they could or would not accept it from their brothers, then they would have to accept it from another source, and most likely a psychiatrist.
Ezra stood up. "I am going for a walk."
Vin moved to follow him. "I'm coming with you." 'In this mood,' he thought, 'I'm not leaving you alone.'
For a brief second, Ezra considered asking Vin not to; but decided against it. Secretly, he wanted the company. "Very well, Mr Tanner."
Vin shot Chris an urgent look. 'Please don't stop us, Chris.' Chris nodded in acknowledgement of the silent plea, and moved aside to allow Ezra and Vin past.
A heavy silence reigned in the room after the two boys had left. In the end, Buck broke it, asking the question that they were all thinking: "What the hell just happened there?"
"Ezra, wait up!" Vin called as Ezra walked away from him. He sighed as Ezra walked faster. "Don't make me do this the hard way," he muttered. He jogged to catch up to Ezra. "You wanna talk about that?"
"Talk about what, exactly, Mr Tanner?"
"What just happened with the guys back there? Hell, Ezra, you could have hurt someone. If it was that bad, why the hell did you not just say 'I'm not coming down'?" He knew he shouldn't be this angry; shouldn't yell at Ezra. But... he was just aggravated. "Ezra, if you feel like you are going to loose control again, for God's sake tell me and I'll get you out of there. Going into a situation like that when you are angry and don't want to talk is not going to help anyone, OK?"
Ezra grimaced. "I apologise for putting the rest of your esteemed brothers in danger. I will attempt to ensure it does not happen again." He made to move off again, but Vin grabbed his arm.
"Not so easy," he growled. "Now I'm sorry for yelling, OK? We need to talk. I'm gonna tell you a few things and you're going to make an effort to see my point of view, OK?"
Ezra nodded. "Very well." He had no intention of staying in the conversation any longer than he had too.
The two boys sat in the shade of the forest about one hundred metres from the house. "Well, Mr Tanner," Ezra invited, "you wanted to talk?"
"Yeah, I did." He let the silence hang for a few seconds, before saying quietly, "Now Ezra... you always say you want this to be completely secret from the rest of the guys, right?"
An angry nod was enough confirmation.
"Hey," Vin said defensively, "I'm not questioning that, OK?"
"No..." Ezra retorted, "not this time at least."
"Well," Vin continued, ignoring Ezra's muttered retort, "what just happened is a sure-fire way of ensuring that they do find out, and soon. I betcha they are sitting in that room right now asking each other 'What the hell happened there', and sooner or later, one of them is going to come up with the right answer. Josiah's probably thinking through everything he's ever learned about psychology. Buck's blustering about the two of us and how we're both so withdrawn. JD's asking significant questions without even realising they're significant. Chris is quietly stewing and planning how to find out what's happening. Nathan's racking his brains for any kind of physical condition to explain what's happening. Ezra, either they are going to guess, or they are going to force one or both of us to see a counsellor."
Ezra turned angry eyes on him. "I apologise for my condition, Mr Tanner, but it is hardly my fault."
"I'm not sayin' it is, Ezra," Vin sighed, "but the fact remains, they are going to find out. Now, do you wanna tell 'em, or are you gonna wait?"
Ezra sank his head into his hands, suddenly weary. 'Do I jump or get pushed?' he thought, grimacing slightly at the saying. He felt certain that his "condition", his "disorder", would split the family. From what he had read, mental 'illness' could do that to families. He had read about families in cases on mental health websites where families had been split as the burden of taking care of the mentally ill relation in their midst. Vin had tried countless times to assure him that he would not be a burden; that often in those cases where the family was forced to split, there were other forces - such as financial troubles - burdening the family. Vin had promised Ezra that everyone in their family would believe him; that they would almost be relieved to know what the problem was. Ezra refused to accept this... he could not accept it.
Ezra didn't answer immediately, thinking through what Vin had told him. 'Do I have the right to force Vin to keep my secret for any longer?' he wondered. 'What is it doing to him?' For the first time in months, he looked closely at Vin, noticing as if for the first time, the dark shadows on his brother's face, the pain in his eyes.
"What I do, Mr Tanner, is my choice," Ezra told him quietly. "You must do what you believe is best."
Vin glanced up, surprised. "Ezra..."
"You may tell our brothers whatever you think most appropriate."
Vin was horrified by the sorrow and pain he heard in Ezra's voice. "Are you giving up, Ezra?" he asked. 'Why am I saying this?' he asked himself. 'Isn't this what I wanted? The chance to tell our brothers the truth? But... now that I have the chance, suddenly it doesn't seem so attractive... but they have to know! I can't tell them; Ezra has to,' he realised.
"Ezra, I'm not going to tell them," he said firmly. Deep down, he sensed that Ezra almost wanted Vin to take responsibility for telling their brothers. He was tired of bearing the burden.
"Why not?" Ezra asked, genuinely confused.
"I can't," Vin admitted. "You have to, Ezra."
Instantly, the shutters came down. "Mr Tanner, I have repeatedly stated that I do not wish to tell anyone about this. If you wish to, that is your choice."
Vin shook his head, staring at the ground. "I know what you're doing," he said after a few seconds. "You're trying to push me away. You think that if you push me away, I won't bother to help you anymore, and you can go back to dealing with this on your own like you always had." He grabbed Ezra's arm and forced him to look at him. "I'm not going to, Ezra. I will not abandon you like that. If you want the others to know, I will be there for you when you tell them; I will help them understand, but you have to take the first steps. I know you don't wanna hurt them, but - and I hate to go all cheesy on you like this; but it's true. It's hurting them more not knowing what's wrong. It's the truth Ezra."
Ezra got to his feet. "Do you really believe that, Mr Tanner?"
"Yes." There was silence for a few minutes after Vin's softly spoken affirmation. Eventually Vin broke the silence, asking casually, "What happened back there?"
Ezra frowned. "I am afraid I am unable to follow."
"In the room. Did you let him out or did he..."
"I let him out," Ezra admitted in a whisper. He hated having to admit to it. Somehow, being forced back was more - 'honourable' than simply giving in.
"I was angry, Mr Tanner," Ezra replied softly. "One doesn't always think straight when angry - particularly not with a psychotic maniac abusing oneself from within." After particularly bad 'episodes', he would often refer to Eric as a 'psychotic maniac'. Vin suspected that Eric was the one responsible for the suicide attempts of Ezra's when he was younger; before he became a part of their family. The scars remained on Ezra's wrists, causing the boy to wear long-sleeved shirts or jackets year-round. It was only in the exclusive company of his brothers that he occasionally felt secure enough to roll his shirt sleeves back.
The other brothers never made fun of or specifically pointed out the scars, knowing that the visible evidence of the depression that had haunted Ezra for most of his teenage years still caused Ezra a great deal of pain. Vin knew more than the others, however. He knew that Eric was responsible for many dark events in Ezra's past that Ezra never talked about. He didn't know what had caused Ezra's personality to split, but he knew that whatever it was, it had been an extremely traumatic event, and had most likely happened when Ezra was a small child.
Vin grimaced. "Yeah."
Ezra nodded, and thought for a few seconds. "I am going to walk over that way. I need to think..."
Vin hid his sigh, and simply nodded. "I'll stay here." The tacit invitation hung in the air: 'if you need to talk...'
Ezra acknowledged it with a brief salute, before turning to walk down the field away from the house. He ambled in a leisurely fashion, and Vin watched him through hooded eyes as he leant back against the tree. 'So, now that he's given me permission to spill the beans, what the hell do I do now?'
Ezra wandered aimlessly down the field, thinking intently, trying to get the events of the previous day in some sort of order, trying to work out what he could do next. That his other brothers now had firm suspicions, he had no doubt. Even had Vin not seen fit to lecture this into him, he had arrived at the same conclusion the moment he had regained control, and sensed the atmosphere of the room, seen the shock on his brothers' faces as they tried to work out what had happened.
He had surprised even himself by giving permission to Vin to tell the others what had happened - but Vin's response had not surprised him in the slightest. Vin was too honourable to break the promise he had made, even if Ezra had freed him of responsibility. Now he found himself mired in a moral dilemma: everything Vin had told him was correct. His brothers probably were feeling a little left out, as he had not told them what was happening. They probably would prefer to know. But... Ezra didn't know if he could face the possible consequences of telling them. He didn't know if he could handle it if his problems ripped the family apart.
"Josiah - any thoughts?" Chris's voice dragged Josiah out of his reverie. Only a minute or two had passed since Vin and Ezra had left in such a hurry, but the lounge room had been in a state of shocked silence until Buck had spoken up, asking, "What the hell just happened there?"
Now Chris turned to Josiah - the oldest of them, and the one with most experience in dealing with the brain and psychology - for suggestions.
Josiah pursed his lips slightly. "There are - many different alternatives," he said, choosing his words with care. "We could be looking at a psychological condition, simple stress problems, or something as simple as a pure bad temper. Now, I do not believe it to be the latter - there have simply been too many wide-ranging symptoms for it to be this - but we have to bear in mind that it may play a part."
"So, you think it's - what? A 'psychological problem'? Stress? I've never seen anyone with severe stress act like that, Josiah," Buck said firmly.
Josiah nodded. "I am inclined to believe that it is a combination of stress, with some sort of psychological issue."
"What do you mean by that?" JD asked. "You don't mean - crazy?" he asked, employing all the subtlety of a curious thirteen-year-old.
Nathan shook his head. "No. Ezra is not insane. There are - well, JD, everyone's mind works differently, OK? But most people's function in the same sort of way - not exactly the same, but pretty close."
JD nodded, frowning as he concentrated on Nathan's explanation.
"But some people's minds develop different. These people are the ones who have 'mental disabilities'. Like Jake from school," he added, hoping that a familiar face would reinforce the message.
"He's got au-... au-"
"Autism, that's right," Nathan finished. "Autism is a mental condition. It's a different way for the brain and body to function. People with autism are not 'insane'. OK, JD?"
JD nodded seriously. "So what's Ezra got then?"
Nathan paused. "I don't know," he admitted. "There are people who would be able to work it out, though. They're called psychiatrists. It's their job to talk to people who have mental conditions and try to help them deal with it."
"Can they make it go away?"
Buck smiled at the innocence of the question. "No, Kid," he responded, "but they can make it less serious, so that the person can live a more normal life."
Nathan smiled gratefully at Buck for taking the explanation out of his hands. He had been floundering as to how to explain the last question. However, he was not yet out of the woods.
"Nathan?" JD asked. "Why do these conditions happen?"
"No one really knows," Nathan replied. "It's normally because the person has had really bad things happen to them or people they love, or because they've had an accident. Often people are simply born that way."
Chris dragged the conversation back to the immediate point of concern. "So, Josiah - what do you think? You thinking a psychiatrist?"
Josiah paused, and Buck stepped in. "I don't see what else we can do, Chris?" he admitted. "If it really is a psychological problem, what can we really do? We're not trained to deal with stuff like this. Sure we can support him, but... I've got a feeling that's what Junior's been doing, and it's not a permanent solution. We need to find someone he'll open up to, who can help him with - well, whatever the problem is."
Josiah nodded. "Makes sense."
Chris took a deep breath. "OK - I'll start making enquiries."
Vin waited under the tree for fifteen minutes before Ezra reappeared beside him. During that time, Vin had managed to sort out what he wanted to do. He wouldn't - couldn't - tell the others about Eric. However, he had no such qualms in attempting to force Ezra to admit the truth to them. Fear was tearing Ezra up inside, and Vin knew that only with the help of all of his brothers could the damage be repaired. He had done all he could... hell, he had spent countless hours talking to Ezra about it, surfing the net looking for information, and lying to his teachers, his brothers, their friends, about what was going on.
He watched as Ezra paced the field, rambling uncertainly, talking to himself. It was a nervous habit of Ezra's that only manifested itself when he was either exceptionally nervous, or exceptionally worried and confused. Vin guessed that in this case, it was a combination of all three. He had to admit to the same feelings himself; but one thought overrode all others - what were the guys thinking?
Ezra put on a hell of a display, Vin thought wryly. If they suspected something before, they're definitely going to be on our backs trying to find out now... Suddenly his resolution, not to tell them, began to look very hard to keep.
Ezra had at last begun to calm the mental storm inside his head, and was carefully manufacturing the façade that would get him through the remainder of the day. He sighed, rubbing at his forehead as a flash of pain hit him. He could feel a migraine coming on, and it was not being helped by Eric berating him from within.
Shut up, Ezra replied. You can't go round hitting people, no matter how angry you are.
The thoughts beat at his consciousness, but with a supreme mastery built from years of experience, Ezra forced it away. He slipped the mask back into place, and walked towards Vin.
"Vin," he called, as he approached him. Vin looked up, hesitantly. "I think we should go back inside," Ezra said quietly. "I believe our brothers will be waiting for us."
Vin nodded. "Yeah." They moved off, back towards the house, together.
An uncomfortable silence fell on the lounge room as the two boys reentered. All parties present had the same matter on their mind, but no one knew how to start the conversation. At last, Josiah bit the proverbial bullet and began the discussion.
"Vin, Ezra. As I am sure you are both are aware that we - your brothers - are concerned about you." He held up a hand as Ezra moved to speak. "Please, Ezra. Now, I don't want to draw any conclusions about what just happened in the lounge a few minutes ago, but... Ezra, we would like you to talk to someone."
"What?" The façade dropped, for a few brief seconds, and the panic in Ezra's eyes was on display. He recovered himself quickly. "What exactly do you mean? Whom would I be talking to?"
God give me strength, Josiah prayed. "A counsellor."
Vin closed his eyes briefly. He had expected this, and to be honest, he was pleased. About time...
Ezra felt a cold hand close about his heart. Oh God... no... they can't... they'll find out... Vin, why aren't you saying something? Saying this isn't necessary... He marshalled his thoughts brutally, forcing his mind back to the situation at hand. Don't panic.
"That will not be necessary," he replied, voice hard as cold steel.
"Why not, Ezra?" Chris asked him quietly. "Where's the harm in talking to someone for an hour? If it makes you uncomfortable or if it's not helping anything, you don't have to go back."
"But we'd like you to at least give it a try," Nathan added. Ezra's eyes flew over to regard his brother. He was starting to feel trapped, particularly because he could find no reason - or at least, no reason that they would find credible - not to do as they suggested.
"Very well," he conceded, almost whispering. "One session."
He sensed the change in the room; the easing of tension. He sensed Vin, beside him, relax a little. He didn't look up though, staring at the floor. This was the right thing to do, wasn't it? Afterall, he had no intention of going to more than one session. One session, an hour of lying... hell, he could do that easily. One little set of lies, and he was free...
But... if I'm free... why do I feel so trapped?
Vin felt a sense of - relief flow over him. He had no illusions, however, about why Ezra had agreed so quickly and painlessly to talk to a counsellor. Ezra was no doubt planning to lie his way through one session, and then escape. How can I work this...
"Vin?" Chris said, trying to get his attention. He continued as Vin looked up at him; "We'd like you to talk to someone as well."
Vin's head shot up to look at Chris. He noticed Ezra start, and deduced that this turn of events was not something Ezra had planned for.
"I, uh... OK," he stammered. Chris nodded, and gave him a brief, encouraging smile. "When?" he asked, trying to calm his nerves.
"As soon as possible," Nathan responded. "Hopefully early next week."
Ezra nodded, swallowed, then got to his feet. "If this discussion is over..."
Buck shook his head. "Not yet, Ez," he said, smiling. "There's one more thing that we have to say to you boys." He waited until Ezra sat back down before continuing. "Now, we know that obviously you boys have something that is worrying you. Hell, there's no way that we couldn't have noticed. And I know that sending you boys to talk to a psychiatrist probably makes it seem like we don't want to know about it. But..."
"We are concerned, and we will be here for both you boys," Josiah said, picking up where Buck left off. "That's a promise. We are not abandoning you."
Silence reigned following Josiah's statement. Ezra stared at the floor, embarrassed by the attention and the words of his brothers, while Vin bit his lip and waited.
"I need a drink," Ezra mumbled after a few seconds, getting up and quickly making his way out of the room. Vin looked after him, but made no move to follow.
"He needs to be alone," he said by way of explanation to Chris. Chris nodded.
"And what do you need?" he asked.
Vin paused, thinking, then half-smiled. "I'm good... I'm good now." He nodded. "Yeah..." And it was true - while he was not fully comfortable with the idea of talking to a counsellor, he knew that this was best for everyone.
Ezra sat down in his room, clutching a glass in his hands. Unthinking, he drained the glass of its contents, barely even registering what they were. He forced himself to breathe slowly, to begin to formulate a plan. He barely noticed the softened footsteps outside his door.
He was trapped. He felt it; felt closed in. They didn't realise just how claustrophobic their words had made him feel... every caring word they said made him more and more uncertain, more and more flighty. He felt like running - running to the other end of the Earth.
With a cry, he hurled the glass at the wall, watching with a mild sense of satisfaction as it smashed and pieces dropped to the floor. He walked over and knelt by the glass, playing with the shards.
The door opened cautiously, and JD peered in, wide-eyed. "Ez- Ezra?" he asked nervously.
"Mr Dunne," Ezra acknowledged.
JD came a few steps further into the room, towards Ezra. He watched, partially fascinated, partially horrified, as Ezra flipped a piece of glass between his fingers. "Uh... don't you think you should..."
"Stop playing with the glass because I may cut myself?" Ezra finished casually. JD nodded. Ezra laughed a little, dropping the glass to the ground and giving JD a quick salute. "As you wish, Mr Dunne."
JD smiled, and sat on the carpet beside him. "So..."
"What do you think about the psychiatrist?" JD blurted out, then looked away.
When he looked back at Ezra, the older boy was surveying him with a mixture of curiosity and amusement in his eyes. He smiled gently. "I think... I think it's a waste of time, but if it will make our brothers happy, then I will see this psychiatrist."
He patted JD's shoulder, understanding just how nervous JD had been. JD half-smiled back. "So... you aren't angry at them or anything?"
"No, Mr Dunne." Ezra shook his head. "I am not angry at them."
"Good. Because, you know, they are only doing this because they care," JD continued. "None of us will desert you, Ezra," he said earnestly. "No matter what. I promise."
Ezra felt his anger, his confusion, melt away. He wondered sometimes whether JD knew what the impact of his simple words could be. He smiled briefly at JD, and gave him a quick salute. "Thank you, JD. That - that... I am truly touched. Thank you."
JD waved his words away. "We're brothers Ez, it's what brothers do."
Ezra tried to resist the shudder that ran through him at these words. It had been only a few years since another person had said those exact words to him... and that was a memory he did not want reopened.
Apparently his effort to conceal his shudder had been unsuccessful. "Yes, Mr Dunne?"
"Are you OK?"
"Never better," Ezra replied evenly, managing to keep the tremor out of his voice. "Never better..."
"Good morning," the receptionist - a girl named Tracey - said, as Chris, Ezra, and Josiah entered the office. "Are you here for an appointment?"
Josiah nodded. "Yes, Miss. Ezra has an appointment with Dr Fraser."
Tracey smiled, and quickly checked the register. "Yes; he's free now, so you can go on in. Third door on the left," she added, seeing the brief flicker of hesitation in Ezra's eyes.
Josiah made to follow Ezra, but Ezra turned to him, and said quietly, but firmly, "I am 18 years old, Mr Sanchez, you do not need to accompany me and hold my hand."
Josiah conceded the point, instead patting Ezra's shoulder gently. "We'll be just out here if you need us," he promised. "We'll let you know if we hear anything about Vin." Vin had not been in his room that morning, and nothing had been heard from him all morning. While Buck said that "Junior normally goes for a morning run; he's probably just gone a bit further this morning," Ezra had a horrible feeling that something was terribly wrong.
Ezra walked towards the door. He could not shake the overwhelming nervousness that ruled his senses. Come on, Ezra, he admonished himself. 'One hour of lying and it will all be over.'
He knocked on the door, and heard someone - presumably Dr Fraser - call: "Come in." He walked inside, careful to hide his nerves.
A young man - probably in his thirties - got to his feet as Ezra entered the room, and walked over to shake his hand. "Ezra Standish, I presume?"
"My name is Benjamin Fraser. Pleased to meet you. Take a seat."
"Would you like me on the couch, or the seat?" Ezra asked, not bothering to hide the slight sarcasm in his voice.
To his surprise, Doctor Fraser laughed. "Wherever you would prefer," he answered, watching as Ezra settled himself in the chair. "You don't really want to be here, do you?" he asked candidly.
Ezra hesitated, before answering quietly, "No, I do not."
"Why not? I'm curious."
"Meaning no insult to yourself," Ezra began carefully, "I find this is be a phenomenal waste of time."
Dr Fraser smiled. "Don't worry; I've had far worse things said about me. Why do you think this is a waste of time?"
"There is nothing wrong with me," Ezra replied evenly. Of course not, Eric told him sarcastically. I'm sure everyone has a... what is it you call me? A 'psychotic maniac'? That's right. Well, I'm sure that everyone has a psychotic maniac running around in their head.
'Shut up,' Ezra told him angrily, trying to stop the tension from showing on his face. He just had to hold it together for this one hour...
Dr Fraser had not missed the slight tensing of Ezra's hands into fists; the flicker of exasperation and anger that passed over his face. He let it go, but filed the information away. There was definitely something going on here...
"Your brothers mentioned an incident a couple of days ago," he said, testing the waters. "They said that you missed your last lesson in school due to a migraine, and when you came downstairs later that night you appeared to lose control and attempt to strike one of your brothers. Is that true?"
Ezra acknowledged the statement with a small nod.
"They have also told me that they have been worried about you for the last two years, and that they have the impression that there is something very serious that you are hiding from them. Would you say that this is true?"
"No," Ezra replied. "As I told you before, there is nothing serious that I am hiding from them."
"Humour me, Ezra," Dr Fraser said. "Can you describe the events of that afternoon?"
"Certainly," Ezra replied politely, although he was inwardly bored out of his mind. He glanced down into his lap and at his watch; he had been in the room for only a few minutes. 'Oh Lord...' he groaned inwardly. 'Another 55 minutes of this?'
"I was feeling unwell; on occasion, I have migraines. They are not particularly harmful, but do result in me feeling rather unwell for a few hours. I felt a migraine coming on last Friday during the lunch break. Vin noticed that I appeared to be unwell, and asked me if I would like to sit out of class. I decided that I would, as I felt too unwell to attend class. I knew, however, that this would pass relatively quickly, so I decided that I did not need to call my brothers and ask to leave school early. Vin said that he would sit with me, in case the migraine worsened. He first went to tell our teachers that we would not be attending the lesson. Mr Harding called our brothers, and they arrived at school to pick us up.
"I was feeling very unwell by the time we arrived home, and I went straight up to my room. Vin came up to tell me that I was wanted downstairs. Some things said during the discussion - I cannot remember the details exactly - made me angry, and as I was already feeling sick, I lashed out inappropriately." He shrugged. "That was all there was to it."
"Does this happen often, Ezra?" Dr Fraser's face was twisted in an expression of genuine concern, and for a second, Ezra let himself believe that this 'counsellor' actually cared. He forced the thoughts away again. 'Don't weaken now', he told himself sternly. 'One hour...'
"No," Ezra lied smoothly. "No, it does not."
"Now, Ezra, please tell me -" He broke off with a slight grimace of frustration as the phone rang. "Excuse me," he said to Ezra, who merely nodded, before answering. "Tracey, I've told you before, I don't - what?" His face was suddenly marred by concern. "OK." He hung up. "Ezra, I'm afraid that one of your brothers has just been hospitalised. It appears that his arm is broken. The exact circumstances..." His voice trailed off as Ezra got to his feet, and held out his hand.
"Thank you Doctor Fraser, but I think I should be going."
He left the room quickly, nausea threatening to overwhelm him. Josiah was striding towards the door as Ezra exited; he paused, then beckoned Ezra to follow. "Vin's been found; Buck and Nathan are almost at the hospital and Nettie is giving JD a lift there."
Ezra merely nodded, and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. With a flash of clarity, he had suddenly remembered exactly how Vin had gotten his broken arm.
'Oh God, how the hell do I get out of this mess?' he thought despairingly.
Vin lay in the hospital bed, bored out of his mind. On doctor's orders, he was to stay overnight - he had received a concussion at the same time as the broken arm, and his doctor - an excitable part-Caucasian part-Asian lady called Akimato Thompson, or Dr Aki for short - wanted to make sure that there were no serious problems.
He knew that his brothers would be in the process of running across town to see him. It was an accepted fact of life for their family that when one was injured, his brothers would swamp him with attention and worry. Vin hated it.
Of course, he respected the love and care that this attention implied; he was flattered, and - of course - attempted to show his gratitude. But there were only so many times Vin was prepared to let his brothers feed, dress, or carry him. That number was approximately zero, or one, at the very outside.
The sound of loud boots echoing down the hallway alerted him to the presence of at least a few of his brothers. The sound of tapping feet - probably running - alerted him to the presence of a nurse, who was presumably attempting to stop his brothers from getting in to see him.
Not that, of course, it would do any good.
"Hey Nathan, hey Buck."
"Vin - how are you feeling?" Nathan moved straight to his side and began checking the cut on his head. Vin flapped his hands at him.
"I'm OK, I'm OK! Calm down, Nate," Vin ordered. Nathan ignored him, and began checking out Vin's broken arm. "Nate!" Vin let out.
Nathan backed off, but the look in his eyes warned Vin that he would be watching very closely.
"So - what happened, junior?" Buck asked, having chased off the nurse.
"I got mugged," Vin replied. "I was out for my run, and... he took me by surprise."
Buck frowned. "Did you get a good look at him?"
Vin shook his head. "Nope. Didn't have a wallet or anything, so he left me. Where are the others?"
"On their way," Nathan told him. "JD's coming from school, but Ezra, Chris, and Josiah should be here in about five more minutes."
Vin nodded. "OK."
"Hey Chris," Vin said, looking up as his brother entered the room. Chris looked distinctly unimpressed.
"What happened?" he asked.
"I'm doing OK," Vin said airily, ignoring the patented Larabee Glare. "And yourself?"
"And yourself?" Vin repeated.
"Fine," Chris hissed through gritted teeth. Vin sensed that he had pushed his brother far enough for that time.
"I got mugged," he said simply. "Was knocked unconscious; when I woke up, I got help."
"Did you get a look at the guy?"
"Nope. He jumped me from behind." Chris nodded slowly. Vin asked after a second, "Where's Ezra and Josiah?"
"They're outside," Chris revealed. "I asked them to wait for a moment." He nodded at Buck, who quickly left the room.
Vin looked towards the door. Ezra entered before Josiah, and Buck followed them. Ezra nodded briefly before taking up residence on a seat on the opposite side of the room. Josiah walked over to Vin.
"Vin... how are you -"
"I'm fine," Vin replied, flashing a slightly terse smile. "Look, why don't you guys go and see if JD's arrived? I want to talk to Ezra... find out how it all went," he added with a slight smile.
Chris and Josiah exchanged looks. "OK," Chris said, after a few seconds. "We'll be back in a few minutes." Buck followed them out the door. Nathan turned to Ezra.
"Ezra," he said, "don't you let him get up, understand?"
Ezra nodded, and Nathan left.
There was another uncomfortable pause, while both boys tried to work out how to raise the subject.
"So..." Ezra said at last. "Was it..." His voice trailed off, they both knew exactly who he was referring to.
Vin nodded. "Yeah," he murmured.
Ezra nodded, pursing his lips. "I thought as much. What now?"
Vin shrugged, his smile brittle. "Don't you hate being mugged?" he said.
Ezra looked up sharply. "What... you'd..." He was lost for words. Vin would actually keep lying to everyone for my sake?
Fortunately Vin understood exactly what Ezra meant. "Sure I would," he replied easily.
Ezra nodded, and stared at the ground for a few seconds. "We have to tell them," he murmured.
"Pardon?" Vin had heard exactly what Ezra had said, but... he needed Ezra to say it again. To confirm it.
"When they get back... we have to tell them," Ezra said, slightly firmer than last time, although Vin could still hear the nervous edge to his voice. He gestured slightly at Vin. "Look what has happened now... This must stop."
Vin nodded slowly. "Ezra..." he said softly. "They aren't gonna hate you, OK? They really won't. They'll understand."
Ezra nodded. "Of course they will, Mr Tanner," he said, forcing all nerves from his voice. "I never doubted it." Neither Vin nor Ezra felt like pointing out that Ezra had, many times, stated that his brothers would not believe him if they ever found out about his condition, or that they would believe him to be a "nut job" and lock him away.
The sound of several people walking down the corridor - as well as the sound of JD's loud voice - alerted the boys to the imminent return of their brothers. Ezra had his head down, and was staring intently at the floor, unable to watch as they re-entered. Vin looked at him, concerned, but knew that nothing he could say would make it any easier for Ezra to take this step.
Their brothers entered room in single file, and assumed seats around the room. All regarded Ezra especially with some curiosity and concern; the boy had not moved even when they came into the room. JD paused on his way to Vin, and looked at Ezra.
"Ezra?" JD said hesitantly. "Are you OK?"
Ezra looked up, and sighed heavily. "I have something to tell you all..."
He didn't look up. He couldn't look up. He didn't want to see the expressions on their faces as he told them. He already knew what they would be. Vin would be concerned, and ready to spring to his assistance at the slightest sign of need. Josiah would frown as he processed the information, then banish it quickly, fearing that Ezra would take it as a sign of rejection. Nathan would nod, and his brow would crease slightly as he delved within his memory to summon up his knowledge of the condition. JD would look confused and look to Buck for an explanation. Buck would be attempting to project both his concern for Ezra, and reassurance for JD. Chris... it was his reaction that Ezra truly feared. Would Chris understand?
Eric had begun showering abuse on Ezra, but Ezra was not cowed. Not this time. He knew that Eric feared exactly what he feared - being labelled "insane". He whispered to Eric, 'Let's tell them together. I'm just as scared as you are.'
There was mental silence. Ezra knew that his words had struck home. Eric might not actually support him, but... at least he knew that Ezra didn't like this any more than he did.
"I... I've been..." He stumbled to a halt.
Vin bit his lip, forcing himself not to intervene. He maintained the façade for a few seconds, before pulling himself off the bed and walking over to Ezra. He took the seat next to Ezra, and was not surprised when a few seconds later Ezra accepted his outstretched hand as a gesture of support.
"Vin..." he whispered. "Can you..."
Vin nodded. "You really want me to?"
Ezra sighed. "Yes. Thank you."
Vin nodded again, closing his eyes briefly. "Ezra has - he has two personalities," he forced out, giving Ezra's hand a reassuring squeeze as Ezra flinched, anticipating the reactions of his brothers.
There was silence for a few seconds, before Josiah walked silently over to Ezra and enveloped the boy in a hug. No words, no other actions, could have meant more to Ezra. Vin moved to release his hand, and Ezra tightened his grip. He was willing to accept the support that Josiah was apparently offering, but he was not willing to release Vin's help just yet.
Chris dry-swallowed. He had no idea what to say. 'What the hell does one say at times like this?' he wondered furiously. "Ezra?" he began, as Josiah stepped back slightly. Ezra acknowledged him with a quick glance, before his eyes fell to the floor.
"Ezra," Chris said again, his voice firming as he stepped closer to his brother. He didn't normally speak his feelings this openly, but he knew that this was a situation where it was required. "I know... at times like this, you probably don't want to hear 'everything's going to be OK'. So I'm not going to waste my breath telling you that... I'm not psychic. But... even if I don't know what the future holds, I'm gonna promise you this - we'll be there to support you. No matter what, we will not let you down." He waited until Ezra looked up into his eyes, then repeated the statement firmly: "We will not let you down."
Ezra swallowed, blinking rapidly, and looked away again as Nathan and Buck affirmed Chris's words with nods and murmured confirmations. Ezra found his gaze drawn to JD... The boy was looking into his eyes. There was no hint of disdain, or indifference. Instead, JD looked at Ezra with acceptance in his eyes.
Ezra looked away again, then spoke very softly. "When... last week; when it appeared that I tried to hit Mr Tanner - Vin..." He paused.
Nathan took over. "That was... the - other?" he queried gently.
Ezra nodded. "Yes. Vin... Vin has known for almost a year."
"You guys remember us all eating out in the paddocks?" Vin asked.
"The time we had a water fight?" JD asked. Buck laughed.
"You know, kid, that don't really narrow it down much, now, does it?" He ruffled the boy's hair, as JD tried to duck away.
"Bu-uck, don't!" he yelled, dodging to one side. Ezra, watching, grinned as Buck pinned JD down and made a complete mess of his hair.
"Once these two have finished their horse-play," Chris said, mock- serious. Buck smirked. JD tried to straighten his hat back on his head, and maintain his dignity.
It was just the break that they had all needed, and Vin noticed that mood of the room had lightened a little.
"Well," Vin continued, "Ez walked off, and I followed him … I caught up with him, and we talked a little, then he got really angry, and he hit me. 'course, I didn't have a clue what was happening, so he explained it to me." He shrugged. "I've known since then."
Silence fell over the room. Ezra, despite the reassurances he had received, was still feeling nauseous. He felt an overwhelming urge to burst out laughing, and make-believe that it had all been simply a late April Fool, or some such. He got to his feet. "I am going to... go..." he gestured towards the bathroom down the hall, and quickly shuffled out of the room.
Vin moved back to the bed following Ezra's departure. He looked up, and saw that all of his brothers were staring at him. He sighed. "What?" he asked, rolling his eyes, even though he knew what the question would be about.
Buck shook his head slowly. "Junior," he said, patting Vin on the shoulder, "I've garnered a little more respect for you tonight," he finished. He patted him again. "It's going to be OK."
"Hey," Vin protested, smiling, fighting to hold back his emotion, "how come Ezra doesn't have to get the 'it's going to be OK' speech, and I do?"
Buck laughed, then turned to the others. "He's fine," he proclaimed, grinning.
Chris permitted himself a smile. "Vin..."
Vin dropped the smile immediately. "I know, I should have told you guys, but, he just..."
Chris shook his head, "No, Vin, no. It's OK."
Vin froze. "But … I lied to you for a whole year."
"But you did it because you promised, I bet," Chris said. "Can't fault you for not breaking a promise. Now, you, get some rest - it's been a big night."
"What about Ez?"
"I think he'd prefer to stay in here," JD said, before Chris could announce that they were taking him back to the house. He shrugged innocently as Chris frowned at him. "Just a thought."
Chris grimaced, then nodded. "All right... Josiah, your flat's free, isn't it?" Josiah owned a flat about 5 minute's walk from the hospital. He offered it to families, of those who were staying in the hospital, but who could not afford to stay nearby.
"Can you guys stay a little longer?" Vin asked. "It's not that late..."
Chris laughed. "Nice try, cowboy." He turned to the door. "Ah, Ezra. We're going to stay in Josiah's flat tonight. That OK?"
Ezra nodded. He looked pale, but the hint of steel in his eye warned his brothers off making any comment, or asking after him.
Vin knew exactly what he was doing - he was blocking off what he had just done. And, as much as Vin wanted to reassure him that it was OK, he knew that Ezra needed time alone; time to think. Time he would not get if Vin reopened the memory for him. As he nodded to his brothers as they left, Vin let his eyes meet Ezra's. The promise was there: 'I will not let you deny that this happened.'
Ezra retired to the spare room the moment they reached the flat, and he had not been heard from since. They had all tried to rouse him, to talk to him, but with no success. Josiah had knocked on the door and then entered once, but Ezra had been lying in the bed and was, to all intents and purposes, asleep.
Chris and Josiah sat uncomfortably in the lounge room, both not mentioning the issue that was on both of their minds. Chris, eventually, was the one to break the ice, asking Josiah quietly, "So... what's your take on all of this?"
"The more I think about it, the less it surprises me," Josiah admitted. "When you consider what has happened to him, his behaviour, the signs were all there. How much do you know about the causes of this condition?"
"Not a lot."
Josiah frowned, considering how best to explain the situation to Chris. "This condition... has a range of causes; it's important to understand that. However... the most common cause is abuse of some sort - during early childhood."
Chris stared in horror, feeling the anger rise within him. "You mean... someone..."
Josiah nodded. "It's a possibility," Josiah warned him, "but keep your voice down. Ezra's just over there, and JD and Buck are around here somewhere. Some of this is not for little ears."
"I've found out a bit about Ezra's background," Josiah continued. "It seems that as a small child, he spent a lot of time staying with family friends or relatives. It's quite possible that whatever abuse caused the dissociation in his identity occurred while he was staying with one of these people. It's entirely possible, in fact, that Ezra has no memory of who abused him or how this all started - he was probably a very young child at the time."
Chris nodded to show his understanding, clenching and unclenching his fists in an effort to restrain his anger.
"Also..." Josiah continued, feeling sickened himself. "Ezra stayed with his step-brother for three years - from when he was twelve to fifteen. During this time... Ezra fell into destructive patterns in behaviour - depression, suicide attempts."
"You think his step-brother..."
"Yes," Josiah said simply. "I think it's a possibility. We may never know, though, Chris, and I don't want this to get back to Ezra that we've been looking up on his past. But... well, you'd have to read the reports, but there were people close to the boys who were very concerned. Trustworthy people, too, not storytellers and attention seekers."
Chris swallowed nervously. "So... where's the brother?"
"Dead. Killed in a car crash."
"Too good for him," Chris muttered. He shook his head, muttering, "Poor kid. What a nightmare."
Ezra was, indeed, far from asleep. The reality that he had admitted to his brothers about his - "little problem" was still sinking in, and he was resisting the strong urge to vomit. He checked the date on the calender by his bed; it said 14th May, which dashed any hopes of pretending that the whole thing had been an April Fool.
'What was I thinking?' he said to himself. 'What were we thinking?'
He remembered Josiah's gestures, Chris's supportive words, but... suddenly, lying there in the dark, the words, the gestures didn't mean as much. He felt cold and lonely. Eric was refusing to talk to him.
They both had the same fear - annihilation. Ezra had done his homework; he had searched for 'multiple personality cures' on the internet, and had been shocked by what he saw. There were drugs, he discovered, that could take away the other personality or personalities. Treatment, therapy, intensive counselling... the prospect made him sick to his stomach with nerves, yet he knew that some of it at least would have to be endured.
The more he thought about it, the more he knew.
He had hurt Vin, the brother who had supported him selflessly. He had lost control many times, especially over the last few months. Ezra knew that he needed help, but... how could he face it? He didn't know if he could let go of his pride for long enough to ask, and he certainly didn't want Chris or the others to beg him.
Sighing, Ezra tried to give himself to sleep, but no sleep would come. Racked with nerves and worry, he waited for the morning to break.
Vin was released from the hospital the following morning with a stern warning to heed his elder brother's (Nathan's) advice, and to take care of himself. The family headed back to the ranch.
Once they arrived, Ezra moved to go to his room, but Buck forestalled him. "Ez, I think we need a family conference, don't you?"
Once gathered in the family room, no one seemed to know where to start. Chris found himself once more wishing that there was a way to simply project one's emotions out so that everyone else could see them, instead of having to find the words to articulate them and nearly always giving the wrong impression.
"Ezra," Josiah began, with no clear endpoint in mind, but knowing that anything had to be better than the silence engulfing them all, "I would like to say one thing to you - thank you for trusting us by telling us about this. I know... I know that everyone here agrees with me in saying that."
Ezra looked up sharply. It was clear that this was not the discussion he had been expecting. After a few seconds of silence, he said, "But what, Mr Sanchez?"
"But nothing," Josiah replied evenly. "This won't be an issue, Ezra."
Buck cringed. 'Bad choice of words, Josiah, though I know what you're getting at.'
Ezra was fuming. "'Won't be an issue'?" he repeated incredulously. "I have another person running around in the back of my head and you're telling me that there's absolutely no issue with that?"
Josiah tried to stay calm, tried to project reassurance. "I didn't mean that exactly, Ezra. What I meant was - was that -"
"That we're going to support you no matter what," Nathan finished. "Through hell and back, I promise, if it comes to that."
"We aren't like him, Ezra," Vin told him gently. "Yes, Eric told me about your step-brother. We aren't like him, and no one is going to do to you again what he did. If they want to, they'll have to come through me."
"And me," Chris affirmed. Ezra looked up at him, mildly surprised.
"And me too, brother," Josiah said.
Nathan, Buck, and JD were quick to follow. Ezra was looking from one to the other with some mild surprise, but none of the alarm that their words would have precipitated in him just a few days before. He fumbled for words, but could find none that would sum up his feelings. After a few seconds, he managed to say, "Gentlemen, I'm... I'm truly touched."
Buck smiled. "Now, I'd rather face a man-eating tiger than ole' JD, here, so don't you worry Ezra!"
Ezra laughed, and the rest of the family joined in. Ezra felt a weight lift from his shoulders, and he could not stop smiling. He knew that the future was not going to be easy; that there were going to be good times and bad times; that he was going to be driven to the extremes no matter what course he decided to take.
But somehow, he knew that, in the end, the chances were that it would be all right - as he had 6 men - no, 6 brothers - there to look out for him.
And that felt good.
If you enjoyed this story, we're sure that Jo would love to hear from you.
HOME | JO'S FIC | TITLES | AUTHORS | UNIVERSES
This website is maintained by Donna and Barb
with corrections and additions