by Enola Jones

Ezra Standish pressed the gun harder against the man's left temple. An evil smile crossed his features as he pulled the trigger. He knew the chamber was empty, he had checked it himself.

The sound of a gunshot exploded around the room. Blood splattered across Ezra's face. He stood in shock, staring down at the man he had just killed.

"Ezra!" someone yelled at him, "What in the hell have you done?" Then it faded to nothingness amid the whorl of noise in his own ears.

"Ezra?" an indistinct voice asked, and Ezra began to tremble in horrified shock at his actions. He'd meant to terrorize the man as he'd been terrorized.....

He stared at the body at his feet and felt bile rise in his throat. He'd killed before, in the war or for self-protection, but never like this....

Never like this. Never in such cold blood. Nor had he relished it so much. His trembling grew worse, and the indistinct voice grew clearer.

It took a moment for Ezra to realise the screaming sobs were his. It took a moment longer to realise that he wasn't trembling of his own accord -- he was being shaken.

He raised his hands and his eyelids, to find Vin peering worriedly at him. "'Bout time," the Texan said, settling back on his heels. "Must'a been one helluva dream."

Ezra sat up, using Vin's arm as both leverage and something to lean against. "Wasn't... wasn't a dream..."

Vin frowned. "What was it, then?"

A shudder wracked Ezra's form as his mind replayed the horrific images that had come up from the hidden recesses of his soul.

Once more, Ezra was in his late teens, coming home from the war to find a hell of another kind. Once more, he'd heard the blackmail, the abuse, the torture -- the near-desolation of a woman whose world was being methodically stripped from her. Once more, he'd found himself in the odd and never-repeated position of comforting her, guiding her -- finally escaping with her.

Once more, he'd seen the animal track them down. Once more, he'd protected her as best he could. Once more, he'd snapped as the animal verbally assaulted her in front of him and he saw the strong-willed woman all but collapse before his eyes. Once more, he'd pulled out the gun and emptied it, determined to give the animal a taste of his own torture.

Once more Ezra had destroyed the human animal that had brutalized his mother.

"Ezra?" Vin asked. "What was it?"

Ezra opened his eyes, mentally thanking God that both he and his mother had recovered from the ordeal, that bad dreams were the only remnants of that hell.

"Just a.... memory, Vin," he whispered. "A... a ghost from my past."

And with that, Ezra lay back down to hopefully dream of happier things. He was aware -- and thankfully appreciative -- of Vin sitting beside him, a silent sentinel beside the firelight.


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