"It's time," JD said, his voice possessing an authority beyond his years.
Hearing this, the four took positions. Two began to chant, two poured power into the others.
Slowly, the door opened. Even more slowly, a tremendous red shape emerged. For a moment, it seemed to have three heads.
Then it slowly coalesced into Ezra's red dragon Ace. On its back sat Vin, his arms tightly cinched around Ezra's waist.
The others gasped as the spell ended once the dragon was firmly through the portal. "What the hell..." Josiah breathed.
Ezra grinned and lurched his way down from dragon-back. "Not your business, 'Siah." He weaved toward the river and the canvas tents.
Chris glared at Vin, eyes demanding an explanation.
Vin slid off Ace's rump and gave it a smack, sending the dragon into the air where he belonged. Then, and only then, did he turn to Chris. "You and Nathan drove him into several skins of ale."
"That's what JD told us," Nathan sighed. "Said our attitudes toward him were destroyin' him."
Vin turned to JD, who grinned. "Felt it."
Vin let out a sunny grin and hugged JD. "You, boy, are a wonder. All that way and you felt it?"
Buck grinned. "Course he did! Boy's an empath!"
Ezra weaved back to them. "Okay... I'm going to bed."
"But it's only mid-afternoon!" Nathan protested.
"Don't care," Ezra slurred. "I'm drunk and I'm tired and I'm going to bed." He swayed at the entrance to Vin's tent, then turned back to them. "And you two -- you are on probation with me. I give you fair warning, I will not be abused by the twain of you any more." With that, he crawled into Vin's tent and jerked the flap closed behind him.
Chris growled. "Abused? Now wait just a far---"
"Chris." This came from Vin and JD together, then Vin finished, "It was your calling him a thief when you had misplaced your wife's parchments that started this." He turned to Nathan, who had opened his mouth. "And you shut up, too, Nathan. You and Chris both jump all over him at the slightest provocation."
"I've noticed that too," Josiah said evenly. "It does need to stop, brothers."
Chris turned to Buck and pointed toward the tent, opening his mouth.
Buck raised a hand, his face serious. "They're right, old man. You and Nate both go off on him for nothin'. Now I don't know what bee got up your rears where he's concerned, but you might just as well get it out."
"And the sooner the better," Vin said coldly. "He's part of The Core now, the same as all of us. We need to work together or not at all."
"Vin..." Chris said, shaking his head.
Vin got right in his face, toe to toe. "Together, cowboy. For good. Or. Not. At. All." He stepped back and went in his own tent.
All eyes turned to JD, who'd been silent after his calling Chris's name. He just gave one nod and his voice held conviction that supported his words. "You heard the man." He crawled into the tent he shared with Buck.
Buck joined him a moment later, then Josiah crawled into his tent, alone.
Leaving Chris and Nathan to deal with the ramifications of their prejudices.
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