Disclaimer:  I do not own the Magnificent Seven, or any of its characters.  I am making no money from this.

Notes:  Casey worries and then worries some more before she can go for help.

Never A Burden

Part Four

It was past noon before Casey was able to ride out.  The rain wasn't coming down hard, but the wind had picked up, making it
look worse than it actually was.  Still, Nettie was reluctant to send her out in it and Casey could understand why.  One misstep
and she could end up sick and hurt like Ezra, or worse.

She had completed her morning chores with a pit of worry settled in her belly.  She wanted to go get Nathan.  She didn't like
doing nothing while Ezra suffered.  It wasn't right.

Breakfast had been eaten under a tense silence.  When she was done, Nettie handed her a bowl and told her to try and get Ezra
to eat some.  Casey looked down at the contents.  Porridge.  Well, she supposed it would be easier for him to swallow than
eggs and chops.

She walked into the room and had to sigh at the sight of the gambler.  He was sitting up in bed, his legs dangling over the edge.  
The blankets had been pushed away, but they were twisted about his right leg.  He was trying to untangle himself, but only
seemed to be making it worse.

"We can't leave you alone for five minutes, can we, Ezra?" Casey asked softly.  She set the bowl down and rushed to his side.  
"Lie yourself down," she urged, grasping him by the shoulders.

He jerked away, his body shaking under her touch.  He blinked up at her, then went back to tugging at the blankets wound
around his leg.  "I'm running late," he murmured.  I'll miss the train.  Mother's expecting me in St. Louis."

Casey untangled the blanket.  "You're sick, Ezra.  You shouldn't be going anywhere."

"Am I?" Ezra asked, sounding genuinely surprised.  "Mother won't be pleased with the inconvenience."

Casey didn't much like the sound of that.  She helped him to recline and fixed the blankets over him.  "I've brought you
something to eat," she said, deciding to change the subject.

"I'm not hungry," he murmured.  He closed his eyes and turned his head away from her.

She picked up the bowl anyway.  "You should eat.  It'll help you, keep you strong."

He opened his eyes, looking less than thrilled by the prospect of eating.  He tried to reach for the bowl, but his hands shook too
much to hold it.  When Casey offered, he accepted her help graciously.  He was nothing if not polite.

"Mush," he grumbled after the first spoonful.  He turned his face away from the second.

Casey couldn't lie and say she didn't understand his feelings on the meal.  She'd never been fond of porridge herself.  But a meal
was a meal and Ezra needed to eat.  "Have a little more.  Please?" she tried.

Ezra didn't verbally respond, but he did open his mouth when she held the next spoonful to his lips.  He looked far from pleased
as he chewed and swallowed.  The displeased looked remained on his face with each mouthful.  It wasn't long before he
stopped again.  He pushed her hand and the spoon away, shaking his head.  "Can't," he murmured.

Casey looked down into the bowl and sighed.  She would have liked it if he'd eaten more, but she didn't have the heart to try
and force it down his throat.  When she looked back up at Ezra, he was already half-asleep where he lay, propped up against
the pillows behind his back.

She set the bowl aside and helped him to ease down to lie properly.  Ezra closed his eyes and was asleep within moments.  With
another sigh, Casey tentatively set her hand on his forehead, and winced at the heat she felt.  The fever worried her, as did his
inability to focus on the present.  He'd wanted to go meet a train to see his mother in St. Louis, but there weren't any stations
near here.  The closest one was in Ridge City and that was a good few hours away.  He was only just coming back from Eagle
Bend according to what Nettie had said.  She didn't think he was supposed to be meeting any train.  It must be something he'd
had to do in the past and she wondered just how young he'd been and if he'd been traveling alone.  She wouldn't ask though.  It
wasn't any of her business.

"Did he eat?" Nettie's voice came from behind her.

Casey nodded.  "Yes, but not much.  Barely half."

"Better than nothing.  Come on, you can help with the cleaning until the weather clears."

"Yes, Aunt Nettie."

Casey set about completing the tasks Nettie set out for her, using the chores to keep herself busy.  She tried to distract herself
from worrying about the gambler.  But her attention was constantly diverted to the bedroom every time Nettie went in to check
on their ill guest, and again, each time the older woman would cross to the other side of the room to peer out the window at the
storm outside.

Just when Casey was about to give in to her frustrations and ride out whether or not Nettie said it was safe, Nettie called out to
her.  "I don't like sending you out in this, but go on.  The wind has died down some and the rain let up."

Casey was grabbing her jacket and rushing out of the door almost before Nettie finished talking.  Finally, she felt as if she were
doing some good, being of use.  Better than just sitting around and watching Ezra suffer.  She felt so helpless every time he
mumbled out for people who weren't there, talking to aunts and cousins only he could see in his fevered dreams.  It still
haunted her that he had never once called for his mother's help in all that time.  Had the woman ever been there for him when
he needed her?

She saddled her horse in record time and was riding for town before she realized it herself.  Despite her distraction, she wasn't
fool enough to race there.  She'd only end up getting herself hurt if she rushed.  Ezra wouldn't get the help he needed if she
were in an accident.  She rode as fast as she felt safe to, perhaps a bit too fast for the state of the trails, but she had good
reason to.

The rain was a lazy drizzle when she got to town.  The streets were empty.  Without thinking, she went to the first place that
came to mind.  She dropped down off her horse and mindlessly tethered the animal to the hitching post before running into the
saloon.  All eyes turned to her as she burst through the bat-wing doors and she cast her eyes about wildly.  The saloon was
busy for this time of day, perhaps because of the weather.  She saw four familiar men sitting around one of the tables, but not
the one she was looking for.

Casey ran over to those men, hoping one of them would have an answer to her question.  Before she could speak, the youngest
of the group stood and called her name with a look of worry on his face.

"Not now, JD," she snapped, then took a gulp of much needed air.  "Where's Nathan?"

This got the attention of the rest of them.  Vin sat up a little straighter.  "You okay, Casey?  It's not Nettie is it?  She sick?"

Casey waved her hands, shaking her head negatively at the same time.  "No, no we're fine."  She swallowed.  "But Ezra ain't."

Chris Larabee didn't so much as shift a finger.  "Ezra?  He's in Eagle Bend with Buck."  He threw back the shot of whiskey he'd
been holding.

"No, he's not.  Came riding up to the house last night, shouting for help.  It looked like he'd taken a nasty fall during the storm.  
Nettie had to stitch up his leg and he's got a wound on his head.  He's been sick with fever all night," she said, all in one breath.  
"Where's Nathan?  Nettie sent me to get him."

"He's not here," Josiah said.  "He left the day before yesterday to check on the Seminole village.  Not due back for another day

Casey groaned in disbelief and frustration.  She'd wanted to get help for Ezra, but there was no help to be had here.  Nathan
was gone.  What was she supposed to do now?

To Be Continued ...