Ivy '05: Good Company

Astraphobia or Astrapophobia- Fear of thunder and lightning.(Ceraunophobia, Keraunophobia)

As a child, JD had seen his father struck by lightning.  He could still remember the blinding flash, the sizzle in the air as Mother Nature's wrath arced across the sky to touch the earth, the scent of ozone and scorched flesh permeating the air.  The force of it had blown his father right out of his boots.  It had sent him flying backwards across the street to collapse against the side of a building, bent and broken, like one of his cousin Amelia's dolls that had been handled too roughly.  

JD had been so close to his father at the time it was a wonder he hadn't been hit as well.

He remembered the tingle he'd felt, his hair standing on end.  Immediately after it happened he was unable to see clearly.  The flash had left him blind for several minutes.  He still flinched, eye closing instinctively whenever lightning flashed, and goosebumps rose every time he even heard thunder.  

He'd been told it was a miracle that he'd been left untouched.  He wasn't sure he believed that.  He wasn't sure what made something a miracle and what was just the result of dumb luck.  His father certainly hadn't been so lucky.

Jonathon Dunne never fully recovered, physically or mentally.  For weeks he appeared to have no more mental faculties than a small child.  His right hand and both feet had been so badly burned a local surgeon had taken on the unpleasant task of removing them when gangrene set in.  But by then it was too late to save JD's father.  The man died in agony, unable to speak clearly, not recognizing his wife or his son.

JD abhorred storms, terrified he might not be lucky twice and find himself dying the same way his father had.  He despised himself for his inability to keep from flinching and ducking for cover when thunder rumbled overhead.  JD hated that feeling of helplessness and near panic that arose every time lightning raced across the sky.

The upside of living in a desert environment, at least to him, was even though the storms were more intense they weren't as frequent.  There was no steadily building humidity to act as a harbinger.  No hurricanes or Northeasters to fear either.  Storms in the New Mexico Territory tended to concentrate in the spring and fall, rolling through the area with gratifying speed, usually gone in less than an hour.

They were easier to endure during the day.  JD wasn't sure why.  Maybe it was because so many more people were out and about.  Maybe there was just more to concentrate on.  Maybe it was just because it didn't get quite so dark and didn't seem so endless.  He didn't really know.  It didn't matter now anyway.  It was well after sundown and the faint glow from the saloon windows didn't even penetrate far enough to light the outer edge of the boardwalk.

He shivered when a cool breeze blew through the batwing doors.  He wished the winter doors were still on.  They were more substantial, blocking out the sight and feel of the storm, if not the sound of it.  

He glanced nervously outside, wishing he had the courage to actually walk over and take a peek out the window or over the doors.  He kept hoping to hear the sound of hoof beats.  Buck, Chris, Josiah and Vin were out in this storm.  He, Ezra and Nathan were making sure things in Four Corners were taken care of.  

He jumped, biting back a frightened cry, when thunder cracked directly overhead.  At least Buck wasn't here to see his humiliation, but he wished his best friend was in the saloon, safe and sound.  He wouldn't object to being teased or even ridiculed if it meant Buck and the others were okay.

"Are you all right, Mr. Dunne?"  

"I'm okay, Ez."  So caught up in his own misery and fear, JD had forgotten Ezra was sitting at the same table.  They were the only two in the saloon.  Everyone else had cleared out as the storm began to threaten in earnest.

"Don't like storms much."  He tried to be cavalier about it, but was unable to make eye contact and found himself staring at the scarred wood tabletop.

"Understandable," Ezra murmured.

"It is?"  JD blinked.  He glanced up to find Ezra's green eyes focused out the open space above the batwings.  

"When clouds are seen, wise men put on their cloaks." Ezra took a sip of the drink that had been sitting untouched near his left hand.  "When the sun sets, who doth not look for night? Untimely storms make men expect a dearth. All may be well; but, if God sort it so, 'tis more than we deserve or I expect."

"Hunh?" JD stared at him.

"Shakespeare.  Richared the third."  Ezra shrugged carelessly.  "It seemed fitting."

JD frowned, mentally reviewing what Ezra had said.  He shuddered when he recalled 'untimely storms make men expect a death'.  He grimaced.  It did fit.  And it was exactly what he expected.  Damn Ezra anyway.  

Thunder rumbled ominously again, and JD fougt the urge to dive under the table.  He gripped the armrests of his chair tightly.  He hated storms.  Hated them with a passion.

"I know people who find the sound and fury of a storm to be exhilerating,"  Ezra observed quietly, neatly interrupting JD's near panic.

JD was more than happy to redirect his thoughts.  He figured Vin was the sort who'd love storms.  Vin wouldn't be afraid of what amounted to light and noise.  Buck or Chris either.  Josiah seemed to fear only God.  And JD had seen Nathan out on the porch in the middle of a storm, sipping a cup of tea, totally unconcerned.

"Ez, do you...ah...find storms...exhilarating?"

Ezra pursed his lips, hands moving to shuffle the ever present deck of cards.  Green eyes sparkled with an emotion JD couldn't quite identify.  "On occasion, under the right circumstance, yes, I have found them to be so."

JD shook his head.  "Don't think I'll ever see them that way."

Ezra neatly dealt a hand of solitaire, the cards sliding gracefully thorugh his fingers.  It was relaxing to watch him.  The unhurried, smooth motions were such a contrast to the building storm and JD's own harried emotions.

"Perhaps it would help to see them simply are part of the world in which we reside.  Rather like grass being green or water being wet."

JD snorted. "Lightning was a hell of a lot more dangerous than green grass."

"So are rattlesnakes,"  Ezra countered, raising an eyebrow.  "Doesn't mean they aren't part of the world and can be dealt with accordingly."

"How do you deal with a storm?"  JD asked, surprised to find himself actually wanting the answer and no sarcasm in his tone.  

"Depends on the circumstance." Ezra studied his cards and took a sip of his drink. He smiled, gold tooth glinting in the flickering light from the lamps. "Somewhere warm and dry. A good scotch to consume. A card game to occupy the time. Good company. The last is usually the most important, nearly essential I'd say."

JD had to agree with that.  He wouldn't be nearly so calm if he were on his own.  If he were alone he'd probably be cowering under his bed.  He wasn't a child, damn it.  He was a man now.  He should be able to handle something like a thunderstorm.

"We all... have our quirks, JD," Ezra pointed out nonchalantly.  

"Right." JD rolled his eyes.  He was grateful Ezra hadn't outright commented on his obvious fear, but he didn't need his friend to soft soap it either.  Quirk, no this was more than just some quirk. He was a chicken shit and he knew it.

"Mr. Jackson tends to flinch whenever leather meets flesh." Ezra laid an eight of clubs on a nine of diamonds, studiously not looking at JD.  

The scars on Nathan's back bore mute testament to the reason.  JD didn't even want to imagine what getting flogged felt like.  "That's different."


JD scowled.  "He's got a good reason."

"Everyone has a reason for his fear," Ezra pointed out reasonably, not sounding patronizing or dismissive.  "Nathan's reason is just more obvious than most."

JD sighed.  Nothing had really happened to him.  How could a man be afraid of what had almost happened?  It was just stupid and childish.

"It is neither stupid or childish," Ezra stated calmly.  

JD blushed, unaware he'd spoken his thoughts out loud.  "It's just light and noise."  He tried to sound confident, not sure why he was arguing with Ezra.  "Not something I should be afraid of."

"And a bullet is just lead."  Ezra shrugged one shoulder.  "But it can be deadly just the same."

JD opened his mouth to respond to that when another rumble of thunder sounded.  He flinched, mouth snapping shut with an audible snap. His grip on the chair tightened again, knuckles whitening as he struggled not to give into the desire to scramble for somewhere to hide.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  It was just noise and light.  JD's mother told him that, but she'd held him close whenever she said it, giving him a sense of safety even lightning couldn't threaten.  It was the same sense of security and invincibility he got from being with the other peacekeepers.

"You think," JD's voice cracked but he persevered, "you think the others are okay?"

"I believe them to be so," Ezra responded, one hand coming to rest on JD's arm. "And I will continue to believe so until proof to the contrary has been provided."

JD opened his eyes and nodded. "Not good weather to be out in."

"Quite right." Ezra sighed heavily. He patted JD's arm before letting go. "They will be back soon."

JD hoped so.  He shivered again when a gust of wind blew through the doors making them swing.  The air felt heavy and cool.  It was only a few moments later when the sound of rain drumming on the roof filled the room.  

Unless they shouted, the drumming was too loud to allow for any more conversation. It was strangely surreal to watch Ezra gather his cards and shuffle without hearing the soft shushing sound that typically accompanied the action.  It was a nice distraction to watch the muted display of skill.  JD realized with some amazement that he'd never seen Ezra execute these complicated card manipulations.  It was almost as though he was making them dance without the benefit of music.

JD frowned.  No there was music.  The rain was setting a rhythm.  He glanced up, unconsciously checking the source of the noise as it started to fade.  

"Just a brief shower." Ezra almost sounded disappointed.  He gave his cards one last tap against the table before putting them in his jacket pocket.  He stood up, picking up his drink and downing it in one smooth motion.  

He set the glass on the table and straightened his cuffs.  JD watched as Ezra made his way to the doors.  Curious, JD got up to follow.  Ordinarily with a storm passing he'd still be trying to catch his breath and stop shaking.  He decided hanging around Ezra in the future would be a good way to handle them.

Ezra opened the doors, and stepped out on to the boardwalk.  Water still dripped in rivulets from the roof, forming puddles and streams in the street.  Ezra took a deep breath, eyes closing in obvious contentment.  

JD cocked his head to one side and did the same.  He was surprised by how fresh the air seemed. He'd never been outside during a storm if he could help it, or immediately after.  

The near silence was a stark contrast to the noise and fury that had come before.  JD could feel the fear and tension he'd experienced earlier fading.  He stretched, feeling suddenly very tired.

Ezra sighed softly and took another deep breath.  He looked up the street, eyes narrowing as he focused on something.  JD turned to follow the gambler's line of sight, wondering what he was looking at.  JD blinked.  Four horses.  They were back.

He grinned.  "Looks like they made it home, Ez."

Ezra smiled broadly. "Indeed."

Chris' black duster made him nearly invisible in the darkness.  Buck's gray mare stood out brightly in contrast.  The white blaze on Josiah and Vin's mounts marked their position on either side of Buck and Chris. They reined in their mounts in front of the saloon.

Ezra cocked his head to one side, green eyes steadily regarding the four peacekeepers.  "Y'all look like drowned rats."

"Feel like one too." Buck shook his head, spraying water off his hat. He leaned forward to rest his forearms on his saddle horn.

"Your foray was successful?" Ezra asked, taking a step toward them, one hand coming to casually rest on a support post, bracing himself against it.

"Yep." Chris turned his head to one side and spat.  He looked at JD.  "Everything okay here?"

"Town's fine," JD answered, feeling more sure of himself with the storm gone and everyone back safe and sound.

Josiah raised himself out of the saddle, bracing his feet in the stirrups.  He grimaced, pulling at his wet pant legs.  "I should have heeded brother Vin's advice about bringing a raincoat."

"Mr. Tanner is seldom wrong about these things," Ezra chuckled, raising two fingers to the brim of his hat in a casual salute to Vin. He grinned, a sly look forming as his glance flickered over the others. "Judging by your sodden appearances, I'd say Vin's usually impeccable timing is definitely off or you'd have been back before it started raining."

"Weren't my fault we didn't get home sooner," Vin shrugged.

JD noticed he was wearing a slicker over his usual buffalo hide coat. He didn't even know Vin had a longer coat.

"Whose fault was it?" JD asked.

Chris, Vin and Josiah pointed to Buck.  Buck rolled his eyes.  "Hey, I told you that you didn't have to stay.  I'm a big boy.  Can look after myself, you know."

"Just leave you with some trigger happy homesteader and his twin daughters."  Chris snorted.  "Right."

"Those girls were warming right up to me," Buck protested.  "If you'd have just--

"Their daddy wasn't keen on you staying, Bucklin," Vin interrupted, neatly cutting off his protest.

"An angry father is worse than a wronged husband," Josiah intoned, before he reached out to slap Buck on the shoulder. "Be grateful, brother, we saved you from his wrath."

JD snickered.  He couldn't picture Buck being grateful for missing out on a chance to try a pair of twins.  But even if he didn't see his friends dragging him home as a good thing, Buck wouldn't hold a grudge either.  

Chris rubbed at his eyes.  "Let's get the horses put away and call it a night."

Buck chuckled.  "Must be getting old, Chris.  Was a time you'd stay up to greet the sun and still be fresh as a daisy."

Chris looked more amused than insulted when Buck yawned widely a second later.  "Ain't just me getting old, Buck."

Buck laughed. "Just getting my second wind."

Chris just grunted. "Whatever you say, Buck."  He gave the still dripping roof and puddles a pointed look. "Vin, I'm thinking your wagon ain't going to be a very dry place to sleep."

"Don't worry about it, Cowboy." Vin smiled. His eyes met Ezra's and the two of them shared a look JD didn't quite understand. "I got me a good place to spend the night. A real good place."

"Bet you're glad he ain't got himself an angry daddy." Buck grinned slyly.

JD frowned. He wasn't sure he understood Buck right.  The grin his friend sported always came before or after some sort of sexual innuendo but JD couldn't figure out how it fit with the statement Buck had just made.  

It had to be related to the look that passed between Vin and Ezra.  Why would it matter to Buck where Vin spent the night or that Ezra didn't have a father around?  Oh...Oh!  JD could feel his eyes widen as he suddenly realized just where Vin would be sleeping and with who.  He hoped the others couldn't see him blushing.  

Chris gave Buck a look of tolerant amusement.  "If you picked lovers who were old enough to speak for themselves, Buck, you wouldn't have to worry about angry daddies either."

Buck laughed lightly.  Chris nudged his mount with his heel putting the gelding in motion.  Buck followed, expounding on his love of women no matter their age, race or creed.  It was something they'd all heard before, many times.  Josiah rolled his eyes and shook his head before reining his horse to follow.  

Vin held his horse in place when it stamped its feet, clearly wanting to follow the others.  He nodded to JD, before smiling at Ezra.  "Meet you upstairs?"

"Certainly." Ezra tipped his head in a gesture that was both formal and familiar at the same time.  "Don't be long."

"I won't."

There was almost something in the air between them, something tangible and highly charged.  It reminded JD of the storm that had just passed.  He shook his head wondering how the hell he'd missed it.  

Vin lightly tapped his heel against his mount's flank, putting the horse in motion.  The gelding broke into a trot at Vin's urging, its hooves making soft sucking sounds in the damp earth. JD watched Ezra watch Vin ride toward the livery.  

There was a lightness about Ezra now.  Tension and anxiety JD hadn't even recognized as being present until they were gone, replaced by barely concealed delight and anticipation.

Curiosity overcame embarrassment and he found himself asking, "How long have you two been-" JD stopped not quite sure how to phrase what he wanted to know.  

Ezra grinned, gold premolar flashing dully in the faint light streaming through the saloon windows.  "Vin and I have been keeping one another company for some time."

Keeping one another company. JD raised an eyebrow.  It was such polite, ambiguous phrasing, and so like Ezra.  He wondered how Vin would describe what he had with Ezra.  He wouldn't be as coarse as Buck, but certainly wouldn't have the same refined wording Ezra had used.  

Ezra had basically admitted nothing in his answer.  He hadn't lied, but he didn't supply clear details either.  It was as typical of the gambler as his style of dress.  JD learned not to take it personally.  It was his own fault for not finishing the question. If he'd had the panache to just come right out and ask how long Vin and Ezra had been sleeping together then Ezra would no doubt have told him exactly what he wanted to know.  

Ezra laid a hand on his shoulder.  "Will you be all right on your own JD?"

JD glanced upward.  Heavy clouds still lingered but the thunder and lightning seemed to be over.  "Yeah, I'll be fine."  He snickered.  "Like you'd be staying once Vin gets back."

Ezra squeezed his shoulder once before letting go.  "I would not leave you in distress."

"I know that."  JD slapped Ezra's arm. "Was just teasing you."

"I know." Ezra flashed a quick smile, dimples appearing for a moment. "I was serious about staying if you have need."

"I know that too," JD nodded.  He sighed.  "When the next one comes-"

"I'll be here."  Ezra offered his hand to JD.  "We shall deal with the tempests and gales together."

"Together."  JD took his hand, recognizing the promise being made.  Ezra's grip was strong, firm without being painful, just like it had been the first time they'd shaken hands.  It made him feel as much like a man now as it did then.

"Thanks, Ez."

"Anytime."  Ezra raised two fingers to the brim of his hat.  "If you'll excuse me?"

"Sure."  JD could see the others leaving the livery.  He smiled.  "Better hurry on upstairs or it'll be Vin waiting on you this time."

Ezra laughed.  "Right you are."  Ezra headed back inside, his stride casual and confident.  

JD smiled to himself.  Ezra definitely had more control than he did.  If it were Casey he was meeting in his room, he'd have sprinted up the stairs.  

JD leaned against one of the support posts, taking another deep breath.  The air was still fresh and clean.  He watched Chris and Buck make their way back to the saloon.  Vin had already split off from them, taking the alley and probably the back stairs up to Ezra's room.

JD saw Josiah heading for the church and figured the big man was changing his clothes. JD winced in sympathy.  Wet clothing chaffed something fierce when riding.

He couldn't hear what Chris said to Buck but the taller man laughed loudly in response. JD chuckled, Buck's laughter infectious even if he didn't know what was so funny.

Buck stepped up on the boardwalk, scraping mud from his boots against the rough edges of the planks.  Chris did the same.  The streets would be dry by tomorrow afternoon, but JD knew they'd be messy for most of the morning.

"C'mon kid," Buck jerked his head toward the doors, "I'll buy you a drink."

JD took another deep breath.  "I'll be in, in just a minute."

Buck frowned.  "You okay, JD?"

"Never better."  JD grinned at his friend.  "Just want to enjoy the fresh air."

Buck snorted.  "Should have come with us.  Could have gotten all the fresh air you wanted."

JD shuddered internally at the thought of being caught out in a storm.  He agreed with Ezra's earlier contention that the best way to deal with one was to ride it out somewhere warm and dry, with a good friend.  Being with Ezra had helped this time, a great deal in fact, but JD wasn't certain he'd have been able to handle actually being outside where the lightning could find him.  

"Bad enough four of us had to get wet."  Chris shoved Buck toward the door.  "No reason for everyone to."

"I'm just saying-" The rest of Buck's statement was lost in the creaking of the doors as he and Chris entered the saloon.  

JD shook his head.  He didn't know if Chris knew he was afraid of storms, but he wouldn't be surprised if he did.  Chris, like Vin and Ezra, seemed to know a lot of things without having to ask.  He smiled, grateful they weren't inclined to talk about another's business.  

He chuckled softly. It was always Buck who failed to see any boundary lines, leaping over them without a thought.  Buck didn't have any secrets as far as JD knew, and he really didn't seem to comprehend why other people might want to have them.  It was one of the many things he both liked and hated about his best friend.  He'd have to ask Chris some time if he ever felt the same way.

Sighing, JD looked upward one last time before heading inside.  Good company Ezra had said was the most important thing for dealing with a storm.  JD decided it might well be the most important thing for dealing with anything at all.