(Old West)

by Jean Williams

Sadly Jean is no longer with us, but we're sure her daughter, Jenn, would love to hear from you if you enjoy this story

Disclaimer: Ah, if only they were mine, but, alas, they're not. Unfortunately, the privilege of ownership of "The Magnificent Seven" characters belongs to the Mirisch Corp., Trilogy, and MGM, and no infringement on the copyrights held by them is intended. I merely wish to dust the boys off and bring them out to play occasionally for the entertainment of those of us who still miss them dearly.
Author's Notes: It's always bothered me, being Ezra obsessed as I am, that everyone seems to think Ezra was totally rotten for laughing at Vin. So naturally I have to defend my green-eyed gambler's actions. I also think, given Vin's good-natured joking with Ezra when he sees him dressed in that lovely little tablecloth number, that they somehow settled their differences between them after their run-in at the saloon. So here's my Ezraccentric take on what might have happened. This little scene takes place after Vin storms out of the saloon.
Completed: April 8, 2000

Vin stalked down the middle of the street, ignoring all those he passed as he fumed over Ezra's callous reaction to his request. "Shoulda known better than t' ask that smug son-of-a-bitch for help. Thinks he's so damn much smarter than all the rest of us... always spoutin' those five dollar words a his. Don't know what I was thinkin'... askin' 'im when he was stinkin' drunk like that... shoulda known he'd--"

Vin stopped and thought about that last statement he had been about to make. Ezra drunk? Now that he thought about it, he couldn't remember the last time he'd actually seen the Southern gambler drunk... if at all. . With his profession as a gambler and a con man, he had always needed to be clear-headed and sharp at all times. Having his mind clouded by alcohol could lead to him losing all his hard-won money, and now in his new career as a peacekeeper... it could cost him his life.

Vin turned and stared back at the saloon, running through his mind the reasons Ezra might have felt a need to get drunk. Whatever it was, it had to be serious... at least to Ezra... or he never would have given up his all-important self-control like that. Vin heaved a huge sigh of resignation and headed slowly back toward the saloon, realizing in his heart that Ezra was his friend and never would have treated him the way he did if he hadn't been drunk. In fact, Vin knew that the gambler would hate himself when he sobered up and remembered what had happened.

The tracker cringed at the thought of another embarrassing scene, but he knew he'd never be able to sleep until he was sure Ezra had made it back to his room okay. Then maybe in the morning when the gambler was feeling better, he'd see if he could find out what was bothering him.

Before Vin could get back to him, he saw Ezra stumble out onto the boardwalk accompanied by two strange men. They had their arms around the inebriated Southerner's shoulders and were laughing as they steered him away from the saloon and into the shadows of the alley that ran between it and the next building.

Vin stepped up his pace when he saw where they were headed with Ezra, breaking into a run as he watched them suddenly shove the gambler into the dark alley and follow quickly after him.

Pulling his mare's leg out of its holster, Vin stepped quietly into the alley behind the three men. Just as he entered, the two thugs slammed Ezra up against the wall and while holding him in place, began rifling through his pockets.

"Let 'im go." Vin's voice was low and soft, but carried a menacing tone that was not lost on the two strangers.

"Easy there, cowboy. He's just a drunk card-sharp... we'll share whatever we get off a him with ya." They turned back to the dazed Southerner and started jerking off his coat, searching for the money they knew he had to have hidden somewhere. Even though he was armed, the combination of the alcohol and the force with which he'd hit the wall had left Ezra stunned and unable to even think about defending himself.

Ezra did, however, manage to recognize Vin's voice through his drunken haze and tried to pull away from the would-be robbers in order to get to the tracker. "Mr. Tanner? I'm sor--" His words of apology were cut off as he was again thrown back against the wall.

Vin moved quickly forward and pressed the barrel of his gun against the nearest thug's neck. "He ain't a drunken card-sharp... he's my friend. Now I said... let... him... go."

The man instantly released his hold on Ezra and raised his hands, slowly backing away from his partner, who still had his hands wrapped in the folds of the gambler's dark green jacket. "Sorry, mister... didn't realize ya knew 'im."

"Vin? What's g-goin' on?" Ezra's face mirrored the confusion he felt as he slumped unsteadily against his mugger. Vin stepped in to take his arm and pull him away, and was caught off guard when the man still clutching the gambler's coat, suddenly spun Ezra around and shoved him at the tracker.

Vin managed to untangle himself from Ezra and push him back toward the wall before turning to chase after the two thieves.

"Vin... please..." Ezra's muffled plea stopped the tracker before he reached the street. Looking back, he saw Ezra propping himself up against the building with one arm, while the other was clutching helplessly at his stomach. Even in the shadowy darkness of the alley, Vin could see the sickly pallor of the Southerner's skin and the sweat that had beaded up on his face.

Slipping his mare's leg back into the holster, Vin quickly moved to Ezra's side, reaching him just as his shaky legs finally gave out. Wrapping his arms around the gambler, he eased him down onto his hands and knees and then held tightly to him as he violently emptied the contents of his stomach.

When Vin was sure the bout of vomiting was over, he handed the gambler his handkerchief to wipe his face and mouth with and then helped him to his feet. "Okay now?"

Ezra wove unsteadily on wobbly legs, forcing Vin to keep a firm grip on his upper arm when he tried to pull away. "You may release me now, Mr. Tanner... I'm per-per... perfectly able to m-manage on my own."

"Yeah... sure, Ezra... you're doin' just dandy, but how 'bout lettin' me give ya a hand anyways." Vin began guiding the weaving gambler down the alley toward the back of the saloon. "I'll just walk with ya t' your room... just in case those two yahoos decide t' come back an' try again."

Ezra stopped, thought a minute, and then smiled blearily at Vin. "Why, thank you, Mr. T-Tanner... I'd app--app--appre-ciate the pleasure of your c-company."

Vin laughed softly at the crooked grin that was plastered across Ezra's face. "You're welcome, Ezra... now let's get ya home an' in your bed 'fore ya pass out on me."

Ezra merely nodded and still grinning, allowed Vin to steer him towards the back entrance of the saloon. They'd almost made it to the door when Vin saw the gambler's drunken smile disappear and a greenish hue wash over his pale skin.

Ezra stopped suddenly and leaning heavily on Vin's arm, stared up at him with his blood-shot green eyes and calmly announced, "Mr. Tanner? I think I'm about to disgrace myself again."

Vin hurriedly pushed Ezra down onto the saloon steps and held his head while he finished purging himself of the small amount of alcohol that remained in his stomach. Once he finished, Ezra shakily wiped his face and mouth again and tried to hand Vin's now-soiled handkerchief back to him.

"Thanks, Ezra... but I think ya better just hang onto it." Gingerly pushing his hand away, Vin heaved the quickly weakening gambler to his feet. Grunting with the effort, he half-carried Ezra up the stairs to the second floor... and after digging through his pockets for the key, unlocked the door to his room and propelled him through it and straight over to the bed.

Vin walked over to close the door, and saw Ezra curling up in a ball in the middle of the bed when he turned back around. "Oh no ya don't, pard... let's get ya outta those clothes first, then ya can go t' sleep." Hurrying back over to the gambler, he eased him up into a sitting position and began the awkward task of undressing him.

Vin had to prop Ezra up with one hand, while trying to drag his clothes off with the other. "Ya could help out a little here, Ezra." He couldn't help but chuckle as the usually graceful Southerner began fumbling at his buttons, cursing drunkenly as he tugged and pulled at the uncooperative fasteners.

"Never mind, pard... I'll get 'em." Vin gently pulled the slender hands away and grinned as Ezra heaved a huge sigh of relief and immediately released the troublesome buttons.

Vin glanced up to find Ezra staring owlishly at him, blinking rapidly in an apparent attempt to bring him into focus. "Ya alright there, pard?"

Ezra's brow furrowed as he gave Vin's question serious thought. "Mr. Tanner?"

Vin kept his head down to hide his smile at the comical look of concentration on the other man's face. "Yeah, Ezra?"

"I do believe I just may have imbibed a tad too much alcoh-- alcoh-- um... whiskey this evenin'." Ezra let loose another sigh as he attempted to help Vin by removing his arms from his vest, only to become entangled in the soft material instead. The tracker patiently straightened the vest and eased it off of Ezra, followed shortly by his white linen shirt.

"Mr. Tanner... I think I'm..." Ezra's muffled voice drifted down to Vin as he bent to pull off the gambler's boots. Recognizing the urgency of his tone, Vin quickly scanned the room and grabbed the wash basin off the dresser. He managed to shove it into Ezra's shaking hands just in time, and was again forced to support the struggling Southerner while he was sick.

Too weak this time to do it himself, Ezra sat leaning heavily against Vin as the patient tracker carefully dampened a cloth and drew it gently across his sweaty face. "Damn, Ezra... why'd ya do this t' yourself? You're usually purty careful 'bout how much ya drink."

Ezra struggled to sit up on his own, bracing himself carefully with his arms to keep from falling face first off the bed. "I simply felt the need to drown my sorrows, Mr. Tanner." His explanation was delivered with an attempt at a bright smile, but Vin heard the underlying sadness in his voice.

"What happened, Ezra?" Vin had heard about the poker game from Buck and had a feeling it might have something to do with that. Getting Ezra to admit to that was another thing entirely, but apparently the gambler's defenses were down thanks to the effects of the alcohol, because it took no coaxing on Vin's part to get him talking.

Vin hunkered down in front of Ezra again, tugging on his boots as he quietly listened to the Southerner slowly explain what had driven him to lose the rigid self-control he kept over his emotions at all times.

"It's quite simple, Mr. Tanner... I met my match... someone who is better at my craft than I am. The one thing I'm good at... that I can actually be proud of... and it was ripped away from me today." Ezra's voice held so much despair in it that Vin couldn't help but stop him long enough to deny his words.

"What're ya talkin' 'bout, Ezra? Ya got lots of things ya can be proud of." Vin heard him snort in derision and looked up as he finished pulling off the gambler's boots.

"And what sorts of things would you be referring to, Mr. Tanner? My failed attempts at friend... at friendship? Ah, yes... I'm everyone's idea of a best friend. You come to me for help an' what do I do? Great f-friend that I am... I-I laugh at you..." He stopped suddenly and grabbed Vin's arm, his eyes watering as he stared intently at the tracker. "I c-can't remember... did I apol--ogize yet for that? I am sorry... very sorry for treating you so shab... so shabbily." Ezra's words were slurred and hard to understand, but the expression on his face was clear... he was truly horrified by what he'd done.

Before Vin could answer, Ezra continued. He was on a roll now... the alcohol had sufficiently loosened his tongue and was allowing him to spew out all the hurt and insecurity that he usually kept bottled up inside. "Or maybe you're talkin' 'bout another of my sterling qualities... loyalty. I think if you j-just ask Mr. Larabee, you'll be set straight on whether... on whether or not that's somethin' for me to pride myself on." He waved his arm excitedly, nearly toppling himself off the bed, as another idea came to him. "No, wait... I know what you're talkin' 'bout... my moral and eth... eth...i...cal code. Now there... *there* is definitely somethin' for me to be proud of."

Vin watched sadly as Ezra's eyes began to glisten with unshed tears... his voice cracking with emotion as he continued. "No... nope... can't claim that one either... Mr. Jackson would certainly have a word or two... or three or four... to say 'bout that one. So you see, Mr. Tanner... my exper-tise at gamblin' and my abil-ability to read people are the only things in my life that I have... *had*... to be proud of." Ezra's eyes started to droop and he began to slump dangerously forward as he finally began to run down. "Never saw 'im cheat... no tell... nothin'. Gotta play 'im again t-tomorrow... an' I know I'm gonna lose everythin'... never saw anyone could cheat better 'n me... s'my own fault... let myself get out of prac-- practice... quit cheatin' an' lost the gift t' even spot a cheat... lost my... my... God-given talents."

Vin moved to stand in front of the gambler, grabbing his arms and easing him back on the bed. "Come on, Ezra... let's get ya stretched out here 'fore ya end up on the floor." After a brief argument, Vin finally got him to lay down and gently pulled the covers up over his shoulders.

Ezra grabbed Vin's wrist before he could pull away and stared sorrowfully up at him as he struggled to speak. "I just want to offer my ap-- apol-- apologies again, Mr. Tan-- Vin. I would be honored to write out your p-poem for you tomorrow... when I'm feelin' a bit more like myself."

Vin squatted down by the bed and patted the gambler's blanketed shoulder. "Quit worryin' 'bout it, Ezra... I know ya never woulda laughed at me if ya wasn't drunk. I'm just sorry I didn't realize somethin' was wrong with ya... I shoulda knowed ya never woulda been drinkin' that hard 'less somethin' had happened t' get ya upset. You jus' concentrate on that game ya gotta play tomorrow... that's what's important right now. We'll worry 'bout my poem later." Vin went to stand up and then stopped. Laying his hand over Ezra's for a moment, he stared into the watery green eyes and tried to find the words that would erase some of the sadness he saw there. "Ezra... ya need t' know that you're wrong in thinkin' ya ain't got nothin' t' be proud of. You've turned your life around, pard... ya ain't the same person we first met. Ya gotta know that not all of us think the same as Chris an' Nathan... they jus' seem t' have a blind spot where you're concerned. The rest of us've seen how hard ya worked to change, an' are right proud t' ride with ya an' call ya friend."

Vin saw Ezra nod and heard his softly whispered 'thank you, Mr. Tanner' before his eyes finally slid closed. He stood and gently smoothed the blankets over the exhausted gambler's shoulder. "Ya jus' get some rest now, Ezra... ya got a big day ahead of ya tomorrow." He started to leave, and then turned and stared back at the gently snoring gambler. Maybe he'd stick around... just in case Ezra needed something during the night.

Quietly shutting the door, Vin grabbed a chair and pulled it over near the bed... and after removing his coat and hat, settled down with his hands crossed over his chest and his feet propped up on the bed to watch over his sleeping friend. He wanted to be there if Ezra woke up and needed to talk some more. After all, that's what friends were for.


Sadly Jean is no longer with us, but we're sure her daughter, Jenn, would love to hear from you if you enjoyed this story.


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