A Dream Destroyed
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 Note: This is just another little missing scene/ending that snuck up on me. It's for the episode "Sins Of The Past" and doesn't need any real warnings, just for some very mild cursing.
Completed on July 12, 2000.
Buck strode through the batwing doors and wove his way through the crowded saloon to where his friends sat at their usual table. Wearily sinking down into the chair Vin pushed out for him, the ladies' man glanced around the table and noticed one of their members was missing. "Where's Ezra? I'm surprised he ain't here braggin' 'bout all the money the saloon's rakin' in tonight." Buck turned and scanned the room, looking for the gambler. "He got a game goin' or somethin'?"
"I don't know where he is. Haven't seen 'im since the shoot-out this afternoon." Chris glanced regretfully at Vin. He knew the tracker was still depressed over them not being able to take Eli Joe alive, but it had been a choice between his life and Vin's. Chris hadn't had to think twice... he'd killed the bastard.
Vin nodded at Chris. He didn't blame his friend... it wouldn't have done any good to have Eli Joe alive if he was dead. They'd just have to find some other way to clear his name. He shoved a glass and the bottle of whiskey across to Buck and glanced at the other three men seated at the table. "I been wonderin' the same thing. You fellas know where he's got off to?"
Josiah, Nathan and JD exchanged a look and then stared guiltily down at their drinks.
Nathan cleared his throat and spoke hesitantly. "He... um... I think he might be up in his room."
Buck looked surprised as he sipped his whiskey. "What the hell's he doin' up there? He oughta be down here enjoyin' his success. After all, he's finally got the saloon he's always dreamed of ownin', an' best of all... Maude left town." He grinned at the others as he sipped his drink. "Hell, just gettin' rid of his mother oughta be reason enough for 'im to celebrate."
Inez had walked up with a fresh bottle of whiskey and had overheard his last statement. "Celebrate?" She stared across the table at Josiah, Nathan and JD. "You did not tell them?"
Chris stared at the three men and felt an uneasy feeling begin to build in the pit of his stomach when they refused to look at him. "Tell us what?"
When she saw them hesitate, Inez shook her head at their cowardly behavior and filled in Chris and the others. "Senora Standish is the new owner of the Standish Tavern."
Chris's face darkened as he began to understand why Ezra wasn't present. "She's what?" His voice was an angry growl as he demanded more information from a suddenly nervous Inez.
Inez involuntarily took a step back from the fury she saw building in his eyes. "She bought the saloon from the bank."
Vin stared hard at Nathan, Josiah, and JD who still had not looked up. "How the hell could she do that? Ezra only jus' bought it hisself."
Inez wished she'd just stayed out of the whole conversation, but didn't dare back away now. "She told me when she hired me as manager that--"
"Manager?!" She was interrupted by Buck's startled exclamation.
Inez was beginning to get angry with their attitude toward her. She regretted her small part in the whole affair, but she had had no choice. She had to have work. And at least she was a relative stranger, not someone who was close to her former boss, and who should have been helping, not hurting him. "Yes... manager. I am sorry for what happened to Senor Standish, but I needed a job... and his mother offered me one. Now... may I finish?"
Vin laid a calming hand on Buck's arm and smiled at Inez. "We're sorry, ma'am. This has all jus' kinda taken us by surprise. We know none of it was your doin'... go ahead an' tell us the rest."
"Thank you, Senor. As I was trying to say... when she hired me, she told me she'd found out that her son's investors... " Inez paused to glare at the three guilty men who were now squirming in their seats, "had backed out of the deal and that the bank was going to foreclose on the property. She claimed she wanted to save her son the embarrassment of having that happen, and so she purchased the saloon for a reduced price and put me in charge of it." After receiving another apology from them for the way they'd acted, she quietly slipped back to the bar, shaking her head at the shoddy treatment poor Senor Standish had received not only from his own mother, but from his supposed friends.
Chris and Vin shot a questioning look at Buck who merely shrugged his shoulders in confusion. Buck had filled them in on some of what had been going on, but even he didn't have all the details, because he'd been too busy dealing with Lucy and her news that he was about to become a father to pay much attention to anything else.
The only thing Chris and Vin had known for sure was that Ezra had bought the saloon, and that he was under the impression that Nathan, Josiah, and JD were going to invest the money he still needed to complete the deal. They'd been so caught up in the mess with Eli Joe that they'd never even known Maude was in town, much less that she'd somehow managed to wrest Ezra's dream away from him.
"You three are bein' awful quiet over there. You want to explain why you left Ezra hanging like that?" Chris's voice was quiet, but the anger he was feeling was still coming through loud and clear.
Nathan looked up then and shook his head. "We never tol' 'im for sure that we'd invest in the saloon."
Chris's eyes narrowed as he focused on the evasive healer. "Did you tell him for sure that you wouldn't?"
JD finally dared to look at Buck and paled at the anger he saw in the older man's dark blue eyes. "We told him we'd think about it."
Vin stared at the shot glass his fingers were idly twirling on the tabletop. "Don't s'pose it occurred t' ya that he'd figger since you're his friends, he could count on ya to come through for 'im."
Buck leaned back in his chair and shook his head at the tracker. "Now, Vin... why would Ezra think that? Of course, we have only worked for months to convince 'im that he has friends now who'll always be there when he needs 'em, that he can trust us, but... hey... this is just good ol' Ezra we're talkin' 'bout. He's used to bein' on his own... he don't need no help from his friends. Ain't that right, fellas?" Buck's angry sarcasm was clearly recognized even by JD, who slumped even lower in his chair. "Hell... he shoulda knowed we've been lyin' to 'im all this time... that we never had no intentions of bein' there if he needed us. It's only the way he's been treated all his life... he oughta be used to it by now... I'm right again, aren't I, boys?"
Josiah glanced at his partners-in-crime, pushed his chair back, and stood up. "Guess we owe Ezra an apology, Brothers."
"Sit... down." Chris's voice left no room for argument, and Josiah slowly lowered himself back onto his chair.
"Yeah... you three've done enough. Vin an' I'll go see if we can repair the damage you an' his lovely mother have done to 'im." Buck stood and headed for the stairs, smiling as he heard the tracker's parting shot.
"Why don't you fellas jus' sit here an' let Chris see if he can explain the error of your ways." Vin had to swallow a laugh when he saw three sets of eyes nervously dart to the gunslinger's face.
He leaned in close to Buck as they walked away. "I swear I saw JD shiver when I said that."
Both men chuckled as they heard Chris begin his angry lecture, and thanked God that it was aimed at someone other than them for a change.
Ezra had watched Maude stride away from the saloon all puffed up with pride over having won their little war. Swallowing what was left of his own pride, he turned and quietly assured Inez he held nothing against her... she needed a job and knowing Maude, her offer had probably been a very generous one. Then he had given her an excuse about being rather tired after the hectic events of the day and slowly made his way up the stairs.
Ezra's hands shook as he unlocked his door, but he managed to hold himself together until he was in the privacy of his room. He calmly hung up his jacket, placed his hat on the dresser, and then collapsed on the side of the bed. Ezra sat there for a moment, desperately trying to keep his emotions in check, wishing he'd thought to grab a bottle of whiskey before leaving the saloon. After all, it was the least Maude owed him... something to help him forget what she'd done. He started to rise and retrieve his flask from his jacket, but stopped when he remembered it was empty. Ezra sighed. Apparently he was going to be forced to face what his dear mother and his friends had done to him stone-cold sober.
Ezra emitted a harsh laugh. His friends. At least that was something positive Maude had done for him with her little lesson. She'd reminded him how much less complicated life was if you kept everyone at a distance. Ezra felt a rush of tears flood his eyes as he realized that all he'd gotten for opening up and allowing the others in was pain... and it was a pain worse than any loneliness he'd ever suffered.
He'd thought he had finally found a home here... finally found people he could relax his rigid self-control around and be himself. But it had all come crashing down around him when he'd walked into the World Famous Ritz Hotel and found JD squandering his investment money at the gaming tables, Nathan installed upstairs as the hotel's official doctor, and Josiah being taken in by Maude's charms. Ezra had never felt so alone as he had at that moment, when he'd realized that his so-called friends had allowed his conniving mother to use them in her attempt to destroy his dream.
Ezra decided he was through trying to be something he wasn't... he'd leave this damn dusty backwater and return to his old life as a gambler and conman. He'd go back to depending solely on himself... that way he knew he'd never be disappointed.
Roughly scrubbing away the hated tears he'd shed, Ezra began gathering up everything he wanted to take with him. He was in the middle of packing the first saddlebag when it suddenly struck him... he couldn't leave... he had no money. It had taken nearly every penny he had to purchase the Standish Tavern, and what little he'd had left had gone when he'd fought against Maude's campaign to run him out of business. He was almost flat broke until they got paid on the first of the month... and that was two weeks away.
Ezra let the shirt he was folding drop to the floor as he felt the tight grip he'd had on his emotions slip. He stood and stared at himself in the mirror for a moment, anger and disappointment at what he'd allowed himself to become building with every breath he took, until finally with an agonized moan, he broke. Ezra raged against his friends, his mother, and life in general as he mindlessly tried to smash anything he could get his hands on.
He finally found himself standing in front of the mirror again... chest heaving, hands clenching, eyes searching for something else to break... when he suddenly realized there was nothing left for him to take his anger out on. He stared blankly at his reflection for several moments before it dawned on him that there was one last thing he hadn't managed to destroy... the one truly responsible for the end of his dream... himself. "You fool!!" With an anguished howl of rage, Ezra sent his fist crashing into the mirror.
Buck knocked softly on Ezra's door and waited. When there was no answer, he exchanged a questioning look with Vin and knocked again. "Ezra? Ya in there? It's Buck an' Vin... we wanna talk to ya, pard."
Vin reached up and knocked a little harder. "Come on, Ezra... we jus' wanna make sure you're all right, then we'll leave ya alone."
More silence and then finally, just as they were getting ready to leave, they heard him.
"I'm fine. Just go away."
But they could tell by his voice that he was far from being fine. Vin shook his head at Buck and motioned for him to open the door. "Sorry, pard... can't do that 'til we see for ourselves that you're okay."
Buck eased the door open and called out a warning to the gambler. "We're comin' in, Ezra... don't do anything stupid like--" Buck's voice trailed off as he stuck his head around the door and got his first look at Ezra's room. "Jesus..."
Vin pushed the taller man through the door and followed, stopping suddenly when he saw what had rendered Buck speechless. The room looked as though a whirlwind had hit it. Clothes were scattered everywhere, anything breakable was smashed... even the heavy drapes that usually covered the windows had been torn down.
Buck let his shocked gaze drift slowly around the room until he finally spotted the Southerner curled up on his side in the middle of the bed with his back to them. The small figure looked so lost and alone. "Ezra? You alright there, pard?"
"Leave me alone, Buck... please?"
Buck winced at the utter desolation he heard in his friend's voice. He started to reply, but stopped when he felt Vin slap the back of his hand against his arm. He turned to see what was wrong with the tracker and found him pointing at the mirror that hung over the dresser... well, what was left of the mirror. Buck started when he finally saw what Vin was trying to show him... there was blood smeared all over the broken shards.
"Aw shit." Buck and Vin quickly moved to the bed and sat down beside the gambler.
"Ezra? We know you're hurt, now turn over here an' let us take a look at your hands." Buck pulled gently on the smaller man's arm until he reluctantly rolled over onto his back.
Vin took one look at the blood staining the front of Ezra's shirt and the sheets, and quickly rose off the bed and headed for the door. "I'll get Nathan."
Ezra struggled against Buck as he tried to sit up. "No! Vin... please... I-I don't want to see Mr. Jackson right now."
Buck helped Ezra up onto the edge of the bed and gently lifted his hand up so he could get a better look at it. "Looks like just a whole bunch of smaller cuts, Vin." Buck noticed the pitcher that usually contained water lying smashed on the floor with everything else and shook his head. "How 'bout ya just go down to the kitchen an' get some water an' somethin' to use as bandages, an' we'll clean 'im up ourselves."
Ezra started to thank the ladies' man, but was quickly cut off.
"But... if we think ya need stitches after all, then we get Nathan." Buck waited until the gambler agreed and then looked to Vin for his opinion of the idea.
Vin understood Ezra's reluctance to having the healer anywhere near him and couldn't really blame the other man. "All right, Ezra... jus' so long's ya promise not t' argue if we decide ya need t' see Nathan."
"Whatever you say, Mr. Tanner." Ezra's defeated tone hurt Vin worse than seeing what he'd done to his room and his hand. He didn't know about Ezra, but he was sure going to have a hard time forgiving their three friends and Ezra's poor excuse for a mother for what they'd done to him.
Vin didn't trust himself to speak around the lump in his throat, so he merely nodded and left.
Buck spotted a couple of Ezra's flannel wash cloths that had been swept off the dresser onto the floor and gathered them up. After having Ezra lay back against the pillows, he took one and wrapped it tightly around the Southerner's injured hand and then pressed down firmly to try and stop the bleeding. Ezra hissed at the sudden increase in pain, and Buck felt him tremble as he fought against the urge to pull his hand away.
"Sorry." Buck studied Ezra's face while they waited for Vin and was saddened by the hurt and disappointment that had replaced the look of contented happiness he'd been wearing the last time Buck had seen him. Of course, that had been before his joy of seeing his dream finally come true was snatched away and trampled into dust by his mother... and his friends. "This has been a helluva day, hasn't it pard?"
Ezra sighed and glancing at Buck, gave him a crooked grin. The older man could see how hard he was trying to maintain his usual poker face, but unfortunately, he was failing miserably. "It has certainly not been one of the most memorable... for any of us. You and the shock of your impending fatherhood, and poor Mr. Tanner and Mr. Larabee and the unfortunate incident with that murderous miscreant Eli Joe. All in all, it will be a blessed relief to see this day come to an end."
Buck's expression turned wistful as he stared down at the bed. "Well, the rumors of me becomin' a daddy were a little exaggerated." He saw Ezra staring at him curiously. "I'll explain it to ya later."
Buck eased his grip on Ezra's hand and raised the cloth enough to get a look at the cuts. He was relieved to see that the worst of the bleeding had stopped, but he could tell by the swelling and bruising that the gambler wasn't going to be doing any fancy card shuffling for a while. "Damn, Ezra... you really put all you had into poundin' that mirror. Which of their faces were you imaginin' when ya hit it?"
Ezra's grin faded as he glanced at the shattered mirror. "My own."
Vin hurried down the stairs and ducked back into the kitchen, returning with a pitcher of water and a basin. He stopped at the bar on his way back through and, ignoring the curious stares of the other four men, asked Inez if she had something they could use for bandages.
"He needin' my help?" Nathan started to rise out of his chair, but Vin quickly motioned for him to sit back down.
"Yeah, prob'ly... but he don't want it." Vin glared at the healer, pleased to see Chris forcing him to stay put. "We'll handle it."
Vin reached behind the bar and grabbed a bottle of the good whiskey and looked over at Inez. "Put it on Maude's tab... I figger she owes Ezra." Tucking the bottle and the clean rags she offered him under his arm, Vin turned and headed back up the stairs.
"He okay?" Chris asked. He wanted to go up and see for himself, but he had a feeling Ezra would open up more if it were just Vin and Buck in there with him. He'd wait till after he finished his little talk with Maude's three unwitting accomplices, and then he'd go up and check on him.
Vin shrugged as he headed up the stairs. "He's been better. Cut his hand up some tearin' his room apart, but I think he's hurtin' more on the inside than anywhere else."
Chris nodded and turned to stare at the other men. He was pleased to see the guilt and regret that had appeared on their faces at Vin's words. Chris knew that once Ezra calmed down and thought about it, he'd realize that they hadn't done what they did to intentionally hurt him, they'd just been swept up in Maude's plans. He just wanted to make sure they understood how much harm their careless behavior had caused before the gambler forgave them and let them off the hook.
Buck glanced up as Vin came into the room and then looked back at Ezra. "You're own? Why the hell would ya--"
Ezra raised his arm up and laid it wearily across his eyes as if he were trying to block out the anger on Buck's face as he tried to explain.
"It's quite simple, Mr. Wilmington. The mirror was the last thing I... took care of. By that time I'd used up all the anger I'd felt for our three friends and my dear mother, and finally realized that I really only had one person to blame for what had happened... myself."
"Now, Ezra... ya can't possibly think any of this was your fault." Buck motioned Vin over to the other side of the bed, and they began tending to the gambler's hand while he talked, hoping it would keep him distracted from the pain.
"No, Mr. Wilmington, it's quite true. I set myself up to fail by doing something extremely foolish... something I swore never to do... I trusted someone other than myself with my dreams." Ezra's voice shook with emotion, and he had to struggle against the self-pity that threatened to overwhelm him.
Vin and Buck stopped what they were doing and stared down at Ezra, wishing he'd take his arm down so they could see his face. But when he finally did, they were completely unprepared for the pain they saw in the gambler's eyes.
Buck felt his heart break a little at how lost the younger man looked. It was as if all his self-confidence had been stripped away leaving only doubt and an incredible sadness in its place. "Aw, gawd... Ezra, I'm sorry."
Ezra's pale green eyes glistened with the tears he refused to shed as he stared up at them. "I thought they were my friends."
Vin laid a reassuring hand on the gambler's arm and shook his head. "They are your friends, pard. They didn't mean for it t' happen the way it did... they just didn't think an' let themselves fall for Maude's line of bull."
Ezra pulled his bandaged hand out of Buck's grip and sat up on the far edge of the bed, turning his back to the two men. They gave him a few moments to tame the emotions he was struggling with and then walked around to sit beside him.
Buck draped one of his long arms across Ezra's shoulders. "We ain't tryin' t' make excuses for 'em, Ezra... we just don't want ya thinkin' they set out to deliberately hurt ya."
Ezra heaved a disconsolate sigh and slumped forward, propping his head wearily in his hands. "I know they didn't, Buck... at least in my head. It may take my heart a little longer to accept it though."
"Well, if it's any consolation, pard... Chris is down there right now pointin' out every little thing they did wrong. I just wish we could turn 'im loose on your mother." Buck saw Ezra's lips twitch as he fought against a smile. "That's one discussion I'd love to sit in on."
Vin nudged Ezra with his elbow. "What ya gonna do 'bout your mother, Ezra... ya ain't gonna let her get away with this, are ya?"
Ezra heaved another pain-filled sigh and shrugged his shoulders. "What choice do I have? Her methods for obtaining my former establishment may have been underhanded, but I assure you, they were quite legal."
"Ain't ya at least gonna tell her how ya feel?" Vin asked softly.
A derisive snort of laughter escaped before Ezra could stop it. "My dear Mr. Tanner, I learned a long time ago that my feelin's pull very little weight with my mother. She'd just claim I'm gettin' soft and probably find some other way to teach me a lesson... another way to 'keep me sharp'... which is how she explained her reasons for stealin' my dream away." Ezra shook his head, his eyes tinged with confusion and hurt. "Who knows... perhaps she's right. Like she said... she has a mother's advantage because she's known me since I was a baby. Maybe... maybe I do need her to keep me on my toes. She certainly succeeded in showing me how wrong I was to feel comfortable enough here to let my guard down. Maybe what she does is in my best interest."
Buck stared at the gambler, amazed by his skewed logic. "Ya can't be serious, Ezra. Ya can't sit there an' tell me that ya honestly believe she did what she did to help ya."
Ezra turned his anguished gaze full on Buck. "Don't you understand? I don't have any choice but to believe it, Buck." His eyes welled with unshed tears, and Buck and Vin could see him trembling with the effort he was making to keep them from falling. "Otherwise... how can I possibly convince myself she loves me?" His voice sank to an agonized whisper as he let his head drop back into his hands. "She's my mother... I have to believe... I-I have to."
Buck shared a sad look with Vin and knew he was thinking the same thing.
Buck waited until he felt Ezra take a deep breath and then, knowing he'd managed to get himself back under control, gave his shoulders a light squeeze and stood up, nodding at Vin to join him.
Searching through the rubble that was strewn across Ezra's room, Vin finally located the gambler's hat just as Buck retrieved a clean jacket from the closet.
Buck stood in front of the Southerner grinning and held the jacket out for him. "Come on, Ezra... slip your arms in here an' let's go on down to the saloon. I figure ya owe us doctorin' fees for patchin' up your hand... ya can buy us each a drink as payment."
Ezra rubbed his hands over his face, wiping the last vestiges of emotion away before looking up. "I don't think I'm quite ready to deal with the others just yet, Buck... I'm sorry."
"That's okay, pard... can't say as I blame ya." Buck glanced up when he saw Vin move across the room toward the bed.
Vin slapped Ezra's hat on his head and showed him the bottle he held. "How 'bout we grab a couple more of these an' Chris an' get the hell outta hear for awhile."
A trace of a smile eased away the sadness in Ezra's eyes when he recognized the bottle Vin held out to him. Maude's finest whiskey... just a tiny piece of retribution, but better than nothing. Then the hope that had flared at getting away from it all for even a short while faded as his gaze traveled over the shambles he'd made of his room. "Sounds like an excellent idea, but I really should--"
Buck had seen the glimmer of hope in Ezra's eyes and heard the hesitancy in his voice, and quickly pulled him to his feet. "Come on, Ezra... this mess'll still be here when we get back. Right now, you need to do somethin' that'll help ya forget about all this for a little while."
Ezra stood between his two friends and allowed them to shove his arms into the sleeves of his jacket, smiling slightly when Buck's large, clumsy fingers fumbled with the fancy buttons as he attempted to fasten it for him. Ezra laughed softly and took over for him when he finally threw his hands in the air in frustration. Even with his injured hand, he did a better job of maneuvering the small buttons than Buck had. "And just what destination did you have in mind for this little get-away?"
Buck thought a minute and then grinned and snapped his fingers. "Chris's place. We can do some drinkin', play some cards... do some more drinkin'...."
Vin grabbed Ezra's arm and led him toward the door. "Yeah, an' we'll even let ya win a hand or two so's ya can start savin' up for the new Standish Tavern."
Ezra's smile disappeared at the mention of his saloon, and he started to pull away, but Buck stopped him by wrapping his arm around the gambler's shoulders and propelling him out into the hall.
"That's right, pard... we ain't about to let ya give up on that dream of yours." Buck's eyes twinkled merrily down at Ezra, and he was relieved to see the younger man's smile return. "'Sides... keepin' your dream alive keeps my dream alive."
Ezra gave him a quizzical look as he let them lead him toward the stairs.
"My dream's always been to have a generous friend with his own saloon... free beer an' free food... maybe a good lookin' barmaid or two... I ask ya, what more could a man want?"
Vin burst out laughing when he saw the expression that came over Ezra's face.
"Generous friend? Do you have another acquaintance who plans on owning his own tavern, Mr. Wilmington?" Ezra's green eyes sparkled with renewed life as he playfully teased Buck. "Because you couldn't possibly be referring to me."
Vin followed the two men down the stairs enjoying the friendly banter that flowed so easily between them. Ezra's feelings of hurt and betrayal wouldn't be mended quickly, but with time and a lot of honest talk, Vin knew they would be able to get the family back together. Right now it was enough just to hear his Southern friend laughing again. For tonight, that would be enough... tomorrow, the healing could begin.
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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