azombiewrites: (The Magnificent Seven)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: Truth or Lies
Rating: PG
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
Main Characters: Ezra, the rest of the seven + OMC
Summary: Ezra receives a letter from Maude telling him his father is coming to Four Corners.
Disclaimers: The guys are owned by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, and The Mirisch Corp.
Spoilers: None
Status: Complete
Total Word Count: 29,153

Josiah Sanchez stepped through the saloon's swinging doors and chuckled at the sight before him. He moved forward and lowered himself quietly into the empty chair that was next to the gambler then looked sideways but couldn't see the face that was hidden by the black hat but he knew what was there; a handsome face that held capturing green eyes and dimples that would melt a woman's heart and make many a man jealous.
The ex-preacher was beginning to think of Ezra more like a son than a friend. He was feeling more protective of the younger man and found himself staying close to him. Josiah was afraid that one day he would go too far and Ezra would learn of his secret. He knew Ezra wouldn't like or appreciate him wanting to be his father. But he did want to be the man's father. Ezra never had a father; he had grown up without one although there had been plenty of male role models, none of them were worth a damn. Josiah had lost his own son and had never been able to watch him grow into a man. It took him a while but he realised he could gain back through Ezra what he lost in his son.

So he had begun to pay more attention of Ezra and what he was like. He watched his mannerisms carefully and tried to get a better understanding of the person behind the face. After a period of three months he learnt that, the gambler had two personalities; a more cheerful one that showed itself around his friends, (Ezra always preferred the term 'associates' instead of 'friends') and one that was filled with a sullen depression when his mother was around. But that second personality was also visible when an innocent person died. Ezra seemed to take an innocents death hard and it was something that Josiah still didn't understand. Something else that was unnerving was the way Ezra could swing from one personality attribute to the other in a matter of seconds.

He knew there were many levels to Ezra's personality and he'd only begun to get an understanding of some of the upper levels but there were still a lot more to discover and explore. Josiah wanted to fully understand the young man but feared that he never would. Ezra kept his feelings and past to himself. They had only found out about his mother, Maude Standish, because she had arrived in Four Corners on a surprise visit. Ezra had kept to himself a lot during that first visit. The only way he was going to find out more about Ezra was through his own investigations and he had to do it without Ezra knowing about it.

'Sleeps like the dead, doesn't he,' said Chris.

Chris Larabee had been sitting with the sleeping Southerner for over an hour and absolutely nothing had disturbed him, not even the rowdy cowhands who had ridden by earlier but their fun didn't last long, one cold look from the gunslinger had stopped any further thought of continuing their boisterous ride through town.

Ezra was sleeping with the heel of his left boot resting against the pole in front of him, his right foot crossed it, the chair he was sitting in was balanced on its two back legs, his arms were crossed against his chest and his hat covered his face. Chris was amazed that Ezra was able to keep his balance while he was asleep.
Josiah leaned forward, smiled towards the darkly dressed gunslinger and answered. 'He does at that.'

'Never could understand why he stays up so late gamblin',' said Chris who was holding back on a strong urge to slap Ezra across the side of his head and wake him up just to see the expression on his face.

'Probably for the same reason you get up before the sun rises.' Josiah laughed at him.

Chris and Josiah's attention was attracted by the noisy argument between Buck and JD as they pounded along the boardwalk on their way to the saloon. Both Josiah and Chris looked at each other, their eyes rolled in amusement at the two men's antics. As they got closer to the three men the argument they were having grew in intensity and Josiah realised they were arguing about Ezra. He frowned as the concern suddenly filled him. He knew he shouldn't be worried because Ezra was quite capable of looking after himself but he couldn't control the feelings that filled him. He wanted to be a father again and fathers became concerned when they thought their sons were in danger.

'I'm tellin' you it's from a lady!' Buck yelled in frustration at his young friend.

'And what makes you think that? Ezra doesn't have a lady friend remember,' argued JD.

'It smells of perfume!' Buck shot back.

'If this doesn't wake him I don't know what will.' Chris told Josiah.

Josiah struggled to smile in return. He knew the only lady that would be writing to Ezra was his mother and just the mention of Maude's name had a way of switching personality one to personality two. Ezra was going to become depressed and this was going to cause him to distance himself from the others. He glanced nervously at Ezra who still hadn't moved but that was about to change.

'Hey Ezra!' Buck yelled as he stepped up on to the saloon porch.

The only reaction he got was from Chris and Josiah. Chris was smiling in amusement and Josiah was watching the Southerner with concern. Buck could understand Chris' reaction because he took more enjoyment from what his friends did these days but Josiah continued to confuse him. He couldn't understand why he was always showing concern towards Ezra. The others had noticed it too but it had been decided to wait and see just how far Josiah was going to go.

Buck shrugged and slapped Ezra's feet off the pole. The smile dropped off everyone's face when they heard the click of the derringer as the release mechanism forced the small weapon into the gambler's right hand. His left hand pushed the hat up from his face so he could see whom he was about to shoot.

'I thought you would have learnt by now Buck, not to wake me in such a manner,' Ezra grimaced at the reason for his abrupt awakening. 'Maybe I should just shoot you anyway, you know, for the fun of it.' He kept the derringer aimed at Buck for a moment longer then smiled up at the lady's man before forcing the derringer back under his sleeve.

'Go ahead and shoot him.' Chris snorted when he tried to hold back his laughter at the look on Buck's face.

Buck scowled at Chris then decided to get his own back at the Southerner. 'Got a letter for you Ezra, you never told us you have a lady friend, or is she just, how do you usually put it . . . a paramour.'

Ezra didn't bite. Instead, he watched Buck with an expression that was full of total boredom. He hid what he was really feeling behind his poker face. The letter was from his mother and he already knew what was in it. She would, again, tell him that he was wasting his god given talents as a lawman and that he should drop everything and join her to take part in a con. After reading it, he would take a bottle of whiskey, go to his room, and drink it until he collapsed in a heap on his bed. It was what he did every time he received a letter from her. Something about his mother always brought the worst of his emotions out in the open.

'You're no fun Ezra!' Buck growled at him as he handed him the letter. 'Here! Mary asked us to deliver it to you.'

Ezra took the letter from him. The perfumed paper confirmed the gambler's suspicions. Buck stepped closer to the gambler hoping to catch a glimpse of its contents but he was disappointed when Ezra put the letter into his waistcoat pocket without even looking at it.

'Aren't you going to read it Ezra?' Buck asked him.

Ezra shrugged.

'Hey Buck,' Chris got his attention, 'you feel like a drink?'

'Wouldn't say that I don't.'

'Good, you can get the rest of us one while you're in there.'

'You're getting a bit slow in your old age Buck.' JD slapped him on the arm. 'You were easily pulled into that one.'

'Beers all round Mr. Wilmington. That should leave you enough money to spend on the ladies tonight.' Ezra fingered the letter in his waistcoat.

'You won all my money yesterday Ezra,' Buck leaned down close to Ezra's left ear, 'remember!'

'Yes I did, didn't I.' Ezra grimaced and rubbed his ear with his forefinger.

'Put them on your tab Buck. Now go and get us a drink!'

'Yes Sir, Chris.' Buck saluted him then grabbed JD by the arm and dragged him into the saloon with him.

While he waited for his drink, Ezra removed the envelope and stared at it. Maybe it would be good news for a change. Who was he kidding; it was never good news where his mother was concerned.

Aw hell, I may as well read it now and get it finished. He ripped open the seal and pulled the letter out.

'Looks like she's got a lot to say.' Josiah commented as he noted the four sheets of paper.

'Large words that say very little,' said Ezra.

Buck and JD returned, as he was about to start reading. He reached for the mug of beer that JD was offering him and took a long drink from the glass.

'So you are going to read it now.' Buck had already drunk most of his beer and was now trying to catch a glimpse of what was in the letter. 'Who is it from?'

'My mother, who did you think it was from?'

'Some rich lady that your mother wants you to marry.'

Ezra laughed and shook his head. 'Well, she has done something like that before.' He turned back to the letter and didn't see the strange looks the others were giving him.

June 16th

Dearest Ezra,

There will be a gentleman arriving in Four Corners on the twenty-fifth of this month. Ezra, this man is your father.

The colour drained from Ezra's face and his grip weakened on the glass that he held in his left hand, it fell to the boardwalk and shattered much like his sanity.

'Ezra?' Josiah's voice was heavy with concern. 'Is there something wrong? Is Maude alright?'

It took everything that Ezra had to gain control of his emotions; he didn't know what to think or what to do. His world had just fallen apart. He looked back at the letter to make sure that he had read it correctly. He had. His mother was telling him that the man he thought had died nearly twenty-eight years ago was very much alive and due to arrive in Four Corners in two days.

'There's nothing wrong and Maude's fine.'

'Then why did you drop the glass?'

'It slipped.' Ezra folded the letter and stood up. 'If you'll excuse me gentlemen.'

'You sure everything's alright Ezra?' Josiah asked him again.

Chris gave Josiah a warning. 'Leave him be Josiah, he knows where we are if he needs us.'

'Thank you Mr. Larabee, I appreciate the interference.'

Ezra turned away from the group of men and began to enter the saloon.

'Ezra!' Chris saw the troubled expression on Ezra's face when he lowered his head and looked back at him. 'I mean it okay, you know where we are if you need us.'

The gambler nodded. 'Thank you.'

Ezra sat at a table in the corner of the saloon and quickly glanced around at the patrons before he returned to the letter. He read the first couple of lines again. His father. Maude had gotten straight to the point. Why couldn't she have broken the news gently or better still, tell him in person. Having to read the words on paper instead of hearing, them verbally made it even more difficult to accept. He didn't want to continue reading the letter but he couldn't ignore it and hoped it went away.

Ezra, I never lied to you. I too had thought he was dead, I only found out the truth two months ago but refused to give him your current location but he has since proven to me that he has our best interests at heart.

Two months. She had known for two months and he was only finding out about it now. And what would mother know about her son's best interests. She only thought of herself and she had always been that way. But what if he's lying mother? What would you do if you found out he were lying?

There was a reason behind your father leaving us like he did and it had nothing to do with what happened to you.

Ezra blinked.

He was suddenly four years old again.

He had pushed himself into a corner in his bedroom to hide from his parents. Their violent arguing was causing his young body to tremble with fear, tears rolled down his cheeks and he had to be content with using his bare forearm to wipe the dampness from his face. He jumped and looked up in fear when he heard his bedroom door slam open. It was his father. Blood soaked the side of his face and his shirt was torn at the sleeve. Ezra shut his eyes and tried to think of pleasant thoughts but none would come. A strong grip took his arm and pulled him to his feet. He tried to pull away but at his young age, he didn't have the strength or skill to fight back.

'Where are you taking me?' Ezra asked through his tears.

'You're coming with me Ezra. I'm taking you away from that woman.' His father explained in an angry voice.

If his father had asked him a week ago, Ezra would have packed his bags in an instant but not now. He was terrified of his father. The man was acting in a way he had never seen before and there was no way in hell he was going to go with him. He knew his mother treated him differently than other mothers treated their children but it was better than leaving with this man. His father was acting violently and he was afraid of being hurt. His worst fear came true when his father finally gave up and threw him back against the wall.
The gambler shut the memory out before he heard the child in his mind scream for his mother.

He took the letter in both hands and tore it in two; he did not intend to read anymore. Ezra continued to tear it until the only thing left were tiny pieces of paper. He couldn't read the letter now even if he wanted to. After scrunching the paper up and putting it in his pocket, he stood up and headed toward the bar. He had never needed or wanted a drink so badly in his entire life.

Ezra could hear footsteps behind him as he walked to the bar and recognised them as Josiah's. Obviously, Chris's warning hadn't been enough for the ex-preacher. He stopped when he reached the bar and felt more than saw Josiah move into a position beside him.

'You okay Ezra?' Josiah was looking at the gambler while he asked the question.

'I'm fine Josiah.' Ezra took the shot of whisky and motioned to the bar tender to leave the bottle. 'There is no need for you to stay so close Josiah, I don't need you to look after me.'

'I know son. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I know how you tend to feel after you've heard from or seen your mother.'

Ezra laughed, he couldn't help it. 'Son? I'm not your son Josiah and I would like for you to stop calling me son!'

'I'm sorry Ezra. It's only an accolade.'

'Accolade? Do you think it's a compliment that you think of me like a son? If I ever wanted a father Mr. Sanchez it would not be you!' Ezra grabbed the bottle and stormed away. The words he'd spoken to the ex-preacher were meant to hurt and he knew they did.

Words; they could say a lot and yet say nothing. He knew what words would hurt the men he worked with and he knew how to cut through a man's soul with the right words. He had never been at a loss for something to say but what was he going to say to a twenty eight year old ghost that had become flesh and blood through the words of a letter.

His own soul was cut deeply with the thoughts that ran wildly around his mind as he made his way to his room. Clayton Standish was coming to Four Corners in two days. He had two options, stay or run. If he ran like his head and heart were telling him to Chris and the others might come after him and drag him back. If he stayed then he would have to face his father. If it was his father. He wouldn't put it past his mother to lie. He would not accept that this man was his father until he had proof. Only three people knew what happened that night and he knew Maude would be too ashamed to tell anyone of the event.

He was going to have to stay and find out if his mother was telling the truth. If he didn't then he would spend the rest of his life asking himself 'what if' and he wouldn't be able to live with that.

When he got to his room, he entered it and closed the door behind him. Ezra removed his jacket, guns and waistcoat then settled himself into the rocking chair that faced the window in his room. He waited for the thoughts to continue but they didn't. There was nothing. It had all stopped. It couldn't be this simple could it? Maybe he was in shock? He thought he should be angry, upset even but he felt nothing. Was he really so much like his mother? Cold and beyond caring. No. He didn't believe that. He knew he was different from his mother even though he had lived the same trade for so long, a trade that he would no doubt go back to once his law enforcement employment was over.

But he had to feel something. He needed to feel something. This was wrong. He had felt so angry and hurt for many years after his father had left. As a young man, he had blamed his father for everything that went wrong but as the years passed and he learnt about life and what people were like his anger and resentment towards his father had faded. Knowing his father was coming back should have brought back the feelings he had as a child.

Ezra continued to drink as he continued to think about what was about to happen to him and the more he drank the more he began to feel. The emotions he thought he couldn't feel were finally returning. His anger started to grow at the thought of meeting this man that Maude claimed was his father.

His hands began to shake, then the rest of his body followed. He stood up and took a few faltering steps to the bed. The blanket would get rid of the chill that was causing him to shake. Ezra pulled it off the bed and wrapped it around himself but his body continued to shake, even his teeth were clattering. After ten minutes of walking around his room he realized he wasn't cold. His emotions were causing his body's lack of control. The alcohol had let his walls down and his emotions to escape.

Ezra leaned back against the door and closed his eyes. His hand gripped the bottle of whiskey at his side until his knuckles turned white. He lifted the bottle and stared at the liquid within. His father had been drunk the night he . . . Ezra threw the bottle across the room where it shattered after hitting the wall. Ezra watched the whiskey run down the wall and gather into a puddle at the bottom on the floor. That was something that he was going to have to explain to Inez in the morning.


Ezra sat on the porch of the saloon, the sunlight was creeping over the buildings and main street towards him. He watched as it forced the darkness to retreat. He knew that the light would eventually reach him but it wouldn't be able to warm him. His flesh was cold and goose bumps lined his skin under his clothing. He'd felt that way all night and he was now hoping that the early sun would warm him.

Two horses were approaching him and he could see that it was Vin and Nathan. They had spent the last week at the Seminole Village. Nathan had gone to help the sick and Vin was there to hunt for fresh meat. He watched as they pulled their mounts to a stop in front of him, neither man dismounting from his horse.

'Hey Ezra, what are you doing up so early?' Vin asked him.

'Couldn't sleep.' It was the truth but they didn't need to know why he couldn't sleep.

'Why not?' asked Nathan.

Nathan was the town's healer and if anyone even mentioned that they weren't feeling well or if you looked poorly, he would be on your back constantly until you allowed him to check you over.
Ezra shrugged and turned his head to the right to look down the main street. Townsfolk were beginning to rise and greet the new day. It wouldn't be long until the remaining peacekeepers joined them.

'You drink too much last night?' Nathan got off his horse and stepped up onto the boardwalk so he could get a better look at Ezra.

'Something like that.'

'Something like that!' The healer mimicked. 'Suppose you stayed up till now playing a game huh?'

'Actually no, I retired quite early last night.'

'Then what's wrong with you?' Nathan reached forward and placed his right hand against Ezra's forehead.

'You don't have a fever. What about a headache?'


'Feelin' sick?'


'Just tired then?'

'Yes. I went to bed too early and it threw me off,' said Ezra.

'That's it?'

'That is it Mr. Jackson.' Ezra smiled up at him.

'You sure?'

'I'm sure.'

'Okay then, as long as you're sure but if you do start feeling sick you better comes and see me!' Nathan stood over the seated man and glared down at him. 'You got that!'

'Got it.' Ezra tipped his hat and turned his head again and stared out into the distance.

'What're you lookin' for?' Vin had his forearms resting on the pommel of his saddle and had been watching Ezra during the conversation. Ezra didn't answer him. 'Ezra!'

'Umm, what?'

'What are you looking for?' Vin asked again.

'Looking for?' My father, well the man my mother claims is my father. 'Nothing. Why?'

Vin shrugged. 'You seemed to be looking for something.'


'Okay, we're going to take care of the horses then we'll come back and join you for breakfast.'

Ezra nodded and looked away for a third time.

Vin and Nathan glanced at each other then headed towards the stables.


'Saw Ezra this morning when me and Vin rode in.' Nathan mentioned to Josiah as they worked in the church. The healer knew that if anyone had known what was wrong with Ezra it would be Josiah. The man hung on to Ezra's every thought and every move. 'He seemed a bit off the weather.'

'He got a letter from Maude yesterday.'

'And?' Nathan prodded him.

'He started reading it, dropped his glass then went into the saloon for some privacy.' Josiah shrugged as though it was something that happened every day.

'You went in after him no doubt.' It wasn't a question, Nathan knew he would have.


'Tell me Josiah.'

'I called him son.' Josiah stopped what he was doing and sat down heavily on one of the pews. 'He wasn't too happy about it.'

'He normally isn't.'

'Even more so than usual Nathan. I think he was angry before I even got to him. Must have been the letter. You know what Maude does to that boy.'

'Yeah, he gets pretty moody doesn't he.' Nathan nodded then added. 'He didn't have much to eat or say at breakfast.'

'He didn't?' Josiah frowned.

'No, we tried to get him to talk but his mind just seemed to be somewhere else.'

'I'm starting to think that something's wrong.'

'Maybe but if you're going to get involved don't push him.'

'I know.' Josiah stood up and headed for the church's open doors.

'Where're you goin'?

'I want to see how Ezra's doing.' Josiah said without looking back.

'Josiah!' Nathan called after him but when he saw that Josiah wasn't going to stop and listen, he decided to go after him. He didn't know who was going to need protection, Ezra or Josiah. If Ezra were moody then he would lash out at Josiah using words that would hurt the older man and if Josiah was pushed to far he was capable of using violence to get Ezra to listen and obey.

Nathan ran after him and caught up with him on the steps of the saloon. He tried to stop Josiah by taking his arm and using force to stop him before he entered the building. 'Not now Josiah.'

'Why not now? It's as good a time as any. If there is something wrong then he needs to talk about it!'

'It'll end up in a fight you know that don't you.' Nathan warned him.

'It seems that almost every conversation I have with that boy ends in an argument.' Josiah pulled his arm out of Nathan's grip.

'That's your first mistake Josiah. Ezra's not a boy so stop treating him like one.'

Josiah stared down at Nathan for a few seconds before pushing the batwing doors open. He glanced around the room and saw Ezra sitting at a table in the corner. Vin and JD were with him, both were watching the gambler carefully and Ezra seemed to be unaware of the scrutiny. He walked to the table and took a seat. He scowled at Nathan when the healer sat down next to him.

'Heard you didn't sleep too well last night Ezra.' Josiah tried to ease Ezra into the conversation without directly asking him what the problem was.

'You heard correctly Mr. Sanchez.' Ezra took a sip from his glass. He'd already drunk half a bottle of whiskey and lunchtime was still an hour away.

'You feelin' alright?'

'You've been talking to Nathan haven't you?' Ezra acknowledged Nathan with his glass and a smile then turned his attention back to the game of solitaire he'd been playing for almost two hours. He'd been too busy thinking about the arrival of his father to concentrate on the game. Vin and JD had offered to play poker with him but his heart wasn't in it.

'You didn't answer my question.'

'I don't have to.'

Nathan looked at Vin, both men knew there was something going on and each noticed that JD could see it too. All three men were thinking the same thing. Had Josiah done something to make Ezra angry?

'How much of that has he drunk?' Josiah nodded to the bottle that sat on Ezra's right; Josiah was sitting on his left.

'About half.' JD answered.

'JD,' Ezra growled, 'it's none of his business and neither is it yours.'

'You're drinking that much before lunch?' Nathan spoke up.

'No, I'm drinking the whole bottle before lunch.' Ezra took the bottle and refilled his glass.

'Why?' Josiah asked him.

'Because I want to.'

'Ezra-' Josiah began but was stopped when Chris and Buck arrived at the table.

'Something going on Chris?' Vin asked as he watched the two sit down.

'No, why? Should there be?'

'No.' Vin nodded towards Josiah knowing that Chris would know what he was trying to say.

Ezra had also seen the look and stood up. He took the bottle and cards and moved away to another table where he could think in peace.

'There's something wrong.' Josiah was watching Ezra.

'Nathan just said there is Josiah.' Buck nudged him.

'No, I mean something is wrong and I know it has to do with that letter he got from Maude yesterday.'

'I told you to leave him alone Josiah.' Chris turned his anger on the ex-preacher. 'You know what he's like with Maude and the last thing he needs is you on his back acting like a father that he doesn't want or need.'

'It's not like that Chris.'

'It looks like it is to me! Why don't you leave him alone to live his own life, he doesn't need you.'

'I'm trying to help him, if you can't see that then you're blind to what's going on.' Josiah stood up and pushed his chair away and stormed out of the saloon. He glared at Ezra on his way past but the Southerner acted as though he didn't see him.

'Nathan, is what you said true?'

'I'm not sure Chris. He said he didn't sleep well last night.'

'He was sort of not there when we talked to him this morning.' Vin added.

'What do you mean?'

'His mind was on something else.' Nathan finished.

'He's not acting like himself Chris,' said JD.

Chris glanced at JD and nodded. 'Buck, Nathan, JD you go to Eagle Bend, lend them a hand and get back here as soon as you can. If Ezra is in some sort of trouble he might need our help and if he does I want all of us here.'

Ezra watched as Josiah left the saloon but the ex-preacher wouldn't be aware of the scrutiny he was under. Ezra took note of the angry features and it took all of his will not to return the stare. A few minutes later Nathan, Buck and JD also left, each of them saying their goodbyes. To Ezra it was a welcomed relief. That was three men that won't be finding out about his father. If he handled things right, his father would be leaving shortly after arriving.

But what if his father refused to leave? He would then have to use force. Ezra lowered his head and laughed softly. What kind of man or son would he be if he forced a man in his fifties out of Four Corners with the use of violence? He wouldn't be a man. He would be a son who was angry and bitter at a father that had run out on his family twenty years earlier. As a son, Ezra had every right to treat his father with hostility and contempt. The man that was his father deserved everything he was going to receive when he meets his son face to face the following day.

His anger was growing by the minute. The memory of what happened the night his father had left kept going through his mind and now he wanted to seek retribution for a child that had been unable to protect himself. Ezra knew exactly what he was going to do the minute his father stepped off the stage.

Ezra refused to acknowledge the men who were moving from one end of the saloon to the other so they could sit with him. He didn't mind their company, he just didn't feel like talking and they seemed to understand that. Once they were all seated, a companionable silence settled around the table. They knew that Ezra didn't want to be drawn into a conversation.

Thirty minutes later Chris turned to Ezra and said. 'Is Josiah bothering you Ezra? Because if he is I'll send him on a job for a while.'

'Nothing I can't handle Chris but thank you for the offer. I may take you up on it at another time.' Ezra smiled in amusement.

'Sure, no problem.'

Silence returned to the table allowing Ezra to finally finish his game of solitaire. He reached for the bottle of whiskey to refill his glass but found it empty. He glanced around the table to find the others looking at anything but him. He groaned aloud. He must be out of it not to notice that they had drunk the rest of his alcohol. Ezra had wanted to finish it on his own but it seemed that the others had their plan to empty the bottle of its contents.

'Are you sick or is it something else?' Chris continued the questions. He didn't usually like invading another man's privacy because he had always hated it when he was on the receiving end of someone prying into his personal life. It had taken him a year before he gave in to Buck's persistence that he talk about the death of his wife and son.

'A bit of both.' Ezra realised that he was starting to feel a bit nauseas but he put that down to nerves; his father was arriving tomorrow, how could he not be scared about that.

'Let us know if you feel worse and we're here for the other thing if you need us.'

'Thanks . . . I think.' He didn't mind at first that Chris had been understandable but this was becoming too much. The man usually took no for an answer then left it at that but he was pushing the subject, not with anger but understanding. 'Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning Chris.'

Chris glared at Vin when the sharp shooter burst out with laughter. 'What is that supposed to mean Ezra?'

'Nothing, it didn't mean anything.'

'Tell him Ezra.' Vin nudged the Southerner's side.

'It didn't mean anything Vin now drop it!'

'Don't take it out on us if you have a problem Ezra.' Chris warned him.

'You're right, I'm sorry Vin.'

'That's okay Ezra.' Vin frowned at Chris who shrugged in return.

'I need some fresh air.' Ezra forced a small smile to his lips so Chris and Vin would know that he wasn't angry with them but Chris was right. He was taking his anger out on them and the others, an anger that should be aimed at the person who was more deserving of it. 'I'm going to go for a walk.'

Ezra stepped out onto the boardwalk and stood for a moment. He wasn't sure which way he was going to go. He decided to cross the street and walk to the jail. The building was empty of prisoners and it was a place where he could sit and continue to think. He knew that this problem would be over by this time the next day and he wouldn't need to dwell on it any longer than he had to. Let his father go back to his mother and they could live happily ever after. He didn't want any part of that. His parents didn't know how to be a family; if they had, they would never have separated the way they did.

Instead of sitting in the chair behind the desk, Ezra walked into one of the cells and lay down on the cot. It wasn't his intention to fall asleep but he did ten minutes later and slept until night fell over the town.

Chris had finally found Ezra after looking for almost an hour. He'd never expected to find him asleep on one of the jail's cots. He stood next to the bed and watched the sleeping gambler for a few minutes. Chris was able to tell immediately that Ezra was in the midst of a nightmare. What Ezra could be dreaming about Chris had no idea but from his own experience, he knew he was going to wake the younger man before it became any worse. He reached down to touch Ezra's shoulder but as soon as he made contact, Ezra woke.

He saw the confusion in Ezra's eyes but they soon cleared when he realised where he was. Green eyes met each other; one pair filled with understanding and the other pair was full of confusion and embarrassment.

'Damn, was I asleep?' Ezra asked Chris while he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.

'Yeah you were.' Chris sat on the edge of the cot. 'You been here long?'

'Been where?' It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness and he became aware of his location. 'I fell asleep here?'

'Yeah. What are you doing here Ezra?'

'I needed somewhere quiet, guess it was too quiet,' answered Ezra.

'Come on, you look like you could do with something to eat.' Chris pulled Ezra to his feet and shoved him towards the cell door.

'Actually I do feel slightly hungry.'

'Inez is cooking us up some steak and potatoes and don't you dare say that you're going to drink your dinner.'

'Didn't I just say that I was feeling hungry.' Ezra walked by Chris's side as they made their way to the saloon.

'Yeah but you Ezra Standish are a very good liar.'

'I get that ugly trait from my father.' Ezra grimaced in disgust.

The two men walked into the saloon to find Josiah and Vin sitting at a table that held four plates of food. Chris allowed Ezra to sit next to Vin and he sat next to Ezra. That left the gambler facing the ex-priest. Chris really didn't like that position but it was better than having them sit next to each other. At least this way he would be able to control the conversation.

'Were did you find him' Vin asked through a mouthful of steak.


'What was he doing there?'

'I was sleeping.' Ezra answered before Chris could. 'I'm here you know Vin, you can ask me.'

'What were you doing there Ezra?' Vin asked again.


'Well, now you're eating so start.' Chris used his fork to point to Ezra's plate.

Ezra lifted his eyes from his plate to look at Josiah and found the man staring at him. Ezra held the stare until Josiah lowered his eyes. He couldn't believe the man. Even in silence, Josiah was still questioning him. More than anything, he wanted to tell Josiah to go to hell. But he kept his mouth shut and began his meal. He could feel Josiah's eyes back on him watching his every move, making sure that he ate his meal like a father would watch over a son.

Ezra decided to say something but was interrupted by a shout of 'cheater' from the gambling table that was three steps higher than the rest of the room. All four men stood abruptly and headed towards the table to put a stop to any trouble that might want to start.

There were three men at the table. Two older men who were regulars in the town and a younger man who they knew was a stranger. It was the younger man that was accusing one of the others of cheating. He had drawn a gun and held it in front of him.

'Put the gun down!' Chris ordered him.

'He cheated me out of my money!' The young man yelled.

'These two men are incapable of cheating on their wives let alone a card game.' Ezra had been standing at the top of the three steps and slightly to Chris's left.

'What would you know?'

'They won and you lost.' The gambler took a step closer and heard Chris whisper his name as a warning.

'They cheated!'

'They won. That makes you a very bad poker player.' Ezra's words were followed by another step closer to the table.

'Who the hell are you to call me a bad player.' The man who couldn't have been any older than JD turned the gun on Ezra but before he could fire Ezra grabbed his gun arm and pushed it out of harm’s way and followed the movement with a right hook that sent the man to the floor.

'Nice work Ezra, even if you did take a risk you shouldn't have.' Chris slapped Ezra on the back and knelt down next to the young man. 'It's time you left town.'

'You can't force me to leave.'

'I'm the law here. I can make you do whatever I want you to do. Leave now and I won't hurt you.'

'They cheated me out of my money.'

'I'd go now if I were you.' Ezra warned him. 'Mr. Larabee here doesn't have a lot of patience.

The young gambler stared angrily at Ezra before he walked away from them.

'You can get back to your card game now fellas.' Chris told them.

'Thank you Mr. Standish,' the one accused of cheating grabbed Ezra's hand and shook it, 'I thought for sure he was going to shoot me.'

'You remember that next time I play with you.' Ezra tipped his hat and walked away from the table with Vin following him. Ezra stopped before they returned to their table. 'Chris, I think I'm going to retire for the night so if you'll excuse me.'

'What about your dinner Ezra, you've only eaten half of it.'

'I'll take it with me.' Ezra moved to the table and took the plate in his hands and made his way to the stairs. He wasn't hungry anymore but he took it to appease Chris.

When he reached his room, he put the plate down on the top of the chest of drawers and began to remove his clothing and guns. He knew he wasn't going to sleep again tonight so he settled down in the chair with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders like he had done the night before.

In the early hours of the morning, Josiah Sanchez entered Ezra's room. The ex-preacher had found Ezra asleep in the rocking chair and not in the large bed. He stood watching the younger man for a short period of time then left, quietly closing the door behind him.


Ezra knew his associates were scrutinizing him as he descended the stairs in an agitated manner. He was feeling a mixture of both fear and anger. He was not sure of what he was going to do when he saw his father. Ezra saw and ignored the frowns of confusion as he walked passed. They were no doubt wondering why he had risen so early. The simple white shirt and tanned work coat he was wearing wouldn't have helped eased their confused minds.

He walked out into the early morning sunshine and the sound of his boots echoed loudly in the silence of a new day. The gambler sat in one of the few chairs that lined the sidewalk in front of the saloon. He was going to wait on the boardwalk for the stage to arrive so he could watch the distant memory become flesh and bone. Ezra turned his head to the area where the stagecoach would first appear before moving on to the Guardian where it would stop to allow the passengers to disembark.

Ezra lowered his head and groaned aloud when he heard the jangle of Chris's spurs. He didn't think anyone would follow him out onto the boardwalk and sit with him. Chris wasn't acting his normal self though. Perhaps he should arrange for Nathan to give him a going over and see if he was suffering from a medical condition currently known as 'being nice'.

'Going somewhere Ezra?' Chris asked as he looked toward the direction Ezra was staring in. There was nothing to look at as far as he was concerned; maybe he was waiting for something. The stage was due to arrive in ten minutes

'No.' Ezra replied without looking at him.

'Waiting for someone?' Chris tried again and knew he was correct when he didn't receive an answer.

'Anyone we know?'


Ezra knew Chris wouldn't leave if he asked him to. He would just have to wait until the coach arrived and deal with his father before Chris decided that he wanted an introduction. Ezra raised his eyes and watched as Josiah passed by him and sat in one of the empty chairs. This was all he needed. He didn't mind Chris being there but Josiah was something else.

'You want something Josiah?' Ezra asked him.

'No, just enjoying the fresh air,' said Josiah.

'More like spying on me.' Ezra muttered under his breath. 'You wouldn't want to enjoy it somewhere else would you?'

'No, here is just fine.'

Ezra coughed and sunk down further into the chair. These two men together were going to make it very hard for him. Chris had offered to help by sending Josiah on a job but it was too late to ask for that now. It was only a matter of minutes before the stagecoach that carried his father arrived. First, he looked to his left at Chris who had lit a cigar and was now smoking it, and then he turned to his right to catch Josiah quickly looking away from him. Ezra growled at him in annoyance and stood up, pushing the chair away from him. He took a few steps then leaned his forearms on the railing. At least this way Josiah wasn't able to watch his face; he would have to make do with watching his back.

Ezra jerked when he heard the sound of the stagecoach approaching, it was early. He leaned back and gripped his hands on the railing while he waited for it to come into his view. It did a few seconds later. His gaze followed as the coach came to a stop. Ezra walked slowly down the steps and stopped when he was a short distance from the coach. He couldn't and wouldn't go any closer.

The gambler watched as the only passenger exited the stagecoach. A black hat much like his own caused shadows to fall across the man's physical image hiding his father's face from him. It had to be his father. The terrified Southerner held his breath as the simply dressed man turned to face him. He'd hoped that seeing the features that had been hidden from his mind for so many years would retrieve the faded image from his memory. But the older man's countenance did nothing to bring the distorted image into focus.

The man smiled at him and stepped closer to him, he had easily recognised Ezra but Ezra didn't recognise him. There were no dimples that matched his own, his eyes were not the same colour. His were green and the eyes he was looking into were blue. There was no resemblance.

'Ezra.' Clayton Standish knew the man that was standing before him was his son. Maude had described him perfectly.

There were no emotions in the blue eyes that Ezra stared into. He reached into himself and gathered all his strength and threw a right hook that lifted the man off his feet and slammed him into the ground.

'And that was for?' his father stared back up at him and rubbed his chin.

'You damn well know what that was for!' Ezra spoke harshly.

'I expect you to be angry and hurt.' he looked over Ezra's shoulder at the two men who were approaching them. 'But I didn't expect this from my own son.'

Ezra noticed his father looking past him so he turned to see Chris and Josiah walking towards them.

'Ezra.' Josiah spoke to him as he stopped to stand beside him. 'Want to introduce us to your friend.'

'He's no friend of mine Mr. Sanchez.' Ezra continued to look down at the man who was his father.

Clayton Standish lifted himself to his feet and reached out to shake Josiah's hand. 'Clayton-'

'Saunders.' Ezra finished for him.

'Clayton Saunders.' Clayton Standish repeated and lowered his hand when Josiah refused to shake his in return. Clayton raised an eyebrow at Ezra who continued to glare at him.

'And you're here because?' Chris asked. If this man wasn't a friend to Ezra then he didn't like him either.

'And the two of you are being unfriendly because?' Clayton smiled coldly at the dark clad gunslinger.

Ezra couldn't help but smile; his father had just made an enemy of Chris Larabee.

Clayton Standish wasn't going to allow them to interrogate him. He wasn't here for that, he was here for other things. He took a step closer to Ezra and saw him step back away from him. Standish could see the hesitation and fear in the greens eyes that Ezra had gotten from his grandfather.

'I'm not going to hurt you Ezra.'

'Depends on what you mean by hurt.' Ezra growled back.

'What the hell is going on here?' Chris demanded.

Ezra and Clayton both refused to answer the question.

'We need to talk Ezra.'

'There won't be any of that. You're going to get back on that stage and leave. I don't want you here.'

'I can't.'

'I'll force you if I have to.' Ezra threatened.

'I'm meeting Maude, she'll be here in a few days.' Clayton watched as Ezra's eyes widened in shock.


'Maude is coming. We thought we would celebrate your birthday with-'

'All right! Stop right there!' Ezra yelled. He raised his hand to his eyes to shut out the men standing around him. His mother was coming for his birthday. His mother never visited him on his birthday. Damn! Why was all this happening at once? 'Chris, Josiah, could give me a minute please.'

'Ezra I don't think we should leave you alone with this man.' Josiah moved to Ezra's side in case he needed some protection.

'It isn't a fucking choice Josiah! Get the hell away from me!'

'Let's go Josiah. This is none of our business. If Ezra needs us he knows where we are.' Chris took Josiah's arm and forced him to move away. The gunslinger looked over his shoulder and smiled at Ezra who managed to smile back.

'You're angry,' said Clayton.

'We can't do this in the middle of Main Street.' Ezra noticed that people were beginning to stare. 'We have to find somewhere private.'

Ezra started to walk away not waiting to see if his father was going to follow him. He tried to think of somewhere quiet where they could talk without being interrupted and the only place he could think of was his room.

He made his way directly to his room ignoring all those who acknowledged him. He didn't watch for his father because he expected him to be following him. When Ezra reached his room, he walked straight in to it allowing Clayton to close the door. Ezra then spun around to face the man that was his father.

'I don't look anything like you.' It was a statement of denial.

'That's because you look like your grandfather.' Clayton nodded to the large bed.

Ezra took the hint. 'Have a seat but don't get comfortable you won't be staying long.'

'I know it's a shock to you Ezra,' said Clayton.

'A shock! I get a letter from my mother saying that the man she told me had died twenty-eight years ago was going to arrive in Four Corners in two days. I think shocked is a very weak description of how I feel right now.'

'All I ask is that you give me a chance to explain what happened on that night and why I left you and your mother.' Clayton pleaded with his son.

'I don't need an explanation. I know what happened.' Ezra paced the floor in front of his father.

'You know what your mother told you. There's always two sides to a story Ezra.'

'Why is my mother coming?'

'We want to celebrate your birthday as a family.'

'My mother has never celebrated my birthday. Most of the time she wasn't even there. She left me with relatives while she went and lived her life. The only times she did take me with her was so she could use me
in a con.'

Clayton's face creased into a frown. 'I'm sorry Ezra, I didn't know that.'

'There's a lot you don't know about my relationship with my mother.' Ezra felt as though all the energy had been sucked from his body and he sat down heavily on the bed next to his father. 'Explain it to me. I want to know everything. I want proof that you're who you say you are.'

'You're not willing to take your mother's word that I'm your father?'

'You don't know my mother very well do you?' Ezra's tone was sarcastic.

'I knew her for eight years,' said Clayton.

'Then you ran out on us.'

'I didn't have a choice Ezra. Either I left or we all died.' Clayton was watching Ezra and when he didn't get a response from his son he continued. 'Your mother was the poker player, always was but I enjoyed the game and I played occasionally. Most times, I lost but every now and then, I won. I was drawn into a game one night and I was winning but then I suddenly began to lose. I ended up owing more money than I had. I explained the situation to Maude but she wouldn't pay the debt. Something about how I got myself into it so I had to get myself out of it. I played other games to try to raise the money but I kept losing. I couldn't win anything.' Clayton glanced sideways at Ezra and saw that he was still listening. 'I had a week to pay up but I couldn't. I had no money. My only options were to either rob the bank or disappear. I could do neither. I couldn't leave my family.'

Ezra interrupted. 'But you did, didn't you.'

'When the week came to an end I was given another three days and they told me if I didn't pay my wife and child would die.'

'They threatened your family?' Ezra asked.

'They threatened you and your mother.'

'Why didn't you take us with you?'

'What if they followed me Ezra? What if they found me? They would have killed you and your mother.'

'Did you stop to think that they might have killed us anyway?'

'I had to believe they wouldn't. If I didn't I would never have left.' He paused not knowing how Ezra was taking it.

'Keep going.' Ezra told him. 'What about that night?'

'Do you remember it?'

'Every detail.' Ezra nodded.

'I couldn't leave when I was sober. I tried to leave but I couldn't do it,' said Clayton.

'So you got drunk.'

'I've been told that I'm not very nice when I'm drunk but I knew that it would be easier for me leave.'

'Then why did you do it?'

'I told you why Ezra.' Clayton started to rub his hands together. 'I ended up having an argument with Maude and I decided that I didn't want to leave you with her. I went into your room but I refused to see the fear in your eyes. I tried to force you to go with me but you didn't want to go. You fought me and you fought hard. It hurt me that you didn't want to come with me.'

'So you broke my arm-'

'No! I didn't do it on purpose Ezra. You were fighting so hard and I just . . . let go and you fell back against the wall and screamed. Your mother came in and told me to leave. I did and that was the last I saw of either of you.'

'Why didn't you come back?'

'I did about three weeks later when I heard that the man I owed money too had taken his men and left town. You and your mother were gone. I was told that you left the day after I did so Maude had a three-week head start. I couldn't find you.'

'Maude has relatives.'

'They refused to tell me anything, they never did like me for some reason.'

'How did you find her?'

'Mere coincidence. She got on the same stage as me in New Orleans. Can you believe it? After twenty-eight years she gets on the stage that I'm travelling in.'

'She didn't get off when she knew it was you?'

'I was asleep; my hat was over my face. When I woke up we were in the middle of nowhere and neither of us could get off. We ended up talking, mostly about you. I then spent two months trying to convince her to let me see you.'

'Now tell me why I should believe anything that you've told me?'

'Because it's the truth Ezra.'

'How do I know that?' Ezra stood up and faced Clayton Standish.

'Truth or lies Ezra, it's up to you to decide what you want to believe.'

'You can leave now, I need to think it over.' He turned his back to his father, an indication that he didn't want to talk anymore.

'I'll be staying at the hotel Ezra.' Clayton's hand was now on the doorknob. 'Perhaps you would join me for dinner, say about seven.'

Ezra refused to acknowledge that his father was still in the room with him.

Clayton lowered his head in understanding and left.

Part One | Part Two

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