Disclaimer: Not mine. Never will be. No money being made.
JD, Nathan, and Josiah sat outside the jail with their heads hung low cursing themselves for allowing Maude to manipulate them and most of all for not standing by Ezra when he needed them.
"Hey Kid. What's wrong?" Buck asked as him, Chris, and Vin stepped onto the boardwalk.
"Nothing," he replied not meeting the older man's eyes.
"Ya sure? Cause you look like ya lost your best friend or something," Vin pointed out causing the others to flinch.
"Come let's go get a drink," Buck urged.
JD hung his head and leaned it against Josiah's shoulders as if trying to hide.
"JD what's wrong? Why don't you want to go into the saloon?"
JD, Josiah, and Nathan exchanged a look, but didn't say anything.
"Where's Maude?" Chris asked. He just knew this had something to do with her and seeing the three flinch again he knew he was right.
"She's gone," JD replied. "Left on this afternoon's stage."
"Where's Ezra?" Vin wanted to know. "Has something happened to him?" The tracker just realized that he hadn't seen the southerner all day.
"What Maude do this time?"
Josiah sighed and raised his head and finally looked at the others and said, "She bought the saloon."
"Well hell Josiah we know that....," Buck started to say more, but trailed off as they shook their heads.
"Just tell us what Maude did," Chris demanded. "And then you can tell us what part the three of you played in it."
JD listened as Josiah told them everything that happened with Maude and looked at the others and said, "We didn't mean to. Ezra probably hates me now. I mean he expects stuff like this from Nathan, but not me." He felt his face turn red as he realized what he'd said and mumbled, "Sorry Nathan."
"It's ok JD," Nathan said with a sigh because he knew the kid was right. He knew he always looked for the worse in Ezra. But this time he was the one with thinking of himself.
"Where's Ezra now?" Vin repeated his earlier question.
Nathan pointed toward the saloon.
"Do ya think he's mad at us?" JD wondered biting his lip.
Chris shrugged his shoulders, "One never knows with Ezra. He could be mad at the world and you'd never know it; unless he wanted you to."
"Chris is right. I bet he's over there playing poker and drinking up all his mama's good whiskey," Buck teased. "Come on, you three can't hide from him forever." Then pulled JD to his feet and pushed him toward the saloon leaving the others to follow.
The sight that met them as they walked into the saloon was enough to break their hearts. Ezra was at his usual table, but instead of sitting he lay with his head on the table and had a half a bottle of scotch in one hand and an empty one lay on it's side by his head.
"Well so much for not knowing how he feels," Nathan mumbled under his breath.
With the others behind him Chris walked up the table and asked, "Ezra you alright?" The only response he got was the lifting of two fingers. "How long has he been like this?" he asked the bar maid.
"Since his mother left," she replied with Mexican accent.
Chris looked at her and snapped, "Who the hell are you?"
Ezra suddenly sat up with the seven of spades stuck to his cheek and tried to focus on the others, but couldn't quite manage it so he closed eyes and answered question, "She's the new manager of Maude's saloon. Inez .......something or other." Wiping a shaky hand across his face Ezra felt the card and pulled it off and stared at it for a few seconds before tossing it over his shoulder. "My dear would you bring these three gentlemen a drink of the good stuff," he said indicating Chris, Buck, and Vin. "Bring them a beer," pointing to the others.
"Senor Standish I think you've had enough..."
"Well I didn't ask you what you think!!" he snapped. "And don't touch that bottle," he said snatching it away from her as she reached for it, "It's mine. I paid for it with my own money. Money I earned with my blood."
"Ezra ....." Nathan started to apologize but was interrupted.
"Shut up Nathan!! I don't want to hear about my lack of morals right now if you don't mind," Ezra said getting to his feet clutching the to his chest. Seeing all these people in what should have been his saloon made him want to cry. Where were you when I needed you, he silently demanded with a hard glint in his eyes.
"Ezra," Josiah said taking a step toward him.
"Don't," he warned stopping the man in his tracts.
"I only want to help," he said.
"I only want to help," he mimicked with a harsh laugh. "Me? Why?" he asked, "What's in it for you?"
Chris grinned as he watched Ezra try to maintain his balance and walked over to him and grabbed his arm and helped him back to his seat. "Damn Ezra you talk just as much drunk as you do sober. Don't you ever shut up?" the black clad gunslinger wondered with a grin.
Ezra looked at the blond man and suddenly grinned showing off his gold tooth. "Drunk? I am not drunk. I'll have you know that I have not yet begun to drink. In fact, I bet I could out drink you," he challenged.
"Think so do ya?" Chris asked with a genuine smile on his face, the first he'd worn in days. Then waited until Inez passed out their drinks before continuing. "Well once you sober up we'll have to see about that won't we."
"Indeed. And to answer your question no I don't ever shut up. Maude used to say that I even talked in my sleep," he told him making the others grin then pointed his bottle at him and took a sip. "Now answer my question," Ezra requested.
"You didn't ask me a question Ezra. You asked Josiah one," Chris reminded him. "Answer the man Josiah," he pushed.
Josiah shot a look at Chris and then silently cursed Maude for her son's insecurities and himself for his part in feeding those insecurities and decided to be honest with him, "Because I like you Ezra and because you're my friend."
"Oh really," Ezra drawled with a sarcastic lift of his eye brow. He knew he was drunk, but he wasn't so drunk that he'd believe anything they told him.
"Yes Ezra. We're all your friends," Nathan explained.
With a smirk on his face the southerner took a long swallow of the scotch then placed the bottle on the table and pushed it toward Chris because he was done with it. "Define friend," he dared them.
"Define friend?" Josiah repeated to buy them some time. It wasn't that hard of a question, he told himself, but it was a dangerous one. If he answered wrong he'd destroy all the ground they'd worked so hard to gain. Damn, he cursed as he realized that Ezra was just was quick minded drunk as he was sober. No wonder he was still alive. Clearing his throat he said, "Well Ezra a friend is someone that's there for you once the dust settles and offers you a helping hand when theirs no one else around."
"And who can admit to making a mistake in judgement and isn't to proud to apologize for it," Nathan threw in.
"My mama used to say that a true friend is someone who knows all your strengths and weaknesses, but likes you anyway," JD offered.
Ezra nodded his head just to be sure it was still there and yawned. Looking up his eyes met Chris' and he nodded as well. Sitting up straighter as an ideal came to him. "So what you're saying is that a person can still be a friend even though he may have costs another friend a dream or a second chance," Ezra wondered looking directly at Vin.
Vin tensed under that look because he knew Ezra was referring to Chris killing Eli Joe in order to save his life. Pushing his hat off his head the tracker grinned that half grin of his and said, "Yeah Ezra. I know Chris had no choice but to shoot Eli Joe, but he's still my friend. And even though Josiah, Nathan, and JD did have a choice they're still yours."
"I'm sorry Ezra. We all are," Josiah told him in a gruff voice.
"I understand. Really, I do," Ezra reassured them. "It's just that..... with this saloon I thought I'd have something that my mo.... Maude wouldn't be able to take from me. But I was wrong, yet again," he stated looking like a sad little boy.
"You do have something she can't ever take from you Ezra," Chris reminded him.
"What? Chaucer? Hell Chris she don't want him," the southerner told him
"No Ezra. Something much more valuable."
"More valuable than Chaucer?" Ezra asked in disbelief and clearly confused. "Not likely," he said with a snort.
"Would you shut up and let me have my say," Chris snapped and opened his mouth to continue when the younger man interrupted again.
"My apologies. You were saying." Ezra quipped trying to look innocent.
"Dammit now I forgot what I was gonna say," he muttered.
"See I told you so. I've always wanted to say that to him," the southerner teased as he elbowed Vin causing the tracker to laugh.
"I think what Chris wanted to say was......well ......us. We're your friends Ezra and there ain't nothing your mama can do about that," Buck explained.
"Oh," Ezra said in shock.
"So?" Nathan asked.
The gambler looked at him and replied, "What?"
"Are we forgiven?" the healer asked out right.
Ezra suddenly belched and repeated, "Forgiven for what?" Causing the other three to laugh.
"For what happened with your ma?" JD wanted to know.
"Oh that," he said with a wave of his hand. "Yeah, yeah sure."
"Are you drunk yet Ezra?" Chris questioned him.
To which Ezra shook his head and got to his feet and quickly drew his gun only to have it fly out of his hand and land with a clatter on the floor behind Chris. Causing the others to roar with laughter as he looked from his hand to his gun and suddenly grinned as he sat down and said, "Well maybe I am a little."
Josiah wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes and once again thanked God for bringing these men into his life.
Vin rested his head on the table and beat his hand on the table as he continued to laugh. Once he had himself under control he sat back up and said, "Thanks Ezra I needed that." Then slapped the man on the arm knocking him out of the chair he had just sat down in causing the others to start laughing anew; even Ezra.
"Yeah Ezra thanks," Buck said after moment wiping the tears from his eyes.
Getting to his feet Ezra motioned for the others to stand as well and held up his bottle and said, "I'd like to make a toast. To shattered dreams, missed opportunities, and....... friends."
The others raised their drinks and shared a smile as Ezra began to sway. Chris bent down and retrieved the slippery gun and shared a look with Vin then walked over to Ezra and they each grabbed an arm and helped him up the stairs to his room so he could sleep it off.
"Think he's gonna be ok?" Vin asked as he looked at Ezra sprawled across the bed.
"Yeah he'll be just fine," Chris reassured him as he placed the gun on the table beside the bed. "But I promise Maude won't be the next time I see her."
Then with one last glance they closed the door and went back down stairs.