This was written in response to the August 2006 Farewell Challenge by NotTasha: Since this is our last challenge, there should be a farewell. One of the guys has to say goodbye to someone or something. It doesn't have to be a sad story and -- if you can put a humorous spin on it, all the better. It cannot be a deathfic (at least not one of the Seven). It should focus on any one of the Seven, but the One has to interact with each of the others at some point -- if not physically or verbally -- then he's got to think of each of the others at some point.
The middle of this story is based on a song, so I guess this also answers the August 2004 Song Challenge by JBrooks: Write us a story inspired by a song. I don't know about anybody else, but I have a whole list of tunes I associate with the boys and their adventures. Let's compare Magnificent soundtracks! You don't have to use the lyrics in the story -- we're not looking for songfic here -- but please do include the lyrics at the end of the fic, with due credit.
(Moved to Blackraptor October 2009)
As the stage prepared to leave Four Corners, Ezra breathed a sigh that was equal parts sorrow and relief. He had enjoyed this visit with his mother her sharp wit and mercenary nature had been refreshing after months spent almost solely in the company of his six comrades. Not that the other men were dull, but they were all so single minded and . . . honest. As long as there was whiskey, women and a few nefarious characters around to get their blood moving, each of them was content.
Sometimes he just needed a bit more than that.
A visit from his mother always kept him sharp, but it could be nerve-wracking as well. The same ready wit that provided such stimulating conversation could rip him to shreds if he failed to guard himself against it and that mercenary nature had a nasty way of coming back to bite him whenever he dared to challenge it.
Keeping track of Mothers interaction with his colleagues was a chore in itself. Josiah acting like a love-sick swain in some horrible melodrama could be quite humorous at times, but it took real work to keep the man from becoming genuinely wounded by Mothers lack of return for his ardor. Josiah did not understand that love was a game to her, just like everything in life.
JD had come to feel that Maude Standish was the fount of all wisdom, placing her on the same pedestal he seemed to reserve for all mothers. It took fancy footwork sometimes to keep the gullible young sheriff from doing anything foolish.
Buck Wilmington afforded Maude the same respect he gave to all women, and a healthy dose of extra charm that had manifest ever since she had once evidenced an unfavorable reaction to his animal magnetism. It was amazing to watch him go out of his way to impress her and she ate up the attention like candy.
It was also intriguing to watch Nathans behavior. He had never quite gotten over his embarrassment at having been conned into making a public declaration of being a doctor, but at the same time he was grateful for the cheerful and unbigoted society Maude had once provided to his dying father. It was quite laughable sometimes, watching him fidget like a schoolboy in her company, wary yet eager to please.
Chris and Vin both viewed Maude in the same light one would a traveling circus show entertaining to watch but filled with too much glitter and light to be real. Quite a wise point of view, actually.
And himself? Well, that was a bit more complicated.
The driver shouted to his team and Ezra smiled, waving a hand in response to his mothers fluttering fingertips. His expression grew melancholy as he watched the stagecoach roll away; thoughts drifting back to another time and another departure . . .
She was going . . . again. Leaving him behind with yet another stranger while she went on her merry way, seeking out wealthy marks, clever investment opportunities and lucrative games of chance. All the things that were more important to her than he would ever be.
He wished he were bigger, older, sophisticated enough to play the game as she did. He was good at acting out parts designed for the stage of life: the crippled beggar boy, the poor lost waif, the starving half-wit beaten for his slowness. Wealthy marks would give a surprising amount of money to those they felt sorry for. He was equally talented at shell games, pick-pocketing and three card monte. He could play poker as well as most men; but that was the problem. Grown men would not play for big money against a child, no matter how talented, and that was where he needed to be if he was ever to impress his mother; make her desire his company permanently.
Did Mother love him, he wondered for the thousandth time? He had always supposed that she must, in her own way. Why else would she keep coming back for him? There had been orphanages in some of the other towns he had been left in, and the boys who lived in them had told him harrowing tales of parents who had beaten and starved and eventually left them behind, never to return. Mother had never done any of those things. Surely that meant that she had special feelings for him, even if they were only deep down inside where she didnt have to notice them most days.
Its time, darlin, a musical southern voice called out.
This was the hard part; always. Saying goodbye. For as often as he pondered the reality of his mothers love, he harbored no such uncertainty when it came to his own. He knew it was a weakness, this inability to care only for himself, but even after eleven long years of life he still could not seem to master his heart.
A wonderful opportunity, No place for a boy, Only for a little while, Well see each other soon; those words caused the same wrenching feeling of loss every time. He had long since learned not to show his tears, but could not seem to prevent them from falling the moment she was out of sight. He still sometimes broke down and begged her to stay; knowing all the while that he shouldnt, that such behavior only annoyed her. She felt that it was undignified; unsuited to the appearance of a gentleman and confidence man in the making.
Not this time. This time he would be strong and make her proud. He would walk down those stairs; kiss her on the cheek with wishes for good luck and a safe journey. He would smile and lie through his teeth, telling her there was no need to hurry back; that spending a few weeks with Great Aunt Catherine . . . or was her name Caroline . . . was perfectly fine with him since Mother had important business to take care of.
Ezra, dear, she called. Where are you? I must be going or Ill miss the stage. Come help me with my bags.
No; he couldnt do it. With the sound of her voice, all of his intentions to appear strong and uncaring dispersed like so many soap bubbles.
Ezra! she called again, a note of exasperation in her voice. Hurry up, darlin. I havent got all day.
Hunching tightly into the hiding place he had found; a cabinet tucked into the landing between the first and second floors, he watched her settle a piece of luggage atop the already large pile next to the door. This house was larger than most of the places he stayed at; filled with all sorts of nooks large enough to hide a slightly undersized boy. It would be an interesting place to explore later; after Mother was gone; after the sharp sting of missing her had faded to the usual dull ache and a sense of boredom came to overtake the one of loss. He had a perfect vantage point of the front door from here; seeing without being seen.
Placing a slender hand upon her hip, Maude craned her neck to see up the stairs, a tiny frown line forming between her eyes when no son appeared with a crash of clattering boots and breathless apologies. That child, she sighed, shaking her head.
He watched as another woman, Great-Aunt Whatsername, appeared and called out for a pair of servants to assist with her nieces luggage. The two negro boys who answered the call looked as though they might collapse under the weight of the bags they carried, but they manfully carted each and every piece out to the carriage, not dropping a single one. All the while, his mother waited; the light tapping of her shoe the only sign of her displeasure at his non-appearance.
You have a good trip, dear, the older woman said, kissing Maude on her rosy cheek. Well see you when you get back.
She nodded gracefully. When Ezra appears from wherever hes wandered off to, please tell him he may expect a letter from me soon.
Of course, dear.
His heart seemed to freeze inside his chest. A letter, she had said. Not a wire or a telegram. That meant she was expecting be gone a long while; much longer than the two or three weeks she had initially proposed.
Mothers eyes again rose toward the landing and for a moment the polished façade of uncaring cracked, allowing sadness to shine clearly in her beautiful face. Goodbye, my sweet boy, she said, the words mouthed without voice, allowing no hint of her feelings to be revealed to the old woman embracing her in farewell.
She turned and left the house, closing the door behind her. The soft click of the latch seemed to echo up the staircase and Ezra could take no more. Worming out of his hiding spot, he bolted down the stairs and flung the door open, startling his great-aunt into a squeak of alarm.
Mother, wait! he called.
She paused, too-serene face relaxing into a smile as he caught up to the carriage.
Deciding that a lecture on gentlemanly manners and keeping up proper appearances was worth the risk, Ezra flung both arms around his mothers neck and held on tightly. I love you, Mother.
For a moment, she returned the embrace, then she pushed him away and studied him. He was still smaller than many boys his age, but had lately been growing and the top of his head was now even with her chin. Where would it reach by the time she returned?
Surprising him, she gave no admonishment for his overtly emotional display. Instead she simply stroked his cheek with one gloved hand and said, Be a good boy, darlin. Well see each other soon.
He nodded. The words stung, as always, reminding him that it would likely be a long time until their next reunion, but somehow the pain was not as bad as usual. Perhaps he was finally outgrowing it. Take care of yourself.
She smiled. I always do, son.
With a swish of her voluminous maroon skirts, she was in the carriage and on her way. He stood for a long moment after the vehicle was gone, then turned to face the house feeling that perhaps there was time enough to do some exploring before supper.
Penny for your thoughts?
Ezra started, surprised to find JD Dunne standing directly in front of him, looking at him with a mixture of amusement and concern. The stagecoach was long gone, even the cloud of dust from its passing having settled. My apologies, he said. Im afraid that I was woolgathering.
JD grinned. Yeah, I kind of figured that. Your ma get off all right?
She has safely gone on her way to find greener pastures and riper pigeons to pluck, he agreed.
He smiled as he spoke the words. Mother would never change, but deep down Ezra supposed he hadnt really changed much either. That lonely young boy had grown up, and grown into the skills hed been taught. He had moved on and become independent and yet he still often found himself longing for his mothers approval. The difference was that now he had somewhere that he knew he belonged; a place to fit in where all of his assorted skills could come in handy and be appreciated by others. He had found a home.
His smile grew at that thought. It had a wonderful irony to it. He had settled down, no longer chasing after his mothers company or trying to persuade her to remain by his side. As a result, she now came to him; cajoling and threatening; almost begging at times for him to leave the life he had come to love and rejoin her as a partner.
Strange how things could change.
What are you thinking about? JD asked, interrupting his musings again. You have a real funny grin on your face.
He nodded. Maude tell you a good joke or something?
Hearing the hope in his voice, Ezra chuckled. Yes indeed. All of his talents came in handy in this place eventually; even the seldom used ones.
Draping an arm over JDs shoulders, Ezra turned him toward the saloon. Well, my friend, as a matter of fact I have a veritable plethora of amusing anecdotes at my command. Would you care to hear one?
It took a moment for the younger man to decipher the statement, but then he brightened. Sure! Gotta be better than that stinker Buck told this morning. Did you hear it? It was all about this goat who . . .
Their voices faded into the ether as the two walked towards the saloon, their shared laughter floating back on the breeze.
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"Is It Over Yet"
By Wynonna Judd
Tell me when I can open my eyes
I don't want to watch you walk out that door
There's no easy way to get through goodbye
I'd probably try and talk you into staying once more
Or I'd lie and say it's all for the best
Wish you luck and say I have no regrets
But I'm not up to being strong
So I'll wait until you're gone
Is it over yet, is it over yet?
A taxi's waiting in the driveway for you
You call my name, I guess your ready to leave
I'd like to help you with a suitcase or two
But I'm afraid I'm gonna wind up down on my knees
I should tell you that I want you to go
I really need to spend some time on my own
Smile and say goodbye
So you don't see me dying inside
Is it over yet, is it over yet?