Moved to Blackraptor November 2009
Ezra looked out his open window, studying the quiet street below. There wasn't much evidence to suggest that anything as dramatic as an assassination attempt had taken place only hours earlier. Outside of a few scraps of paper and some torn bunting, it looked the same way it always had.
He turned away from the peaceful scene, unable to stand the tranquility that seemed to mock the torn and bleeding shreds of his soul. It seemed as though the street should be covered with the blood and detritus of a battleground.
Rubbing at his left arm, Ezra felt the damaged muscles throb and pressed a little harder; wanting to intensify the physical ache enough that he might lose the sharper pain of loss and shame that burned in his heart.
He was unsurprised when it failed to work.
This morning when he had sat in this room, staring into the tormented eyes reflected in the warped, dimly-lit mirror that hung upon the wall, he had not wanted to accept the truth. He had asked himself how it could be possible after all these months together, that the others could look at him and see only a liar and a conman, the same self-centered snake who had slithered off and left them to their fate so early in their acquaintance. He was their cohort now, their trusted comrade-in-arms, their . . . friend. Wasn't he?
When he had seen the doubt in their eyes, heard their shockingly matter-of-fact assumption that his baser nature would inevitably take over, learned that they all expected him to slink away like the snake he had often been accused of being, it had sliced straight through Ezra’s veneer of self-confidence, pouring salt into a fragile open wound in his soul that he had never quite learned how to close.
How could he have possibly expected to fight those impulses, already whispering sinuous temptation into his ear, if no one had enough faith in him to believe that he would? Why couldn’t just one of them have defied those expectations and stood by him, not left him to battle alone with no one to watch his back? Wasn’t that what being part of a team was supposed to entail?
That open doubt had made him angry, the rage fighting that ever-present fear and temporarily giving him the strength to demand better. To ask how many times a man had to prove himself worthy of respect and trust. He had gone to the church with those questions and poured his heart out. It embarrassed him deeply now to recall the pleading in his voice when he had demanded that knowledge of Josiah, daring the man to state his doubts openly and hoping against hope that he would not do so.
How horrible the shock had been when Josiah had not simply voiced his doubts, but instead delivered them in the all too solid form of Ezra's greatest temptation. The money placed right in his hands and Josiah not even trying to cushion the blow of his mistrust by pretending it was anything else. “I am the serpent, Ezra, and this is the apple,” the preacher had snapped. There was contempt in every syllable as he flung the satchel forward and demanded, “Take a bite.”
Ezra had later heard Josiah tell the others that his actions were serving a purpose, and he had known that that purpose was to prove how unworthy he was to stand among the other six as a guardian of the law, destroying his carefully cultivated imitation of an honest citizen.
It occurred to him to wonder if Josiah’s motive had been a bit kinder than that, perhaps a test of character, loyalty, and honesty, a chance for Ezra to prove to everyone that he did possess those honest qualities, rather than offering confirmation that he did not.
A sneer twisted Ezra’s lips. What a pity that the thought had not come to him when it might have done some good. He had failed Josiah’s test of honor, if indeed that’s what it had been, in grand fashion.
Eyes squeezing tightly closed, Ezra dropped into his chair and rested his right hand in his palm, the left clenching into a fist that contracted the damaged muscles of his arm and let him once again feel the pain that he deserved.
Why had he allowed himself to believe? The others had been right all along, he was
still a liar and a cheat, but apparently not a very good conman. A soft
snort escaped as he wondered whether that was the reason his mother remained so
persistent about trying to sharpen his skills.
It seemed that the only person he had conned into believing that he was a
better man than the self-interested drifter who had first come to
“What’s the point?” he whispered aloud, wincing at the lonely sound of those softly spoken words. Perhaps it was time to pack his belongings and take his leave.
Ezra opened his eyes, staring once again into the sad green eyes reflected in his shaving mirror. How pitiful he was. Even now, after everything that had happened, he knew that he longed to stay here in what had become the first home he had known since early childhood.
He sighed deeply and rose to stand again at the window, looking out over the quiet town. A lack of courage had never been his problem, merely a lack of moral conviction. Could he possibly summon the courage to face his six companions again, ask their forgiveness for this latest failure? For surely the time had run out on the second chance Chris and the others had once granted him.
A thoughtful crease marked the skin between his brows as Ezra remembered back to that incident. He remembered the shock and wonder and sheer unfamiliar hope that had stirred in his heart when he realized that his transgression in running away from the Seminole village had been forgiven in light of his subsequent actions. And those feelings had only increased a few days afterward when he had been allowed to help them recapture the escaped murderer, Lucas James.
Judge Travis had trusted Chris, and Chris had passed that same trust on to Ezra. He knew that without Chris’s show of faith the crusty old magistrate would never have offered him a pardon and a job. He wondered if either of them knew just how much of a gift their offer had been?
Ezra leaned against the wall, considering current events from a different point of view. Chris had been oddly friendly to him outside the clinic this afternoon and Nathan Jackson had been just as friendly while patching up his wounded arm. He hadn’t seen any of the others since the rally, but it had felt almost as if Chris and Nathan had wanted to let him know that they didn't harbor any blame for what he had almost done.
He wondered if it was possible that the selfless act of saving of Mary Travis’s life, had erased the selfish deed that had gone before it, just as his return to the village so long ago had erased the crime of his running out. It seemed foolish, to forgive and forget so easily, but Chris Larabee was anything but a fool and Ezra trusted him more than he had ever trusted another person in his entire life.
Frowning, he ran a knuckle over the edge of his lip. Maybe it was that simple. He trusted them, and because he did he had allowed them to truly know him. Ezra had never been a strict black-and-white individual; never all good or all bad. He was always looking for the shades and colors, the angles that made life a little more exciting and worth living. Perhaps the others understood that about him.
The frown deepened. Somehow, even knowing bits and pieces of their sometimes dark pasts as he did, Ezra had always considered the other six to be straight-and-narrow, instinctively honest, bound by the kind of honor and courage that made his own occasional lapses all the more striking and damnable.
Suppose that, by assuming they stood upon a pedestal he could never reach, he had been doing them an injustice. It was an astonishing thought, but it made sense. What had Chris once told JD? If he was perfect, he wouldn’t be one of us.
Glancing over at the empty bed, Ezra visualized the satchel full of tainted money sitting upon the coverlet again. Without the rush of desperate need that had filled him this afternoon, he no longer believed that he could have kept it. Had he actually made it to his horse and rode away, it would have been the Seminole village all over again, running because he had tried to convince himself that it was in his own best interest, but knowing deep down that he was throwing away a treasure that meant more to him than money or gold.
Ezra winced at that thought, knowing how very trite it was, but unable to deny the observation. He was rescued from further introspection when movement in the street below caught his eye.
Vin Tanner was staring at his window, holding up the case that the Stutz rifle had come in. Seeing that he had Ezra’s attention, he motioned toward the jail with it.
Ezra’s eyes widened, realizing that Vin had decided to return the rifle - something no one had likely thought to ask of him - and that he wanted Ezra to know he wasn't keeping it.
The tracker looked him straight in the eyes for several seconds, then, seeing that he’d got the message, tugged his hat brim in a friendly way before continuing toward his destination.
For the first time in what felt like days, Ezra’s lips tilted into a genuine smiled. He knew suddenly that he would remain in town, that he was indeed brave enough to meet whatever doubt and accusation remained with his friends. He would own up to his own wrongdoing and give the others a chance to admit their own. If they could forgive him, as it seemed three of the six had already done, then how could he do any less?
Perhaps, after all, there was no statute of limitations on second chances given by friends.