Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Mag 7 boys, although I'd sure have some fun if'n I did. I'm just borrowing them for a while, and I'll bring them back in basically the same condition in which I found them. I'm also not making any money off of this, even if that would be pretty cool.
Vin Tanner walked slowly up the stairs toward Ezra's room, dreading having to wake the gambler before noon. He quickened his pace when he heard the crashes coming from behind the closed door. He started to draw his mare's-leg, but froze when he heard Ezra's voice muttering what Vin assumed were curses in a strange language. Vin quietly pulled the door open and stared at the room in shock.
The gambler's normally immaculate bedroom was in shambles. Drawers were hanging half in the dresser, clothes were pulled haphazardly out of the closet, and Ezra's upper body was out of sight under the rumpled bed.
"Uh, Ez, what's goin' on in here?"
Ezra jumped in surprise at the sound of Vin's voice and hit his head on the underside of the bed, causing him to let loose with another string of curses, this time in English. He wiggled out from under the bed and pulled himself to his feet, glaring at Vin when he saw the tracker smiling at his appearance. He quickly dusted off his hair and rolled his sleeves back down, still muttering under his breath.
"I was looking for something that I had lost, Mr. Tanner. Now if you will excuse me, I need to continue searching."
Vin smiled as he leaned against the door frame. "If you told me what it was you lost, maybe I could help you find it, Ez."
Ezra paused as he was shrugging into his coat, gauging the tracker's sincerity. "As you wish, Mr. Tanner. Perhaps you could be of some assistance." He ran a hand through his hair, trying to comb it back into some semblance of order. "I seem to have lost my ring. The chain that I wear it on broke, and the ring fell off."
Vin frowned. "Uh, Ez, why were you wearin' a ring on a chain anyway? I thought you wore 'em on your finger."
Ezra flashed Vin a sad smile. "Normally you would be correct, Mr. Tanner. However, this is not an ordinary ring. It is a women's ring and something of a family heirloom. Even if it would fit, I simply would not feel right about wearing it on my finger."
Vin was amazed at the pure emotion he saw reflected in the green eyes. "Don't worry, Ez, we'll find it. What does it look like?"
"It is a silver ring with a pair of hands holding a heart with a crown." The sadness and desperation was still visible in Ezra's normally shuttered eyes. "I simply must find it."
Vin placed a comforting hand on Ezra's shoulder, and it was a sign of the gambler's turmoil that the hand wasn't immediately shrugged off. "If'n the chain broke, it was probably when you were in the stable with Chaucer. We'll start there, and then work our way around town."
Ezra smiled and gently pulled away from Vin. "Thank you, Mr. Tanner. Perhaps between the two of us, we can locate my ring."
The two lawmen made their way to the livery and began searching in Chaucer's stall. Vin was about to give up and look elsewhere when he saw something glittering in the hay. He knelt down, and picked up the small, silver ring.
"This it, Ez?"
Ezra looked up and when he saw the ring in Vin's hand, he grinned and threw his arms around the tracker in a very un-Ezra like display. "Thank you, Vin. I doubt I would ever have found it without your assistance."
Vin smiled as he watched Ezra place the ring carefully in the pocket of his vest. "Hey, Ez, you gonna be playin' poker tonight? Thought I might join you."
Ezra's smile faltered and his poker face suddenly appeared. "No, Mr. Tanner, I will not be playing tonight. Perhaps another time." With a two-fingered salute to his hat brim, the gambler left the stable and a very puzzled Vin.
Vin glanced around the stable, then frowned. "Since when does Ezra turn down a poker game?"
That night when Vin and Chris walked into the saloon they glanced over at Ezra's empty table. "You know, pard, I don't think I've ever seen Ezra not playing poker at night. You think he's okay?"
Vin shook his head. "Not sure, Cowboy. I saw him earlier looking for a lost ring. He said he wouldn't be playing, but I didn't believe him." He scanned the saloon looking for the gambler, but couldn't find him. "I got a feeling, Cowboy. Ez needs us."
Chris met Vin's eyes and nodded. "If you got a feeling, then he needs us. Only problem is where to find him."
Vin smiled. "Not a problem, pard. I know right where he'd be hiding." He tilted his head back and glanced at the ceiling. "Up on the roof."
Chris sighed and crossed his arms. "What would possess him to hide way up there? No one would go up there."
"You just answered your own question, Cowboy. He knows no one would look up there for him." Vin's smile widened. "He just wasn't expectin' me."
Within ten minutes they had climbed to the roof of the saloon and found Ezra. He was flat on his back, staring at the sky and absently playing with his ring. They sat down on either side of the gambler, but he didn't seem to notice them until he spoke.
"So, gentlemen, what brings you up here? I was not expecting company."
"We know, Ezra. Vin said you weren't acting quite yourself, so we thought we'd make sure you were all right."
Ezra finally looked at Chris, and finding only genuine concern in his eyes, he began to speak. "I apologize for worrying you, but today is something of an anniversary for me. Since I was twelve, this particular day has always been distressing."
Vin glanced at Chris, then back at Ezra. "What happened when you were twelve, Ez?"
Ezra chuckled sadly. "It was the end of my life as I had known it." When he spoke again, his thick Southern accent was gone and a lilting Irish brogue was in its place. "Maude Standish kidnapped me."
Chris and Vin both stared at the gambler in shock. "What?!"
"Maude Standish kidnapped me, at least that is essentially what occurred." Ezra was still speaking with the Irish brogue and playing with his ring. "I had been injured while I was walking in town without my parents. Maude found me and decided that she could use a son in her next con." His hands finally stilled. "By the time I was lucid, we were miles away from my family and Maude simply would not hear of taking me back."
Vin suddenly let out an angry growl. "I can't believe that a woman would take a kid away from his family like that. How could she?"
Ezra smiled though there was no real feeling in it. "Profit, Vin. That is all that has ever motivated Maude Standish." He looked down at his ring, then handed it to Chris. "This is all I have left of my parents besides my memories. My mother gave it to me when I was ten. She told me to keep it until I met the woman I wanted to marry, then give it to her."
Chris looked at the silver ring, then passed it back to Ezra. "What was your family like, Ez?"
This time when Ezra smiled it reached his eyes. "My mother, Shannon, was the most kind and gentle woman I have ever met. She was Irish, and had the reddest hair and the greenest eyes. Anna looks just like her."
Vin and Chris each put a hand on one of the Southerner's knees. "Who's Anna?"
"My twin sister." Ezra's eyes shimmered with tears, but none fell. "She looks almost exactly like me, except for her hair. She got our mother's hair while I got our father's."
They were silent for a moment, then Vin spoke. "Hey, Ez, why didn't you ever go back and find 'em?"
"I tried, but by the time I was able to get away from Maude, they were gone. I searched everywhere, but no one had ever heard of Patrick and Shannon Standish. They simply vanished without a trace." Ezra was unable to hold back his tears any longer. "It has been nearly twenty years since I last saw them."
Chris and Vin glanced at each other, then both put an arm around Ezra's shoulders. "You may have lost your real family, but you've got six brothers here whenever you need them. And we won't let you go, not without a fight."
Ezra looked at Chris and Vin and smiled. "Thank you, dreathars."
The two men looked past Ezra at each other in confusion. "Uh, Ez, what did you just call us?"
An actual grin flashed across Ezra's face. "I just called you brothers." He held up a hand when Vin opened his mouth to speak again. "My mother taught both Anna and I Gaelic from the time we could talk. I imagine that you heard me speaking it earlier, Vin, while I was searching for my ring."
"Oh, is that what all that was? Don't tell me your ma approved of you learnin' words like those sounded?"
"No, Vin. My father inadvertently taught me those." Ezra glanced up at the stars, then down at his watch. "I fear I must be getting to bed, gentlemen. I will need to be at my best tomorrow."
Chris frowned. "Why's that, Ez?"
Ezra grimaced as he stood. "Because Maude is coming to town tomorrow."
As Vin left the livery the next morning, he was surprised to see Chris and Ezra sitting in companionable silence on the boardwalk. Neither of them looked up at his approach but both nodded their heads in greeting.
"Hey, pards. What are ya'll doing?"
Ezra smiled at Vin's greeting as the tracker folded himself onto the bench next to him. "We are awaiting Maude's imminent arrival. It seems that Chris has the urge to have words with her."
Vin flashed them a predatory grin which Chris matched. "Save some for me, would ya, Cowboy? I got one of them urges myself."
"Oh, I'm sure that can be arranged, pard. I think there's enough to go around."
The three men rose as the stage drove into town. Ezra gave a quick tug to his red jacket and pushed his hat back further on his head. "Well, gentlemen, I imagine that we will be giving the townspeople quite a show."
"You sure that's the way you wanna do this, Ez? Everybody in town'll be talkin' about it for weeks."
Ezra smiled as they stepped forward to meet the stage. "I am quite certain, Vin. I refuse to live the lie any longer." He squared his shoulders as Maude stepped down from the stage and walked toward them. "No longer."
Maude's congenial smile faltered slightly when she saw the frowns on the three men's faces. "Gentlemen, would you be so kind as to see to my luggage while I visit with my son."
Chris and Vin nearly growled at her while Ezra's lips twisted up in a mockery of a smile. None of them noticed the rest of the seven slowly walking up behind them from the saloon. "Maude, I have been many things, but your son was never one of them." As it had on the roof earlier, Ezra's Southern accent disappeared and was replaced with his Irish brogue.
Maude's eyes narrowed and she took one step toward Ezra before Chris and Vin both growled at her. "What nonsense are you talking about, Ezra?"
"It is not nonsense, Maude. I have lived this lie for eighteen years and will not do it anymore. You are not and never have been my mother." He pulled himself up to his full height and reverently held up his silver ring. "That honor belongs to the woman who gave me this ring. The woman that you took me from."
Maude glanced at Chris and Vin, quickly realizing that they had already heard this story. She turned back to Ezra, desperately trying to save herself. "Everything that I did for you was for your own good, Ezra. You can't tell me that she could have given you everything that I have."
Ezra shook his head, smiling sadly. "You just don't understand, Maude. Perhaps they could not have given me money, but they did give me the one thing that you never did. They loved me. Can you say the same?" When she remained silent, Ezra nodded. "That is what I expected." He turned around and saw the others smiling at him in support. "Now, if you will excuse me, Maude, I need to speak to my brothers. Good-bye, Maude."
As Ezra walked toward the others, Chris and Vin approached Maude. "I think it would be in your best interest not to come back to Four Corners, Ma'am. I don't think you'd appreciate the welcome you'd get." Chris flashed her a cold glare and turned to follow Ezra.
"I'd listen to him, Ma'am. Chris can get pretty ugly when he's upset, and you done upset him real good." Without another word, Vin also turned and joined the others in front of the saloon.
Ezra was explaining the truth about his past to the others when Vin walked up. "Hey, Ez, you're still talkin' funny."
Ezra glanced at Vin in surprise, then began laughing. "You are quite correct, Vin. My mother spoke like this, and I picked it up quite young." He smiled fondly at the memory. "For years my accent was a mixture of Southern and Irish. I truly did sound funny."
Josiah pulled Ezra into a one-armed hug. "If it's possible, we'll help you find them, son."
Ezra glanced pointedly at Josiah's arm, then shrugged and smiled. "Thank you, Josiah. Perhaps I can be reunited with them after all. I had given up hope years ago, but if anyone can help me, I believe it would be the six of you." He pulled away from Josiah and turned to enter the saloon. "The first round is on me." At the sound of the cheers behind him, Ezra turned back and flashed the other peacekeepers a cheeky grin. "Just don't get used to it."
Two months after the confrontation with Maude, Ezra was still treating the other six peacekeepers like the brothers he had claimed they were and they were taking ruthless advantage of this new openness. Ezra was sitting on the boardwalk shuffling his cards when Vin came up behind him, leaning on the back of the bench.
"Sure is a nice day, isn't it, Ez? It'd be a shame to let it go to waste." When Ezra looked up at him, Vin just grinned and grabbed Ezra's hat, dashing across the street before the gambler could retrieve it.
Ezra glared at the tracker, but the look was ruined by the smile that he just couldn't hide. "That was quite unfair, Vin." He slowly stood and began stalking toward the laughing tracker, who managed to keep at least one step ahead of him.
"Come on, Ez. You've gotta try harder than that." Vin was forced to dodge as Ezra made a sudden lunge for his hat. The tracker and the gambler both over-balanced and tumbled to the ground. Both were still sitting in the dirt laughing when Chris walked past.
"Having fun, boys?"
Ezra grinned unrepentantly up at the gunslinger. "Actually, now that you mention it, we are rather enjoying ourselves. Would you care to join us?" He glanced over at Vin and raised an eyebrow.
Vin nodded. "Yeah, Cowboy. You should have some fun, too. Who knows, enough fun and you might even wear somethin' besides black once in awhile." With those words, the two men each reached up and grabbed one of Chris' hands and pulled him down to the ground with them.
Chris just stared at them for a moment from where he had landed on his hands and knees. He pushed his hat back and sat back on his heels. "Did you two just do what I think you did?" His voice was deceptively soft.
Vin and Ezra looked at each other, then nodded in unison. Before the gunslinger could regain his feet, they scrambled away and dashed toward the saloon.
Chris shook his head as he pulled himself to his feet. "I don't think I can survive this new Ezra." He sighed, then took off after the fleeing pair.
Chris was still after them when the stage pulled in half an hour later. He stopped on the boardwalk, deciding to forgo the chase until after he was sure that no dangerous characters were lurking on the stage. There was apparently only one passenger, a young woman with fiery red hair. Suddenly, Chris' eyes widened in shock. "Vin! Ez! Get out here."
Vin and Ezra appeared from behind the livery. Ezra had finally retrieved his hat and was brushing the dust from his green jacket. "You bellowed, Chris?"
Chris merely pointed at the young woman who was still standing in front of the stage. The two dusty lawmen turned, and Ezra's jaw dropped.
The young woman turned and her face lit up when she saw Ezra. "Dreathar! Is that really you?"
Ezra grinned and held out his arms. Anna flew into them, and he spun her around. "Oh, Anna, I've missed you. However did you find me?"
Anna threw her arms around Ezra's waist as tears welled up in her green eyes. "Ezra, we had no idea what had happened to you. Mama and Papa were heartbroken. When you didn't come back for so long, we left. None of us could stand being there any longer." She sniffled as he rubbed circles on her back. "When we heard of a lawman out West named Ezra Standish, we so hoped that it would be you. Papa didn't want me to come, but I had to see for myself."
Ezra smiled at her as she dried her tears. "I am quite glad that you did, Anna. Now, I would like to introduce you to my fellow lawmen." He gestured toward Chris and Vin, who had discretely moved to the front of the saloon to give the twins some privacy. "The gentleman in black is our fearless leader, Chris Larabee. The other dusty gentleman is Vin Tanner." He reached down and grabbed her luggage. "You can meet the others after I get you settled in the hotel. We have nearly twenty years worth of catching up to do."
Anna smiled as they headed for the hotel. "Oh, Ezra, I almost forgot. As soon as I can send them a wire, Mama and Papa are going to head out here to see you, too."
Ezra grinned. "That is the best news I have heard all year, Anna. Life is beginning to look up after all."
The next morning Ezra and Anna were sitting on the boardwalk drinking coffee when Buck and JD walked out of the saloon. Both of them stopped and stared at Anna, then Buck let out a low whistle. He winked at JD and swaggered over to Anna.
"Well, hello there, ma'am. I don't believe I've seen you in our fair town before." He took her hand and kissed it as Ezra rolled his eyes. "My name is Buck Wilmington, but you can call me yours."
Anna gently took her hand back. "Thank you for the generous offer, Mr. Wilmington, but I'm really not interested. I simply don't know what I would do with you."
Buck glared behind him when he heard JD snickering. When he turned back to Anna he let loose his most charming smile. "Now I'm sure that a pretty little lady like yourself could think of something."
Anna smiled. "You know, I think I can at that." She glanced over at Ezra. "May I?"
He grinned. "Be my guest."
She slowly stood, causing Buck to grin. He didn't notice her fist until it connected with his jaw, sending him sprawling in the dirt. Anna smiled as Ezra and JD broke into helpless laughter.
"Now that we have established the fact that I am not interested, can we still be friends?" Her smile was innocent as she extended her hand to help him to his feet.
Buck stared at her for a moment as he was pulled up, then broke into a grin. "Ezra, where on earth did you find this little filly?"
"Gentlemen, may I present Anna Standish, my twin sister." He smiled as they gasped and then turned to Anna. "Mr. Wilmington you've already met, and the shy young man laughing at him is our esteemed sheriff JD Dunne."
"It is a pleasure to meet you, gentlemen." Anna stopped speaking as a young boy came running up to her.
"Miss Standish, a wire just came for you. It said it was urgent."
Anna and Ezra glanced at each other, frowning in worry. When Ezra nodded at her, Anna stood and headed for the telegram office, the boy tagging along behind her. Ezra rose and began pacing the boardwalk with Buck and JD matching him step for step.
"Hey, pard, want us to go get Vin and Chris?" When Ezra stopped and stared at him in confusion, Buck smiled and continued. "Whatever's wrong, we're all behind you, and your sister. No matter what."
Ezra finally smiled. "Buck, you don't know how much that means to me." He sighed and ran his hands through his hair. "Perhaps you should get the others. Whatever this news is, it cannot be good."
Ten minutes later, the seven were sitting around a poker table in the saloon waiting for Anna to return. As soon as she walked in the room, all seven men looked up at her. She was silent as she sat in the chair between Ezra and Vin. "We have to go back."
Ezra slid an arm around her shoulders. "What do you mean, we have to go back?"
"Mama and Papa can't leave the ranch. There's some cowboys that are harassing them, saying that the ranch is really theirs." She turned to Ezra with tears in her eyes. "That ranch is all we've got left, and I know it's ours."
Ezra pulled his sister closer comfortingly, but his expression hardened. "No one cons my family and gets away with it. I will simply have to go and inform these miscreants of the error of their ways."
Chris shook his head. "I can't let you do that, Ezra." When Ezra looked at him in shock, he grinned. "You're not going without me. You might need a little help convincing them."
Then it was Vin's turn to protest. "You're not leavin' me behind, Cowboy. I'm comin' too."
When it looked like the others would also volunteer, Chris held up his hand. "I know you all want to go, but we can't all leave Four Corners. Somebody's gotta stay and keep the peace." He turned to Ezra who was smiling at the show of support. "Vin and me'll go with you and Anna. No one messes with one of my men."
Ezra glanced around the table. "Thank you, gentlemen." A wolfish grin spread across his face. "I do pity the miscreants that have had the bad fortune to attempt to con the Standish family. Perhaps they shall even live long enough to repent of their error."