Worst Case Scenario

by Heather Hillsden

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven characters are the property of MGM, Trilogy, and the Mirisch Company. I just borrowed them, abused them a little, and sadly gave them back!

Ezra Standish stared in open-mouthed amazement at the woman standing before him, the woman whose comment had just grabbed his world by the heels and stood it on its head.

"I’m sorry, could you repeat that? I’m not certain I heard it correctly the first time. Marry? You?"

"That’s right, darlin’." Maude Standish eyed her son up and down, wondering why he looked and sounded so shocked. After all, she was still – reasonably – young, and not unattractive to the opposite sex, so why shouldn’t she get married? "You see, Josiah and I thought we ought to make it legal. This is a small town, and you know how people love to gossip, and we do have our reputations to consider."

"Reputations?" The gambler spluttered and edge away a few feet, stopping when the back of his knees hit the edge of a chair, and he sat down hard.

"Yes, dear."

"But… but… " This was a nightmare, and Ezra was thankful that the saloon was still closed as he took a deep breath to try and calm his racing heart. He tried again. "But what about my reputation?"

Maude smiled at him sweetly. "Yours? I thought that was already sullied beyond redemption. Besides, once Josiah is your legal – "

"Mother!" The Southerner almost screamed the word out. "Don’t. Even. Say it."

"Why, Ezra, you’ve gone all pale. Are you feeling unwell?"

"I need a drink," the gambler groaned, stumbling over to the bar, and reaching behind it for a bottle of whiskey.

"Are we going to celebrate?"

The look Ezra turned on his mother would have frozen a prairie fire at the height of Summer. He uncorked the bottle and reached for a glass, but changed his mind at the last minute.

"I have to think," he stated, putting the bottle to his lips and taking a long swallow. He coughed as the fiery liquor burned its way down his throat, and Maude patted him solicitously on the back.

"Think about what, dear?" she asked.

Ezra wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, and regarded his mother solemnly. "About which would be the least painful option – shooting or poisoning?"

"Why, Ezra!" Maude stepped back in surprise, seeing the calculating gleam in his green eyes. "You can’t tell me you’re seriously contemplating killing Josiah?"

The gambler sighed. "No, Mother. Just myself."

+ + + + + + +

Ezra’s day went from bad to worse.

Once Maude had gone, and he had composed himself sufficiently to face the world outside, the first person he encountered as he left the saloon was Mary Travis.

"Ezra! Isn’t it wonderful!" She smiled at him and placed her hand on his forearm. "Every one is so excited."

"They are?" The gambler’s tone was sour; had everybody else known about this before him? Knowing his mother, it wouldn’t surprise him at all. "Pray – what are they so excited about?"

"Why, your mother and Josiah of course." She laughed, and her eyes were shining. "Mrs. Standish wants me to help her choose the material for her wedding outfit. Something suitable for her… standing."

"Dear Lord!" the Southerner groaned, but Mary didn’t hear him. She was already hurrying off on her errand. Pulling his hat down over his eyes he carried on along the sidewalk, but he didn’t get far.


The gambler stopped and hung his head with a resigned sigh as Buck came up behind him, and slapped him across the back.

"Who’d of guessed it – Josiah and your mom!" Buck dropped his hand on Ezra’s shoulder and grinned. "That means Josiah’ll be – "

"Mr. Wilmington, you may wish to consider your next words very carefully!" Ezra shook off the hand and rounded on the ladies man, his face dark. "Because if you attempt to carry on in the same manner, I may just shoot you."

"Waal, you're about as much fun as a toothache!" Buck grumbled. "Anyone’d think you were getting ready for a wake instead of a wedding."

"I am," the gambler muttered under his breath.

"I may as well go and stick my head in the horse trough," Buck told him sarcastically. "It’d be a lot more interesting than talking to you."

"Be careful you don’t drown," Ezra retorted and turned on his heel as the ladies man stormed off, muttering dire threats against Southerners and gamblers in general, and about Southern gamblers in particular.

Ezra stared down the street and watched the people going about their business. Many of them nodded in greeting and a lot of them, the ladies especially, seemed to smile at him knowingly. He groaned; he could feel his life unravelling all around him.

Suddenly he spotted Chris and Vin walking in his direction on the other side of the street. The tracker was laughing and gesturing with his hands, and he saw Larabee shake his head and hold up three fingers. In his current frame of mind, with his head full of wild ideas about weddings and wakes, Ezra had the insane notion they were discussing the number of tiers for the cake!

Knowing he couldn’t face them – or anybody else, for that matter – without doing something he might regret later, the gambler turned and fled back to the safety of the saloon.

+ + + + + + +

For most of the day, he managed to avoid his friends. He especially didn’t want to bump into Josiah; the thought made his blood run cold. But he knew he would have to face them all sooner or later, preferably when he had come to terms with the idea a little more, if that was at all possible!

However, the moment came sooner rather than later, when the others invaded his haven, all bent on showing Josiah the best night of his life. Trying to keep a low profile, the Southerner shifted to a table in the far corner of the room, hoping he wouldn’t be noticed. It was just a little too much to ask.

"Ezra!" Vin came over and sat down beside him, a huge grin on his face as he placed a glass of whiskey in front of him. "I hear you’re going to give your mother away."

"I believe that phrase is particularly appropriate as far as my mother is concerned," the gambler replied, downing his drink in one go. "Because I don’t think I could sell her."

He held his glass out as Chris joined them, a new bottle in his hand. The gunslinger filled the glass to the top and set the bottle down, watching in amusement as Ezra disposed of that drink too. As the gambler reached for the bottle again, strong fingers closed about his wrist, and he looked up into the smiling face of Josiah.

"Don’t you think you ought to slow down a little, son?"

Josiah couldn’t have picked a worse choice of words.

"You are not my father yet," he stated, snatching the bottle away and drinking straight from it. He glared defiantly at the ex-preacher, more than a little worse for wear already. "Or are you going to send me to my room?"

"Of course he’s not!" Chris was grinning like a maniac as he helped himself from the bottle. "It’s time to celebrate!"

The rest of the evening passed by in a blur for Ezra. He had a vague recollection of standing on a table and making a speech along the lines of ‘if Josiah’s going to be my father, then you must all be my brothers’, before his legs would no longer support him.

The last thing he remembered was Josiah dropping a blanket over him and whispering ‘Goodnight, son’!

+ + + + + + +

Thump, thump, thump.

Ezra opened one bleary eye, and then turned over, pulling the blanket up around his ears. He knew he’d had a lot to drink the previous night, but not enough for his head to be pounding like that.

Thump, thump, thump.

Suddenly he sat up, realising that he was wide-awake and clear-headed, and that the thumping was on his door. Then he heard Buck’s voice.

"Ezra – haul your sorry carcass out of that bed! Do you know what the time is?"

"Why, don’t tell me I’ve missed the wedding? For shame!"

There was a moment’s silence.

"What wedding?" Even through the door Buck sounded confused and concerned. "Are you alright?"

There was another, longer silence, and then the gambler was laughing, loud and hard, as he dropped back against the pillow. It had all been a dream! No – make that the worst nightmare he had ever had!

"Ezra, if you don’t come out now, I’m gonna bust this door down!"

"Just give me a moment, Buck," he said, trying to control his mirth as he climbed out of bed and splashed some water on his face. He pulled on his pants and a clean shirt, and snatched up his jacket from the back of a chair.

When he opened the door, Buck was waiting for him, leaning against the wall with his arms folded and a concerned expression on his face.

"What?" Ezra asked, a foolish grin still curving his lips.

"Nothing, but the way you were laughing I figgered you must have had one Hell of a dream."

"My friend, you have no idea!"

As they made their way downstairs, Ezra realised it was almost midday. The saloon was beginning to get its usual lunchtime crowd, but the gambler couldn’t figure out why he had slept so late. No wonder Buck had come looking for him.

"Where’s Josiah?" he asked suddenly.

"Still out at the Seminole reservation," the ladies man replied. "Why?"

"No reason," the Southerner replied, as he poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot behind the bar. As he sat himself down at the nearest vacant table, he heard his name called, and he looked up as Maude Standish walked in.

"Mornin’, ma’am" Buck greeted, sweeping off his hat.

"Good morning, Mother." Ezra smiled at the woman, and then frowned slightly. There was something oddly familiar about the lilac suit she was wearing. "You’re looking particularly lovely tod – " He stopped, and an icy chill ran down his spine as he staggered to his feet. It was the outfit she had been wearing in his dream!

Maude didn’t seem to notice his discomfort. "Good morning, Mr. Wilmington. Good morning, darlin’." She sat down on the chair Buck held out for her, and stared up at her son, her face aglow. "Ezra, I have something very important to tell you."

Nobody in the saloon that morning ever did find out why the gambler suddenly fainted clean away!


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