DISCLAIMER: The characters in this fic are owned by CBS, Trilogy and MGM. I'm just borrowing them to play with for a while. I promise to put them back when I'm through :)
WARNINGS: None, except for a good deal of corniness.
This story is all Ezra, and all introspection. Just to let you know!
Thanks, Carla, for giving me the idea for this one and beta'ing it for me!
And now we take you to M7 Heaven...
The Shenandoah Valley was aglow with a beautiful spring sunrise as Ezra Standish stepped onto the porch of the small farmhouse which overlooked the valley and its river. The slender Southerner, dressed in his finest clothes but without his jacket or hat, paused to lean against one of the structure's wooden pillars. He quietly drank in the wondrous sight of the emerald-green landscape which stretched before him, sparkling with dew, the dawn mists ablaze with the glow of the rising sun. This was the site of the happiest summer of his childhood, where he had met his cousin and best friend Sophie, a place he thought never to see again after its destruction in the War. Yet here it was, as real as it had ever been, and infinitely more beautiful.
For what felt like the hundredth time since his arrival, Ezra felt a rush of deep emotion sweep over him which threatened his composure. He shook his head, smiling at his own sentimentality as he blinked to clear his swimming eyes. Even after all this time, he was still overwhelmed by the fact that he had actually made it to-well, Heaven was as good a word as any, though even that concept seemed laughably limited to what it was actually like here.
He stepped down and sat on the porch steps, taking in a deep breath of the soft morning air and marveling at how sharp and fresh the scents were. It felt so good to just sit here and look out over the fields and the valley, drinking in the beauty which he believed had been destroyed forever in the War. To be healthy again, and be able to breathe without coughing or doubling over in pain from the consumption. To finally, truly be in a home which he would never have to worry about losing.
Now that had taken some getting used to, he remembered as he leaned forward and propped his elbows on his knees. He was sure there had been some mistake, that he should not have come here, after the sort of life he'd led. When he had first arrived, he had fully expected some huge, fiery angel to come crashing through the walls of the farmhouse to grab Ezra by the collar and say, sorry, Mr. Standish, there's been a dreadful error. You belong in hell.
Ezra could chuckle at that thought now-mistakes were something which did not seem to happen very often here-but he still found his presence here remarkable. As he gazed out over the brightening skies and the glowing mountains, he mused on the question-what had he done with his miserable, two-bit, con man life to deserve this?
He thought seriously of all the wrong he had done in his life, the lying, the conning, the cheating. He could see now the pain it had caused, and wondered at the fact that it had not earned him a voyage to oblivion. he suspected this was the fate of some of his former associates-of the people he'd met since his arrival, very few were fellow gamblers from the old days.
Tired of sitting, Ezra rose and began slowly walking towards his favorite place on the farm, the apple orchard which stood off to the east side of the house. The trees were all in full spring bloom, their pink-white petals dancing in the gentle morning breeze. He smiled as he caught their thick perfume in the wind, the fragrance sweeter to him than the best cologne money could buy. As he walked among the low-hanging branches and sat down under one of the trees, he felt a surge of gratitude well up in him, that he had been allowed to return here. The trees of the original orchard may have been ripped apart by cannon, but here they would bloom forever.
Ezra leaned his head against the trunk and gazed again at the valley before him, thinking. He knew he would never fully understand the grace which had allowed this miracle to occur, but he felt he had a pretty good idea how it had happened. He knew now that he had, indeed, been on a path of self-indulgence and greed which would have led to a life squandered on gambling, money and drink. How hollow and empty it now looked, and how horrible his fate would have been if he had not had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of one Chris Larabee.
Ezra smiled as he recalled how annoyed he had been with Chris at first; following the gunslinger's orders had never seemed as important as organizing the next big poker game. He recalled how Chris had often annoyed him with his dour moods and stern manner. But Ezra also remembered the undeniable respect he'd always had for Chris; the gunslinger was a man of honor and integrity.
Ezra had always wanted to prove his worth to him, because there were traits in Chris which Ezra knew he himself lacked. Chris could have easily shot Ezra after he had deserted them in the Seminole village, or at least kicked him out of the group. But he hadn't, and Ezra never forgot that, even when he was so angry at Chris he could barely talk. Chris had seen something in Ezra worth keeping around, though what it was Ezra never found out. But he would be eternally grateful for the second chance; if he hadn't gotten that...
Ezra shuddered. He knew exactly what would have happened if he'd never been part of the seven, if he had continued with his pursuit of self-gratification. He could see now, in ways he couldn't before, how his life had been changed, to the point where he had been willing to give it up for the others, an unthinkable act for him not too long ago. Thus it had been that he able to pass from that life surrounded by friends, instead of being shot over a hand of poker, or gasping out his last breath alone in a sanatorium. All because they had offered their friendship, and he had accepted it.
And now...Ezra frowned, gazing up into the snowy-pink branches of the apple tree. Now he was here, and they were still there, still fighting and suffering. He knew it, could even see it when he wanted to, which amazed him. He had seen them grieving for him, a sight which both troubled and moved him beyond words. He wished there was a way he could talk to them, to tell them not to worry about him any more, that they should go on trying to find Fowler and his men instead.
And he had seen them weep for him. Astonishing! he thought, as he dropped his gaze to the valley before him, now radiant in the morning sunshine. He never would have thought anyone would have shed one tear over his demise; there had been times when he himself regarded life as cheap and chancy. But, he chided himself, there had been something between these men which even he had noticed, a bond deeper than that of mere professional association. He had been part of that, as much as he had tried to deny or ignore that fact. And he knew that, if one of the others had fallen first, he would have wept for them as well-though in as private a manner as possible.
Something stirred in him, and Ezra smiled in surprise at his own sentimentality as he realized that he missed those men. It hadn't been that long since they'd parted, but he really did want to see them again, just to tell them to not lose courage. To let them know that what they were fighting for was real and worth the risk. And to thank them for allowing a two-bit, cheating gambler to share in their company.
A slight breeze rustled the blossoms, and Ezra glanced around. Most of all, he wanted to tell them about all this, about the peace which he had found and which awaited them as well. It didn't feel right that he should be enjoying this by himself, for some reason. They should all be here, he thought, to see and feel the incredible beauty of this place. But, he knew, he shouldn't be selfish; they had their own journeys to make, and he knew he would see them again eventually. But it did seem hard to wait.
He smiled as he took in the breathtaking scene before him; Vin would love it here, he thought, what with his affection for gamboling out of doors. And Buck, well, nobody who loved beauty as much as he did would ever tire of a place with such an abundance of it. JD would be able to engage in as much youthful running-around as he pleased, and never tire or get into trouble. Nathan would never have to worry about having to deal with pain or illness again. Chris could finally lose that painful glow in his eyes and once more embrace his wife and son. And Josiah...
Ezra pursed his lips as he thought. He particularly wanted to see Josiah here; he and the preacher had certainly had their differences, but it had been Josiah who had stayed with Ezra until the end, offering what comfort he could during those last moments. Ezra remembered every word of their final conversations, and Ezra's confession of his fear that hell yawned before him. Josiah hadn't judged him then, had in fact been very encouraging in convincing Ezra that he was not necessarily damned, and Ezra longed to see that kindness repaid.
He wanted to see Josiah here, to see the doubt forever erased from his eyes. To be able to let Josiah know, somehow, that Ezra's fears had been unfounded, and that he was now finally home, well again and at peace. He knew Josiah had just as many doubts and fears as he himself once did, and he wished he could return the favor and let Josiah know what awaited him-awaited them all-when their work was finished.
Of course, there was always that looming possibility that they wouldn't all make it here. But Ezra felt that were that to happen, the others would simply storm the gates of Oblivion and rescue their fallen comrades. With all they had been through together, the vanguard of Hell did not seem like such a insurmountable obstacle.
And then? Ezra smiled a little as he folded his arms and contemplated the day when they would all ride together again. It would happen, he knew it somehow, and when it did it would be a profound reward for these men who had all fought and suffered, not out of lofty nobility, but out of a simple, bitterly born sense of justice. When their wounds were healed and the pains of aging and sorrow stripped away, they would ride again, in another army, for another, even greater cause, against a different and more powerful adversary.
But this time, they wouldn't be alone.
And they would prevail, Ezra thought with complete confidence as he watched the morning fog roll away. With such souls as these, how could it be otherwise?
He took a deep breath and sat up, his face clouded as he contemplated what lay ahead. He knew there was trouble brewing for them-that the search for Fowler had turned up nothing, and that Casey and her unborn child were in danger from Fowler's men. Chris, JD and Buck were racing to get to JD's farmhouse before the henchmen did, but Ezra had no idea if they would make it in time. Like the others, he could only wait and hope for the best.
He had a strange mixed feeling about what was happening; part of him hoped that no more tragedies would befall their group, while another rejoiced at the idea that he might be able to soon share this remarkable experience. But sorrow tempered his joy-it would break his heart to see JD torn from Casey, or have to watch Chris cut down before his search for justice was rewarded.
Ezra stood and stretched; the morning was wearing on, and soon it would be time to greet Sophie and his Uncle George and Aunt Grace. The foreboding followed him as he walked back to the farmhouse; it seemed to warn him to be prepared. Something was happening.
He stopped at the foot of the porch steps, one leg on the bottom stair. His throat tightened at the vision in his head. JD and Casey's farmhouse was burning. Figures moved through the smoke and flames, Buck racing to save Casey and her unborn child. There was a good deal of confusion, mingled with gunfire. Ezra could only make out glimpses of what was happening, but he knew instantly what it all meant.
For a moment he paused and bowed his head, overwhelmingly saddened; it shouldn't have had to happen that way. It should have been so much longer before he would be able to greet the next of their group to fall. It would have been trying, but he would have been willing to wait until they were all old men, passing after their lives had been lived to the fullest and richest extent.
However, that did not seem to be their destiny, at least not for all of them.
Then Ezra raised his eyes to the valley, and his sadness was softened by the iridescent beauty of the morning before him. His mood lifted; as tragic as this event was, he knew it would be nothing to the joy which would soon follow it. An odd eagerness swelled through Ezra as he contemplated the situation and glanced around him, the sadness now gone. The wondrous landscape now seemed even more brilliant when he realized that soon he would be able to share it with another of their number.
With lighter steps he sped into the house for his hat and jacket, now barely able to contain himself.
This was going to be a very interesting day.
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