Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters. "The Magnificent Seven" belong to MGM and Trilogy Entertainment.
Author Comment: This story is an epilogue to Working Girls. I always wondered what Ezra and Nathan would say after 'that' scene. The rest is me letting Ezra have some fun! Many thanks to Brigitta, Trish and Vicki for all their support.
Special Thanks to Monica whose friendship, encouragement and guidance I cherish.
Ezra looked down the street as the sun began to set on another day in the dusty town of Four Corners. He shifted in his chair to a more comfortable position while he reached for his drink on the table outside of the saloon. The breeze had picked up this afternoon and the gambler was taking advantage of the cool shade. His thoughts, however, were the same as he'd had that morning and the night before as sleep eluded him. Ezra Standish was confused by his need to be accepted by the others and his desire to mend bridges with Nathan. He fully realised he had made things difficult for himself by running out at the Seminole Village. Although none of the others had even mentioned it, he could still feel the distrust. Additionally, his fellow peacekeepers had quickly formed friendships. Chris and Vin, Nathan and Josiah, and certainly Buck and JD had formed close bonds as well as the camraderie that existed between all of them. Watching the others as they laughed and teased and joked with ease made the southerner unexpectedly wanting the same thing.
Not that the others didn't include him. They did. His own shielding and deliberate behaviour prevented him from allowing the others too close.
Looking up, his attention was drawn to Nathan Jackson as he watched the healer exit the hotel, and cross the street to the run-down church that Josiah Sanchez had claimed without any adverse reaction from the town the previous week. A few minutes later, Nathan and Josiah exited the church and made their way towards the saloon.
In spite of himself, Ezra tensed. Forcing himself to look directly at Nathan, he didn't flinch when Nathan's gaze fell upon him and the expected disapproving look descended. Josiah caught the exchange and briefly looked saddened.
"Good evening, Ezra," the ex-preacher rumbled.
"Good evening Mr. Sanchez, Mr. Jackson," Ezra replied in clipped tones.
Nathan stiffened slightly and didn't reply but did nod slightly in the gambler's direction. He then moved toward the batwing doors. Josiah shrugged his shoulders and followed Nathan through the doors.
Ezra exhaled deeply and slumped in his chair. Ever since the incident in the church a few days ago, there had been an uneasy tension between the two men. Not that there wasn't a mutual aloofness between them right from the beginning, but after defeating the Ghosts of the Confederacy and signing on as part of the team to protect the town, he and Nathan had come to some sort of acceptance of each other.
That was gone in an instant when Nathan chose to voice his abhorrence for Ezra's actions over what he thought an altruistic cause on his part.
Chris, Buck and JD had rescued a badly beaten working girl, Nora, from Wickestown, so called after its owner, who ran the tent city brothel with an iron fist. The rescue of Nora prompted the rest of her colleagues to run away to Four Corners, seeking sanctuary and protection from Wickes himself. Knowing these women did not want to return to their 'jobs' in Wickestown, Ezra took it upon himself to arrange marriages between the working girls and lonely bachelors in the region.
The women concerned hadn't taken much convincing, Ezra recalled, allowing himself a tiny moment of satisfaction.
A few days earlier...
"You want us to do what?" Miss Emily had asked.
"To become mail-order brides" Ezra explained. He ignored the fact that most of the women had started to laugh.
"Getting married is the only permanent solution to your predicament and I am just the man to arrange it for you," the gambler had assured them.
"Getting married's like what we been doing, only for no money," one of the women crudely pointed out.
"Ah, yes but not if you marry well and let me explain to you ladies exactly what I mean by "well." Only the most well-bred well-mannered and well-financed gentlemen need apply, and for a small finder's fee I will personally screen all applicants. Ladies, I am talking about placement in some of the finest homes in the territory," the gambler replied, noting with gratification that he had their undivided attention. They were very interested in what he had to say now!
"And what would men like that want with girls like us?" Emily asked, less suspiciously this time.
"What they don't know won't hurt them and if you'll consent to a little tutoring... I call it "charm school"... those gentlemen will be convinced that they are marrying the queen of England herself."
That he was collecting a small fee for his services hadn't presented a problem until Nathan decided it was morally repugnant.
The 'charm school' had been set up in the church. Ezra knew these women needed a lot of work if they were to pass as ladies. However, the gambler was confident he could teach them enough basic etiquette to pass the test for the likes of simple farmers and ranchers. Luring Mr. Wilmington to act as the token male in the makeshift 'charm school' had been too easy. And that's when Nathan found them.
Buck Wilmington was enjoying himself immensely. He didn't quite understand what the hell Ezra was up to but he was certainly happy to be surrounded by all these women. Now if only Ezra would give instructions more clearly!
Prompted again by Ezra, Buck turned to face Miss Lulubelle. "I picked these just for you," the ladies man said huskily.
"Why, how lovely. Thank you, sir," Lulubelle replied, glancing at Ezra and finding the reassurance that she had, this time, replied correctly.
"You're welcome, ma'am and may I just say that you are looking lovely today yourself. Perhaps I could interest you in a...a hayride later this evening?" Buck continued mischievously, leering at Miss Lulubelle in a suggestive manner.
Lulubelle had no doubt about the intent behind the words spoken by the tall, good looking man and responded accordingly.
"Oh, a hayride sounds lovely," she purred, delighting in the ladies man's attention.
The gambler rolled his eyes. "Stop. Stop right there," he told them, the annoyance in his tone evident.
"Oh, for the love of...w-what is it this time?" Buck complained.
"Yeah, I said 'lovely' twice," Lulubelle chimed in.
"You said the word but your intention was clearly lascivious. A lady..." Ezra drawled, his attention momentarily diverted by Nathan entering the church.
"A lady...would have slapped his oafish, drooling face" Ezra continued.
"I resent that," Buck replied angrily.
Ezra faced Buck calmly and began to reply when the efforts of Josiah's labour echoed through the church.
Turning his attention to Josiah, Ezra exclaimed "Would you please stop that!"
Josiah paused in his task of sanding back the paint on the walls of the church to explain to the gambler. "I got to get down to the grain. Things are most beautiful in their natural state," he replied.
"Amen," Buck echoed.
"Yes, but they won't attract a husband in their natural state," Ezra retorted "so...let's try again. Buck... if you would, please. This time with... Dignity."
It was at that point that Nathan spoke.
"Dignity?!" the healer barked "You know...It takes a bold man to talk about dignity when he's trying to sell women off like they're cattle."
"I'll ignore that," the southerner countered.
Nathan moved closer to him. "You better do that. How else you going to get some sleep tonight?" he sneered.
Ezra swallowed nervously but faced the angry ex-slave without flinching. "Anything else?" he asked.
"About making profit off the back of another human being? Hell, yeah, I got a lot to say. But...it would just be wasted on you" he replied, still obviously angry, yet surprisingly disappointed.
Nathan subjected Ezra to another hostile look before turning and stalking out of the church. A torrent of emotions flooded Ezra and for a brief second his face reflected the hurt Nathan's harshly spoken words had caused, before the accomplished gambler resumed his mask and returned his attention to Buck and Lulubelle.
"Well, now. Where were we?" Ezra said more firmly than he felt, considering Josiah was still studying him intently. Throwing the ex-preacher a raised eyebrow, Ezra returned to his task and the big man returned to his chore shaking his head.
Ezra poured himself another drink as he tried to shake off the image of Nathan's accusatory face and the events of the past few days.
That was only the start of his problems. Further indignity was about to befall him, a daring and highly unusual plan, thought up by one uncouth, long-haired tracker.
After further attempts at correcting Mr. Wilmington's behaviour, the ladies' man had stormed off to have a drink. Resuming the women's lessons on the nearest stairs, he had been attempting to provide tuition on poise and grace, when Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner appeared at the bottom of stairs.
"Walks awful graceful, don't he?" the tracker said mischievously. Larabee turned to Tanner, and smiled slightly. Vin's comment and the way they were looking at the gambler was enough to convince the conman, he wasn't going to like what was coming.
Confused and now wary, Ezra paused his lesson and allowed the book that had been on his head, to fall gently into his hands.
Chris quickly apprised Ezra of the new situation. Ezra had been immediately concerned to discover that Mrs. Travis had been kidnapped by Wickes, who wanted to trade the pretty widow for the return of his working girls. Whilst he wanted to help in any way he could to attain the safe return of the newspaperwoman, he was momentarily speechless when the tracker outlined his idea of a diversion.
Half an hour after that, the gambler was noticeably miserable. Mrs. Potter was attempting to mould his masculine body into appropriate women's clothing for the "plan" Tanner had devised. Ezra scowled again as Mrs. Potter worked quickly and none too gently. When this was over and Mrs. Travis had been successfully rescued, he fully intended to extract retribution for this indignity. Tanner would pay, no doubt about it.
After he had been successfully dressed, further indignities were forced upon him as a wig was painfully attached to his head and garish makeup was applied to his handsome face by one of the saloon girls.
Finally, Ezra had been successfully made over to look like a saloon singer. Mrs. Potter smiled at him reassuringly and he tried to compose himself to walk out of the widow's store and face the six men, who were waiting impatiently for him.
"Good luck, Mr. Standish," Gloria Potter said, trying to mask her concern for her kidnapped friend as she handed him a bag with his own clothes inside. The widow expected that Ezra would want to change back into his own clothes at the first opportunity.
Ezra acknowledged Mrs. Potter's thoughtfulness with a nod as he took the bag from her. "Do not worry, Mrs. Potter," Ezra said confidently. "Mrs Travis will be safely returned to the town".
The widow smiled faintly and Ezra knew he could no longer put off the inevitable. Taking a deep breath, he walked through the doors of Mrs. Potter's store and onto the boardwalk.
As Ezra expected, Buck laughed loudly. JD stood with his mouth open gaping while the tracker smiled, looking very pleased with himself. Nathan shook his head in disbelief as Josiah acknowledged his sacrifice with a nod.
The man in black looked over the gambler but did not comment nor did he look even the slightest bit amused. Already thinking ahead to the task at hand, he silenced the still chuckling Buck with a deadly look.
"Let's ride," he barked.
Josiah walked up to the gambler.
"I've organised a carriage for you. It's around back," the ex-preacher said softly.
Ezra exhaled appreciatively. At least someone had considered this aspect of the plan. Ezra did not want to contemplate how he would look trying to mount his horse in these clothes.
The ride to Wickestown had been a very quiet one. Their leader had set the mood and it was obvious to them all that there would be severe consequences if Mrs. Travis had been harmed in any way.
Arriving in Wickestown, Ezra made his way to the larger tent that served as the makeshift's town drinking establishment. He paused briefly before entering and saw his fellow peacekeepers all move themselves into hidden positions. Ezra drew a deep breath. Showtime.
As Ezra entered the tent, he walked slowly deliberately swaying his hips whilst fanning his face.
The whole place went quiet. The Bartender was the first to speak. "You ain't applying for a job, are you, Missy?" he asked looking amused.
Ezra cleared his throat quietly and answered in the best interpretation of a female voice he could achieve.
"Well, well...actually, yes, I am. I'm an entertainer," Ezra replied forcing himself to smile while he gently fanned his face.
One ugly patron, groaned suggestively and leered at Ezra.
"Hey, darlin'," the man crooned.
Ezra grimaced and using the end of his parasol delivered a sharp blow to the drunk's nether regions. Then Ezra used every ounce of his self-control not to punch the repugnant man to the ground. Good Lord, how these women must suffer, putting up with likes of such ill-bred lowlife.
"Not that kind of entertainer. I'm a singer," Ezra replied sharply.
"A singer, heh? Well, a singer don't got to be no great beauty," the bartender spoke again. Ezra resisted the urge to tell the bearded old timer if he had looked in a mirror lately.
"Why...why don't you sing for us, honey?" another patron encouraged.
Ezra forced a faint smile. God he hoped Chris and the others wouldn't need long. If Mother saw me now...
Taking a deep breath he began to sing.From this valley they say you are going
We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile.
For they say you are taking the sunshine...
An obviously drunk patron staggered up to Ezra. "Come on, darlin'. Have a drink with me."
Ezra pushed him away brusquely and continued to attempt to sing to these heathens.Come and sit by my side if you love me...
Do not hasten to bid me adieu...
Yes indeed Mr. Tanner. You will suffer for this indignity.
"Aw, come on, honey sit on my lap," the drunk insisted. Seizing the opportunity Ezra punched him hard in the face sending the man crashing to the ground.
Within seconds a brawl erupted.
"Well, Mr. Tanner!" Ezra muttered to himself as he exited the drinking tent. "Said diversion has been procured" he added with satisfaction as Wicke's men made their way to the tent to stop the brawl. Ezra cautiously made his way towards the cruel man's personal tent to see if he could assist the others.
Ezra poured himself another drink. So, thanks to him, a diversion was successfully established, allowing the others to take positions and for Chris to rescue Mrs. Travis. There was a tense moment when it appeared that Wickes had got the advantage over Chris. However, Lydia, the obvious leader of the working girls, appeared suddenly and without hesitation shot Wickes dead. After that, their exit from Wickestown was unimpeded.
The journey back to Four Corners was a sober affair. Nathan had treated Mary Travis for rope burns on her wrists and ankles. Lydia appeared to be suffering from the shock of killing her employer but refused any attention from Nathan, insisting she was fine. Ezra allowed the ladies the use of the buggy on the return trip. With a nod, Josiah handed Ezra the bag with his clothes inside so that he could change back into a man for their journey home.
Afterwards, Ezra had expected some kind of acceptance for his role in Mrs. Travis' return. However, none of the seven had bothered to thank him. Additionally, Buck started to mercilessly joke about how he looked that day and insisting he buy Ezra an emerald dress to match his eyes. Ezra tolerated Buck's behaviour seeing it as a way to fit into their little group easier. It was apparent to the Southerner that Buck expressed his feeling by teasing the boy. However, by the second day, Ezra had decided Buck needed to be taught a lesson.
Chris Larabee could have easily put an end to Buck's persecution, but chose not to. He and Vin Tanner were apparently overly amused at Buck's humour and Ezra's discomfort. Occasionally, JD would try and impress on Buck that what Ezra had accomplished had helped them free Mrs. Travis. But it fell on deaf ears.
Ezra grunted softly while reaching for another drink. He would have like to have seen any of the others attempt what he had successfully achieved. Yes, indeed. Ezra would have even paid money to watch Vin Tanner endure the humiliation of dressing up as a woman.
Ezra had not expected any acknowledgment from Mary Travis. The lady had been through quite an ordeal and thanking the southerner had apparently not occurred to her. He was wrong. Upon her return to town the pretty widow had remained in her house for two days. However, yesterday, Mary had Gloria Potter, who had been checking on her regularly, get a message to the gambler asking him to see her.
Ezra arrived at the Clarion shortly before 11 am the previous day and knocked on the front door.
Gloria Potter answered.
"Good morning, Mrs. Potter," Ezra said formally.
"Mr. Standish. How good of you to come. She's expecting you," Gloria Potter replied as she stood to one side and let the gambler enter. "She's through the back in her parlour. Could you stay with her until I return. I shan't be long" the widow continued.
"Certainly Mrs. Potter" the southerner replied.
Gloria Potter smiled and exited the Clarion. Ezra made his way cautiously down the small hall that led from the newspaper office.
"Mrs. Travis," he called.
"In here, Mr. Standish," Mary Travis replied.
Ezra entered the newspaperwoman's parlour. Mary sat behind a small table laden with a silver tea service and a plate of small cakes.
"Mrs. Travis," Ezra said as he took in the pretty widow's appearance. She looked much improved.
"Mr. Standish, would you care for some tea? Gloria has just made it for me" Mary asked avoiding Ezra's scrutiny. She was feeling a lot better. Her injuries. while uncomfortable now, would clear in time. She just hadn't been ready to face the town and the looks and polite enquiries regarding her experience. Maybe tomorrow.
"Thank you Mrs. Travis." Ezra replied, sitting where Mary gestured.
A polite conversation on irrelevant issues ensued for a few minutes. Finally Mary Travis, put her cup down and looked directly at Ezra. "Mr. Standish.... Ezra... I want to thank you for... eh... your part in my rescue."
"Think nothing of it. Mrs. Travis. I am just relieved that you were returned safely."
"Gloria Potter told me how you.... ummm..." Mary tried to continue but couldn't stop smiling.
"Yes. Well. Mrs Travis. It certainly wasn't my favourite way to spend an afternoon."
Mary Travis giggled. "Gloria said that the look on the others' faces was... "
"Yes. Quite amusing," Ezra replied, biting back his annoyance.
Mary finally composed herself. "I do hope you are not still having to live down the experience."
Despite himself Ezra grimaced slightly. Yes. Well. If Buck would stop going on about green dresses that matched his eyes and if Vin Tanner stopped looking so smug, things would vastly improve.
"Nothing I cannot overcome, Mrs. Travis"
"Oh, I'm sure of that. Otherwise there would be some manner of retribution, would there not," Mrs. Travis said sweetly, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
Ezra caught the look and smiled. Instantly, his mind was flooded with appropriate forms of punishment.
"Mrs. Travis," Ezra drawled "I do believe you are right."
The next day Ezra stood outside the church of Four Corners. Nathan and Josiah were inside. He had been watching long enough to know that they were both still there, no doubt doing more renovating. Perhaps it was appropriate that this situation was resolved where it began, in the church. He just had to walk up those steps.
He still couldn't understand why he was here. No doubt after time Nathan's current disposition would change. Ezra hadn't known the healer for long, but his depths of compassion and his desire to help people were obvious. Additionally, it was still likely that Judge Travis would return in ten days and they would no longer be required as law in this town. So why try and resolve things with Nathan. He had certainly never bothered trying to resolve differences before, well unless there was something in it for him. So why was he here?
That he liked working alongside these men still surprised him. Not to mention why he went back to the Seminole Village. Even more difficult was trying to understand why someone like Chris Larabee had given him another chance. For that matter, why had he taken a chance on him at all? Why did this dusty town and its inhabitants matter to him? And why did he like being around his fellow peacekeepers? So many changes in such a short time.
Breathing deeply, Ezra walked up the steps and entered the church. Josiah and Nathan stopped what they were doing briefly as he entered. Nathan frowned and continued working. Josiah studied Ezra for an instant and then acknowledged his presence with a nod.
"I'm going to get those nails from the general store. I'll be back soon" Josiah told Nathan. The healer looked irritated at the obvious intention to leave him alone with Ezra but said nothing.
After Josiah departed, there was an uneasy silence. Ezra moved closer until he was a few feet away from Nathan.
"What do you want Ezra?" Nathan asked coolly.
"I hoped we could discuss the events of the other day," Ezra replied.
"I made my opinion very clear," Nathan said.
"That you did. However, you and I have both agreed to be peacekeepers... at least until Judge Travis returns and..."
"You wanna make sure I'll still watch your back? Don't worry Ezra. I'll still do my duty, even if it means protecting you," Nathan retorted. Ezra winced slightly but held Nathan's stare without blinking. Nathan regretted the words as soon as he said them but the normally placid healer was still hurting over Ezra actions. Dammit he thought the man was different underneath that facade. In fact he was almost sure of it.
"I have no doubt about that Mr. Jackson, just as you have my word I would not allow anything to happen to you," the gambler replied firmly.
"Is that all?" Nathan asked after a few seconds.
"I thought we could perhaps call a 'truce'... at least for the sake of the others," Ezra replied softly.
"Why do you care?" Nathan enquired, lowering his own tone a little.
"I'm not really sure," the southerner replied, as he held Nathan's stare. Nathan stepped back slightly, confusion crossed his handsome face. There it was again Nathan thought. That glimpse of the man he hoped lay beneath the image.
"You know I think that's the most honest answer I've ever heard from you," Nathan said, the anger dissipating from his voice.
"You are most probably right Mr. Jackson," Ezra replied with a faint trace of a smile.
Nathan studied the gambler intently. He still couldn't understand why the gambler was here at all. What would it matter to man like him how a black man felt. Ezra was a complexity of contradictions and Nathan had to admit that on occasion the southerner behaved out of character. Nathan finally decided he needed more time to consider his relationship with Ezra. In fact, the former slave recognised a abnormal curiousity to find out how exactly the Southerner thought.
"Alright Ezra. I'll try," Nathan conceded.
"That's all I ask Mr. Jackson," Ezra replied relieved, profferring his hand.
Nathan looked at his gesture suspiciously at first then relaxed slightly. Just when Ezra thought the healer was not going to reciprocate, Nathan grabbed his hand and they shook.
Exhaling deeply, as he exited the church, Ezra ran into the ex-preacher. The big man grinned at him.
"Something I can help you with Mr. Sanchez?" the gambler enquired.
Josiah kept smiling and reached over to drape his arm across Ezra's shoulders. Ezra instantly reacted by squirming uncomfortably trying to remove himself from the bigger man's hold. But the ex-preacher held him firmly.
"It's a glorious day brother," Josiah replied still grinning.
"Yes. Quite," Ezra replied while again trying to wiggle out of the grasp with subtlety.
"Yep. Nothing like seeing things they way the should be," Josiah continued.
Ezra rolled his eyes. Whatever was he on about now?
"Meaning Mr. Sanchez?" Ezra asking directly.
Josiah looked down at Ezra and continued grinning.
"Nothing more rewarding that seeing what's underneath, what's hidden. More often than not that's where the true beauty is," Josiah explained.
Ezra looked at him blankly. That was the explanation.
"Yes ,well Mr. Sanchez" Ezra replied as he successfully moved out of the ex-preacher's hold. "Thank you so much for enlightening me," he added and he moved off shaking his head.
Josiah watched contentedly as Ezra left. He sighed happily. Returning to Nathan in the church, he allowed himself another smile of contentment as he observed Nathan whistling softly as he worked.
Oh yes. Josiah loved things in their natural state.
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