CATEGORY: Challenge - OW
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Ezra and all the guys
DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. This story is based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Showtime Extreme, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: August 2006 Challenge, offered by NotTasha: One of the guys has to say goodbye to someone or something. It doesn't have to be a sad story and -- if you can put a humorous spin on it, all the better. It should focus on any one of the Seven, but the One has to interact with each of the others at some point
SUMMARY: Ezra loses something important to him
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments are greatly appreciated.
SPOILERS: small ones for Ghosts of the Confederacy, Safecracker and Serpents
DATE: August 7, 2006
Murder in Red
By NotTasha... I feel bad already
“Oh no, Ezra,” JD exclaimed. “You sure?”
The conman nodded, his head seeming heavy. “It’s an agonizing fact,” he drawled quietly, and started to move away from the storefront. His step was decidedly slow as he clutched the bundle. “Some things are meant to end.”
“Nothing can be done to save it?” the young man asked earnestly, catching up.
Ezra shook his head. “I suppose it lasted as long as it could. It certainly stood up to a lot, weathered more than some supposed it might. It had a good run.”
“Yeah, it did,” JD responded.
“But all good things must reach a conclusion.”
“Aw, that’s too bad,” JD told him. “I’m real sorry.”
“It’s not your fault, Mr. Dunne,” Ezra said softly, dejectedly.
Biting his lip for a moment, JD continued, “I still feel bad. You sure nothing can be done to put things right?”
“Some things simply cannot be undone.”
“Maybe I could … you know… pay for it or something. I don’t have a lot, but I could help …”
“I’m grateful for the offer, but there’s nothing that can be done.”
“I wish it wasn’t like this.”
“As do I.” Ezra nodded, his eyes stark as he carefully held the item in his hands. The two men stopped alongside the boardwalk, both filled with a solemn silence.
“What’s goin’ on?” Buck asked as he stepped toward them, his face a map of concern as he took in his two friends. “Someone die?” he whispered, his voice low and reverent.
Ezra closed his eyes and JD piped in, “Ezra’s jacket can’t be fixed.”
Buck paused, and then chuckled softly. “That’s all?” he exclaimed. “Damn, your faces were so long I was afraid one of you was gonna bang your jaw on the road. All this grief over one damn jacket?”
“It’s his red one,” JD went on, gesturing to bundle in Ezra’s hands.
“Oh…” Buck’s responded, and winced. “Ah hell. That’s a shame, Ez.”
looked at the coat with something akin to despair. “It was a fine
garment,” he murmured.
“I told him that I’d pay for fixing it and everything since it was my fault,” JD went on. “And I aim to do what I can.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Ezra repeated, working one sleeve free. “It was simply a bad set of circumstance that ultimately ruined a fine garment.” He held the sleeve at length. “The final straw -- an occurrence that cut it down in its prime – put an end to a well regarded existence – ended an era.”
“Maybe it’s not so bad,” Buck tried.
“It’s bad.” Ezra tried to smile at him, but didn’t manage to hide his agony, and he moved to get around the ladies’ man.
Not ready to let him go, Buck jammed a hand against the gambler’s shoulder, forcing him to a stop. “Let me see what happened to it.”
Ezra held tight to the murdered fabric and muttered, “Let it go peacefully.”
“Bet I could fix it,” Buck told him. “I’m plenty handy with a needle.”
When Wilmington made a move to grab the coat out of his hands, Ezra jerked it away. “Leave it be!” he snapped. “You have neither the skill or artistry required. Others, far more skilled than you… have failed to mend it.”
“Come on, Ezra,” Buck went on. “Bet it can be put right. You’ve had that done plenty of times.”
“That’s the problem,” JD commented glumly. “Mrs. Underwood said she wouldn’t ever touch it again.”
Ezra let out a sad sigh and commented, “She’s a saint.”
“She’s a hot tempered witch, you mean,” Buck shot back. “I wouldn’t do anythin’ to cross that woman. She’s meaner that a hornets’ nest beset by bears.”
“Why do you say that, Buck?” JD quizzed. “Just ‘cause she doesn’t fall for your ‘animal magnetism’?”
Buck furrowed his brow and declared hotly, “I steer clear of the ornery woman whenever I can. Hell, I cross the street when I see her comin’ along with a bee in her bonnet. She’s a devil in a big blue dress!”
“She’s an angel,” Ezra responded. “She performs miracles on a daily basis, mending the worst injuries perpetrated to my garments, lifting insurmountable stains, and returning nearly ruined material to a wearable state.”
“But not this time?” Buck asked.
“She couldn’t,” Ezra said with an exhale. “This time… she couldn’t.”
“She said she’s done with it,” JD explained. “She’s snatched that jacket from the edge so many times, there ain’t nothin’ left for her to work with.” When Ezra made a sad little gasp, Dunne went on, “He’s kinda upset.”
“I reckon he is,” Buck replied, watching Standish cling to the ruined coat.
“It was his favorite,” JD explained.
“You got plenty others, Ezra,” Buck responded, trying to sound helpful. “There’s others that are just as good.”
Ezra shrugged and sighed, giving his friend one last mournful look, and then continued on his way.
“Hey, Ez!” Buck called after him, “You’ll feel better come morning.”
The conman only hunched his shoulders and kept moving.
“You gonna join us for dinner, Ez?” JD asked.
Ezra shrugged in response and trudged onward.
Buck turned to JD, giving him the eye. The kid quietly responded, “Wish I could do something about it.”
Buck told him, “You done what you could. He’s just gonna have to come to his senses and get over it.” They watched Ezra continue along his way until the southerner found a vacant bench and sat down with a desolate thump.
“Kinda pathetic, ain’t he?” Buck commented.
“It was his favorite,” JD repeated.
“Give him time, JD,” Buck said confidently. “He’ll be fine once he fixes his mind to it.” He glanced toward the restaurant. “In the meantime, let’s get some of that dinner. Hungry?”
JD nodded and they headed off to the restaurant, leaving their friend to deal with his misery.
Ezra spread the garment out on his knees and examined his tired red jacket.
It wasn’t really red anymore. The elements had faded the color to a lovely shade of rose, too fine a hue to be created by any dyeing process – and impossible to match to a new fabric. It had been soiled by dirt and dust, an occasional food stain (dropped, no doubt, by his companions when they were in too close quarters) and blood. Most of the infractions had been cleaned away by the ministrations of his washerwoman, the illustrious Mrs. Underwood – but reminders remained. Some areas were a little more worn, a little more faded, and no amount of special care could hide the fact that this jacket was disfigured and no longer worth wearing.
There was a pale spot on one sleeve, left behind by a stain he’d acquired on his first day in town, when he’d attempted to bamboozle a few cowboys out of some dollars in a shooting competition. Must have put his arm in something on the table. And on the other sleeve, a bit of pitch that never completely came out – dropped from the makeshift torch he’d used to explore a worthless mine.
Sins could never be fully washed away. As hard as he’d tried, some things always remained with him.
He ran his hand along the mended area where a bullet, during the political rally, had once pierced the fabric. Mrs. Underwood had done her best, but the repairs still showed if you looked closely and the bloodstains were never completely removed.
“Least the fabric’s red,” Mrs. Underwood had said. “Hides the blood real good, so it isn’t such a shame when all of it doesn’t come out.”
Ezra hadn’t fretted too much about it when she returned it to him, and he had worn the disfigurement as a badge and a remembrance to what had happened that day. But, ever since, he found he’d worn the jacket less.
Maybe he didn’t want to be reminded of the depths he’d sunk to on that day.
Remembering that day, he flipped back the jacket to reveal the lining – never quite the same since he’d used a razor to open it. Running his fingers along the fixed seam, he thought about how it had felt to cut into the fabric, remembering how it gave under the onslaught. He hefted the coat, recalling how heavy and strange the jacket felt when stuffed with cash. It’d felt so – wrong.
He lifted his head and gazed out across the street, playing back how odd he had felt as he prepared to leave that day. When he’d moved through the crowd toward the livery, something tugged at him the whole way. Maybe it was just the strange weight of the jacket pulling him back.
It had almost been a relief when he’d been shot. Not that he wanted that, of course. A bullet wound hurts like a son-of-a-bitch, but once the possibility of dying had been assuaged and whiskey had been administered for the pain, the wound had been as good an excuse as any to stay put for a while longer.
And so he stayed on and walked the streets sometimes in the jacket that had saved his life.
There were things he couldn’t change, just like the odd stains remaining on this jacket – they were a part of his make up. He couldn’t just toss away those corruptions. It was a second skin that he carried with him always.
The fabric at the cuffs and elbows was getting close to threadbare, the seams were tired – having been altered once when he’d lost weight during an illness, and then put back when he’d recovered, and loosened further as he remained too long in one locale and became a bit too familiar with the culinary delights of the citizens.
and there and everywhere were reminders of his time in this town – little
mended cuts, faded patches that had remained after stains were lifted. He
examined a discoloration attained at a picnic when the boys had become a bit too
rowdy and started throwing things that shouldn’t have been thrown.
Across the shoulder were a series of repaired rips, accumulated from hoisting
children up for a spin. Along the lapels he found fixed tears from where
his horse had nipped at him impatiently while they waited for one of his
compatriots to relieve him of some duty.
As he continued the examination, he exposed the remains of blood on a cuff from when he’d tried to help one of his friends after some horrible injury – he couldn’t be sure exactly which one or when – there’d been so many.
No, he couldn’t forget that it had been JD who spilled that blood —when the brave young man had been knifed in the street – this very street.
But he’d had this jacket long before he came here, and he paused as he struggled to recall those days – trying to draw up the intricacies of his best cons while forgetting the chaos that often followed them. It was strange, the more he tried to dredge those ‘old days’, the more often he found himself considering moments from around the town.
He’d had some good times back then, hadn’t he? When his take had been good, he’d been so damn happy – but looking back, Ezra couldn’t remember exactly why he was happy. Instead of memories lined with gold, he could recall only a gray loneliness, an emptiness in his past.
What was wrong with him? He used to have such a good memory. He used to be able to easily replay scenes in his life, and could picture everything as if it had just happened. He was losing part of himself, he realized.
Then, with a sigh, he poked two fingers through the most recent wound, a hole -- burned through when JD had thrown a log on a campfire that they’d been enjoying. The fire popped and sent embers everywhere. He hadn’t noticed the damage until it was too late, and by then the smoldering cinder had made its way through to his skin and made him hop. He’d escaped injury to his person – but not to his personal wardrobe.
This wasn’t the end of his jacket, it couldn’t be! He couldn’t just discard it – this piece of his life! How could he toss it aside?
“Now, that’s a pity,” a voice rumbled near his head.
Ezra looked up to find Josiah looming over him. Standish paused as he stared upward, startled. Then, he held up the damaged section, wiggling his fingers through the hole. “Ruined,” he moaned.
The preacher smiled softly at the image presented to him. It was rare that he saw the gambler looking so -- pitiful. “That jacket has seen plenty of wear,” he declared. “Seen plenty of things.”
Regretfully, Ezra retracted his digits and smoothed the fabric against his knee. “Mrs. Underwood refused to touch it,” he said softly. “She said there was no spare fabric left to fill the hole. The area is too wide to simply stitch together.”
With a sage nod, Josiah prophesized, “There comes a time when we must let loose of old things.”
Ezra pursed his lips at this declaration, and then said, “Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it isn’t still useful. I’d intended to have it until the day I died.”
Josiah was silent for a moment at this statement, watching the younger man. “I think I’d prefer things differently,” he stated. “Fabric lasts only so long. I hardly think it could have made it into your old age.”
“But this was especially well made,” Ezra stated, pointing to the jacket. “It was made to last. I’d hoped to have it for a few more years at least.”
Josiah sighed, regarding this statement along with the others. He then cleared his throat and said, “But that’s quite a hole, Ezra. Maybe this is just a nudge to tell you that it’s time to let go.”
Ezra heard him, and dropped his gaze again to the horrible singe. He laid his hand over the spot to obliterate it and said, “Maybe I’m not ready.”
“Not ready for what?” Nathan’s voice rang out as he approached.
“To let go,” Josiah told his friend.
Nathan furrowed his brow as he approached them. He’d rarely seen Ezra look so morose. “Ezra, is everything okay? Is someone hurt?”
Josiah shook his head and said softly, “Only Ezra’s jacket.”
“Oh,” Nathan responded, relieved, but it didn’t change how devastated his friend appeared. “Why don’t you bring it to Mrs. Underwood?”
“I did,” Ezra replied, and let out a deep sigh.
Josiah continued for him, “Apparently, it’s beyond saving.”
Nathan nodded, jamming his hands into his pockets and looking appropriately glum. “Guess it was bound to happen. That jacket’s been stitched almost as often as you.”
“Yes, but,” Ezra shook his head. “I’ve had it since before…” and he paused, furrowing his brow. “I’ve had it since before I’ve known all of you. There’s hardly anythin’ else left from that life.” There was a bitter tone to his voice.
Nathan and Josiah exchanged a look.
“Nearly everythin’ else is gone,” Ezra continued. “I always traveled light. Things get worn out over time and are easily tossed aside. This is one of the few things that I’ve kept.”
“Well, there’s Chaucer,” Nathan decided. “You still got him.”
Ezra made a face at that statement. “Chaucer hardly counts as a ‘thing’, Mr. Jackson. He’s my noble steed.” Ezra held the fabric carefully. “This is all that remains of my old self. I have come to think of it as my ‘signature’ jacket, don’t you think?” He cocked his head as he considered it. “When you think of me, you picture me in this particular blazer, don’t you?”
Nathan laughed at that, saying, “I don’t picture you all that much, Ezra.”
But Josiah was quiet at this remark and watched Ezra with understanding eyes.
Nathan said thoughtfully, “Ezra, you’re more than just a jacket. I don’t really consider it and you as the same thing.”
Ezra watched Nathan sharply. He glanced to Josiah who nodded. “You’ve led a life to be proud of since coming here,” Josiah went on. “Perhaps isn’t a bad thing to set that old thing aside.”
“But I liked my old life,” Ezra said softly. “Sometimes I rather miss those ways – the excitement of a good con, the thrill of the game, the rewards, the money…” he drew the word out in his drawl, smiling. “It’s sad to see it come to an end.”
“That life’s been long gone,” Nathan told him. “You’re not the cheat you once was.”
Ezra responded with, “Oh, but that was what made me useful at the start of all this, wasn’t it?”
Josiah reached out and gave Ezra’s shoulder a squeeze. “You’re a lot more useful than just a cheat, Ezra. Do what you want with the coat. We’ll keep you no matter what you decide.”
Nathan chuckled. “Yeah,” he said. “We like havin’ you around. Josiah and I are going to get something for dinner. I think Buck and JD are already at the restaurant. You coming along, or are you just going to sit here and pout a bit longer?”
Ezra lifted his head and gave Nathan a thoughtful look. “Pout, I suspect,” he told the healer. “For a little while longer.”
Nathan smiled, and gave Ezra a slap on the arm. “Well, don’t take all day. We’ll see you in a bit.”
Ezra watched them go, settling the jacket on his knee and feeling a little stupid about his preoccupation. Yes, it was just a jacket and he had plenty other fine coats in his closet, but it didn’t change the fact that he wasn’t quite ready to give it up.
Because -- if he were to give it up, maybe his memories of his old life would fade even further. And then what would he have left?
As he considered this he lifted his gaze and looked about the town. Nathan and Josiah were just entering the restaurant, and he could hear Buck and JD cheerfully greeting them from within. Before they went through the doorway, Josiah turned his way and gave him an encouraging smile. Nathan paused long enough to gesture toward him, telling him to hurry.
People moved through the town, the citizens of Four Corners. They moved along, unhurried, untroubled, happy with their little town. Some of the passersby gave him a friendly nod, and no one gave him ‘that look’.
It was rather silly, Ezra thought. Yes, rather silly to just sit here and mourn a jacket. He chuckled to himself, realizing how ridiculous he’d been.
What did it matter, anyway? This one jacket? He couldn’t even remember where, exactly, he had purchased it.
And did he really need those old memories? What was wrong with the new experiences he’d found in this town?
Because, he did make a difference here, didn’t he? He had done some good, hadn’t he?
“Hey, Ez,” Vin called as he sauntered by. “You comin’ for dinner?”
“In a moment, Mr. Tanner,” Ezra replied.
The tracker paused and regarded the gambler. “What’s wrong?”
Ezra shook his head and laughed slightly, knowing exactly how ludicrous he’d been. “My jacket,” he said and held it out for Tanner to see.
“What’s wrong with it?” Vin asked, cocking his head.
“Near the pocket.”
“No, the other, down… down… further.”
“That little burn?”
“It is a rather large area, Mr. Tanner – regrettably large.”
“Aw, it’s hardly bigger than a flea. I got plenty of those on my things.”
“Got rid of most of those last Tuesday. Had my monthly bath.” Vin continued glibly, “Ez, just grab up a rag and cut out a hunk and slap it on top. I could stitch it for ya if you want.”
Ezra’s eyes widened, and he sucked in breath as if Vin had suggested sacrilege. “It’s a fatal flaw, I fear,” Ezra told the tracker.
“That’s too bad,” Vin conceded. “Been one of your favorites, ain’t it?”
“Yes, very much so.”
“But you ain’t been wearin’ it much lately,” Vin reminded.
“Just the same…” Ezra replied.
“Your green one is good though,” Vin went on. “Looks plenty good. Seen you wear that more times than the red one lately.” He ran his hand along his buckskin jacket. “It’d be different with me, ‘cause this is all that I got. Got lots of life left in it. Could take on a few more holes before its done.”
“Well,” Ezra responded, “I fear what is suitable for you, is not right for me.” He held up the jacket. “Deplorable,” he stated. “This hole is it’s final nail in the coffin.”
“Someone mention a coffin?” Larabee asked suddenly from beside them.
“Ezra’s jacket’s due for one,” Vin explained. “Look. It’s a travesty.”
Larabee gave Vin a curious look at this comment, “What did you say, Tanner?”
“Travesty,” Vin repeated. “Means it’s a powerful bad thing. I learn stuff like that.” He touched his head. “Lock interestin’ stuff like that away so I can use it when it’s appropriate. It’d be a travesty not to.”
Ezra looked up at Vin, and slowly, a grin appeared. Vin smiled back, and narrowed an eye at him in an almost-wink.
“A travesty indeed,” the gambler responded, and with that, something changed. He chuckled as he held onto the once-majestic red jacket, and suddenly, it was just a tattered old coat to him.
The door to the restaurant suddenly opened and Buck peered out, finding Ezra, and then noting that the other two were with him. “You gonna chase Ezra in here any time soon? Time’s a wastin’! I’ve already ordered for him and eaten what Mabel brought ‘cause he wasn’t fast enough. Better march him in here before that stuff that Nathan got for him gets eaten, too.”
From inside the restaurant, they heard Josiah’s voice boom, “Better be soon!”
“We’ll get ‘im movin’,” Vin promised. He raised his voice to add, “Don’t eat everythin’ in the place, preacher!”
Inside the restaurant Josiah laughed. “Nate’s the one you got to watch out for.”
Buck turned and shouted, “Keep your hands off my buns, Nathan!” and darted back into the restaurant.
Ezra sighed, looking rather happy. What did he need an old ratty jacket for anyway?
“Let’s go. That coat’s done for,” Chris told Ezra. “Time for a new one, Ezra.
At that comment, Ezra stood, brushing at his trousers and straightening his shirt. “A new one indeed! What an excellent idea.” His smile continued. “Something new, unique, different.” He ran one thumb across his bottom lip as he considered it. “In a deep shade, I think, amethyst or umber or… indigo maybe.”
He was grinning as he turned and headed toward the restaurant, a jump in his step. He continued speaking as he moved along, “A matching waistcoat to go with it. Yes. Maybe a few new shirts? Oh, and trousers as well, because the look must be complete.”
Standish paused for a moment at the trash wagon that was parked along the boardwalk. He came to a stop, still holding the jacket to himself. He hesitated, holding tightly for a moment longer, but finally, he tossed the ruined jacket in with the rest of the refuse.
His arm remained extended a moment longer than it should have, as if it contemplated retrieving the jacket on its own, but the arm eventually dropped, and Ezra turned toward Larabee and Tanner, smiling still, as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
“Gentlemen,” he called. “Dinner awaits, but not for long. I fear there will be little left if we don’t hurry.”
Chris shook his head as Ezra turned and entered the restaurant where the others had already disappeared. Larabee turned to Vin and started to speak.
But, Tanner cut him off. “He ain’t quite right in the head,” Vin surmised.
“Yeah,” Larabee responded. “But he’s ours.” And Chris started after the gambler.
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