Title: Making Sense (or Just a Little Different)

Author: Tipper

Disclaimer: All of the Magnificent Seven are owned by MGM, Trilogy, CBS, TNN, and all those others. Iím not making any money from this, and never will. I just canít resist playing with them all a little bit. As always, thanks to the other fan fiction writers out there, especially those on this website Ė you are all my inspiration and the best thing to happen to writing since the invention of the typewriter.

Notes: I made up a large chunk of Chrisís past to round out this fable, and if I got anything grossly wrong, Iím sorry. My memory of the episodes and what has been written tends to get mixed up, so I canít recall exactly if anything Iíve made up is inconsistent.

Description: After Ezra and Maude have a shouting match in front of the others, the boys try to make sense of what happened.

Making Sense (or Just a Little Different)

Crushing the cards in his hands, Ezra listened with mounting fury to the tales his mother was spinning for his friends in the lower part of the saloon. He threw the ruined hand down, stood, and left the table without gathering the pot heíd just won. With measured steps, he traversed the crowded saloon across to the table where she was holding court over the other six gunslingers.

She had arrived in town Friday and had immediately begun to rub the gambler the wrong way. She chastised him for staying in this one-horse town, and for being a lawman. She crushed his hopes of easily buying back the saloon from the people sheís sold it to by telling him that it was now owned by a conglomerate of saloon owners and brewers, with little chance of resale. She then repeatedly beat him at cards, while berating him for losing his touch. Then she spent the evenings allowing Josiah to follow her around like a lost puppy. The poor man had no idea that she would never actually take his offers of courtship seriously. Now, here it was, two days later and she had spent much of the last two hours making up humiliating stories about Ezraís childhood. It was a childhood that she had rarely seen, and certainly had no right to make light of. Every time laughter escaped the lips of the other six men, it felt like a knife piercing his gut. Heíd had enough.

"Mother," he stated quietly, reaching the table. Maude looked up, her face aglow with the attention she was receiving.

"Oh sweetheart, have you come to join us finally? I was just telling your friendsÖ"

"ÖA whole bunch of lies, mother. You cheapen yourself with such pointless perfidy." The smiles on the others faces quickly dropped, there expressions ranging from neutral to confused.

"Oh come now, Ezra, we are just having a bit of a laugh." Maude replied looking back down at her hands, absently shuffling the deck of cards she held there.

"A laugh, mother? You think deceit is funny?" He gripped the back of her chair, the knuckles on his hand turning white.

Maude glanced up at him, then turned to the men at the table. They all quickly averted their eyes. "Ezra," she stated plainly, "you are embarrassing me in front of your friends."

"Mere acquaintances, mother, I assure you. However, that does not mean they deserve to be made fools of. Perhaps if you told these men about what you really did when I was a child, they might find that more amusing. Tell me, how many people did you manipulate and cheat, mother? How many lives did you wreck for your own temporary gain?"

"Ezra, that is not fair." She stopped her shuffling, and turned to look at him again, her expression neutral.

"FairÖ.An odd word from someone who believes that fairness only exists in a marked deck or weighted dice."

Maude grimaced. "What has gotten into you?"

"I believe that your time in this township has come to an end, mother. You may leave knowing that you have succeeded in achieving the usual objectives of humiliating me, taking my money, ruining my hopes and, of course, belittling my choice of profession. You have kept me on my toes so much this trip that I feel as if there is a noose tied around my neck, and I canít come down for fear youíll hang me." The anger in his voice was almost palatable. Even his hands were shaking. Finally, he paused, swallowed, and softened his voice to a menacing level, "Quittez cette ville, maman, avant je vous expulse." (Leave this town, mother, before I throw you out)

"Ezra!" she blurted, shocked.

"I mean it mother. Now, do I have to ask you again?"

Maude shut her mouth, her jaw muscles tensing after this onslaught from her son. "No, Ezra, of course not." She got to her feet abruptly, and strode purposefully to the doors. Over her shoulder she announced, " I will be on the nine a.m. coach." The doors swung shut angrily behind her.

Josiah stood up slowly, took one despairing look at Ezra, and followed her out of the saloon. Ezra still shook, though his shoulders slumped a little as the big man left. He turned to glance at the others, who still sat at the table unable to move. Nathan spoke first.

"Ezra, I understand that your childhood may not have been the best, but was that any way to speak to your mother?" The healer asked. Ezraís eyes narrowed, the green in them becoming almost black.

"Mr. Jackson, do not presume to understand what my childhood was like, nor interfere where your advice is neither wanted nor required." Abruptly he spun on his heel and mounted the stairs to his room above the saloon. The sound of a door slamming somewhere above echoed through the bar, and no one spoke for a few minutes. Finally, Inez broke the silence by wandering over and offering more beer and whiskey. They all nodded.

JD stood up, and looked at the stairs.

"What are you doing?" Chris demanded, his voice a low growl.

"Well," the boy replied, "somebody has to go talk to him. None of you seem to be inclined, so I thoughtÖ"

"Heíll eat you alive kid, best not rock the boat." Buck said, laying a brotherly hand on the boyís arm. The young sheriff shook him off.

"No, he needs someone, canít you see that? Letting loose like that in front of us, he's never done that before. Even I can see that was a cry for help."

"Now JD donít go assuming things you canítÖ"

"Heís right," Vin agreed quietly from his side of the table. "Someone should go up there. Normally Iíd nominate Josiah, but I think he is probably occupied at the moment."

JD looked at the tracker with a smile. "Thanks Vin."

"But I donít think it should be you, kid."

"What?" JD sulked, "Why not?"

"Because your mother is dead, JD." Vin didnít say it to be cruel, just stating a fact. JDís brown eyes widened, and he looked both hurt and a little confused.

"So?" he asked angrily.

"So, you loved her, didnít you?" Vin explained quietly, immediately defusing JDís anger. "She was always there for you until the day she left for a better life, right?í The tracker tipped back his hat to stare the boy straight in the eyes. JD swallowed, and sat back down. Flashes of happy memories crossed his face.

"Yeah, she did."

"And my mother died when I was little. But I know she loved me too." Boy, youíre a Tanner, and donít you forget that, the words rang through Vinís head as if he had just heard them yesterday. "Chris, you once told me your mother died soon after your wedding to Sarah. Buck, your mother died when you were a teenager. And Nathan?" He left the question unspoken.

"When I was ten," the black man answered. He looked up, his eyes still a little confused. "But all the more reason for Ezra to be there for his. Canít he see how lucky he is to have her around?"

Vin shook his head, "I donít think its that easy, Nathan. Sheís notÖI donít think heÖ.Look, all I know is that Maude was not the kind of mother to him that our mothers were to us." Vin paused, licked his lips. "Whoever goes to talk to him has to be aware of that." He looked at Chris, and the gunslinger frowned in return.

"Ezra was right," Chris interrupted, shaking his head. "I donít think we can understand." And with that, their designated leader stood and headed for the stairs. Vin watched him leave with a small smile playing on his lips, then hid his eyes once more below his hat.

___________________________

Josiah knocked politely on the hotel door, the tap quiet but unrelenting. He made it clear he was not going away.

Maude looked up from where she was at the bed, carefully placing clothes into one of her bags. Her face was clear, only the tears collecting in the corners of her blue eyes betraying her. She roughly wiped them away. With a practiced ease, she moved to the door and opened it slowly, a broad smile on her face.

"Why Josiah," she intoned, "I did not expect to see you so soon. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Josiahís eyebrows shot upwards. He knew that Maude was good, but this was amazing. For a moment he actually questioned his ability to read people, but then he saw that some of her makeup was smeared near one eye. He looked past the façade and saw a woman on the verge of tears.

"I just thought you might want to talk, Maude," he whispered. Maude didnít flinch.

"Oh, Josiah, that is very sweet of you, but I am afraid that I am too busy at the moment. As you can see," she indicated the disarray in her room, "I am in the middle of packing and I was hoping on an early evening. I promise next time I visit you can take me out." She stepped back as if to close the door, but Josiah put his hand out.

"I donít mean talking about you and me, Ms. Standish. I meant talking about what happened at the saloon."

Maude kept her face turned away, not wanting Josiah to see the pained look that crossed her features. When she turned back, the smile was back on full wattage.

"Josiah, I realize that that ugly little scene may have seemed out of place for the moment, but I assure you it is not something that is new to me. I will persevere, and Ezra will come around. No need to worry."

"I am not sure heíll come around so easily this time," he replied, his eyes sinking into Maudeís with a pressure that was quickly throwing her off. Her smile fell some.

"Please Josiah, I would really like to be alone right now. Please." She could feel her walls crumbling quickly. She had to get him out of there before she actually started to do something sheíd regret Ė like cry.

Josiah read all this in her eyes. He warred with himself. Should he invade her space like this, and let her break down. Or should he leave, and allow her to retain the walls that held her psyche in. As he looked into her pleading eyes, begging him to leave, it suddenly occurred to him that this was not his place. Not yet. He hadnít won her over. If she broke in front of him, it might ruin anything they might possibly have someday. Plus, if she broke down now, she might never come back to Four Corners. Her walls are what allowed her to be with Ezra at all. Without them, fear of losing control on her tightly held emotions might prevent her from ever seeing him again. Josiah suddenly felt out of his depth. He couldnít solve her problems this night. Unhappily, he tipped his hat and silently turned away.

Maude shut the door after him, and leaned against the frame for support. She was shaking, but tears did not fall. Gamely, she bit them back and stood up. With a sigh of resignation, she returned to her packing. Her walls were quickly solidifying again. She amused herself by thinking about when she would return again, and a strange smile lit on her face.

_________________________

Chris banged loudly on Ezraís door for the third time, again with no answer. He was about to break it down when it swung open, revealing a still angry Ezra.

"Mr. Larabee, is there something I can do for you?" The words came out calmly, but the viciousness of the tone was not lost on the tall gunslinger. Chris raised an eyebrow, not about to daunted by the gambler.

"I have come to talk about what happened." He stated, simply.

Ezra grimaced, "Happened? Has something happened?" he asked.

Chris frowned, has something happened, he thought to himself, is Ezra that stupid? Then it occurred to him the gambler may not actually be thinking about the scene he had just had with his mother, but wondering if something had happened to the town. Shaking his head, Chris returned in even tones, "I was speaking of your mother."

"Oh, well, Mr. Larabee, I suppose I must apologize. That was very rude of me. I admit to not being completely in control of my emotions at that moment. It will not happen again, I assure you." With that, Ezra moved to shut the door. Chris immediately stuck a hand out to stop it. Ezra sighed.

"Mr. Larabee, this grows tiresome." He said, looking down at the floor. This was not a lie, for Ezra was indeed feeling extremely tired, as if someone had just stampeded a whole herd of cattle across his weary frame.

"No, Ezra, I am here to talk. I need to know what is going on." Chris said the words tightly, using some of his own constant state of rage to back up the demand. Ezra looked up at him, his brow furrowed, his green eyes searching Chrisí face.

"Why?" he asked suspiciously.

Chris hesitated. He didnít expect the question, though thinking back on it, he supposed he should have. He felt more than saw Ezra looking for the hidden motivations, the calculations, the deeper meanings behind Chrisís words. It was at that moment that Chris finally realized just how damaged Ezra was. He set his mouth in a hard line.

"Because, Ez, your Ďmere acquaintancesí are worried about you." He replied softly, and waited for the truth of the words to sink in. Ezraís anger faded a little, and his eyes lost some of their suspicious air. Still, he frowned.

"They neednít be," Ezra answered, the frown still in place. Puzzlement now joined with the wariness.

"Unfortunately, it is not something we can help." Chris replied. He watched as the walls containing Ezraís soul seemed to fluctuate. Uncertainty gripping at the poor manís heart. Then a decision was made. Ezra stepped back, and opened the door fully, his hand outstretched to allow Chris to enter.

The quiet gunslinger recognized the gesture, and a small fire of exultation lit in his chest. He didnít let this show, however, as he glided into the room and took the proffered seat by the window. Ezra then shut the door, and moved to the bed. Chris saw that Ezra had been cleaning his guns when he was interrupted, and now the gambler returned to his task. Chris supposed this was one of the many ways Ezra avoided thinking about what had happened.

Chris leaned forward, and reached for the six-shooter that Ezra normally kept only under his pillow. He had obviously just finished cleaning it, but had not yet returned it to its hiding place. The weapon was beautiful, with mother of pearl handles and E.S. engraved on the side. Ezra barely acknowledged the move. Silently, Chris admired the gun, understanding some why Ezra never wore it in public. It was simply too elegant. He opened it to look at the bullets. And hissed in surprise. Ezra looked up, his eyes placid, and watched the gunslinger.

Five bullets sat in the chamber, but the firing chamber held a rolled up bill. Deftly, Chris extracted it and stared dumbly at the C-note in his hand. He looked up at Ezra expectantly.

"For luck. And it means I donít accidentally blow my head off why I sleep since I keep in under my pillow," the gambler replied. Chris just raised an eyebrow as he rolled the bill back up to slide into the chamber.

"You donít see these very often around here. Tell me, How much money have you got stashed away, Ezra?" he asked, curious.

Ezra stopped polishing the tiny derringer in his hand, and smiled. Shrugging, he replied, "I donít really know. If I did, I am sure my mother would have taken it all away from me by now. Not knowing for certain means that she can never have the best of me." He shrugged again, and the gloom that had lifted some with Chrisí arrival descended once more. He returned to his polishing. Chris leaned forward.

"Do you really believe that?" he said. Truth be told, he was not totally certain what Ezra had meant by his answer, but the pain behind it was clear enough.

Ezra slowed in his movements. The anger that had raged within him earlier had almost completely dissipated in the cool night air, and replaced only with despair. How could he explain the effect his mother had on him? She had instilled in him from his childhood that no one could be trusted, and the result was that he couldnít even trust himself. He looked up at Chris, his leaderís face more open to Ezra than it had ever been, and swallowed, nodding resignedly. When Chris leaned back in the chair, Ezra looked back down at his guns, but didnít start cleaning them again. Chris shifted, then his eyes took on a far away expression.

"My mother died when I was twenty four," Chris began. "She was a hard woman, the result of being widowed at a fairly young age, my father dying when I was ten. Because of her wealth and position, she retained a life estate in our property despite the fact that my father had not written a will, although her ownership rights were constantly being questioned by the banks." He laughed a little as the memories washed over him. "When I was about thirteen, she met a man who swept her off her feet. He was middle class, like her, and a gentleman. He courted her, and treated me like his own son. He actually helped me learn how to become a better shot." Chris paused, his steel blue eyes clearly focused on ancient memories, and an odd smile crossed his face briefly. Then it was gone, and Chris turned his gaze back to Ezra.

"Then, on the day they were married, he changed. As soon as he became her husband, my motherís rights were completely gone. With the banks and the law to back him up, he was able to treat us like dirt. He put us up in a small house on the edge of the property, and left us on our own with only a small allowance. For a while, everything was quiet. Then, he started to send men out to assassinate me."

Ezra hissed, a little surprised but not totally shocked. He knew of such scams, and knew what liability a son held in such instances. If Chris were allowed to become of age, he could lay claim to at least half the property. The new husbandís ownership rights were only shared, not complete.

Chrisís eyes flashed at Ezraís reaction, then he let them drop back to his hands. "Luckily, my skills with a gun had grown good enough to keep me from being killed. The first couple of times, the bastards missed, and I even managed to take a few out. It was the first time Iíd ever killed someone." Chris shook himself, remembering the feelings he had felt at the time, then returned to his story.

"Finally, the third time, my step-father came himself. Threatened my mother and me in our own kitchen." He paused, and a slight smile crossed his features. "I donít think the bastard knew that, when he was teaching me to shoot while he courted my mother, he would be the recipient of those lessons first hand. By the time he came, I was faster than him. A lot faster." He shrugged, "But then, I had incentive."

"After his death, my mother and I moved back to the ranch and we waited for the day when I would be 18 and old enough to claim it myself. Her second husband also hadnít written a will, so the rights were vested in her once again. But my mother had changed. She was no longer simply hard, she was broken. She became mean with money, and never trusted anyone to take care of her or me. Every girl I saw, my mother would run off. She called them gold-diggers and cons, and told them to leave me alone. When I was sixteen, I couldnít take it anymore, and I left. Without money or any skills other than my speed with a gunÖ.Well, I guess I found my calling pretty quickly. I spent years just wading in darkness, barely keeping my head above water." He looked over the gun in his hands, feeling the cool pearl handle under his fingers.

"After a while I found Buck, or maybe, he found me, and I became a whole different person. He calmed me down, and life got better. Still, I thought I was done with women controlling my life. That was, until Sarah came." He paused, as a flash of pain from a different memory crossed his features, one much deeper embedded in his soul. But he didnít stop. Ezra just sat there, mesmerized. "I remember telling her about my mother, and Sarah demanding to meet her. I thought, why not. But even after years of not seeing her, my mother was the same. Sarah stood up to her barrage of insults, and, for a moment, I thought she got through. But my mother was long gone by this point." He sighed.

"After I married Sarah, my mother refused to ever speak to me again and cut me off from the ranch. I guess I could have challenged her, and probably won, but I didnít want the money. I thought I didnít even want her. So I left, and never spoke to my mother again. The next time I saw her, she was resting in a coffin." Chris exhaled slowly, signaling the end. He looked up at Ezra. The gambler was staring back at him wide eyed, silent.

Ezra shook his head little, still disconcerted with the confidence the gunslinger had just shared. He knew what it meant. Chris was giving him a piece of himself, indicating the trust he felt in the gambler never to abuse it. It was a greater trust than his mother had ever offered him. Hell, greater than anyone had ever offered him. He felt the need to give something back, but didnít know how.

"MyÖlifeÖ" the gambler began, his heart beating furiously, "wasÖa littleÖdifferent." Ezraís eyes burned, and he berated himself for being such a coward. But Chris simply nodded, and leant forward to place a hand lightly on Ezraís knee.

"I know. But it can change. You have us now. Do you get that?"

Ezra nodded dumbly, amazed that he did know. He blinked, and half smiled. Chris let a smile tug at his lips in response, and rose to leave. He picked up the pearl handled six-shooter and handed it back to the gambler. Ezra took it, and quietly placed it back under his pillow. He grinned sheepishly at Chris, then stood up to follow him to the door. As he opened it to let the gunslinger leave, he couldnít help but ask one more thing.

"Chris," Ezra paused, "does this meanÖthat you know I wonít everÖ"

"Run out when we need you? Yes, Ez. I know that as well. See you in the morning?"

"Yeah."

"Gínight then."

"Night," and the door was shut.

Chris slowly made his way back down into the saloon. It was empty now, except for the other four gunslingers and Josiah, who were all looking at their leader in anticipation. Chris could see from the preacherís face that the older man had failed to break through to Maude. In the background, Inez was quietly up ending chairs and placing them on the tables so she could start sweeping. As he approached the table, JD jumped up.

"Did you figure it out?" he asked. "I mean, is he going to be okay?"

Chris smiled as he approached the table, and slid into one of the vacant chairs. "No, JD, he didnít explain it to me. But, for all that, I think he is going to be just fine."

____________________________

The next morning, Ezra came bounding down the stairs at around eight in the morning. It was going to be a beautiful day, he mused, as the sun poured through the saloonís windows. He tipped his hat at Inez, who nodded back, and broke through the batwing doors to the outside.

"Gentlemen," he smiled, finding Josiah, Chris and Vin sitting at his doorstep. Across the way he could see Buck and JD hanging around the sheriffís office. Nathan, he presumed, was at the clinic. "And how are you all feeling on this glorious fall day?"

Chris and Vin smiled, and responded with "just fine" and "as well as can be expected." Josiah just shrugged. Ezra followed the big manís line of sight to the hotel opposite, and specifically to a curtained window on the second floor.

"Oh come now, Mr. Sanchez, donít you fret. I am sure she will be headed back this way soon to torment me again."

Josiah looked up, his face one of utter bafflement at Ezraís light tone. How could Ezra be so callous after what he said to her last night? He was about to say something when a female voice called from the self-same window he had been staring at all morning. Maude was leaning out, waving a handkerchief to get their attention.

"Yoo-hoo! Ah, there you are darling. I was wondering if you would like to have some breakfast with me. And then, do you think you could be a dear and help me with my bags?"

"Of course, mother," Ezra replied happily. "Iíll be right up." And without further ado, the gambler sauntered quickly across the street and into the darkened interior of the structure.

Josiah just sat there completely slack-jawed. Chris and Vin merely looked at each other, shrugging. At that moment, Nathan wandered up and stood there, his hands on his hips. He, too, had just witnessed Ezraís bounce as he headed for the hotel.

"I just do not understand," the healer stated.

"No," Chris replied, leaning back in his chair, pursing his lips into a smile. "But better get used to it."

JD and Buck strolled across, and saw everyone looking over at the hotel. Muted laughter, Maudeís and Ezraís, drifted down from the second story. JD raised his eyebrows at Buck, and the taller man simply shrugged. They joined the rest of the men on the saloon stoop. At that moment, Ezra peaked out the window and smiled to see them all watching him. He waved jovially, then vanished.

"Chris?" JD asked as he got closer, his eyes still riveted on the hotel. "What about what happened last night? I mean, he was so angry. People just donít recover that fastÖ." The young man stopped, lifting his hat from his head so that he could scratch at his hair.

Chris just shrugged, remembering Ezraís words, and replied matter-of-factly, "Some people are just a little different, JD."

End.