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A Matter of Timing [revised]

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Banner Image for story: A Matter of Timing by taibhrigh

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Ezra doesn't get drunk. At least not normally and Vin can count only three times in the two and half years the seven of them have been together. It's simply not good for a man in Ezra's line of work; for either of his professions --regulator or gambler. Plus, Ezra, unfortunately, can be a spiteful, mean-spirited drunk; and worse, he knows it.

Which is different from Chris, whose mood used to darken so much that not even Death would come knocking. Also Chris is ornery when he gets to the halfway mark --which is where he stops now-- and will threaten to shoot anyone who bothers him. Ezra on the other hand is more likely to start some type of altercation so he can finish his bender. This altercation will have guns being drawn and that's before he even starts talking. Which amazed Vin the first time, because for a man who normally formulates his speech into carefully constructed and very wordy sentences used to confuse most men, when Ezra’s drunk his mouth bypasses his brain altogether. For Ezra to drink enough to barely recall their conversation the next day means one of two things: he's either depressed, or embarrassed, or both.

Vin learned all this only after Ezra's mother had stolen the one dream Ezra had finally made real. He knows it had taken a lot of self-deliberation for Ezra to decide to stay in Four Corners after receiving the pardon from Judge Travis. Hell, if staying in one place was a foreign concept for him, then Vin has no doubt that Ezra had never even thought of the idea until arriving in this small town. But Ezra had decided to stay in Four Corners and make a go of it. But then Maude had swooped into town and destroyed it all because in her eyes Ezra had finally surpassed her. Could make an honest life without the scams and schemes. She'd taken his saloon, almost destroyed it, and then left town --and Ezra-- worse off than before she had arrived.

He’s almost sure the only reason Ezra had stayed in Four Corners after that was because of his six friends. And, likely, because he didn't know what else to do. He had become, well mostly, an upstanding resident of Four Corners. The travelling gambler and conman was his past.

He's changed a lot. Not that he still won’t fleece a visitor to his table who isn’t wise enough to stop playing cards, but now Ezra lets them leave with a few dollars in their pockets. And if Vin is honest with himself, all seven of them have changed to some extent since coming to Four Corners. They have each lent a part of themselves to the others. Their bonds of friendship, forged such as it is, makes them almost family in a way.

The second time Vin saw Ezra too drunk to be any good for them had been when he needed the other man to write something for him. It had been a disastrous moment for both of them. If he'd known Ezra had been drinking that heavily, Vin wouldn't have even thought to approach him. Ezra had apologized several times in the month after that incident. Had even helped him improve his reading and writing skills. Mostly his writing. While Mrs. Travis had helped him learn to read it was really Ezra who had taught him to write. Not that anyone but Chris knew that.

Since then Ezra has only gotten that drunk when Lutz had come into town. Vin knows that was partially his own fault for not having been there to side with Ezra. Unlike everyone else, he wouldn't have thought Ezra would just ride off with the money. Then again, he knew that Ezra had started saving to buy the hotel and saloon --and after a big card game in Eagle Bend could have bought one of them if he hadn't wanted to wait until he could own them both. Vin wishes he had been less enamored with the long gun to notice what was happening. To stop Buck and the others because the more they had poked at Ezra about the money, the more the idea became the one Ezra believed he had to follow.

Of the seven, he’s the closest one to Ezra even if they see the world in almost opposite lights. Though, if he was a betting man, which he isn't really, he'll say that Chris understands Ezra as well. It’s just that they can both rile each other up too easily --which is actually quite fun to watch.

This afternoon though, Vin had watched Ezra's mood change. His body language stiffen in response to others; and his tone was quick and sharp when he spoke. He was heading for the downward spiral that ended in the need to drink. He will say this, both Ezra and Chris have clear signs that someone needs to be there with them or they're going to get themselves too drunk to care what happens to themselves or those around them.

Ezra's spiral started just after lunch when the stage and mail had arrived. Apparently, Maude had wrote him a "missive" and Vin only knows that because that's what Ezra calls a letter that is more than two pages long. But still he had watched as Ezra had flipped through at least 3 sheets of paper before he crumpled them up. Only to smooth them out moments later and begin reading again. At last count this had happened four times, as Ezra crumpled and smoothed out the pages for a fifth time Vin now knew there were six pages in the letter and Ezra wasn't happy. He watched as the other man neatly folded the rumpled pages and returned them to their envelope. That's when Ezra finally left his spot in front of the jailhouse and headed to the saloon.

It only takes Vin a minute to get from the roof where he likes to watch the town and not be seen to get to the saloon.

He arrives just in time to see Ezra grab a bottle of the whiskey rotgut that he so hates and down three shots in quick succession before he even makes it to the table in the back corner that Chris normally haunts. Vin watches him throwback another two and pull a third that is now just sitting on the table waiting for him swig back.

It’s time.

He slides easily into the empty chair next to Ezra before taking the bottle and pouring himself a single shot in the glass that Inez offered him as he passed the bar. By doing this he’s also able to put the bottle out of Ezra's direct reach. A trick he knows works against Ezra but not Chris; as Ezra can’t be bothered to retrieve the bottle and Chris is more likely to glare you to death until you put the bottle back where it belongs. Which as Chris has found out, does not intimidate Vin so he rarely if ever gets the bottle back.

Vin doesn't immediately drink. Instead he rolls the shot glass between his index and thumb for a few moments. He uses that time to see just how far gone Ezra is because like Chris, they both have the functioning drunk thing down --not that he's going to say that to either of them; or even compare them vocally. He gives it another thirty seconds before tossing back the whiskey and then simply waits. He has more patience than any of the seven and it almost always pays off.

"Mr. Tanner."

"Ez."

"For a man who writes lengthy pieces of prose that allow others to participate in some portion of the passion or insight that has struck your fancy, you can be rather tight-lipped in actually speaking."

Vin only smiles at that comment since it’s mostly true.

"Use up your allotment of spoken words today?"

"Maybe."

"I see." And then Ezra is reaching for the full shot glass that is sitting in front of him.

Vin shifts in his chair so he can lean forward which puts him more into Ezra's personal space. "Only you can judge where and what is right for ya, Ez."

Ezra has the glass to his lips, but pauses and only a slight turn of his head has him looking at Vin instead of the liquid in the glass. "Are you not wishing to know what my good mother has written?"

"Nope." With that Vin moves back in his chair and stretches out his leg. "Your business. But don't blame me when I punch ya and dump ya drunk ass upstairs when you get too far gone."

"Why?"

There are so many ways Vin could interpret that question. He waits a minute to give his answer, slouching down into the chair and moving his hat to cover his eyes. "That's what friends are for."

With a quiet sigh Ezra lowers the glass back to the table. "I am beginning to wonder," Vin hears him say, "if our little town is not fully seated in reality."

Vin smiles at that thought as he too has wondered that very thing a time or two. "Maybe," he says in agreement. "But where else would you rather be?"

He hears Ezra laugh. "Where else indeed," Ezra replies. "Here is just fine."

~end~