by MMW

Part of The Friendship Collection

Notes: 1) I actually deliberately misquote G. D. Prentice in this ficlet. The original quote is "A friend you have to buy won't be worth what you pay for him." I actually misread it when I was skimming through quotes and thought it said what Maude says in this piece, which is why this scene is written the way it is. Reading the quote correctly gave me a second and much different idea for a scene, so you might see this quote again. 2) Many thanks to Marnie for her help with this.

Ezra sat looking across the restaurant table at his mother wondering how he could possibly be the offspring of this woman. Things hadn't been this bad at the FBI, but then, at the FBI he hadn't had friends like he did now and had always been willing to head off on her little adventures. Maude's current gambit was to try and convince her son that the six men he worked with were not, in fact, his friends, but people who would use him.

"I mean, honestly, darling," she said, taking a sip of her wine, "you can’t have me believe you’re helping out at Mr. Larabee’s ranch for free?"

Counting to five, Ezra tried his best to keep his anger out of his voice. "Yes, Mother, that is exactly what I would have you believe."

"Well then certainly there must be some angle you're working..." she tried, desperate to believe her son hadn't thrown away everything she had taught him about how people only used you and friendship was nothing but a dupe. Her own life experiences had taught her that the hard way and she wanted to protect her baby boy from suffering the same heartache she had.

"No, Mother," the ATF agent snapped, tired of defending his friends and his actions to his mother. In all his life he was never as happy as he had been these past eight months in Denver. Once the eclectic group of men had broken through his emotional defenses, he had discovered that everything he had been brought up to believe about friendship was false. "I am not working any angle. I am not working on conning these men. I am not going to be betrayed by them nor am I going to use and betray them for any reason."

Maude's lips pinched together into a line. "Now, Ezra," she said, her voice hard and worried, "Don't you forget what I always told you - friends are only worth what you pay for them."

Ezra snorted. "Yes, Mother. How could I forget? You seem to take great pleasure in repeating yourself."

"I'm just trying to look out for you, son," the blond woman replied, somehow knowing that Ezra just wasn't seeing it that way. She could only hope he would wake up and realize the truth of his situation before he got hurt. "How much have you paid for your friends?" she asked in a sudden inspiration.

"Nothing, Mother," Ezra replied, his voice tight with anger, offended by the intimation he could only have friends if he bought them. "Absolutely nothing."

"Well, there you go," Maude said, feeling she had trapped him into supporting her point. "You paid nothing for them and that makes them worthless."

At this statement, Ezra finally saw through his anger and, for once, saw the pain his mother hid so well. His feelings of rage and insult leaving him, Ezra was only left with a feeling of sadness and pity that his own mother had suffered such a blow in life that she would give up on friendship altogether. Standing, he pulled out his wallet and dropped enough money on the table to pay for both of their dinners before meeting her eyes. "No, Mother," he replied, his voice filled with sorrow for the still seated woman. Returning his wallet to his pocket, he finished, "It makes them priceless.”

Tired of the conversation, Ezra turned, walked away from his dumbstruck mother, out to his car and headed off toward Chris' house where the others were already gathered, wishing only that someday Maude would be able to have what he did - true friendship.