by MMW

Part of The Friendship Collection

Disclaimer: The characters of "The Magnificent Seven" belong to MGM, Trilogy, etc and are used here without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.

Notes: Many thanks to Phyllis for her beta work on this. This short piece is a follow-up to the episode "Sins Of The Past".

Eli Joe's body was at the undertaker's waiting for a pine box and a burial. In truth, Vin couldn't find it in himself to care one way or the other what happened to the man who had caused him so much pain.

Being a practical man, the Texan understood that Eli Joe's death would make it almost impossible to clear his name, but there had been no other choice on the roof. He knew that and hoped Chris would get over the guilt that had taken up residence in the blond's hazel eyes.

Heading down the boardwalk toward the saloon, he paused as he overheard part of a conversation.

"Well, I don't see how a mother could do something like that to her son, but as long as they keep it up, we'll be the winners," the first voice said.

It was the reference to Ezra and his mother that made the tracker pause. He knew that Ezra and Maude had one of the oddest relationships he'd ever seen, but this didn't sound good. Vin wondered exactly what had been going on in town while his own attention had been focused on his problems with Eli.

"Well," the second voice said, "we won't have much longer. Looks like Mrs. Standish has just about run her son out of business."

The mention of business brought an almost forgotten conversation to mind for Vin. He had been preparing to ride out on patrol when the gambler had approached him about an investment opportunity in a saloon. At the time, Tanner had seen the hope in his friend's eyes and knew this was more than just a scheme, it was a dream that Ezra hoped to realize. Unfortunately, the tracker had no money at the moment and had been unable to assist.

Now, Vin couldn't help but wonder what had come of that dream.

Making his way to the saloon, he pushed open the doors and found the place empty except for a lovely senorita behind the bar. Walking up, he ordered a beer and introduced himself. Before long, Inez was telling him everything she knew of the war between the Standishes.

Events conspired to keep Tanner from speaking to Ezra that night, but the next day, just as the stage was pulling out, Vin managed to catch up to his friend. "Hey, Ezra," he called as the gambler turned back into the saloon.

"Mr. Tanner," Ezra replied, pausing in the doorway so Vin could catch up.

"Just found out about what happened with you and your ma," Vin started. He watched the flicker of emotion play across the gambler's face before the man's impassive mask descended. "Can't tell you how much I appreciate you stepping away from all that to help me. I know this saloon was your dream."

Touched by the sentiment and reading true understanding in the blue eyes, Ezra sought the right words to say. Momentarily, they came to him, "Without friends, no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods." Seeing how deeply the quote had touched his friend, Ezra felt the need to move past this moment of understanding. With a shrug, he informed, "Aristotle." When the name seemed to mean nothing to Vin, he began to elaborate, "A Greek..." realizing that it really didn't matter, he turned, threw an arm over Vin's shoulders and guided him inside. "Never mind. Let me buy you a drink, my friend, while I tell you about a most lucrative opportunity that has arisen."

Vin chuckled softly, still feeling the warmth of Ezra's friendship and glad to see the gambler was getting over the loss of his dream. "Nothing's changed, Ez," he informed, a smile on his face. "I'm still flat broke."