Guard Down by 

Disclaimer: I will be forever grateful to those who created Magnificent Seven; I claim no rights and make no profit.

Old West; a little epilog to Witness that spawned after the last time I watched the episode.

Notes: This is just a little PWP, Maude's thoughts after she leaves her son at the end of Witness.

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"Now you be careful with that luggage, that's genuine French leather!" she barked out with a gruffness that didn't become a lady.

Maude accepted a hand as she entered the stagecoach. She wasn't even certain who had assisted her; she was too busy fighting back the tears. Settling on one of the padded benches, she was glad to see that she was alone in the coach.

Retrieving a plain, muslin handkerchief from her bag - she would never actually use the lace one - she dabbed at her eyes.

She didn't deserve it.

She didn't deserve the look she had just seen in her son's eyes.

She didn't deserve his love.

Her visit to the little backwater town where Ezra had decided to settle -- for now, she insisted silently -- hadn't gone as she had planned. She had expected to find him busy working the angles, using the grifter's tricks she had shown him. She had expected to talk her son into going back out on the conman's circuit with her. There were several opportunities she had heard about that could leave them as rich as Midas. He had always been quick, able to recognize the fastest ways to net them the highest profit. With her son, working the angles had become an art form. She had been proud to be his mother.

But what had she found?

Her son, ensconced in a town that could scarcely support a single bank. A town who's citizens eked out a meager living from the land. A town made up of those strong and staid, humble and proper people who she scarcely paid attention to when she was on the... when she was relocating. And here he was, for all intents and purposes one of their number.

Good lord, they even knew his name!

They knew his name, and they seemed to trust him. They even called on him to assist them. And he responded to that trust... responded to that call.

What had happened?

And, the way he had spoken to her. He had actually denied her the chance to work one or two of her easiest cons. Had ordered her!

She had decided to spend some time with blonde woman... Mary Travis, wasn't it? Despite his denial, that there was anything to it other than business, she thought perhaps her son had fallen for the woman's charms. After all, why else would he be so willing to ride off in search of the woman's child? From what she had seen, there wasn't enough money in the entire town to be worth that much discomfort.

And yet, there he was, riding out of town with those unwashed - penniless! -- heathens he was now spending his time with.

Where had she gone wrong?

She continued to stay with Mary, uncertain as to what she should say or do. She tried to comfort the woman with some of the stories from Ezra's childhood, wanting to let her know that children could survive many unpleasant experiences. But nothing seemed to help. Talking about her son's childhood brought back some of the thoughts she had learned long ago to ignore.

"Raised me? You raised me? Come now, Mother..."

Those words burned through her, forced her to examine a life best left in the darkness of the past.

She hadn't been there for her son. Hadn't been there to comfort and console him. Hadn't been there to share his triumphs or his tragedies. Unless of course it was one of those times she had needed him.

No, not even those times.

When she had taken him with her, it had been for no longer than she needed him.

What had she taught him?

How to play the blind, begging, orphan. The child prodigy. The child evangelist. She had taught him how to feign injury, how to twist a crowd around his little finger. She taught him how to count cards, deal from the bottom of the deck, and to palm cards even before his hands were big enough to hold them.

What more had she taught him?

To be polite to relatives so far removed that they were no more familiar than strangers on the street. To be quiet, so those relatives wouldn't ask her for more money when she - finally - came back to claim him.

Each time she did, she had diligently ignored the changes she observed in him. Ezra was always a bit more reserved and polite toward her, and far less loving. By the time he was ten, they were more business associates than mother and son.

And, at the time, she had been proud. He was becoming the son she wanted him to be; witty, intelligent and quick. She dreamed of him becoming her partner, the two of them traveling the world, bilking the slow witted and unsuspecting of their money.

To be a grifter and conman she could be proud of.

She was proud of him, but not for those reasons.

She quickly saw a strength in him that she could scarcely define. But finally she recognized it for what it was. Honor and loyalty. Two words she only knew as traits to be profited from. Where had he learned those?

"Unless, of course, you needed me for a con..."

That was, of course, the only time she ever gathered her son from wherever she had left him. She could remember him crying those few times the relatives had treated him well. She couldn't remember him crying for her when she left him. At least not, after he was out of diapers. She could remember him crying as she firmly whisked him away, ignoring his pleas to be allowed to gather what meager belongings he had. She promised to buy him new clothes, new toys. She didn't think about his attachment to those things he already had. Attachment wasn't something she understood.

Until now.

She saw the look in the Travis woman's eyes, the fear for her missing son. The longing to hold him once more. The love she felt for the child she had carried, given birth to, and raised.

She knew the boy was visiting; had ridden in with him on the stage and overheard his mother's words when she picked him up at the stop. But their relationship was so different from the one she had shared with Ezra. Mary Travis had been overjoyed to see her son; had rushed to meet him as he left the stage. There had been no talk of needing him for something, only of wanting him with her.

Of missing him.

Loving him.

Had she ever said those things to Ezra?

Had she ever meant them?

Perhaps her son was right. She was no better than a common stray, leaving her son to fend for himself... to live or die while she went in search of...


A better life?

More money?

The perfect con?

Another husband?

Or perhaps it had only been an escape from her duties. Would she have even known how to be a mother?

The sound of the stage door opening pulled Maude from her thoughts. She turned to find a very wealthy looking man climbing in, joining her inside the coach. She noted the cut of his suit, the diamond stud pinned to his cravat, and the shine of his manicure.

Pasting a coy smile on her face, Maude held out her hand demurely as she purred, "Well, hello. I'm so glad to be sharing this dreary ride with someone so distinguished."

The End

May 1, 2006