Title: Embracing Who You Are

Author: Jourdana Standish

Summary: Ezra has a decision to make. Words he never thought to see may help him make it.

Author's Notes: This is a very short story as a "filler" piece between "Lies Become Unraveled" and its sequel, that I am currently working on. If you've not read LBU, this will probably be a bit confusing.

Spending time with his sister, his friends and the love of his life never left Ezra feeling tired or wishing for solitude, until tonight. There was a huge weight settling on his shoulders as he excused himself from the table. Mary and Inez both had given him questioning looks, but he shook his head to assuage their concern.

"Are you sure?" Inez asked softly, leaning in to hug him.

Ezra returned the hug easily, pulling back to give her a soft kiss. He nodded, resting his forehead against hers. "I'm sure," he said. "I shall see you tomorrow." She nodded, smiling softly as he pulled back.

Ezra glanced at the men, those who he now considered brothers after all they did to assist him and Mary. He gave them a slight two fingered salute. "Gentlemen," he said. As he passed his sister, he dropped a kiss on top of her head before making his way to the stairs.

Finally finding solace in his bedroom, Ezra stripped off his red jacket, hanging it up in his closet. His eyes got slightly distant as he worked at the cuff links, removing them from his shirt and instinctively setting them on the dresser. Beside the letter he had received late yesterday. His eyes refocused on the paper. Taking a breath, he picked it up and walked over to the rocking chair in his room. He sat down, propping his feet up on the ottoman he had acquired from Mrs. Potter after a mishap that left him in need of elevating a sprained ankle. She had insisted he keep it in case he needed it again, saying that all the men seemed particularly accident prone in their peacekeeper duties.

Carefully unfolding the paper, Ezra's eyes once again scanned the contents. He had been receiving regular letters from his aunt, Elizabeth Lambros, since she returned to her husband in Greece and since discovering that he was the long lost heir of the Ashford family. He had simply thought that this was another letter, till he opened it and found masculine scrawl across the page. Upon reading further, he discovered that his father had never truly given up the hope that he would be found alive as the letter was from him. Letting out a breath, he began to read again.

April 10, 1847

Dear Patrick-

I can't help but wonder if your eyes will ever see these words, my son. I hope in the depths of my heart that they will one day, though I know I should not hope so deep. It has been two long years since you vanished from our lives without a trace of where you could possibly be. Your mother and I think of you every day and we tell your little sister, Mary, all about you.

I am not a truly religious man, but I do believe in a higher being and I pray to that being often that these words will eventually reach you. That some miracle could occur that will bring you back to us. However, I have a sense of foreboding that I will never lay eyes upon you again. Not because you are gone, but because I will be. I do hope that I am wrong and we will get our miracle.

Should I never see you, my son, I want... need you to know that I am proud of you. It matters not what you had to do to survive; you are my son and I am proud of you. Life deals us hardships and obstacles and all that matters is what we do to overcome them. Sometimes they may not be considered the best by those who are particularly pious, but those who are without sin shall cast the first stone.

Patrick, anything you do in life, short of murder and robbery, is something to be proud of. You are living your life. You are surviving. Any father would be proud of that. I only hope that you are also loved, wherever you are.

I love you, son. I am proud of the man you are, even if I never see you. Embrace who you are and should you ever read this letter, know that your mother and I love you with everything we are. I hope that should you ever see these words that it means you were reunited with your family and your sister. Even if your mother and I can not see you again, know that we will always be watching over you.

Love, your Father

Ezra let his hands fall to his lap, the letter hardly forgotten but no longer his focus. He glanced upwards, wondering if they were, indeed, now looking down on him. Were they truly proud of the man he had to become in order to survive thanks to Maude? Would they truly be proud of the man that was condemning a member of his family so because of the hurt?

New beginnings... a time of new beginnings...

Ezra got to his feet and walked over to the dresser. He studied an old cameo he didn't have the heart to throw away. It was one of the few things Maude had given him of hers years ago. He brushed his finger over the cameo, his throat tightening. She deserved his anger. His and Mary's, but she didn't deserve to be turned away from her family. Even for letting a lie live for so long.

"I don't know if I have the strength to let go," he murmured. "Do I have the strength to really..."

His eyes shifted to the deed he had yet to sign. The Standish Tavern was his, paid in full, but he hadn't signed the deed yet. He didn't know if he could. The deed was in his birth name, probably an oversight on his aunt's part. He knew she would never push him to make a decision he may never be ready for, but now that he stared at the paper, he wondered if he would ever be ready if it had not been thrust before him.

And what of the saloon's moniker? It no longer held the appeal that it did before for Ezra. But he didn't want to name it The Ashford Tavern either. He blinked a moment. Suddenly the sound of The Ashford Tavern didn't have such a bad ring to it.

Ezra looked at himself in the mirror and for once, he really saw himself. Only it wasn't Ezra Standish staring back at him. He quirked an eyebrow at his reflection.

"A time for new beginnings, hm?" he murmured. His gaze fell to his father's letter once again, passing over Maude's cameo. His aunt's cameo.

"A time for new beginnings indeed," he said. He reached for the deed to the saloon. "I'll see about renaming the establishment tomorrow." He reached for the pen Mary had given him and dipped it into the ink well. He took only a moment to pause. Taking a deep breath, he finally made his choice and signed.

Ezra P. Ashford III