Author's Note: Originally published in Let's Ride #11, from Neon RainBow Press. Standard fanfic disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law -- these aren't my characters. I'm just borrowing them for, um, typing practice. Yeah, that's it, typing practice. They will be returned (relatively unharmed) to their original owners. Just a vignette.

Auld Lang Syne

(alternate title: The Photograph)

by Susan M. M.

an M7 story from Let's Ride #11

Ezra Standish rocked slowly. He'd always been fond of the theater, and sitting in his rocking chair in front of his window, he had a free show. Sometimes drama, sometimes comedy – observing his fellow citizens of Four Corners, Arizona Territory, it seemed that tragedy and farce predominated.

The dark-haired young gambler turned his head when he heard a knock on the door. "Yes?"

"It's Nathan," the healer announced himself.

"Come in, Mr. Jackson." Ezra returned his derringer to its sleeve holster.

The door opened. Nathan Jackson, a tall, slender Negro, stepped inside, a book in his hand. "Just come to return that book ya lent me."

"Thank you, Mr. Jackson. And what did you think of Mr. Twain's endeavor?"

"I –" Nathan had been about to ask some questions about the book. He hadn't learned to read until he was nearly a man, and there were a lot of words he didn't know. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. He stared at Ezra's chest of drawers.

Ezra looked to see what had distracted his colleague.

A silver picture frame sat on the bureau. It enclosed a photograph of a much younger Ezra Standish, clad in the uniform of a Confederate officer.

Nathan stared at the picture without saying a word.

Ezra's usual glibness deserted him. He considered ignoring Nathan's gaze and turning the conversation to the book. He debated for a second telling the truth – that he'd never served in the Confederate army, that he'd only worn the uniform to avoid being drafted. Of course, the uniform had come in handy for several scams, as well as impressing patriotic southern belles. He quickly decided against that. Nathan might forgive him for having been a Rebel soldier – indeed, he'd half expect it of any southern gentleman of Ezra's age. But the gambler strongly suspected he'd lose what little respect the healer had for him if he confessed that he hadn't had the courage of his convictions to fight for his country. It had been more realism than cowardice; it had been obvious to anyone who paid attention to current events that it would be nearly impossible for the south to defeat the north. Ezra Standish did not waste his time – nor risk his tender flesh – on longshots.

After a long moment, Ezra explained truthfully, "My Great-Aunt Beatrice passed on recently. My cousin found that among her effects and forwarded it on to me." He looked up at the ex-slaved. Carefully faked sincerity shone from his green eyes as they met and held Nathan's brown eyes. "It was a long time ago, Mr. Jackson."

Silence hung heavy between the two southerners.

"You're right, Ezra. It was a long time ago," Nathan agreed. He swallowed, then forced himself to continue in as normal a voice as possible. "Had a question or two I wanted to ask ya."

Ezra suppressed a sigh of relief. A year or two ago, he would never have guessed that keeping the respect of an ex-slave would be so important to him. But then, a year or two ago he would never have guessed that an ex-slave would be his friend.