Know When To Fold
(M7/Highlander AU)

by Marns
aka Bumpkin

Disclaimer: Not mine... 'The Gambler' belongs to Kenny Rogers and Don Schlitz, however they worked it out.
Rated: PG
Author's Note: I want to thank strangevisitor7 for being a total lifesaver and betaing this for me. :-) She did a stunning job and any errors that might remain are totally my fault.
Description: AU M7/Highlander 'verse's meld. The other half of the coin - or story if you will. Ezra's view on the split and missing time as well as the reunion.

Back to: Out Of Aces

Ezra looked over his new and improved 'Standish Tavern' and wondered whatever had possessed him to build the silly thing.


His eyes roamed over his establishment as he thought that, from the looks of things, that might just have been the case. It seemed that he had subconsciously had been yearning for times past while renovating his newest property - however unintentional it might have been from the outset. Looking around critically, he considered his surroundings. The layout and appearance of the public area of his latest investment now matched those of the Saloon he'd purchased so long ago, and owned for such a brief time, back in Four Corners, while the actual building housing it was a far cry from that same Saloon that you could get.

Well, the interior mostly matched. Ezra had to concede he'd made a few changes - nods to modern conveniences and all that. He would have been a fool not to avail himself of them, no matter what kind of rustic and sentimental ambiance he was looking to recreate. Plus he'd fixed a few things that had irked him from back then, things he wanted to fix then but hadn't ever really had a chance to.

The first of the changes was of the last type. It was deceptively simple too, and one he was sure his absent companions would have approved of. Instead of that god-awful plunking piano they'd had to suffer through whenever someone had called for what anyone with taste, or perhaps just more than two brain cells, could only euphemistically call music in the old days, Ezra had put in a small stage to hire 'real' musicians. Ones that actually knew how to carry a tune, and at a volume that didn't make his customers' ears bleed.

The second was that he'd partially walled off the 'gaming' section, with the option of it being fully walled off if needed. Other than those two changes, the place was pretty much a blast from the past with the rest of the alterations being mostly the materials used and of course electricity.

The only things missing for it to be complete were the other six men he used to ride with and Inez behind the bar. That and it's name since, of course, he hadn't called it the 'Standish Tavern' when he'd gotten around to giving this moment of insanity a needed name. That would have been in rather poor taste, besides being entirely unsuitable. Plus there was the fact that it was likely like every other time he'd used the name, it would have probably caused him some bad luck in the long run. And as it was just off the main drag in Vegas it hardly would have fit - not amidst all the glitter of the Strip.

He suppressed a snort of amusement at his own foolishness. There were some benefits to being as old as he was, he could always see the folly of peoples' actions - including his own. No matter how long-lived you were, at the base you were still human and that was something that his 'mother' Maude had been very insistent to drum into him, how humanity as a whole was rather ridiculous. A truth that bore out even back when the Romans were still at full strength and in the middle of their bid in taking over what was now Europe. It was then that Ezra and Maude had both come into their Immortality.

No, age and wisdom didn't stop him from making foolish decisions and choices of his own, as this 'Tavern' of his clearly exhibited. He wasn't exempt, like any of the other older Immortals out there. Not that you could get many to admit to that he thought wryly. Great age did not automatically mean great wisdom. His little adventure back in that dusty backwater of Four Corners was proof enough of that - but, it had been over a century since he had spent two years in that town with the other six men who, along with himself, had been tagged with that god-awful moniker, 'The Magnificent Seven'. Shouldn't he have stopped missing them by now?

Well, the fact that they all had been pre-immortals might have a bit to do with his preoccupation, wondering how they had fared in the time after he'd left - that and ultimately he hadn't left under the most auspicious of circumstances in the end. Things could have gone better that was for sure, but it was no use crying over spilt milk - especially not now when it would have long curdled and clotted.

His woolgathering was derailed as he caught the end of the young entertainer's introduction to the song he was about to sing:

"...a little gambler wisdom as it were, and it goes something like this."

He stifled a groan as the song started and fought the urge to fidget where he stood. He had no idea what he'd been thinking during that long summer night when he'd first spotted the young man who was now entertaining his customers. Or why he'd spoken to him. He'd certainly never thought his words of wisdom to the young man, Donny, would have been immortalized in song, or that the song in question would have become so popular so fast. It was embarrassing.

Casting his mind back to the night in question Ezra recalled how the young man had been sitting, hugging his guitar case to his chest and staring out the train's window looking utterly and completely depressed. The despondency had almost been literally dripping off him and in some ways he had reminded Ezra of another lost young man who'd needed just a bit of guidance to flourish. So he'd sat down and after a bout of silence he'd offered up his words of wisdom, couched in a way that he hoped would get the message across. That and some large swigs from his flask, hoping that the booze would ease the gloom a bit. It had. Comforted, the young man had fallen asleep soon afterwards and Ezra had made his escape.

That of course didn't explain why he had offered the kid a chance to play on the stage here at his bar when he ran into him a few years later. Or why he had felt it necessary to explain why he was doing it to Donny. He had been thankful that the kid had been easy-going enough to accept his not very informative explanation of having known another kid like him who'd just needed a foot in the door to make good on their dream. Thankfully his prediction had been proven true as the young man had just been signed off on a contract (one that Ezra had gone over with a fine toothed comb of course) just the other week. He just wished it wasn't that song that had captured everyone's fancy so.

The noise level in the bar rose exponentially and Ezra realized with a start that he had woolgathered throughout the remainder of Donny's set. He consciously focused himself into the present as he thought wryly, 'Ah, the perils of being as old as I am, it's all too easy to get lost in the memories.' He chastised himself for the lapse as he made his way across the back of the bar towards the gaming room, feeling the need suddenly to get a hand or two of poker in. He still hadn't really gained his focus back at that point yet, so when he was hit by a massive accumulative 'buzz' out of the blue it set him even further off balance. Certainly he'd known there were other Immortals in the area, maybe even in his bar, but he'd been doing his best to keep his own quickening leashed and pulled in which always made him less sensitive. This was of course how he was accosted like he had been when he'd almost reached the entrance to the gambling area. A wall of men formed alongside of him as they spoke:



"Hey, Ez."


They had his attention; his shock and amazement too. They'd made it, they were all there - all six full Immortals now. He wanted to crow with the joy he felt but would never show. He pivoted slightly on his heel in order to take them all in. Starting at Vin and Chris, he kept looking down the line of familiar faces to see Buck next, JD beside him, with Nathan and Josiah like the anchors their personalities had always felt like at the end of the line. Really, he'd never expected to see the six of them again. He was stunned they were all there, and that they all seemed genuinely happy to see him - as happy as he was to see them. Speech had deserted him for a moment and all he could do was stare. But soon enough he had managed to pull himself together and dryly observed, "Well, I guess congratulations are in order boys - as against all odds I see you've all managed to stay ahead of the 'Game'."

All six faces of his erstwhile comrades twisted as they raised a general hue and cry of, "Hey!" and "Put downs already?".

On to: Know When To Run

On a warm summer's evenin' on a train bound for nowhere,
I met up with the gambler; we were both too tired to sleep.
So we took turns a starin' out the window at the darkness
'Til boredom overtook us, and he began to speak.

He said, "Son, I've made my life out of readin' people's faces,
And knowin' what their cards were by the way they held their eyes.
So if you don't mind my sayin', I can see you're out of aces.
For a taste of your whiskey I'll give you some advice."

So I handed him my bottle and he drank down my last swallow.
Then he bummed a cigarette and asked me for a light.
And the night got deathly quiet, and his face lost all expression.
Said, "If you're gonna play the game, boy, ya gotta learn to play it right.

You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.

Now ev'ry gambler knows that the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
'Cause ev'ry hand's a winner and ev'ry hand's a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep."

So when he'd finished speakin', he turned back towards the window,
Crushed out his cigarette and faded off to sleep.
And somewhere in the darkness the gambler, he broke even.
But in his final words I found an ace that I could keep.

You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.

Author's Note: Don Schlitz (born August 29, 1952 in Durham, North Carolina) is an award-winning country music songwriter. His first hit as a professional songwriter was 'The Gambler' which became a crossover country hit upon its release in 1978, and then later became one of Rogers' signature songs. He has since penned other hits for other artists, including 'Forever and Ever, Amen' by Randy Travis and 'When You Say Nothing at All' by Keith Whitley.

If you enjoyed this story, we're sure that Marns would love to hear from you.

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