A Boy Needs
(Little Ezra - Old West)
Disclaimer: I don't own them, or the show they rode in on. I wrote this for fun, and no profit is made from it.
Archive: Twyla's Very Simple Magnificent Seven Page, Starwinder's, You Want Fries With That?, and The All-Ezra FanFic Archive --- all others, please ask. Some of these stories were posted originally on the Ezra's Littleverse list, and hence also on its archive.
Summary: Ezra and Chris settle some things.
Warnings: Ezra is a little boy, all the rest of the Seven are their adult selves.
Author's Note: Dear Reader, there stories are listed as they were written rather than in a timeline of the series itself. I am writing as the mood strikes and fitting in my small pieces helter-skelter. If the series is ever completed, I shall attempt a timeline for the stories. For now, as I publish, I shall try to note if the story doesn't follow sequentially with the preceding ones.
Completed: 12 April 2003
Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org welcomes comments
Back to: Making Magic
Ezra slowly licked the frosting off his finger, savoring the sweet taste. He quietly looked up at Mrs. Potter, finger still firmly inside his mouth, cheeks hollowed with his sucking of the final remnants of sweetness.
"You like that, hum?" Gloria smiled down at the shy child. She hadn't been able to get him to say much directly to her yet. Even now, with just the two of them in her kitchen while her own children were out picking apples in the preacher's orchard, Chris' boy was nearly wordless.
Ezra nodded, reluctantly pulling the now clean finger free from his mouth. He looked down at the spotless bowl that had held the remains of the icing mix Mrs. Potter had made for her apple cake. The drizzly white confection had been poured over the cooled flat cake and he'd been given the bowl with directions to 'enjoy.' It was like being back in Madame Obigjeway's kitchen at the manse. His eyes lightened at the memory of the Madame. She always let him have the broken gingerbread cookies, and there seemed to be several in each batch she baked. Ezra's eyes went back to the kind face of Gloria Potter.
"I need to wash these bowls and pans now, Ezra. Would you like to help?" Gloria wondered why the boy hadn't wanted to go with her two as they eagerly trotted off with baskets, ready to climb the apple trees and pick more red fruits.
"Yes, please, ma'am." Ezra took up the dishtowel and stood ready. He accepted the now washed bowl and carefully dried it, then set it on the big worktable. The two worked in companionable silence, the work made the faster for the helping hands.
A knock at the back door had Gloria swinging around to look, catching sight of Ezra's suddenly pale face as the little boy backed towards the corner of the room, away from the door. He was staring at it in concentration, face expressionless, hands fisted. Oh, my. She crossed to the door and found Vin Tanner there, hat in hand. Relief washed over her, then uncertainty at why she'd been concerned. The look from little Ezra returned to her mind's eye. Oh, yes.
"Ma'am? Chris told me to fetch Ezra out to his place." Tanner stood solidly on the stoop, his frame square and strong against the backlighting of bright sunshine.
Gloria smiled at him, one of the town's protectors. "He's right in here." She turned, mouth opening to call to the boy when she realized she could no longer see him. "Well, he was here." Puzzled, she stepped back inside, leaving the door open in a silent invitation for the tracker to follow. "Ezra?" she called softly.
Tanner stepped into the warm, moist room, the happy smells of baked cake and sweet frosting in the air. His sharp eyes scanned the room quickly, spotting the crouched figure easily. "Ez, just me." He strolled in as if finding the small boy cowering in the corner of Gloria Potter's big kitchen was an everyday occurrence. Rather than watching the boy slowly unwind from his crouch, Vin turned back to Mrs. Potter and gave her that small sheepish smile that had melted many a feminine heart in Four Corners. "Don't suppose you have any bits of that crumb cake left over, do you, Ma'am?"
Gloria, sharply aware of the small figure slowly rising in the corner, followed Mr. Tanner's lead and smiled back. "Oh, yes, the cake I'd made for the church social yesterday? I did save some squares of it. I think I can manage to split one for you and Ezra, if you like?"
"Yes, ma'am, that'd be mighty fine," Vin paused, and without looking, added, "wouldn't it, Ez?"
A small hand slipped into his. "Yes, sir, Mr. Vin. Yes, please, Mrs. Potter."
The child and man sat side by side at the big table and Mrs. Potter smiled upon them as they ate the small cake offerings with delicate fingers picking at the crumbs. Eyes focused, blue and green, concentrated on the treat. As the last crumbs were plucked from the small white crockery plates, the clear eyes rose and smiled back at Gloria. She caught her breath at the looks of innocent happiness in both sets of eyes. Such dears. "Now, no need to clean up since Mr. Larabee is waiting for you." She made shooing motions with her apron caught up in her hands.
Ezra looked up enquiringly into Vin's face. Tanner glanced down and smiled at the boy. "No worries, Ez, Chris just thought you'd like to see some new stock he got in. Has it out at the ranch."
Vin always called Chris' shack and land, 'the ranch.' A rather grand honorific for the simple spread, but Ezra liked the way it sounded and so never objected. "Really?" He swallowed a burst of words that wanted to fly out, full of questions, guesses, wonder. Instead, he politely looked over to Mrs. Potter. "Ma'am, is it alright with you if I depart?"
Gloria smiled, "Of course, you go on, young man, and thank you for all your help today."
"My pleasure, Mrs. Potter." Ezra stood up and bowed slightly, as genteel a little man as she'd ever seen.
Vin laid a hand on one narrow shoulder and squeezed lightly. "Let's go, Ez. Thanks, Ma'am. Cake was right tasty."
Stepping out into the sunlight, still guiding the boy with one hand, Vin thought about Ezra's reactions when he'd gone calling at Mrs. Potter's back door. Unexpected. His calling, Ez's reaction. Best let Chris know. They were all worried about their boy, but since Chris had taken him in, they all thought of the boy as Chris' first, then theirs. Right now, Vin figured just let go of the moment and wait. He guided Ezra over to Peso's side. The tall horse stood waiting, ground hitched behind Potter's store and home.
The dark haired boy swung around to look up in excitement at Vin. "I'm going to ride on Peso with you?" he breathed out in a whisper.
The look of sheer wonder was enough to make Vin want to hug the little guy. He grinned and nodded, "Sure thing, Ez." He caught the boy under both arms and lifted him up into the saddle as Peso shifted his feet. Vin picked up the reins from the ground and handed them up, around Peso's neck, to Ezra to hold. The boy grasped them firmly and sat waiting. Vin hopped up behind the boy and looped one arm around the child as he took up the reins from Ezra with his free hand.
Clucking Peso into a slow walk, they moved out of the alley and up the main street, both heads bobbing acknowledgment as they moved past JD at the jail, then Buck leading his Gray into the livery, just back from patrol. Vin was pleased when the small body in front of him relaxed, nearly boneless, against him. It never ceased to amaze him how much Ezra trusted the Six, and how little he trusted the rest of the world.
Deciding that maybe he could help Chris out, he quietly asked, "You want to talk about it?" Instantly taut, the boy's body sat forward, away from him. "Ezra? Only if you want to."
Silence for a few clopping steps of Peso's shod hooves, then, "Mr. Vin, I'm sorry. Please don't tell Chris."
"I gotta do that, Ez. He worries about you. Wouldn't be right not to tell him."
The boy's shoulders rose in a deep sigh. Without turning around to look up at Tanner, Ezra started to speak, still sitting erect and forward in the saddle. "I thought it might be Mamon returned for me."
"Ez, your mother is out there lookin' for you? And you didn't tell us?"
"She does not look for me. Not until she needs me to work for her again." The tired sound to the words was defeated and Vin wondered about this faceless woman. "I don't want to go back with her, Mr. Tanner. I want to stay with all of you and with Chris." The admission was said in deep misery, Vin could actually feel the despair in the tones. "When she comes, I shall have to go. I thought it was her, at the door this morning."
Vin hugged Ezra, one-armed and leaned down. "Pard, you don't have to go anywhere you don't want."
"It's not that easy." Ezra's voice was quiet and flat. Then he twisted in his seat on the saddle and looked up at Vin Tanner, his green eyes glistening with unshed tears. "Please, don't tell Chris."
"He needs to know, Ezra." Vin dropped his head so that their foreheads touched for just a moment. "Old Chris is a smart man, he'll figure out something. He loves you."
There was no answer for a while, then the little boy spoke, facing forward again, as if talking to Peso's head. "I'll tell Chris."
"Thanks, Ez, you're doing the right thing." Vin hugged the boy, unoffended that the child didn't want to tell him also. This was a matter for father and son. Even if they weren't blood, they were same as.
The beat of Peso's thudding hooves, as he cantered into the clearing, alerted Chris to Vin's arrival with Ezra. He came away from the corral and up to the porch in front of his shack to greet them. He could tell right away that something was wrong. One look into Vin Tanner's eyes and he knew better than to speak on it. He simply waited, as relaxed as he could be with this new alert, and watched as Ezra slid with Vin's guiding hand, from Peso's saddle. Once the child's feet hit the dirt, he turned and looked up at the tall gunman, not a fidget in sight. Times like these, Chris automatically compared the boy to Adam, his own dead son. Adam would have run pell-mell up to his daddy. But, Ezra wasn't Adam. Ezra was Ezra, a very proper, reserved young feller who managed to be extremely intelligent, very sensitive, and wonderfully loving in an understated way. His boy. Maybe not his son, not yet anyway, but definitely his boy. He smiled a greeting and Ezra's face lightened without actually smiling back.
"Ezra." Larabee looked up at Tanner who was dismounting but not coming forward. He sent a silent question.
Vin smiled lightly. Everything was alright. "Thought I'd let you two be, now that Ez is back where he belongs." The emphasis on the last was not lost on man or boy. "Gonna head on up to Kojay's. Be back tomorrow." With that, Tanner remounted his horse and gave a final nod to Chris. Talk to the boy, Larabee. Something's not right.
Chris nodded back. "See you then." Yep, can see something's troubling him. I'll be careful.
Chris turned to the small figure standing so nonchalantly in the yard. "Hope Vin getting you out here didn't interfere too much with what you were doing with Mrs. Potter?"
Ezra shook his head. "No, sir."
Chris sighed. Still got a long way to go. Maybe this will help. "Got something for you, Ezra."
Eyes brightened, head came up, "For me?" Then the small face clouded over. "But, there is no reason. I do not need anything. You have already been very generous." Chris could see good manners and wistful thoughts collide in that one small child.
"You come with me," he said, firmly. Holding out his hand, he stepped off the porch.
Ezra beat down the hope and joy that seemed to always spring up when Chris offered his hand. The closeness was so wonderful, he cherished each time, holding the memories tightly in his heart. Mamon never touched him that way. If she had to hold his hand, it was for show, or to drag him off somewhere. Maude simply didn't like touching, not Ezra anyway. He reached up and accepted the large, calloused hand around his.
They walked slowly, side by side around the corner of the shack. "Something wrong, Ezra?" Chris spoke quietly.
Ezra stopped walking and looked up to meet questioning hazel eyes. "I was startled when Vin came to Mrs. Potter's back door. Vin thought I should tell you that."
"That you were startled?"
Green eyes took on a guilty look, shifted to look down at the ground. Chris dropped to one knee beside his boy. "Ezra?"
"I hid." Shamed eyes met Chris' and became damp. "I thought it was Mamon."
"You thought your mother was coming for you? And you hid?"
Ezra nodded slowly, not looking up.
"Ezra." Green eyes came up hesitantly, met hazel again. "Ezra, Maude's your ma, isn't she?" That mystery had never been solved for Chris, though he'd had his suspicions. Only he and Buck had ever seen the woman, them and Guy Royale.
"Yes." The word was barely a breath of sound.
"She up and left you. Why do you think she'd be back?"
"She always is." Ezra stopped, then decided to confess all. "When she needs to use me again."
"Use you?" The words were very still. Chris tried to remain steady, though his anger was instant.
"I'm good at poker." Ezra paused and searched the placid face in front of him. Even though Chris' expression hadn't changed, Ezra sensed that the man was angry. "She and I are good at getting money that way. And sometimes, sometimes I help by just being her son. You know, being cute and quiet, polite."
Chris was appalled. He'd seen the woman, seen her in action with Royale, heard about Buck's encounter and Royale's later return empty-handed from Kansas City. He could figure out what she was - a confidence woman. A cheat. Raising his Ezra to be one too. Damn. He took a deep breath. Be damned if I let her near him again, he silently vowed. I'll talk with the judge next time he's in town. Lost in his thoughts, if only for a moment, he realized that a silence had grown between them and then Ezra was trying to pull away.
"Ezra. It's alright, son. You live with me now. And I aim to see it stays that way, unless you want different."
He called me son. Ezra froze, staring into the blunt clear eyes of Chris Larabee. I'm not like his Adam. Billy already told me that. But he said I could stay with him, live with him. And, he called me son.
Chris was becoming concerned by Ezra's fixed stare. "Ezra?"
"Oh, yes! I want to s-s-stay with you!" The small stutter seemed to underline the boy's sincerity. And then Ezra threw himself at Chris, wrapping his arms tightly around the man's neck, burying his head under Chris' jaw. "Thank you!"
Chris rocked back on his heel and then climbed to his feet, with the boy grasped easily in his arms. He hugged him and smiled at the answering pressure. "Glad you want to stay, Ezra." He soothed the small form with a big hand on the narrow back. "Don't worry about Maude. If she shows up, I'll deal with her. You are staying with me." He nudged the boy's head with his chin. "You in there?"
"Yes," was muttered against his neck, then a flushed face came up and free and with great daring, Ezra kissed Chris' cheek. "I love you, Chris."
"I love you, too, Ezra." And saying so made it so, Chris found. He did love the boy, his boy. His. Now, time to get things back on track. "Still got something for you, Ezra."
Small hands pushed back from Larabee's shoulders, and green eyes studied Chris' face. "You don't have to."
"Want to." Chris shifted his hold on Ezra, settling the boy on his hip. He walked on around the shack so that they could see the back corral together.
Inside was a very young chestnut gelding. The horse had black mane and tail, the reddish hide gleaming with the recent brushing Chris had given it. The animal's ears were flicked forward and it looked straight at them, standing straight and still.
"Oh." The whispered gasp from Ezra was enough to make Chris smile and lower the boy to his feet at the fence to the corral.
"He's all yours." A boy needs a horse.
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