Coming Home Again
(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: It can be hard on those left behind.
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: 18 January 2003
Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org welcomes comments
Back to: Yesterday's Child
Ezra deftly folded the last of the dried rags. He made the small pile tidy, with the edges matching, well, as much as the edges of the worn and torn pieces of cloth that Mr. Nathan used for bandages could match. The silence in the healer's small room, his bedroom and clinic, was deafening. Or so it seemed to one small boy yearning to hear the sounds of his six friends, to hear the chink of one pair of spurs.
The young southerner wandered over to the bookshelf that Mr. Nathan had cobbled together on the wall above his worktable. Ran a finger lightly over the heavy tomes with such dismaying titles. He'd dragged down one earlier and puzzled over its contents for a while. At least it had occupied some time. Not that he couldn't read. He could read very well, thank you. Better than most grown-ups. Even Mr. Josiah had been impressed.
The book, though, had seemed of questionable value, attributing cures to strange plants and parts of animals. Bitter sounding concoctions were listed, their recipes turned his stomach. True, he did have a rather delicate constitution with regards to food. These descriptions could hardly be adjoined to the description of 'food' with any conscience. No, but they were meant to heal ills, sores, vile debilitations, injuries. He sighed and had closed the book gently, then returned it with precision to its spot on the shelf. The lack of dust on it and its neighbors was mute testimony to how often that small library was consulted.
He shuddered. No one was going to need any of that this time. No, they wouldn't. Because he had done everything right. He was very careful. He'd placed the bones just so. He'd tied the dried snakeskin in the proper fashion and hung it from a green willow branch. He'd put an offering of peppermint and bacon. Surely everyone would be fine. He eyed his carefully constructed little tableau. Madame Obigjeway always daubed chicken's blood. Perhaps he should get some from the back of the restaurant? But Mr. Tanner's friend Kojay didn't believe in using blood offerings. He favored the snakeskin. The bones were from Madame's demonstrations.
He fiddled with his fingers, studying the combined magic. Then his fingers crept up to the tiny bone cross that Mr. Sanchez had made for him. He mustn't forget to pray again. It had been nearly three hours now. He pressed his fingers firmly around the little cross and closed his eyes, reciting the Lord's Prayer, the only prayer he really knew well. Come home, please.
He didn't question why these men were so important to him, why Chris was. He knew that he felt safe with them. They laughed and joked but they were tough. He'd watched them take down outlaws trying to rob the bank here. That had only been the third week he'd been in Four Corners and he'd panicked, hiding behind bales of straw in the livery. But they'd all been fine and Chris had come with Mr. Tanner, and they'd found him and Chris had actually hugged him. Ezra treasured that moment. He knew that Chris thought he didn't like to be touched but it was really that he just didn't have much experience with a caring hand. Just, well just with bad touches. Anyway, Chris had hugged him and said everything was fine and he wasn't to be scared.
Trusting Chris made life very simple. Ezra was used to living a very complex life, with many threats, many expectations, much displeasure in the eyes of others. Here he had found only simplicity. He had unconditional love from his dog, Mister. Well, Mr. Wilmington's dog. Guess Mister is on loan to me. But it's nice. And Chris didn't expect anything much, just some help with chores, real simple ones. Gave him a bed, fed him and watched out for him. It was simple. Ezra found that he liked simple. Very much. He memorized conversations, comments, and moments like that hug. For later, when life got complicated again. For when Maude finally came back and he had to leave. Maude always came back. Sooner or later.
He gazed down on the town when the far horizon that he could see remained stubbornly empty. Mrs. Travis was out front of the newspaper office, sweeping.
Mary Travis felt the pull of eyes upon her. She glanced around at the busy main street and saw nothing to worry her. She wiped her brow with the back of one hand and returned to her sweeping but the feeling of being observed continued. Finally she looked up and right into the green eyes of Chris' little boy, Ezra. Well, at least his for now. She would have to speak to her father in law about this curious 'adoption' when the judge came around again on his circuit.
Ezra was standing in the open window of Nathan Jackson's clinic. She knew for a fact that Nathan had ridden out with the other gunmen, the town's six protectors, to track down the escaped prisoner that Sheriff Larson from Far Wells had telegraphed about this morning. She stood straighter, meeting Ezra's eyes. He blinked once, then turned away and faded back from sight, away from the window.
Now what is that child doing up in Nathan's clinic? All those herbs, those surgical instruments. That laudanum. Oh, lord. She dropped the broom and gathered her skirts up two fisted, plunging down into the dirt road that passed for a street. It was a very cursory look in each direction and then she was nearly trotting in her hurry to cross the street. That boy better not have touched anything. She gnawed at her lip, her large pale eyes filled with fear.
Ezra peered over the windowsill, only to see Mrs. Travis drop her broom and make a dash into the street, heading his way. Oh, no. He looked around hurriedly. No time to dismantle his little shrine. Not if he wanted to be far from her firm hand. He'd experienced that once, when she thought he'd hurt her Billy. He hadn't of course. The silly child had tried to jump off a double bale in the stables, on a dare from that oaf, the Jenkins boy, Henry. Only when he'd landed wrong, he'd screamed in pain and Henry disappeared. Ezra had tried to imitate Mr. Jackson's way, tried to calm the scared boy, tried to soothe with words and hands as he'd checked for broken bones or a sprain in the boy's ankle. That was when Mrs. Travis had arrived. She was very upset. He couldn't blame her. It must have appeared as if he was trying to injure Billy to the panicked mother. At least, he figured that's why she'd grabbed his shoulder and nearly tossed him across the barn, to get him away from Billy.
He winced at the memory of the pain in his shoulder then. He rolled it experimentally now, no, it was fine. He just had to make certain that Mrs. Travis didn't have an opportunity to lay hands upon his person again. That time, his tender shoulder joint had popped and it wasn't until Chris had come at the sound of Mrs. Travis' loud voice, that he'd had his protector back.
Chris had made Mrs. Travis stop shouting. He'd checked on Billy. Told the lady to take her son up to the clinic, then he'd turned to look at Ezra who was huddled against the front of one of the horse stall doors. When Chris had crouched down with worried eyes in front of Ezra, it was all he could do to keep from crying and throwing himself into Chris' arms. Then Chris had reached out and touched his shoulder.
Later, Mr. Jackson told him he'd screeched and fainted. He didn't remember. By then, he'd had his shoulder reset and his arm taped to his body. Not like the first two times it had happened, when he'd angered one of his uncles. Was why it had happened so easily that last time, according to the healer once he'd questioned Ezra.
For now, though, the important thing was to get away. He knew it was too late to use the usual entrance, balcony and stairs. He slipped into the back room and over to the window. One last longing look at the still empty horizon and he slid his body over the sill and hung by his fingers. Not that far. He looked down and pretended he was only hanging on Mrs. Casson's peach tree. Just let go and drop. He did. A grunt and he made sure he flexed his knees and rolled. He'd learned that at the peach tree. Worked now too. Dusting off his garments, Ezra backed up quickly against the building, knowing he'd be impossible to spot that way.
Mary clambered up the stairs to Nathan's clinic and hurried down the long balcony to the door. There she slowed, taking a deep breath. The child was scared of her, ever since that time she'd mistaken an attempt to assist for an attack on her son. She'd tried apologizing to the little boy later, after he'd been treated for a dislocated shoulder. She'd been truly horrified to learn she had done that in her haste to remove him from her son. But the child had been quietly polite and distant, accepting her apology but clearly not believing her.
Now he was very exceptionally polite if he was forced into her vicinity and as much as possible, kept his distance. Since she and Chris were friends, or so she liked to think, even hope it might be something more some day, this made for great awkwardness. And now, she wondered what she should do when she confronted the child here in a place he had no business being. A place where he could hurt himself or inadvertently do something that would later harm another. She laid her hand upon the door handle and closed her eyes at the thought of him changing labels or contents on some of Nathan's chemicals and herbs. Oh, it didn't bear thinking on and he was bright enough to do serious damage if so inclined. With firmed resolve and tight lips, Mary pulled the door open. It was empty inside. She knew she hadn't imagined the boy in the window. She marched into the back. Nothing. No one. She looked out the windows. No one.
Walking back through the clinic, she checked under the bed and behind the old wardrobe. Glanced at the shelves of bottles and jars and pots. That's when she spotted the ugly little heap of bones and what looked like a snakeskin and some twigs. Oh, my god. He practices dark arts. A hand went involuntarily to her lips. With another wild look around, she backed out, sure now that he had fled just before she arrived, even though she hadn't seen him and should have.
Ezra's heart was beating very fast. He took short, sharp breaths and tried to calm himself. It would be all right once Chris was home. He'd be home soon. Said so himself. Just before he and the others mounted their horses in front of the saloon. "Ezra, you go to Mrs. Potter. Stay there until we're back. Should be back by tonight." The men hadn't time to make sure the youngster was going to be cared for, but none was worried. Nothing bad happened to children in the little frontier town. Children were too precious.
Ezra had stood there on the boardwalk and watched until the dust had settled. He'd heard enough to know the man they sought was very dangerous, a killer. He'd trotted over to the jail and let himself in. On his knees on the big swivel chair behind JD Dunne's desk, he'd methodically gone through the stacks of wanted posters until he found the name of the man that his friends were riding after. The description had been fearsome but the deeds that it claimed that man had done - they had been truly horrendous.
He was glad Chris rode with the others and not alone. Mr. Tanner would keep them all safe with his tracking and hunting skills. Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Sanchez were good shots too. And Mr. Jackson's skills with throwing knives gave Ezra confidence that all would be well. Mr. Dunne's twin colts were perhaps a trifle showy but he seemed to handle them well. And then there was Chris. Mr. Larabee was truly an awesome combatant, Ezra had decided having secretly witnessed the confrontation and subsequent shootout with the would-be bank robbers. Yes, they would all be fine. But it wouldn't hurt to do what he could to make sure. That's when he'd decided to build the little totems, when he decided maybe prayer might be worthwhile after all. Despite all he'd said to Mr. Sanchez to discourage him.
Now he silently made his way through the shadows and along the alley to the street and sank down out of sight behind some crates near the mercantile. He could watch for his friends from here. And Mrs. Travis would not see him.
Dusk was settling on the small community as the Six rode back into town, their prisoner on a tethered coach horse that he'd stolen from the transport when he'd made his earlier escape. The men looked dusty and tired, JD and Buck pulling up at the jail to take care of their captive, Nathan, Vin, and Josiah heading for the stables to take care of the horses. Chris had dismounted and handed his reins to Vin before clumping on toward Gloria Potter's store. He felt an urgent desire to see Ezra again. He knew that his peace keeping duties unsettled the boy.
"Chris?" Mary's voice stopped the gunslinger with one foot in the air, about to mount the boardwalk steps. She leaned out of the door of her office. "Were you successful?"
"Yes." Chris nodded as well. He or the boys could tell her about it later, just now he wanted to find Ezra, make sure the boy was all right.
As he turned back away, Mary spoke again. Perhaps a bit sharply at being so casually dismissed. "If you're looking for Ezra, I doubt you'll find him with Gloria."
Larabee froze and then turned back and faced the woman who had now emerged from her storefront and was standing on the boardwalk across the way. "Oh?"
She nodded. "I caught him hiding up at Nathan's clinic. Tried to speak to him but he ran away."
"Ran away?" Chris schooled his features and didn't attack Mary by dint of great personal self-discipline. He cast his eyes to the side, afraid that if she saw them, she'd see the sudden terrible anger in them. And he looked down upon his boy. Ezra was curled up asleep in the dirt, tucked up beside the big empty packing crates that lined the alley beside Potter's store. Mary ceased to exist for him. He moved slowly to Ezra's side and knelt down. "Ezra?"
As if the boy's subconscious was attuned to the sound of Chris' voice, the boy's eyes flicked open and up, to meet his. "Chris!" And Ezra was jumping up, sleep fled, and hurling himself in to the surprised man's arms. "You came home! Safe!" Ezra, who had been automatically wrapped into the man's arms, leaned back and anxiously examined his friend. "You are unhurt?" At the silent nod, he asked, "The others are unhurt?" A second nod was all the reassurance one small boy needed. He sighed and sank back down against Chris' chest. All was right with his world.
Chris sat back in the saloon, enjoying the cutting taste of the whiskey. Ezra was sleeping in the back, safe and sound. He relaxed.
Inez had tucked Ezra up in a bed in the back room, a tiny cubicle she had fashioned out of the stock room with a half-size bed made from some old boxes, a straw pallet and some blankets. For nights when Larabee stayed late with his friends. Not often, but sometimes, like tonight, after the long day's pursuit on horseback, all the men needed time together to relax. She would look after Ezra then. It was never really said, nothing formally arranged, just sort of happened over time. Ezra had been in their midst over two months now and the town, the peacekeepers, and one small boy were all getting to know each other and make accommodations. At least, that's what Senor Sanchez said. Inez shrugged and polished the bar top.
There had been quite a confrontation earlier. Mrs. Travis, all upset about something she'd seen at Senor Jackson's clinic. The man had gone up, with several others of the men, all curious. Come back down shaking his head. He'd carried some things, so had Senor Vin. They showed them to Senor Larabee. The man had shook his head and picked up Ezra. The little boy had been standing close, still looking sleepy, holding onto the gunslinger's pant leg. Inez had grinned to herself at the memory of Chris lifting the youngster into his arms and saying something. The boy had answered and put arms around the man's neck.
Senor Larabee had looked rather coolly, Inez thought, over at Mrs. Travis. Then said something that turned her white and shut faced. She'd spun on her heels and marched back inside her newspaper office. Inez wished she could have been closer, but no one seemed too upset with the boy. Except Mrs. Travis.
With a laugh, Inez remembered what had happened next. Senor Larabee had said something jokingly to the other men and then bent his neck to bury his face in the boy's belly and make a loud noise, like an insulted horse. Ezra had screamed with laughter. She'd never heard him laugh before, it was contagious.
The other men were laughing, she was laughing without even knowing what the joke was, and Senor Chris had done it again, that strange loud noise against the boy's stomach as he held the boy in his arms. The resulting screech of laughing protest had been louder and then the youngster had grabbed the man's head and pulled himself up higher, so that the two were nose-to-nose. He'd said something and then put his face next to Senor Larabee's and hugged the man's neck tightly. Even from where she was, she could see that the gunman hugged back just as tightly.
And then, Ezra had loosened his grip and giggled as Senor Vin got close and tickled him. They all turned and came back toward the saloon so Inez slipped deeper into shadow and then back behind the bar.
When they burst in, Ezra was hanging upside down on Senor Larabee's shoulder, head down in front, with one of the gunman's long arms holding the small boy in position as he wriggled and giggled and then shrieked with laughter as Vin's tickling fingers attacked again. It had taken warm milk, laced with a bit of coffee or Ezra wouldn't drink it, to settle the boy enough so she could put him down for a nap in the back. She smiled. He doesn't ever smile. She liked his laughter. His smile. Good thing Senor Chris came home.
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