Reading Skills
(Little Ezra - Old West)

by MAC

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: Learning to read more than words.
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: 13 January 2003
Feedback: welcomes comments

Back to: Only A Hound Dog

"Hey, Chris, where's Ezra?" JD was breathless as he skidded to a halt next to the gunslinger on the boardwalk.

The taller man shifted his sack of groceries from one arm to the other so he could steady the young sheriff who was now teetering at the edge of the steps in front of Potter's store. "He was sitting with Josiah behind the church." Larabee squinted out into the bright sunshine of the main street, only street really, of Four Corners. Short stark black shadows testified to the late morning hour. "Josiah agreed to help with his learning."

"Oh." JD looked a bit abashed. Larabee spotted the homemade slingshot half hidden behind Dunne's back and hid his own smile. The Six had all taken to their young charge, finding the abandoned child to be a sweet and needy little boy. Each of the others was finding ways to connect with the boy. So far, though, none had managed to make him smile beyond simple perfunctory courtesy, something that Ezra did very well.

The boy was an enigma, stoic. From what Chris could tell, young Ezra was very bright but not very communicative and was very wary of letting down his guard. After the first few weeks of near silence, he'd begun to talk. Seemed to finally feel like he was staying with them for a while, Chris decided. That was after Chris made a permanent trundle bed for the child, one that Yosemite had crafted small wood wheels for so that it slid out from under his own bunk at night, to a place right in front of the fire. Ezra seemed fascinated by the open flames, though he never ventured too close.

Mary Travis had been the first to object to the little boy's continued presence in the midst of the hired guns, but once Larabee took her aside and set her straight on the boy's origins, as he'd observed that dusty day, Mrs. Travis had ceased her criticism and begun to make suggestions. One was that the child needed some instruction. Since there was no school, Josiah had offered to tutor the boy in his letters. Nathan, who'd had a lot more learning than most realized, as house slave companion to a master's son, had offered to help Ezra with arithmetic and science. After one session each, however, both men had come into the saloon chagrined and smiling sheepishly. Seemed young Ezra, who was a silent sponge for learning, already knew all they could teach him and more.

"Real polite about it, though," Nate had said still smiling. "He showed me some shortcuts on my math. Made computing percentages for my herbal recipes a whole lot easier." Jackson had shaken his head and then scratched it. "Never met a kid so polite before, all 'sir' this and 'sir' that. He said he'd be happy to write out my recipes for me. Has a real neat hand, too."

Sanchez had nodded his agreement. "The boy hasn't had much formal instruction from what little he'd say, just that he learned from his aunts. Seems to have more aunts than any child I've ever met." Josiah had rubbed his chin, then sighed and sipped at his beer before stretching and adding, "He can quote scripture too. So he and I read some from a book of Shakespeare's sonnets, seemed more like something he hadn't read before."

"Shakespeare?" Vin had sat up at that. Sounded real Indian. He didn't know what a sonnet was though, wondering silently if this was something like a war bonnet.

"Poetry, Vin, by one of England's poets long dead." Josiah spoke without condescension, they all knew that Vin Tanner had never had any opportunity for book learning, even though the tracker was a very intelligent man and an aspiring poet thanks to help from Mary Travis, the town's newspaper editor.

"Oh," Tanner had subsided again behind his own mug of beer, tugging his hat lower to hide his reddened cheeks even though he knew that Josiah and the rest wouldn't laugh at his lack of knowledge.

Larabee's small smile grew as Buck charged up behind JD and gave the young man a shove that sent him windmilling into the stack of brooms beside the door to Gloria Potter's store.


"Got to keep better look out than that, boy!"

"Buck, I ain't no boy, and stop that foolin' around!"

Wilmington, though, ignored his younger friend and climbed over two steps with one long-legged hike up from the dusty street, to stand beside his oldest friend and grab the bag of food without asking. Larabee let him take it, settling his hands on his gun belt. "You want these tied to your saddle bags?"

Chris nodded. "Be right nice of you, Buck."

"Thought I'd go see how Ez was doing with Josiah." Buck grinned as he tied closed the mouth of the burlap sack and twisted it up on one wide shoulder. "That kid is scary sometimes, reads circles around old 'Siah!"

Chris bared his teeth around his unlit cheroot in a grin of agreement. Leastways no one could accuse him of keeping the boy in ignorance. Knew more than most adults. "Guess I'll come along. See if they're done yet."

When JD wiped his forehead with the back of one wrist and poked the new slingshot deeper in his hip pocket, he turned with a nod to Gloria who'd stepped out on the boardwalk and followed his two older friends back toward the church.

Buck, who was leading slightly, intent on stopping by the livery to drop off Larabee's supplies, stopped suddenly, Larabee had to step quickly to one side to avoid falling over the still man. "Buck?"

"Shh!" Wilmington's body shifted back slightly, and then he'd turned on his heel and was making a beeline for the alley beside the livery. The other two men behind him could only see a bit beyond him to the sunlit open corral area at the far end of the alley. Both were curious enough to follow.

Coming out of the dark alley into broad daylight, three silent men drew to a stop and stood smiling. In the center of the empty corral, squatted on their haunches, were Vin Tanner and Ezra. The tracker, in his buckskins and buffalo hide coat, looked every inch the wild and wooly frontiersman. The little boy could have just stepped off the stage from back east despite the fact that it had been some time now since he'd arrived. With faultless care, the youngster had minded his small clutch of clothing, keeping the little suit sponged and tidy, as clean as anything could be in a dusty western town on the edge of the wilderness.

Squatting as he was, bony knees supporting his chin, Ezra was intent upon the ground at his feet. Both arms wrapped tightly about his shins, he balanced on his heels. Larabee could see now that the clothing was really too small, or too short anyway. Boy never seemed to eat much and never put on any weight, so he'd not really noticed until this minute that the child had grown a bit, was longer in the leg and arm, wrists and ankles exposed beyond cuffs and pant legs.

Chris shook his head. Gotta get him some new clothes. Not likely he'll put on regular overalls, Chris thought with silent and amused affection. Guess I better get Gloria to look for something in her catalogs. Maybe have Ezra help her pick out what he'd be willing to wear. That is, if he'll agree to lettin' me buy it. Boy showed unexpected stubborn about receiving gifts. Was shy at taking without giving back something. I'll show him how he can count his work at chores as payment, the gunslinger decided with half a mind as he watched the two silent figures in the center of the sunlit space.

Tanner's narrow hand was hovering just above the dirt, one finger slowing tracing something invisible to the watchers. Young Ezra, however, seemed to be seeing it just fine and was nodding seriously. Suddenly, Vin's head rose and his eyes unerringly sought out and met those of his best friend. Sky blue met hazel and both shared a quiet smile without lips even twitching.

Having been acknowledged, Larabee stepped out more and pulled his cheroot from his mouth, both hands coming back to rest on his gun belt. "Learning trail, Ezra?"

The little boy turned to look up at his foster father and blinked those big clear green eyes of his, charming all three watchers all over again without even trying. "Yes, sir." The child rose with grace and turned back to Tanner who'd also come to his feet. "Thank you, Mr. Tanner, that was most enlightening." Then with a hesitant pause, the boy asked, "Do you think you might show me more another time?"

Everyone took a collective breath and held it. This was the first time any of them had ever heard the youngster ask for anything. Anything at all. It was a big step forward. That he was comfortable enough to actually ask, and for something that wasn't in the here and now, either, but in the future - it told them a great deal about their individual and joint efforts to make the boy feel at home and comfortable, confident even. Chris' internal smile turned into a huge heart-expanding grin.

Vin Tanner, eyes back on his young companion, answered with equal seriousness, "Sure, Ez, I'd like that." His simple words, like all he spoke, were true and honest. His word was his bond and he knew that the boy was aware of this. Green gems lit with happiness, though the small face remained calm and still.

"Thank you, Mr. Tanner." And then, to the amazement of all, and the startled joy of one quiet frontiersman, the little boy launched himself at Tanner and hugged the taller man fiercely. A second, muffled "Thank you!" could just be made out.

No one said anything but all eyes were suddenly damp and hands fisted to surreptitiously wipe corners of said eyes. And then their small protégé had backed away from the blushing tracker and walked over to Larabee. "Are we ready to go, Chris?"

Larabee nodded voicelessly. He didn't want to spoil the moment. His heart, as always, warmed that he was the only one that Ezra called by first name. And, he hadn't told the others, not yet, but sometimes, if Ezra woke in the night after a particularly vicious nightmare, the boy called him 'Da.' That secret Chris still kept close to himself. He started to turn away after a single grateful nod to Vin when Ezra surprised him again. One small hand sought out one of his. With another blink of pleasure, Chris gently accepted the tentative grip. Straightening and smiling blindingly at his friends, Chris Larabee turned back toward the livery so he and his boy could go home.

Ezra, In Between Index On to: Learning How To Play

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