Author: Kat Lee
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
Challenge/Prompt: a_war_of_roses One For All: Company of Heroes (If you join, tell them Kat Lee of Team White Rose sent you!)
Word Count: 2,600
Date Written: 13 September 2016
Disclaimer: All characters within belong to their rightful owners, not the author, and are used without permission.
He shifts in his saddle, his muscles aching from hours of riding. He glances to his companions, a complaint on the very tip of his tongue, but as he looks at the exhaustion on their faces, he finds himself uncharacteristically falling quiet. Every man there is as tired as he is, but he's the only one who's voiced a complaint and has done so both loudly and numerous.
Today wasn't supposed to be a day tracking through the woods underneath the sun. No one wants to be here less than he does, but the others don't want to be here either. They all had plans, but as has constantly become the habits, their plans were interrupted. There's a child out here, a young boy who won't survive a single night on his own in these woods, let alone in the desert if he happens out that way.
Ezra pushes aside his own memories and complaints as he lets his gaze travel once again over his friends. Chris is on edge; he knows this boy reminds him of his son as well as he does a page from Ezra's own past. Vin's stopped Peso again and is once more kneeling to check the tracks. Buck, JD, and Josiah are dressed in their finest. Buck and JD both had dates to the dance this evening, and Josiah's rumbled a few times about the service he had planned for just before the dance. Nathan's quiet as well, and Ezra's quite certain he's debating yet again how exactly to explain to Rain that he's now two days late on his trip to visit her.
But none of them have issued a complaint. Of course, they never complain as loudly as Ezra does, but he's come to notice recently just how different he is from this company of heroes in which he's involved himself. It's undoubtedly due to his mother's influence. He despises her visits for they always stir up feelings and events which he'd much rather forget. She and Mary are caring for the boy's even now, and Ezra's certain his mother's planning on seeing just how much of a reward she can pull from the family's already penniless purse.
Ezra can't really blame his mother for always wanting to add to her financial stability -- Lord knows he did it often enough himself --, but there's something about this particular venture that's set him particularly at unease. He frowns, remembering the boy's soft, blonde locks and big, green eyes. Once again, his mind flashes back to a face from many years ago.
He sighs softly and subtly slips from his horse. Keeping one hand on Chaucer's saddle bag for balance, he stretches his legs.
Buck is the first to take notice of his discomfort. "Stiff?" he asks, blue eyes twinkling behind his mustache. "You could spend the rest of the trip walking."
Ezra glowers at him, an acid retort right on the tip of his tongue, but before he can speak, Vin interrupts their budding argument. "Enough. Bucklin, leave Ezra alone. We've gotta move."
"What's wrong?" Chris demands, keen eyes shifting to the tracker.
"Kid's not alone any more," Vin replies, mounting back onto his horse. Ezra quietly does the same. "He's being followed."
"By who?" JD asks.
"How many?" Josiah's deep voice rumbles as he looks at the trees as though he expects enemies to come leaping from them at any second.
"Just one so far. A young brave, I think, judging from the light footsteps."
"But where there's one . . . " Chris says, and he doesn't have to finish his sentence. They're all thinking the same. There's only one Indian following the white child now, but where there's one Indian, there's always more.
Chris lets Vin take the lead this time, Pony falling into step beside Peso's flank. Ezra tails the group and is surprised when Josiah also falls to the rear. The Preacher doesn't attempt to speak to him, but Ezra notes the way his eyes keep watching the trees. They ride in silence for a while until the trees finally break open into a meadow. Ezra comes to a halt behind the others, and while their eyes are scanning the meadow, his gaze falls instead upon a few dandelions sprinkled among the lush, green grass.
Some one had once told him to blow on the white, powdery buds and to make a wish. He had attempted that task a few times as a boy, but never once had his wish come true. He'd wish now for their trek to be over, for them to be back home with the boy returned to his mother and this whole business behind them. Ezra shifts uncomfortably in his saddle as he ponders that thought.
Home. He's never had one for long. He'd thought once he could have a home with the boy who had told him wishes on dandelions came true, but his mother had ruined that as she always has every good thing that has ever happened to him. She ended that friendship. She ends all his friendships --
"There. Up ahead."
Ezra looks up as their posse moves forward. He follows the others' examples and dismounts once more. He pats Chaucer's neck and moves forward with the others until he's able to spot what they're already looking at: up ahead in the meadow, two boys play with a kitten.
JD grins. "He's safe!"
Buck shakes his head. "All this trouble over a kitten."
Ezra says nothing but recalls how once got into trouble over a kitten himself.
"But we may not be," Chris is saying in disagreement to JD's comment.
The others follow their leader's gaze to the trees. The boys look up, freezing in fear. The kitten mews. Ezra hears the telltale sound of many bows being strung at once. Vin holds up his hand and moves away from their group, murmuring back to them, "Let me talk to them."
And as the tracker does just that, Ezra's eyes fall on the boys again. He dismisses the Indian child but stares at the white boy instead for it's the blonde kid who reminds him so much of the friend he'd once had when he was their age. He drops Chaucer's reins and moves slowly but steadily forward as Vin continues talking to the other child's tribe.
The Indian boy moves to Vin's side as Ezra drops down on one knee beside the blonde boy. He takes his gaze away from him not to look at the enemy surrounding them but rather to look at the kitten instead. He reaches out and tentatively strokes the striped kitty's tiny head. The kitten butts instantly against the palm of his hand, and despite everything, Ezra chuckles as he pets him. Looking up at the boy, he asks softly, "What's his name?"
"Buttons," the kid answers shyly. "I call him that because . . . "
Ezra's already nodding, his mind trapped between the present that's taking place all around him and his own past. "Because he likes to chew yoah buttons," he finishes knowingly for the child.
"You sound like you know kitties, mister."
Ezra smiles, and the sun reflects off his gold tooth. "Ah may know a little about the graceful companionship of a feline."
"Yeah," Ezra says, clearing his throat and looking up at the child. "Ah do. You know yoah mothah's waitin' for you, Benjamin."
"Please don't tell her about Buttons! I didn't mean to wander away, but she followed us to church and then she ran away from us and -- "
"Ah promise Ah won't let anything happen to you or Buttons," Ezra tells him sincerely, lifting the kitten gently and placing it into the child's arms, "but you need to come with us right now, okay?"
The kid nods as an Indian shouts. Ezra looks swiftly up toward Vin, but the tracker's smiling, a clear sign that everything is going to be okay. Ezra takes the child by his hand and leads him and the kitten into the middle of their group. He watches as the Indian child is lifted by a brave who is evidently his father and as that brave darts back off to rejoin his party. He waits until Vin walks back to them.
"Everything good?" Chris asks.
Vin nods. "For now. Let's ride."
"I don't like turnin' my back on 'em," Buck grouses, but he mounts nonetheless. He's the first on his horse. Ezra lifts the boy up to him. Buck takes him but then hollers. "Ow! That little sucker bit me!"
Ezra's hands swiftly cover the kitten. He looks again to Benjamin. "Mind if Ah hold on to our little friend until we're back home safely?"
Benjamin pouts a little but finally nods as Buck continues to grumble. "I reckon that'll be okay. If it's okay with Buttons," he adds.
Buttons mews and bumps Ezra's hand. He scoops the kitten away from Buck and Benjamin and into a safe place nestled inside his red jacket. He smiles and winks at the child. "Ah promise he'll be fine."
Benjamin grins and nods. "I know he will be. Just don't tell Ma, okay? She won't let me keep him! She'll say we can't afford to feed him! Please, mister, don't tell her!"
Ezra beams and winks again. "He's our little secret." He's the last to mount and to leave the valley, and as he passes the dandelions once again, he looks to them with a knowing smile while feeling a warm purr against his chest. He wouldn't wish on them again, but if he did, he wouldn't make the same wishes he did before. He does have a home and friends now. What he might ask for instead is to have more courage and stamina, to be a better man fit to ride with the company of heroes all around him.
He's surprised to find Josiah waiting for him at the entrance to the forest. The Preacher nods at him, smiles, and winks. Keeping one hand on his reins, Ezra slips his other into his jacket just to make certain the kitten's comfortable. Buttons' purr grows louder, and its reassuring rumble and the steady sounds of the horses' hooves on the forest floor is all Ezra hears as they travel back home in silence.
It's a journey made much shorter now that they have what they've come for, and along the way, Ezra's eyes travel over his companions. Once they've reached home and Benjamin is safely in his mother's arms, Ezra takes Josiah to the side. "Can Ah bothah you to do me a small favor?" he asks quietly.
"Watch the kitten?" the Preacher asks, and at Ezra's nod, he grins. "I'd be delighted."
Ezra passes Buttons to Josiah, who could easily hold the kitten in one, large hand but scoops him in both. He laughs as the little fellow swings a paw at his tie. "He's a little tiger, isn't he?"
"Actually," Ezra smiles, gold tooth once more flashing, "he's a Buttons." Leaving the Preacher to care for the kitten, he casually approaches Benjamin and his mother. The kid flashes angry eyes up at him as if to accuse him of breaking a promise, but Ezra smiles and winks at him.
"Ma'am," he greets the boy's mother, tilting his hat to her in respect, "Ah wonder if Ah might have a word?"
"I've already told your mother -- "
"Mah mothah has very little to do with mah own business, madam; Ah assure you. Ah am not seeking a reward for th' safe return o' yoah child, and if she has garnered one, I will posthaste make certain it is returned to you. However, young Benjamin is not th' only little one we found in th' forest today. Ah would be glad to give this other, little guy a home, but Ah'm afraid mah partnership with th' othah six men to protect this town has me constantly travelin'. Ah would be unfit, at this time, t' care for th' lad, an' Ah wondered if perhaps Ah could persuade you to take his responsibilities off o' mah hands."
As the woman's still pondering his words, Ezra adds the winning touch, "Benjamin an' Buttons rather took a likin' to each other while we were traveling, an' Ah would o' course provide ample monetary means to supply for nourishment an' board."
"Please, Mama? Please? Can we keep him?"
Benjamin's mother looks up into the gambler's kind eyes but notices the slight shift therein. "We're not talking about another boy, are we?"
"Well, yes, an' no."
"Mister Standish, I understand that you have a reputation for being -- "
Ezra holds up a hand. "Please say nothing more, madam, until you've met the fellow." He gestures at Josiah as the woman hushes. As the Preacher walks to join them, his large hands hide the kitten from both mother and child, but upon reaching them, he holds them up. The kitten mews. His little, striped tail wags.
"Buttons!" Benjamin cries. He leaps out of his mother's arms and snatches the kitten up before any of the adults can stop him. Hugging him, he pleads with his mother. "Please, Mama, can't we keep him? Pleeease?"
"Well, I reckon if this kind gentleman is going to provide for his food and board, I can hardly say no."
"Oh, thank you! Thank you!" The child squeals and flies back into her arms. He hugs her tight, Buttons mewing between them.
Ezra's tilts his hat, and his gold tooth shines in his brilliant smile. "Thank you, madam."
The boy turns around and flings his arms around the gambler. "Thank you! Thank you!" Buttons rubs his furry head against Ezra's jacket, mewing loudly.
"Perhaps you can even come visit us from time to time," Benjamin's mother says over his son's exuberant cries.
Ezra smiles as he gently detaches the boy's grip from him. "On occasion," he promises with a wink before turning and walking away.
He doesn't realize, at first, that the Preacher has joined him until he hears his deep, rumbling voice beside him. "That mother of yours is something else," Josiah comments.
"Please, Ah do not wish to -- "
"I know I use the same words to compliment her, but that's not always a good thing." Ezra stops and looks at him. Josiah smiles broadly at him. "You did good today, Ez. You took care of not one but two of the Lord's children. Don't let that mother of yours darken your heart or tell you you shouldn't be riding with us. You're one of us, pard, like it or not. Now I've got a sermon to preach." He winks and heads on into the church.
Ezra mills about in the street for a moment, Josiah's words echoing gently in his ears. He looks around at the town as women, men, and children scramble for the church now that the Seven are back. He glances back at Buttons, Benjamin, and his mother. He feels eyes upon him and looks up to a window in the saloon to see his own mother watching him through an ever stern expression.
He is not his mother's son, he thinks. Despite everything she's done to him and all she's taken from him, he does have friends now and a home to call his own. A smile breaks out on his handsome face. Maude drops the curtain and steps away in disdain, but Ezra looks out at the rest of the town with the same, genuine smile. The church bells ring. Ezra's still smiling as he steps into the church and files into the pew beside his friends.