Two Very Private People
(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: Eight year old Ezra meets his match.
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: 16 January 2003
Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org welcomes comments
Back to: Learning How To Play
"You need a place to stay?"
They were the first words Chris Larabee spoke to the abandoned child as he laid a hand firmly on the thin shoulder. Big green lantern eyes had stared solemnly up at him and a single nod had been his answer. Something in those eyes had told of a hidden life that Chris very much feared was worse than any he could conjure up. But he didn't ask.
Not about that anyway. He'd asked the boy what his name was, after supplying his own. By then, they were walking slowly back to the front of the saloon where he'd left one of his partners, Buck Wilmington staring in shock.
A quiet, "Ezra," was all he got for answer. No last name.
"That lady?" Chris gestured vaguely toward where the dust was now nearly settled from the departure of Guy Royale and his guest, Mrs. Maude Standish, the fashionably dressed passenger from today's stagecoach.
Ezra had shrugged noncommittally. And that had been the start of Chris' protection of his young and very unofficial ward. He knew that Buck was worried that he was trying to find a substitute for his own dead son, Adam, but it wasn't true. Leastways he didn't think so. Just the way the kid had been so callously dumped by the fancy woman, the sneer on Royale's face, that had been enough. Larabee didn't have it in him to walk away.
Out here, on the frontier, a kid alone often didn't survive or got taken in by less than kind folk. Except for the very lucky. And, in a small town like Four Corners, where everyone simply struggled to make ends meet, an extra mouth to feed was not an option. Especially one scrawny little city-bred kid. And his neat little suit of clothes told the gunslinger that much - the clothes and how comfortable the little guy was in them.
Chris had taken the boy out to his shack that first night, only to find Buck on his heels, with old Mr. McClintock draped over his saddle, long tail wagging slowly with the dog's good humor.
"Thought the boy might need some company for his first night out here." Buck had handed down the old hound who cheerfully accepted the shift from saddle to Chris' arms. The boy had watched in silence, but when Chris lowered the dog to its feet, Ezra had bent over and offered his hand to be sniffed with a quiet, calm fearlessness that made both Chris and Buck view him with new eyes.
The kid and the dog were instant friends. The night lost its shape of fear and Ezra politely offered to help with whatever chores Mr. Larabee might have. Buck had laughed and waved as he left, his dog giving a single woof before returning its attention to its new young master.
Those first few days, Chris and Ezra stayed out at the cabin. They'd worked on stacking wood that Chris cut, riding the meadows on Chris' black horse, Trip. Ezra and Chris didn't do a lot of talking. Ezra didn't volunteer and Chris' naturally silent nature made for quiet, peaceful days. The boy watched everything very carefully and seemed eager to please, anxious even. Yet his face remained placid and his eyes remained shuttered.
Nights were different as the boy slept in Chris' bed while the lawman slept on his bedroll on the floor by the fireplace. The kid would let out little whimpers sometimes, but if Chris even walked toward him, he'd subside again, almost like he was hiding himself, even in his sleep. Mister kept to the boy's side, or slept on the floor beneath the single bed.
Buck rode out again on the fourth day to tell Larabee about the short return visit by Mrs. Standish and Guy Royale. Chris figured then that she was probably the boy's mother or aunt or guardian, if she was related, only, the way she'd simply up and left the boy in the street spoke of total lack of concern or care. Larabee decided that Buck's playing dumb when she tried to find Ezra was probably the best thing he could have done. Until they figured out Ezra, wasn't any point in putting the kid back into harm's way.
At the end of the week, they'd ridden back into town because Chris had duties and he couldn't leave the other five men to do all the work of protecting the town. The rest of the Six met the boy then. And had been quickly charmed by the youngster who was the most polite child any of them had ever seen. Chris had silently preened as Ezra stayed close to his side when once they were among all these tall, boisterous men. He'd worried, too, when the boy flinched at Buck's expansive arm movements and JD's teasing wrestle with the older lawman. The others weren't insensitive and picked up on it real quick. Everyone became a bit gentler and quieter when Ezra was around.
Thinking he'd solve his childcare problems by hooking up Ezra with Billy had been a mistake. One he tried a few times before realizing that the boys really didn't have too much in common. And Billy was clearly jealous of Ezra's new place in Chris' life. That he found out after he nearly lost Ezra's trust when playing cards came out. It was when Ezra asked if he could play cards with Chris' friends that Larabee's eyes were opened.
The shock of seeing those little fingers spin cards, throw a deal around the table at eye blinding speed, and drop part of the child's little hoard of coins to ante up - the shock had been momentarily stunning. Then Chris had acted. He'd firmly picked up Ezra's coins and returned them to the boy, pushed the cards over to Josiah who was contemplating their young guest with a frown, and placed Ezra's abandoned sandwich and milk back in front of the child. "Eat this Ezra. Inez made it special for you. No card playing and no gambling, you're too young."
The look of surprise and dismay in the young face had quickly vanished and the boy had eaten everything, but it was clear he was choking it down. His quick dash to the back door had Larabee following with broad strides and a frown of his own, only to find the child heaving back up the lunch wretchedly in the alley out behind the saloon. After wiping a small white face with his neckerchief, Chris had sat them down back there and had a talk. Or at least, he'd talked. Ezra, as always, remained silent except for polite "yes, sirs" and "no, sirs."
When he was done, Chris had lit a cheroot and leaned back, his long legs crossed in front of him and waited. The little boy had sat huddled beside him, unmoving and untalking, for a very long time.
At one point, Buck had peered out and Chris had waved him off with a lift of his chin and roll of his eyes. If Ezra noticed, he gave no sign. Finally, Chris had asked what Ezra was thinking.
"Billy told me you had a son once."
Startled again, would the boy ever cease to amaze him? Chris nodded and waited.
"He said I was just a pretend son so you wouldn't feel so lonely." Ezra stared straight ahead, adding, "That you'd get tired of me real soon and get rid of me."
Larabee bit down on the twist of paper and tobacco in his mouth, capping his anger. He'd learned that Ezra simply shrank, damn near disappeared inside his clothes, at the least sign of irritation. He wouldn't do that to the boy. "You aren't a substitute for Adam, Ezra." He took a deep breath and looked up at the sky. "You're just Ezra. That's enough for me."
Silence. Chris wasn't sure what else to say. He wanted to comfort the boy but he just didn't know enough, the kid had been so damned close-mouthed that all he really knew was the kid's name and now, that he could handle a deck of cards like a card shark. Then he remembered the last part of Ezra's comment. Billy's words. He'd have to have a word with Mary Travis, Billy's mother. "Ain't getting rid of you. When you want to leave, you say so. 'Til then, you got a home with me."
More silence. Chris waited again. He'd learned from Adam that you had to give a kid time to process information, digest it, reach his own conclusions. You couldn't force things. Not with a kid.
"Thank you, Mr. Larabee." Ezra's voice was just above a whisper.
"Think you could call me Chris?" Larabee slid his eyes sideways and watched without turning his head, his mouth curled up in a small smile.
There. A tiny dimple puckered the nearest downy cheek, a definite twinkle appeared in the oh-so green eye. In a flash, the signs of humor disappeared and a single nod was his answer.
Damn it, the kid is copying me. That's my nod. Chris Larabee wanted to shake his head and chuckle but decided that might be pushing things a bit far, so instead he said, "Maybe we can get some wood from Josiah and make you your own bed. So's you know you're staying."
"My own bed?" Eyes flashed around, face following, bright red spots of color appearing on the white face. Big round eyes.
"Yeah." Chris smiled tightly and puffed out on his cheroot. "I'm getting a bit old to be sleeping on wood floors."
"Oh," Ezra put a hand to his mouth, his face a picture of contrition. "Oh, Chris! I'm sorry. Let me sleep on the floor, I'll be just fine. I'm used to it, really. You should sleep in your bed. I don't need one. Honestly."
It was the most the kid had said since he'd met him. Used to sleeping on floors? Christ. Larabee fumed internally, cursing Mrs. Standish and Guy Royale and whoever else had treated this little kid so poorly. But, Ezra used his name, said 'Chris.' With a sigh that was little more than a puff of air between clenched teeth, Chris spoke plainly. "Ezra, you are not sleeping on the floor." He rose to his feet and looked down at the boy. "Now come on, let's talk to Josiah about those planks. Can make you that bed tonight."
Ezra had jumped up and brushed off his pants' seat quickly, tugging his little suit jacket straight and had looked up at the tall gunman, clearly ready. Chris nodded approvingly. Neither smiled but Chris took heart from two shining green eyes. Ezra didn't give away much and you had to look for the little signs, but hell, Buck had told him more than once he was a close mouthed son of a bitch himself. Guess we're two of a kind. Larabee, who'd rolled his shoulders and arched his back in a stretch looked down to see his little mirror image do the same, without even looking at Chris.
Little man, I'm going to see to it that life gets better for you.
The two turned and made their way back into the saloon, silent and still faced, but somehow you just knew they were both happy.
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