Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
AU: Standish House
"Mr. Ezra, Mr. Ezra!" Four-year-old JD Dunne was breathless as he ran up to his guardian and the owner of the boy's home where he lived.
"What is it, JD?"
"Buck ’n’ Chris are fightin’ again."
Ezra pinched the bridge of his nose; would those two never stop? "Thank you, JD. I'll take care of it. You can go play now."
"'Kay!" The precocious dark-haired toddler trotted off, satisfied that he had done his duty.
Ezra moved in the opposite direction, intent on breaking up the latest of countless conflicts between Buck Wilmington and Chris Larabee, both seven. They were close friends most of the time, but every so often, all hell broke loose between them. When that happened only Ezra seemed to be able to make them see reason.
Sure enough, the two boys were by the rope swing, screaming at each other at the top of their lungs. "Buck, you shut up! I did not!"
"Did too, Chris, I seen you!"
At this point, Chris lunged at Buck and they fell to the ground, rolling around like puppies wrestling.
"ENOUGH!" So rarely did Ezra raise his voice that it was an effective deterrent to the boys' tussling. "What is going on here?"
Buck and Chris pointed to each other and started talking at the same time. "He started it!"
Now Ezra was positive that a migraine was forming itself behind his eyes. "Buck, you go first. What did you see Chris do?"
The blue-eyed boy thought for a moment. "Y'know, I can't remember!"
Ezra turned to Chris. "Well?"
"If he can't remember, I ain't tellin' ya."
Ezra threw his hands up in the air. "I give up! All day long I try to mold these young minds so that they will become fine, upstanding, law-abiding adults, and what thanks do I get? None whatsoever. I declare, Mother is right. I am wasting my talents..." He walked off, mumbling to himself and occasionally shaking his head in disgust.
Buck nudged Chris. "Sorry."
"Yeah, me too." After a moment, the little blond added, "You think he's lost his marbles this time?"
Buck studied the slim figure standing a ways off. He was gesturing wildly to the empty air and it was obvious even at this distance that he was still complaining to himself. "Yeah, I think maybe he has."
Both boys giggled.
A moment later, as they gleefully watched Ezra work himself into a state, the soft chime of the dinner bell met their ears. All three began to head to the main building where the dining hall was housed. It couldn't really be called a hall, since it only held ten people, but Ezra insisted. He said it sounded more genteel.
Ezra ushered the boys into the washroom first. "You two are filthy. Wash off your faces and those grimy little hands, or Mrs. Wells won't give you any dinner." It was not an empty threat. Nettie Wells, cook and housekeeper for Standish House, did not stand for dirty little boys to be at her table.
Buck and Chris obeyed, scrubbing until their round faces and plump hands were rosy and shining.
"Good job. Now, let's eat, shall we?"
All three walked into the dining hall, the boys trailing behind a now-calm Ezra. The remaining residents of Standish House were already seated and waiting for them. Upon seeing Ezra, they chorused dutifully, "Good evening, Mr. Ezra."
"Good evening, everyone." Ezra took his customary seat at the head of the long table. To his right was seated Josiah Sanchez. Josiah was the oldest boy at Standish House, having just had his eleventh birthday. His mother had died some years ago, and Josiah's father had abused him so severely that he was removed from the horrible man's care and placed in Ezra's. He had a twin sister, Hannah, who resided in a nearby convent.
On Ezra's other side was ten year old Nathan Jackson. Though Josiah was the oldest boy, Nathan had been under Ezra’s care the longest. He had been purchased at a Georgia slave auction by Ezra when he was four after it was explained that his parents had both passed away. He had immediately been freed, but remained under Ezra's guardianship because he had nowhere else to go.
Next to Nathan was Chris Larabee. Chris' story was perhaps the saddest of all six boys. Chris' mother and father, Sarah and Adam Larabee, had been killed in a house fire when he was five. As if that weren’t enough, he’d lost his only other relative, a cousin, scarcely a month later. He'd never really recovered from their deaths, though the healing had been accelerated by the boy on his other side.
That boy was five-year-old Vin. He and Chris had formed an instant bond, a strange connection that no one could quite explain. It was as if they were one soul in two bodies. Vin's past was almost totally unknown. His last name was a mystery, and Ezra could only guess at his age. He had been found living with a tribe of Comanche Indians, being raised as the son of one of their braves. The U.S. Army had taken it upon themselves to "rescue" the blue-eyed boy, and had thereby, Ezra suspected, ripped him away from the only family he'd ever known. Trust came slowly for young Vin, but once you had it, it was unwavering.
Seated next to Josiah was seven year old Buck Wilmington, or 'that rascal' as he was more often called. Buck was brimming with mischief, always ready to participate in a game or a practical joke. Though often teasing, he was never malicious, and in fact was probably the softest-hearted of the six young boys. Buck's mother had been a lady of the night, and his father was unknown. Despite the social stigmas automatically placed on the odd family, Buck's mother had done a fine job of raising her son. A more polite or caring boy couldn't be found. Tragically, she had been murdered by a violent john in front of her son less than a year earlier. Buck still had horrendous nightmares about that night.
The last of the boys was John David Dunne, called JD. He was about four, though like Vin his age was not for certain. He had turned up at Standish House one day, out of the blue, with no explanation. A thorough search turned up no relatives, and since no one had reported a missing child, Ezra had agreed to take him in. He was a ball of energy, perpetual motion personified. He and Buck had instantly taken to each other, and often informed visitors that they were "for-real brothers." JD had only been at Standish House for a few months.
Though all of the six boys were basically without family, none were currently available for adoption. They had been placed in Ezra’s care permanently by one Judge Orrin Travis, before the good judge retired from his position. Despite what most people thought, they could have no better or more caring guardian than the former gambler.
After Ezra was settled, he raised his hand for silence. "Whose turn is it to say the blessing?"
"Mine." Vin's hesitant voice reached his ears.
"Alright, Vin, go ahead."
The soft-spoken boy bowed his head, long brown curls obscuring his vision. "Creator, we thank ya fer yer love an' fer blessin' us with all this here bounty. A-men."
Ezra had to conceal a smile. Between his Native American teaching and his Texas accent, Vin's prayers were always something to be remembered.
Blessing over, bowls and platters began being passed around the table. Vin scowled slightly when he was handed the bowl of greens. Ezra spoke firmly but not unkindly. "Eat them, Vin. They're good for you."
The meal was eaten in relative silence, until Ezra spoke again. "I'm going into town tomorrow."
The noise that followed was deafening. All six boys began clamoring to be allowed to go along.
Ezra raised his hand, and they quieted instantly. "All of you are going. Winter is coming and you're all going to need new shoes."
JD's eyes went wide. "Shoes? You mean store-bought shoes? For real ones?"
Ezra felt his heart twinge. Sometimes JD was so exuberant that it was hard to remember the sufferings he'd most likely endured. He'd clearly never had a new pair of shoes before. "Yes, JD, real ones. We can't have you running around barefoot once the snow comes."
Vin scowled. "Indian braves don't wear shoes."
"Yes, well, you are not an Indian brave. You are a little boy, and you are going to wear shoes." Secretly, Ezra was pleased that Vin was comfortable enough to complain about the vegetables and the need of shoes. For too long he'd been afraid of being punished severely if he ever disobeyed. No one was quite sure where that came from, because Indians rarely, if ever, beat their children. He must have developed that particular fear before his "abduction."
Chris and Buck, meanwhile, were grinning at each other. They'd been carefully saving their allowance for the next time they got to go to town. A slingshot in Mrs. Potter's store had been calling to them for months. They had just enough.
Nathan was smiling too, though for a different reason. He was looking forward to finding out whether his new book had come. Young Nathan seemed as drawn to the written word as most children were to mischief. He especially loved books about science and the human body. He'd confided to Ezra that he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up.
Early the next morning the stable hands had the wagon hitched up as well as Nathan and Josiah's horses. Both were old enough to ride by themselves, a fact that bothered Chris and Buck to no end. Ezra drove the wagon carrying the four younger boys.
Except for the normal playful tussling and half-hearted arguments, the ride to town was uneventful. The boys paired off once they arrived in town, as usual. Chris and Buck went off together to get their slingshot, Josiah took JD to explore the town, and Nathan took Vin to the post office to check on his book. These were not necessarily the pairs the boys would have chosen for themselves, but Ezra didn’t want Vin or JD off with Chris or Buck alone. The two seven year olds were too young to keep a proper eye on them. Together, though, he could usually count on them to behave.
As it turned out, Chris and Buck weren’t the ones he had to worry about.