Home for Christmas
Disclaimer: Characters are not mine, and there is really no point in suing me. All I have is debt to the university, and you can have that for the asking. Magnificent Seven belongs to Mirisch, MGM and Trilogy. Author's Notes; I am brand new to writing fic, but after reading all the wonderful stories out there I felt the muse strike.
I would love feedback, especially constructive criticism for future writings.
Hope you enjoy the fic!
Acknowledgements: Amethyst, my beta and best friend. And everyone who's minor characters/horses names I borrowed, especially Kristen for the name of Chaucer. The others, who's names I don't know, I acknowledge you anonymously. Thanks.
He couldn't help it.
The scene was just too surreal for him to keep a straight face.
In all his years, Orrin Travis had never before seen a sight so like what one might imagine had surrounded the famous Pied Piper.
Only this time, it was no German village with a rat infestation. This time, it was a small, western frontier town, and the Piper was not a musician. At least, not that anyone knew of, but the southerner had many talents few would suspect of a conman. The first and foremost being his way with children.
The Judge had heard around town, and from his daughter-in-law, that Standish had a gift for dealing with children, but he had had a hard time believing that the gambler liked children.Could fool them, certainly, the man could sell water to a drowning man, but to enjoy the company of someone who had no money, Orrin had doubted.
Now, though, as he watched the children gather, watching the road carefully, he began to wonder if Mary hadnt underestimated the gamblers pull with the local children. It was warm for Christmas Eve, and the townspeople were closing down the shops for the holiday, and preparing to gather for the town Christmas party that the ladies had organized at the church. Of course, they had quickly filled that building, and the party was going to be also found in the lower level of the granary, where the Judge often held court. The church was going to be filled with music, singing and dancing, while the food and other events would be found in the other building. The Judge had been surprised to learn that all seven of his peacekeepers were expected at various times during the night, although patrols were still being done.
Dunne, Wilmington, Sanchez, and Jackson he understood, had even expected their attendance. They were relatively social men, well liked in the community. He hadn't pictured Tanner as one for any social event, the man hated crowds. Larabee, well, holidays were always hard after losing family members, and to have lost all ones family would make it that much worse. Standish, there was an enigma worthy of the great philosophers. The man was an aggravation, cocky and reckless, with a mouth that didnt quit, and an attitude that should have gotten him killed by now. But, damned if the little bastard didnt grow on a person. Orrin smiled as he thought of the perfect comparison.
Something amuses you, Orrin? Evie Travis asked her husband, smiling at seeing her husband relaxed.
I was just thinking about Mr. Standish. He certainly seems to be well liked by a segment of the population, Orrin replied, gesturing to the children, who were still watching the street for any sign of the gambler.
"Yes, that he is. I dare say even the parents are beginning to accept his presence," Mary responded, smiling as Billy joined the other children.
"I was merely speculating on his likeness to a rather tenacious fungus," Orrin added, causing the two women to start, but laugh heartily. "I don't think he'd appreciate that."
"No, but it is fitting nonetheless. He is not something you'd want around at first, but the longer it is around, the more positive points one sees, and thus eventually, it grows on you."
"Oh, it fits all right," Mary laughed, still smiling a few minutes later when the telegraph operator brought a message for the Judge.
Orrin took it, smiling at the man who nodded before heading towards the church.
Mary and Evie watched as the smile dropped from Orrin's face before he re-folded the telegram and shoved it in his pocket.
"What is it, Orrin?"
"We need to find Mr. Larabee and the others."
"Not for the town," the Judge replied, heading for the saloon.
Mary stopped him, knowing exactly where the six peacekeepers were.
Ezra had left over a week before, something about business interests in Denver, promising to return in time for Christmas. "They're at the church. Josiah put them to work." Orrin nodded, turning to head towards the white building at the end of the street.
Mary and Evie followed, curious and concerned about the telegram that had erased the Judge's good mood.
"Mr. Larabee, gentlemen, ladies," the judge greeted, and he immediately had the attention of the gathered people. The six peacekeepers were joined in their preparations by Tiny, the liveryman, Nettie and Casey Wells, as well as John Fulton, the new hotel owner.
"Judge?" Chris asked, hoping it wasn't trouble headed their way. It was Christmas damn it. Was it so much to ask that the crooks stay in for the holiday?
"I just got a telegram from the stage company."
"Trouble?" JD interrupted, relaxing when the Judge shook his head.
"No. But it's not good news either."
"It never is," Chris muttered, glancing up to see the confusion in Travis'eyes.
"Sorry, Judge, but since when do you come to us with good news?"
"You have a point. Anyway, it seems that they found a coach, upturned, half-buried in a snowdrift in the mountains. Driver and only passenger missing."
"What's that got to do with us?" JD asked again. "Stage was bound for Ridge City, last one coming this way before the holiday.
It was due there last evening," the Judge explained, seeing realization dawn on Chris'face.
"Damn, that was Ezra's stage, wasn't it?"
"He bought the ticket just before it left. The company wired here because evidently, Mr. Standish mentioned that he was a resident of Four Corners. Addressed it to me, said Standish mentioned a federal judge being his boss."
"Anything else?" Josiah asked.
"Said it was snowing, so it was impossible to tell what happened, all the tracks were buried. They've checked the houses nearby, and sent wires to all the towns. No word. They promise to keep us informed."
"No point in us heading out is there?" Buck asked, knowing but asking anyway.
"Nope. Snow'd mess us up too," Vin replied.
"So we sit here, and go ahead with the party? I mean, Ezra's somewhere, and we just act like nothing's wrong?" JD argued. "Kid, Ezra'll be fine. Damn man's got as many lives as a cat."
"I guess Buck. But you know he hates snow. And besides, he gets sick so easy when it's cold."
"Trust me, he'll be fine. Probably talk somebody into givin'him dinner'n a bed." JD nodded reluctantly, and the people returned to their decorating, their earlier enthusiasm dampened.
Word spread through town, although the Judge was never sure exactly how word always seemed to get out in small towns.
No matter what the secret, it eventually got around.
A few of the adults expressed genuine concern about the gambler, but most seemed curious about where he had gone more than worried. The children were stricken, the older ones moped, quietly going through the motions of the day, while the younger ones were openly upset, and confused. All they knew was that Ezra had promised to be at the party, and now he wasn't coming.
Nathan was walking towards the church that evening, as darkness finally settled over Four Corners.
He stopped, seeing a little girl still leaning against the saloon's hitching rail, her small arms wrapped around it as her eyes stayed glued on the road into town. Nathan knelt down, lightly touching the girl on her shoulder. "Miss Camie, what're you looking for? Ain't your parents over t'the church?"
"I'm waiting for Mr. Ezra. He said he was gonna dance with me tonight. He promised."
"Camie, Ezra can't make it. Remember, there was an accident."
"No. Ezra promised me. He ain't never broke a promise. Says it's un... ungentlemanly." The little girl stumbled a little over the big words, but managed to get it out.
"Camie, he ain't got a choice this time. He's coming," Nathan sighed, unwilling to argue with the girl any further. "Well, why don't you come wait for him inside the church? It's getting cold."
"I guess. He'll come there, if he doesn't see me here, right?"
"Sure. Come on, let's find your parents."
Nathan escorted the girl inside, and caught himself eyeing the horizon for some sign of the gambler. Of course, there was nothing there.
Not fifteen minutes after Nathan and Camie found her parents, the six peacekeepers were gathered around the only punchbowl in the church, the rest of the food was in the granary.
They were quiet, watching the lively party around them, but not really participating.
Their somber moods were erased though, when the whole church was silenced by a little girl's excited cry. "EZRA!" Camie called, seeing the familiar southerner in the church's doorway. She ignored his rumpled, wet clothes and tired appearance, throwing herself at him in a giant hug, which he squatted to receive.
A genuine smile crossed the handsome face, and the other children in the room were by his side in a minute, asking a hundred questions, while Ezra seemed to bask in the attention.
"How come you're all wet?" Billy Travis asked, fingering the black coat of the gambler.
"I seem to have absconded with the mountain snow, and brought it, along with my person, to this fair municipality."
"It's snowing?" one of the other boys asked, and the children's eyes lit up. Snow was rare here, but many of them had moved from areas where snow was a common, and now missed, occurrence.
"Abysmally. Please, feel free to witness to the forsaken precipitation yourself."
"Naw, later. You promised to tell us stories."
"Yes, I did, and a deal is a deal." The children clapped happily, silenced only when Ezra raised his hand to yield the excitement.
"However, if it is reasonable to y'all, might I perhaps remove myself to my lodgings, so that I may reacquaint myself with unsodden haberdashery?"
"You can go change, Ezra," one of the older girls, one Emily Franklin, replied.
"Why thank you, Miss Franklin. Now, I shall return shortly, my friends." Ezra rose, still smiling at the children.
He nodded to his friends, who were still around the punchbowl. Turning, the gambler quickly slipped out the door of the church, disappearing into the darkening night.
"Well, I think I see a lovely young lady who has not had the pleasure of dancing with ol'Buck just yet. Bye, fellas." Buck, content once again that his friends were all safe, weaved through the crowd towards Anna Crawford, daughter of the newest store owner in Four Corners.
Chris nodded, smiling tightly at the typical actions of his oldest friend, as he moved towards Mary himself.
JD grinned happily, and practically bounced over to Casey and Nettie, leaving the three remaining peacekeepers to their own company.
"Wonder how Ezra got back," Vin stated quietly, his eyes still on the door of the church.
"Perhaps a Christmas miracle, Brother Vin. Perhaps we are fated to be together on this of all nights of the year."
"Ezra probably convinced some horse that the gallop home was absolutely the best thing for the health of the horse."
"'Ey, Nate, thought you said horse couldn't understand us anyway," Vin remarked, remembering the healer's disbelief at his and the southerner's insistence that speaking to their horses was not pointless.
"Nope. Just said no horse'd understand him. You, maybe. Peso makes a good case for it."
"Yep, Reckon Chaucer ain't no different. Only listens to Ez."
"Damn animal is temperamental," Nathan replied, thinking about the chestnut horse's penchant for biting or kicking at anything, or anyone, that disturbed him before he felt good and ready to go anywhere.
Chaucer was a lot like his owner that way.
Any further discussion of the gambler's relationship with his horse was ended however, when the man in question reappeared, looking completely immaculate as usual.
There was no hint of the rumpled man from only fifteen minutes before, except perhaps a slight look of exhaustion in the green eyes. The children automatically gathered around the southerner once again. "Will you tell us a story now, Ezra?" Bobby Turner piped up, tugging on the bright red sleeve, successfully getting the attention of the gambler.
"Well, now, that depends, Master Turner. Does a story sound engaging?" Ezra directed his query to the group at large, and was met with an enthusiastic 'YEAH!' from his gathered throng.
"Very well. I suppose that I might be induced to tell a story."
"Mister Ezra?" Nelly Friedman asked quietly, barely audible over others voices.
Nelly was a shy girl of not yet six, the only child of a local farmer, who had captured the heart of the gambler when he had happened upon the girl carefully treating a wounded dog.
She rarely spoke, even around her favorite adult, and thus had his immediate attention. "Yes, Miss Eleanor?"
"Can you tell us a story about your Christmas when you were little?" The quiet question threw the gambler, and the adults looked at each other carefully. Most of the townsfolk were unsure if they wanted to know about the past holidays of the resident conman.
They suspicioned that the gambler had spent his holidays in less than ideal circumstances, most likely in a gambling hall or saloon of some type.
"Well, I suppose. Which Christmas would you like to hear about?"
"What's your favorite?" one of the other girls asked.
"My favorite?" Ezra looked thoughtful then nodded.
"Very well. I suppose that the night must have been very similar to this, without the precipitation of course as I was currently abiding in a small town in Georgia known as Fallen Cross. I was eight that year and I had one wish for Christmas.I desired only to be home for Christmas."
"Did you get to?"
"Indeed, but in a way I did not foresee. You see, when I made the wish, I pictured my earlier home in Columbia, South Carolina, where I was born. However, that Christmas, with my cousins and other relatives in Fallen Cross, I found a home in some place that I had never been. So, as the story behind that holiday season unfolds you may find that often in life, we can not get what we want. But usually, we get what we need. So, that Christmas, I got my wish. I was, as I am now, home for Christmas. Now, settle in, children, to hear about what Yuletide brought to the homes of the southern ladies and gentlemen of Fallen Cross," Ezra began his story, quickly garnering the attention of the adults, who also gathered around the smooth-talking southerner as he told the story of finding a home in an unexpected place.
Vin Tanner, never one to think of any place as home, looked around the room full of people, and had to agree with Ezra.
Home may show up in the last place you expected, but it was always good to be home for Christmas.
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