Title: The Burden Of Friendship
Author: Cathy Roberts
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
Characters: Ezra, Nathan, Josiah, Buck, Chris, Inez, and Mary
Date: July 11, 2011
Summary: Written for the Mag7 Bingo prompt "Restraint", from the middle of column 'I'. Could be considered a crossover with "Falling Skies". You didn't think that this was the first trip here for the Skitters, did you? I don't own either show, nor do I make money from either show.
Ezra dejectedly pushed the mush on his plate around. He knew he should eat it, there wouldn't be food again until the noon meal. But, this? It was bad enough to be getting up at dawn, but to then be faced with having to eat oatmeal at this God-forsaken hour? Atrocious, he thought with a sigh.
"I don't like it much either," Nathan said from where he sat to Ezra's left. "But, it's all we got until we can catch some more hens."
"There's barely enough eggs for the children now," Mary said. She was seated opposite from Ezra in the semi-circle of friends who had found space under a tree to sit for breakfast. "Yesterday evening, we had some more families coming in. They lived just this side of Eagle Bend, and there are several young children with them. We don't have enough space for all of them."
"There might be a solution to that," Ezra said as he finally scooped up a bit of oatmeal. "There are plenty of abandoned homesteads." He didn't feel the need to point out that they were abandoned because the owners were all dead. "We can disassemble the houses and outbuildings and re-build them here. The mild weather we've had this past week won't hold out for long, and I, for one, am growing weary of sleeping outside each night."
The shack that Chris had once called his was now packed with the children who were older enough to be apart from their mothers, but too young to sleep out in the open each night. The barn, which had been finished shortly before the bugs had invaded, housed the youngest of the children and their mothers, and it was also packed. Those who had arrived in covered wagons had found them confiscated and put to use for the better good. And most of the men knew better than to argue with Chris when he'd decided that the better good meant that the wagons would be used to give shelter for as many of the women as was possible. They'd even rigged up tents of a sort in the corral, using a combination of unused lumber and canvas or other heavy materials. But, as Mary had pointed out, more people were wandering in, and more space, more shelter, was needed.
Ezra swallowed down the oatmeal, waiting for the complaints about his idea. To his surprise, none came.
"That's a good idea," Nathan said. "And it's something that people who can't go out on patrol can do, give 'em a purpose."
Ezra nodded. He knew that Nathan wanted to be out on one of those patrols, but the need for his medical knowledge kept him there. The patrols were supposed to just make sure that none of the bugs were coming near them, and to find sources of food; looking for hens, milk cows, steers, ransacking the abandoned homesteads. Some of them, such as the one that Vin led, were doing more, and had added bug hunting to their daily routine.
"We'll need to be careful, though," Mary added. "The first places we…dismantle, should be the ones that are furthest away from here. We don't know how those bugs think, but we know they do think. We don't want to draw their attentions here."
"We should also try to make it look more random," Josiah added. "Not take down all of the buildings at each place, and maybe even making sure we don't dismantle entire buildings. Make it look as if the owners needed the lumber and took it with them, or a storm hit."
Ezra agreed with both idea, and from the nods of those around him, so did everyone else.
"Wooie," Buck exclaimed as he and Inez sat down next to Mary. He grinned at her. "Oatmeal again!"
"We were just discussing the need for more hens," Ezra informed him.
"Didn't you get a deer yesterday?" Buck asked him, dishing up a huge spoonful of the oatmeal. "Venison for breakfast would have been good."
"I did. Or rather, Ralph Potter shot one while we were on patrol." Ezra led a patrol that was made up of a mixture of adults and boys old enough to handle a gun. Their patrol area was to the south, and their main objectives were to keep an eye out for bugs, look for survivors and send them this way, forage for food and hunt. The bugs though, especially those flying wagons they used, scared off a lot of the game, even though Ezra had yet to see any bugs on foot in their assigned area. There wasn't as much to the south, and the bugs had already raided the Seminole village and the reservation. The only other place to the south of any worth was the James Ranch, and Stuart James had waved off Ezra's suggestion to come north and join up with the rest of them. So far, he'd only lost a few steers to the bugs, and he didn't seem too worried about losing more, or about losing any of his men to them, either.
"The meat went to the children," Inez spoke up, challenge in her voice and eyes, Ezra noted.
"Well, I'd never deprive a child of food, darlin', you should know me better than that," Buck easily countered. "But if we're going to win this fight, then we need some decent food, too."
"Stuart James could have easily donated at least one steer from his herd," Ezra said. "He knows we have refugees here, most of them women and children."
"James has always held himself apart from the rest of the town," Mary said. "While I had hoped he'd be different now, I can't say that I'm surprised."
"We can make do without his charity," Nathan snapped. "Man wants to be alone, he can just stay out there alone. See how well he does when those bugs decide that he's ripe for the pickin'."
Ezra's brows rose at Nathan's words. It wasn't so much the words, as the attitude. Since the lovely Rain had died, Nathan had grown harder, and Ezra didn't like it. Just as he didn't like the hardness that was consuming Vin and J.D.
Ezra finished off his oatmeal and set the plate aside, then looked around the group. The semi-circle had now grown into a small circle now that Buck and Inez had joined them. Chris wasn't there, and neither were Vin and J.D. The latter two were on their patrol, and Ezra knew that Chris was most likely being delayed at joining them because of people stopping him between the breakfast fire and their claimed spot. Conklin could always be counted on to pester Chris, pressing for more power in their little camp. It rankled Conklin that so many of the people were naturally looking toward Chris as their leader, but the way Ezra saw it, this was Chris's land, and he should have final say as to what happened on it.
While Conklin knew that their little circle met each morning to share breakfast, he didn't know that they also discussed what was going on in the camp, and what needed to be done. Usually Gloria Potter joined them, but today she was trying to organize the heating of water so that clothes and people could be washed. Ezra wished her success on that project, and hoped that his own clothing would get a chance to be cleansed. He wasn't holding out much hope on that, though. The children needed baths far more than his shirts needed laundering. Ezra had spoken with Gloria the night before, and knew what she thought about the subject he wanted to bring up. So did Buck, and Ezra was relieved to know that if nothing else, he had Buck on his side.
"There's something I'd like to address before our esteemed leader is able to join us," Ezra began. Buck looked up, all of the joviality gone from his eyes as if he knew what Ezra was about to talk about. "It is something that is a growing concern, and Gloria, Buck and I have already discussed the matter."
"You're talking about our absent brothers?" Josiah asked.
Ezra nodded. "Indeed. I don't know if anyone else noticed, but when they returned from their patrol the other day, each of them were adorned with war trophies."
Mary shuddered and Inez simply shook her head. It was the men of their group who seemed to have the most vocal opinions about the items. As their opinions swirled around him, Ezra remembered his own revulsion as he realized that the members of the patrol were now wearing necklaces comprised of bug parts, what they would consider to be fingers, if the things on the ends of what Ezra thought were arms, were hands for the bugs. The members of the patrol, which was made up of Vin, J.D., Yosemite, Chanu and Coeehajo, one of the older teens from the Seminole village, were rapidly becoming a circle of their own. They were always gone before sun-up, and returned at dusk. Once back, Vin would give a report to Chris, and then he and the patrol would grab a late supper, then head off to bed, or to plan out their activities for the next day. Ezra was certain that Chris wasn't giving them any orders about where to patrol or what to do. And if he was, then Ezra was just as certain that Vin would ignore those orders. He and J.D. had changed the day that the bugs had killed the prisoners. Vin still wouldn't talk about how the bugs did it, but Ezra knew it haunted the man. Given all that Vin had probably seen and done when living with the tribes, the fact that it troubled Vin was just as troubling to Ezra. Chanu felt guilt because it was his actions of rescuing one of their own that had triggered the executions. Coeehajo was a cousin to Rain, and it turned out that she had been his lone remaining blood-kin.
"Getting back to the subject," Ezra interrupted the others, then waited until they had gone silent before continuing. "I fear that our two youngest are not only actively hunting down the bugs, but that they're venturing closer and closer to town. While we need to fight these creatures and reclaim our town, we also need to practice some restraint. It will not take long for the bugs to figure out that they are being hunted, and that realization could lead them to our camp here, putting everyone in further peril."
"Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord," Josiah said. "I tried and tried to talk some sense into that Nichols woman, back when her and her boys were out for Hank Connelly's blood, but she wouldn't listen. She just wanted vengeance, not justice."
"Theyr'e entitled to vengeance," Nathan said, although Ezra had the feeling that Nathan wasn't as calm as his voice sounded. "We all are. Ain't right to be tellin' them what they can and cain't do."
"Then why aren't you out there with them?" Ezra quietly asked, as he turned his head to look Nathan in the eyes. "You lost just as much as they have, so why don't you go on patrol with them? Hunt down those bugs and execute them?"
Nathan broke eye contact and looked down at the ground. "I might not be a doctor, but I can heal people. Those comin' in got hurts that need tending to. I'm the best person to do it."
"So, you're telling us that you've reined in your need for vengeance in order to work for the better good?" Ezra asked.
"Vin and J.D. are working for the rest of us," Nathan countered, looking back up. "They bring in food and keep an eye out in case those bugs come out this way. If I weren't needed here, then yeah, I'd be out there with them. Why aren't you?"
"It's always a pleasure to begin breakfast with an argument," Chris said as he stepped between Ezra and Nathan, and sat down. "Before I could even have a sip of coffee, I had Conklin blathering in my ear, and just when I start to think that I could eat in peace, I hear the two of you arguing. It had better be good," Chris said and then he took a drink of his coffee, obviously waiting for their answer.
It was Buck who filled the silence. "We were talking about Vin and J.D., and the need to rein them in before they go too far. You and I both know that their patrol is venturing closer and closer to town. How soon before one of those bugs follows them back here, Chris?"
Chris cradled the cup of coffee in his hands, "I think that we know that's not going to happen, not with Vin and Chanu in that patrol. They make sure that the rest of them don't leave a trail."
"They're killing recklessly," Ezra said. "Sooner or later, the bugs will notice that so many of their number are disappearing and never coming back. It won't take much for them to figure out that some of us are doing more than just defending ourselves, that we're taking the fight to them."
Chris slowly smiled, but it wasn't a smile that reached his eyes. Instead, it was one that made Ezra feel more than a little cold inside. Much like he'd felt the last time Vin had smiled at him. "You say that like it's a bad thing. We need to be taking this fight to them, Ezra. Granted, it's only been a week since the night they attacked, but we need to start thinking about getting our town back and sending those things to Hell, or back to whatever hole it is they came from."
"An admirable goal, Mr. Larabee," Ezra replied, "But in case you haven't noticed, our little group here is comprised of more women and children than it is of men capable of fighting those creatures."
"I've noticed it, Ezra. Vin mentioned this morning that we should send someone to the Seminole village. There's a cannon there, even better, there are cannon balls there. They never had a chance to use it against the bugs when they arrived there on the flying wagons, or so Coeehajo says. We can use the cannon here. Ezra, you know the cannon better than anyone else here, so you should lead a group to go get it."
Ezra wanted to argue, but he could see the sound reasoning behind the idea. Still, it rankled him that he was being ordered about like one of the children being sent to do his chores. "Is that an order, Mr. Larabaee?"
"Does it have to be an order for you to do what's right?" Chris countered, his grip on the coffee cup tightening.
"No. It does not." Ezra replied, and he was marginally gladdened to see that the tight grip loosen.
"It still doesn't address the problem." Josiah shifted position on the ground. "Losing Casey and Miss Nettie was hard on our youngest brothers, but the way they've been going lately, it's going to destroy them, Chris."
Chris and Josiah exchanged a long look, and it was Chris who broke the contact, looking around to each of them. "It seems to me that we also need information. We know that the bugs attacked to the southwest, since they attacked the Seminole village. We know that they hit the reservation, and have also reached Eagle Bend. Since the telegraphs aren't working, we don't know how far this spreads. Is the thing that landed in town the only one? Or are there more? Someone needs to head out, see how far those bugs are, and get help if they haven't landed in any other places."
Ezra slowly grinned as he saw where Chris was going with that idea. "And who better to go than one who can track anything, and also hide his own tracks?"
"And he shouldn't go alone," Buck added, a grin on his own face. "Someone should go with him, just in case."
"I don't see how our brothers can argue with logic like that," Josiah agreed. "But I don't want to be the one who has to break it to them that they've got new duties."
Nathan abruptly lurched to his feet, sending a glare at each of them, starting with Josiah. "Do what you want, you always do," he snapped. "But keep in mind that had any of you lost a loved one that day, you'd be out there killin' those things, too. And you wouldn't like it one bit if your so-called friends told you that you was wrong to do so and then sent you away."
As Nathan practically stomped away, Ezra looked around at the members of their group. Each of them did look ashamed, but he knew that they were doing the right thing. While he knew that Vin had a hard exterior, and could always be counted on to do what needed to be done, no matter how distasteful others might find that to be. But, Ezra also knew that inside was a man who was anything but hard. Vin had a gentle soul, and Ezra didn't want to see that soul hardened in any way. And J.D. was so young, with a life still to be lived ahead of him. Yes, he had loved Casey, but it was a young love, and that flame might have flickered out all on its own in time. There was a chance for him to love again, but he'd never get that chance if he kept risking everything just so he could kill another bug. There were times when Ezra missed the wide-eyed innocent boy from the east who had followed them to the Seminole village. That boy was long gone, never to be seen again, and Ezra knew that people changed as they grew older and gained more experiences. He just didn't like seeing J.D. change in this way.
The looks that Ezra got back from Buck, Josiah and Chris assured Ezra that he wasn't alone with those feelings. Since Vin and J.D. wouldn't or couldn't, exercise restraint, then it was up to them to find some other way to rein them in. Chris's plan had the best chance of doing so, and in a way that didn't make them feel as if they were being reprimanded. Still, as Josiah had opined, Ezra didn't want to be the one to break the news to them.
Ezra got to his feet, then placed a hand on Chris's shoulder. "I'll round up some men for the trip to the Seminole village. It would probably be good to take Coeehajo with me. Maybe Chanu could help Josiah or Buck with putting together some hunting parties? We could all use some more meat around here."
Chris nodded, but he didn't look up.
"And know that when you break the news to them about this new assignment, our good will and best wishes will be with you, Mr. Larabee." Ezra nodded. "Because the good Lord knows that you're going to need it."
|comments: Leave a comment|