Disclaimer: Don’t own any rights to the characters and concepts of the Magnificent Seven. Don’t profit off the fiction I write.
Warnings: Deals with some sensitive subject matter in the beginning, tread lightly. None of it is explicit, but it includes the suggestion of rape and other violence toward a (pregnant) woman. Other violence, bloodshed and language.
Characters: Ezra Standish, the Seven.
Genre: H/C (of course). Ezra gets the owwies, both physical and emotional. The others offer the comfort.
Notes: I’ve got plans for Ethan, so please don’t borrow him. And if that sounds ominously like a sequel? You’re right!!
Ezra Standish stepped through the batwing doors to the boardwalk beyond, breathing deep of the predawn air. He scrubbed a hand over tired eyes and took a sip from the steaming mug in his other hand. He had just finished alleviating three traveling businessmen of their discretionary funds an hour earlier, staying in the saloon until he was certain the grumbling trio weren’t going to come back in an effort to ‘convince’ him to return their money.
The sound of a horse coming up the street caught the gambler’s attention and he turned to see the animal moving quickly along the dusty road, its rider slumped forward in the saddle. Setting the mug down, he leapt from the boardwalk and sprinted toward the approaching apparition. As he neared the skittish creature he slowed, not wanting to frighten it off. He was shocked to see a young woman, beaten and bloody, clinging to the reins. She turned, setting pain glazed eyes on the man beside her.
“Help me… please.”
Carefully, the Southerner pulled her into his arms. As he did, he realized that the woman was pregnant, her swollen belly pressed against the bloody nightgown she wore. Cradling her in his arms, he hurried toward the long staircase that led to Nathan’s clinic. She lay limp against him, one trembling hand clutching his shirt. Her breathing was raspy and hard for him to hear, the tiny moans that escaped from time to time even more difficult.
Reaching the top of the stairs, he called out, relieved to see the big healer quickly open the door. Without a word, he carried his precious burden past Jackson and settled her gently on the bed. He started to move away, but her hand remained wrapped in his clothing. The gambler looked to see her eyes open wide and fixed on him. Tenderly he coaxed her fingers open, and took the small hand in his own. Carefully settling on the edge of the mattress, he kept his eyes locked with hers and managed to paste a small smile on his face. Patting her hand, he said softly, “it’s going to be all right.”
Nathan came up on the other side of the bed. He lifted her head and fed her something in a metal cup. The healer coaxed her to drink the entire contents of the cup before he laid her back on the pillow. Looking across the young woman he caught Standish’s expression, complete with furrowed brow and questioning eyes.
“That seems rather a lot to give her, assuming that it was a sedative.”
“Laudanum.” The big man turned his head, unwilling to look at his friend.
“Laudanum? Nathan, what are you trying to do? That’s too much.”
Brown eyes finally turned toward the gambler, pain evident in their depths. In a whisper, he said, “don’t matter none.”
Reality dawned, and Standish let out a small groan. He felt the hand in his twitch and realized he had been squeezing it ever tighter. Looking down at the young woman, he said, “my apologies my dear.”
Turning to the other man, Ezra asked, “the child?”
“She’s ‘bout ready to deliver. I’m gonna hurry things along best I can. Can you… can you stay with her?”
Nodding, the smaller man said, “I’m not going anywhere. Do you know her?”
“Yeah, name’s Amelia Cooper. She and her husband Ethan took over the old Patterson place about three months ago.”
“Do you think…” he couldn’t help but look at the cuts and bruises that covered most of her face and neck. “Would her husband have…”
Looking up when the smaller man didn’t finish the sentence, Jackson realized what he was leading toward. “Don’t think so. Didn’t know ‘em real well, but Ethan seemed a decent man.”
“Then someone else… I wonder as to Mr. Cooper’s whereabouts.”
“We’ll look into it later, Ezra. Right now I need to take care of things here.”
Standish looked over his shoulder to see Nathan working feverishly. He saw more blood on the lower portion of her gown and asked in a trembling tone, “was she – ?”
Nodding but not taking the time to look up, the healer said, “she was raped.”
“Oh, my lord.” He felt the room spin as his mind struggled to take in what all this young woman clinging so tightly to him had endured.
Sensing the other man’s mounting anger, Jackson said again, “we’ll look into it later. Ezra, I need you to keep her calm… keep her company. I’d like to deliver the baby before… I’d like her to see her baby.”
Tears welling up in jade green eyes, Standish said, “I will do my best.”
The world narrowed until all that it contained was a pair of crystal blue eyes. Eyes that never left his face, even as the opiate began to take effect and their light began to fade. He was vaguely aware of Nathan pressing a cloth to a wound in her upper chest, then moving down to the other end of the bed in preparation of delivering her child. He reached out and gently stroked a hand through sweat curled auburn hair. Finally he managed to find his voice, and sought to use it to keep her anchored to life.
“So, tell me my dear, have you a preference? Do you want a son or a daughter?”
Colorless lips moved as she struggled to answer him, but no sound came forth. He read her answer, though, and smiled. “A son. Yes, that would be quite wonderful, wouldn’t it? A son to help you and your husband on your homestead.”
Her eyes closed and tears rolled from beneath the pale lids. Ezra mentally kicked himself. Taking a deep breath, he continued softly. “Have you chosen a name?”
The tear-washed eyes opened once more and she once again mouthed her answer.
“Ethan? Ah yes, a fine name it is. He shall carry it proudly, I’m certain… make his father proud.”
He stopped as she arched up, her mouth opening in a breathless cry. He took both her hands, holding them firmly between his own. “Stay with me, Amelia. Hold on… squeeze as hard as you dare. Please, my dear, stay with me.”
“Don’t let ‘er move,” Jackson commanded. “I’ve got th’ baby… gotta deliver the shoulders.”
Nodding absently, Standish’s full attention was on the dying mother to be. He wished the Laudanum would take full effect, to spare her some of the pain. At the same time he couldn’t bare the thought of those trusting eyes closing. He knew they would never open again.
“Hold my hands, Amelia… squeeze them. Come on, now, you can do better than that. You’re an amazing young woman, Amelia. Very brave. You’re strong, Amelia. You have to fight.”
“It’s a boy?”
“Yeah,” relief was evident in the deep voice, which was accompanied by a hearty cry. A healthy baby boy.
Ezra looked into her face with a smile, only to have the expression falter as he read something in the ashen face. And he knew. “Give me the child.”
“Just a minute, I need to – “
“Give me the child!” Ezra all but ripped the infant from the healer’s hands. Cradling the infant boy, still attached to his mother by the umbilical cord, in one arm, he carefully lifted the child’s mother into the other. Gently he placed the infant against Amelia’s chest.
“Here he is Amelia. Your son. And a fine, healthy baby he is.”
She reached out, touching the tiny face. He looked to see tears rolling down her face. He pressed his cheek against her head and whispered, “he shall grow to be a fine man, Amelia. I shall do everything in my power to make certain of that.”
A soft breath of air escaped the young woman, and he felt her grow limp against him. Standish looked up, tears coursing down his own face as he sought the other man’s help.
Jackson took the infant from the Southerner, watching as he gently lowered the young woman back to the bed. “I’ll get them both cleaned up… get her to the undertaker. Reckon Mrs. Potter or Mrs. Travis can help take care of the baby ‘til we know what happened to his daddy.”
“It is not ‘the baby’. His name is Ethan.”
Knowing the man was speaking out of grief, Jackson said, “we’ll take care of Ethan ‘til we know what happened.”
“You said they took over the Patterson’s homestead?”
“That’s that little piece of land just West of here, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Reckon we better get Chris and the others and ride out. Soon as I get… Ethan… cleaned up, can you take him to Mrs. Potter?” When there was no answer, the dark healer looked up only to find that Ezra had left the room.
Standish sprinted to the salon, not breaking stride as he dashed through the door and up the stairs. Not even thinking about his bloody clothing, he stayed there only long enough to retrieve his Colt and the stash of ammunition he kept handy. Then he tore back down the stairs and out the door, heading for the livery. A few minutes later, he was back out the door, astride his horse.
There were very few lanterns lit in the little town, and few people up and about. Only one pair of eyes beheld the sight of Ezra Standish roaring out of town, as if the devil’s hounds were snapping at his heals. Vin Tanner frowned and shook his head at the vision. He could imagine Ezra leaving in such a manner from many of the little towns in the vicinity. Here, however, he had six men who would watch his back if there was a problem. Curious, Tanner noted that the lantern was lit in Nathan’s clinic. Still holding the cup of coffee he had been sipping, he strode purposefully across the street and jogged up the wooden stairs.
Entering the room after only a cursory knock, Vin’s face paled as he took in the scene before him. Jackson was just covering a very still body that lay in the middle of his bed. A blanket wrapped bundle lay at the foot of the bed, the coverings moving from time to time, accompanied by tiny sounds from the depths of the wrap.
“Ah, hell. I’m sorry Nathan. Didn’t mean t’ come bargin’ in.”
“No harm. Did you happen to see Ezra?”
Nodding, Tanner said, “’s what I’s comin’ up t’ check in with y’ on. He lit outta here hell-bent-fer-leather jist now.”
Heaving a sigh, the big man said, “heading West?”
“Yep. What th’ hell’s goin’ on, Nathan?”
Quickly Jackson recounted the happenings of the past hour, watching rage well up in the finely chiseled features of the other man. “I’m gonna finish seein’ to these two, can you go round up the others and get the horses ready?”
Tanner nodded, moving quickly from the room. There was no need to discuss what they would do, it was very simple. They were going to ride out after the gambler and hopefully keep him from getting himself killed.
He couldn’t remember the last time he had ridden Lady Diamonds so hard. The little chestnut hurtled full tilt across the prairie, as if she understood what had happened. He bent low over her outstretched neck, ignoring the tears that left wet tracks along his checks before they whipped into the air behind him. He knew he was acting the fool, bursting out here alone with no idea of what lay ahead. For all he knew, he could be riding toward his own death.
He spurred the horse faster.
He slowed an hour later, as he topped the little rise that looked down on the little valley that Ephraim and Clara Patterson had owned for some years. Reining the blowing horse in, he took in the scene below.
It was the picture of serenity at first glance. That was until you noticed the body sprawled face down in the dirt just outside the little house. Standish recalled Amelia’s response when he mentioned her husband, and knew in his heart that it was Ethan Cooper lying there.
He watched the homestead for several minutes, searching for any sign of life. There were several horses milling around in the yard, still saddled, which told him that whoever had committed such heinous crimes was still there. Dropping from the saddle, he ground reined Diamonds, slipping his rifle from the boot. Pulling his Colt as well, the gambler slipped quietly down the hill, heading for the little house.
He could hear them before he reached the small, wooden structure. The sounds of several sleeping men told him that the monsters responsible for the deaths of Ethan and Amelia Cooper were inside. Creeping up to the house, he inched along the wooden surface until he reached an open window. Carefully he peered inside, half expecting to see a group of demons huddled there.
They were only men after all. He counted five, sprawled out amidst a large collection of liquor bottles. All of them empty. His stomach churned as he thought of Amelia having to endure the torture they had heaped upon her.
Leaving the window, he moved silently across the yard to where the body he assumed to be Ethan, senior, lay. Kneeling beside the man, he hoped in vain to feel a heartbeat. Turning the man over, that hope died, as he saw that Mr. Cooper’s face had been literally bashed in. The Southerner’s rebellious stomach threatened to spill its contents into the grass. He held firm, however, knowing that this was not the time to give in to the horror he felt.
Pushing himself back to his feet, Ezra squared his shoulders as he stared toward the little, besieged, home. With a purposeful stride he marched toward the front door. Without missing a step, he kicked the door open and moved inside. A cold smile crept across his face as he beheld the looks of shock on the faces of the men inside.
“Morning, boys,” he drawled.
“Wh-who th’ hell ‘re you?” A large, ugly man stammered.
“Me? Why my good sir… I am Satan himself, come to claim your souls.”
They looked to see the mark of the Devil in those green eyes, and not one of them doubted that he was exactly who he said he was. Then their attention was drawn to a point behind the vision in blood-stained clothing. Standish saw this but, before he could turn to see what they were looking at, something very heavy impacted on the back of his head, and he fell bonelessly to the floor.
Another of the ruthless gang stood over the unconscious man, bloody axe handle dangling in his grip. He looked up at the other men, a cold smile gracing his scarred and hawk-like features. “Reckon we got us another plaything, boys.”
It had taken almost an hour to gather the others, ready the horses, and arm themselves. But, finally, the other peacekeepers rode out of town, horses at a gallop as soon as they cleared the livery doors. Townspeople, out and about their morning business, hurried to get out of their way, watching after the six men with curious gazes.
They rode hard, cutting across the prairie on the quickest route to the Cooper’s homestead. Tanner, in the lead, kept his keen eyes peeled. He hoped to see the gambler ahead, hoping the Southerner would calm enough to turn back. He hoped Standish wouldn’t be foolhardy enough to take on the unknown without someone at his back.
Their first indication of where Ezra was, was when they reached the far side of the hilltop that overlooked the homestead. His chestnut, Lady Diamonds, stood waiting patiently for his return. Dismounting, the men ground reined their own mounts, and moved cautiously to the top of the rise. It was there they discovered just how foolhardy Ezra Standish could be.
He had regained consciousness, although he wished he hadn’t. Pain coursed through his body, every fiber of his being screaming with shear agony.
Standish had been stripped to his underwear, and was tied, spread eagle, between the two porch uprights. He had no idea as to how long he’d been suspended there, but had the suspicion that it was nearing a lifetime.
They had taken turns beating him, using fists, clubs, and anything else that caught their fancy. When they tired of that, they settled in several yards away from him. At the moment, they were using his bloodied body for target practice. Each man had drawn knives, some with thick blades, some with thin. They took turns again, throwing their knives at him. Fortunately for the battered man, their hangovers, coupled with the bright morning sun, and his – albeit limited – ability to move, kept them from hitting him very often. Still, they had managed to hit their target several times. Some were glancing blows, the knife clattering to the dusty boards behind him. Others pierced his flesh, leaving the weapon’s owner to remove it before his next turn. Which they took great join in doing. Roughly.
He had quickly tired of crying out, realizing that it only seemed to excite the men all the more. He found it distasteful to add to their pleasure, so fought the urge to scream by biting into his cheek. From time to time he was forced to swallow, the sharp, copper taste nearly gagging him.
The injured man struggled to keep his head up, not wanting to give the violent gang the satisfaction of seeing how weak their abuse had rendered him. Although he couldn’t see any of them clearly, he focused in their direction, a defiant expression on his bruised face.
And then it began to thunder. He groaned. Just what he needed to make it a perfect morning… rain. Standish couldn’t understand why he was hearing thunder, however, when the sun was nearly blinding him.
The members of the gang halted in their game, staring toward the hill at the sound. Then they saw that the thunder came on the hooves of six horses, bearing down at them. The men on their backs were armed, guns blazing as they roared toward them.
The gang scrambled for cover, fingers fumbling to draw their own weapons. Some of them managed it, managed to get off a few shots. Others fell with their gun still holstered.
The fight was brief, almost anticlimactic. Only one of the vile murderers was still breathing when Chris Larabee and the other men reached the little yard, but died soon after. Writhing in agony, he breathed his final breath lying alone on the ground, drowning in his own blood. The six peacekeepers had other priorities. The only attention he received was when Buck Wilmington kicked his Colt out of his hand. His fate had been sealed the moment he stepped onto the Cooper’s homestead, and the men of Four Corners felt no compassion toward him.
On the porch, Ezra managed to focus his attention long enough to see that his compatriots had arrived. He realized that the whole of his vision was suddenly taken up by the much welcome visage of Josiah Sanchez. Frowning, he tried to decipher the reason for the big former preacher was hugging him. While he was ecstatic at their arrival, Standish wasn’t certain that he cared about any of the others enough to embrace them.
Sanchez carefully held the slender form while Chris and Vin quickly cut the ropes holding him. As they did, the gambler slumped in the bigger man’s embrace with a moan. He managed to look around him, seeing the familiar faces of his friends. Then his eyes rolled back in his head as he lost his bid to remain conscious.