The Right Kind of Mirrors
Disclaimers: I don't own em, really. I know it's hard to believe but I don't. They belong to other people, elsewhere; I just borrow them for healthy fun, like the remote
Notes: Thank you s much to my wonderful betas, Cindy Combs, whose opinion I respect and cherish in a way she will never know, and Bonnie May, such a wonderful human being whose invaluable help contributed hugely to make this story readable. Thank you both for everything.
Summary: The Seven run into a bunch of small mirrors in the woods, a discovery that leaves them stunned, perplexed, mesmerized and in a complete state of disbelief... to say the least.
Horses: Chaucers name is Kristens creation; Solon is Meg Tippers (Whaddya know??) Thank you guys so much as well. About Peso, well, he uses his own.
"It is not about the image you get when you see yourself, or how distorted from reality this image turns out to be, its about the kind of mirror you use".
Ripples shot throughout the quiet waters of the small pond as seven horses ran beside it on that serene summer afternoon.
Six riders followed a seventh who in turn followed a trail almost too faint to perceive. The trail, unfortunately, was fading more and more with every step. By the time the group reached an opening in the valley, the signs had all but disappeared.
Vin Tanner brought Peso to a halt and cursed, scanning the ground in vain over and over. It was of no use, they were gone.
"Damn!" he cursed once more in frustration, his eyes locked on the horizon, like trying to pick up some kind of trail in the air itself. He was lost, they were all lost, and it was his fault. "Damn it!"
"What?" Chris Larabees voice came up behind him, asking a question for which he already knew the answer.
Vin sighed, and inwardly kicked himself. "I lost it!"
Behind him, another curse followed as Buck Wilmington slapped his own thigh. "Damn! Son of a bitch!" He took off his hat to run a hand through his hair. "I thought we hadem. How could they disappear like that?"
Vin sighed again. "I dont know".
A shadow appeared from the right as Josiah Sanchez approached on his horse, easily spotting the true reason for all the sighing. "No easier than trailing a fish in the water, brother, dont worry. You did good, they were too damn quiet from the beginning."
"Yeah, it was the damndest thing, the most silent bank robbery I ever heard of. Good thing Nathan keeps his eyes open." Buck commented.
"They almost went pass me, Buck," Nathan said, "if I hadnt noticed that look on the guys face that, guilty look " he sighed as well, "and of course the big bag of money he was carryin helped a little too".
Buck chuckled, shaking his head.
Another deep sigh from Vin brought eerie silence to the small group, each man thinking what they could have done different or what to do next.
"Well," the youngest of their voices suddenly pointed out from the back of the group, "at least they didnt get the money."
Ezra Standish smiled to the young man next to him and then let out an honest laugh. "Mr. Dunne, youre absolutely right! Always the optimist, we should all learn a thing or two from you."
Several more faces lit up as Buck replaced his hat and smiled. "Yerright, JD, at least they went off empty handed!"
"Those abominable miscreants may have fled in the end, but not victorious, thanks to Mr. Jacksons astute eye and your own quickness of mind," Ezra continued; "By the way, that was an impressive set of maneuvers, my young friend. Undoubtedly worthy of a tale coming from your preferred branch of dime-store literature. Quite unique and daring enough to deserve praise for your agility and resourcefulness."
JD looked more than confused. "What he just say, Buck?"
It was Chris who answered the question, his face lit up by a look of, -was Josiah seeing correctly?- Pride? Yes. It was pride, something hed caught regularly on the gunslingers eyes these past few moths. JD was getting older and a lot better at what he did, and they all noticed it.
"He said you did good, kid." Larabee said, patting his horse with affection behind the neck.
"Damn right!" Buck exclaimed happily.
"Me too, that was one hell of a move there, JD." Nathan offered his two cents. "Whered you learn how to do that?"
The young man felt himself blushing a little and quickly turned away, his heart swelling up with joy at the words of praise that came from the men he admired the most. Who would have thought? "Well, Id done that lots of times when I was a boy," he waved off the fact, "Me and my friends climbed up on trees and jumped on movin horses from the low branches all the time. Never thought Id be jumpin atop of a bank robber someday."
"Really?" Josiah asked, bewildered. "Good lord, JD, why would you go and do something that dangerous as a kid? You could have broken your neck!"
"We all do foolish things as children, Mr. Sanchez," Ezra intervened, "No child has ever known how to properly measure danger." He smiled and looked away, saying the next words a little lower, "I should know " he trailed off, a mischievous smile forming on his face as he watched the horizon.
"What did you do, Ez?" JD asked, curious.
"Nothing you would have done, Mr. Dunne, you were too well educated," he quickly changed the subject, "but we were talking about your daring stunt, Sir, and I dont know about the rest but I for one enjoyed the look on that miscreants face immensely when you deprived him of his stolen bag of money."
"Right!" Nathan commented, "the man just stared at you like an idiot, he just couldnt believe it!"
"You just seemed to fly from that tree like a bird, JD," Buck snorted, "he never saw that comin, Im sure."
"And you landed on your feet too, JD. That was real nice!" Josiah helped a bit.
"Oh, well, I wouldnta been able to even try that if Nathan hadnt alerted me before," JD tried to divert the comments, all the attention suddenly made him feel smothered, "that was sharp lookin there Nathan, those guys were really sneaky. They never made a sound when they robbed the bank, had poor Mr. Brown all scared out of his mind. You got great eyes!"
"Indeed," Ezra tipped his hat.
"I second that notion."
Nathan laughed out loud. "Oh, man, I know I know were all wonderful. How about we turn our amazing and unbeatable asses back to town and have lunch now. Im starved."
"I second that notion as well." Ezra nodded, turning Chaucer around, ready to return to town.
Vin Tanner had stayed quiet the whole time, his mind still lost on his missing trail and his dry feeling of failure. He stared at the nearby line of trees that marked the beginning of a bushy forest that opened just ahead, when all of a sudden he saw something that caught his attention. Without looking back he made a hand signal for the rest of them to stop.
"What?" came Chris whisper.
Vin nodded at the woods ahead. Up above, a flock of birds had flown upward from a certain spot to the right. "Somethin spookedem." He said quietly. "Someones there."
Chris began urging Solon on, but Vin placed a hand on his arm before he could start. "Theyll hear the horses. Lets sneak up onem." He dismounted without another word.
The rest of the seven dismounted and followed as one, guns in hand, not saying a word, like a well rehearsed play. After more than two years of being together the seven peacekeepers had learned to function like a well-oiled machine. Criminals feared this machine. It was no accident that these seven men were already famous throughout the territory.
The Magnificent Seven! So much more than just a dime store novel!
+ + + + + + +
They approached the trees, carefully, covering every possible spot and anticipating any move that could resemble an ambush. Vin led the way, his trained eyes and ears scanning ahead for any trouble. He finally reached a small incline going upward and stopped, waiting for the others. Carefully and silently he reached for the bushes obscuring his vision and almost imperceptibly, moved them out of the way.
What he discovered, he never expected.
The rest of the seven joined him as he lowered his mare leg and sat on the ground, once again frustrated. "Oh, hell!" he groaned.
"What is it?" Buck asked, moving the bushes to see beyond. "Oh." Was all he could say, a big smile brightening his mustached face.
Josiah peeked from his side and muttered, "Its a bunch of kids".
"What?" JD asked.
"Its just a bunch of children, playin" Vins tired drawl betraying his huge disappointment. He had really thought they had them.
"No miscreants." Ezra commented.
"No miscreants". Vin repeated. "Damn!"
"Dont worry, Vin," Chris put his own gun away and placed a hand on his friends shoulder. Vin was becoming too troubled for his own good, even if the gunslinger understood how the tracker felt when his prey escaped like that. He was making things bigger than they actually were. "It aint your fault."
"Well, I was the one trackin!" He cast his gaze downward, defeated. "They just vanished on me!"
"They were good from the beginning, brother," Josiahs fatherly tone trying to soothe his friends frustration, "they must have lots of experience covering their tracks."
"We cant winem all, pard." Chris finished.
Vin didnt feel any better. "I know," he said, his Texan drawl betraying his troubled thoughts.
Buck smiled, "Dont fret, Vin, theyll be back."
Vin didnt look up, his eyes locked on his boots, "Howd you know that?"
"Well, they think they beat us, pard," Bucks eyes now had a mischievous twinkle, "They think theyre too good for us and that maybe they can do it again! When that happens, they always come back, dont they?"
"They sure do!" Nathan confirmed.
"Overconfidence," Ezra pointed out, "That will be their undoing".
That thought actually did make Vin feel a little better. "All right." He sighed.
"Can we go home now?" asked JD, "Nathan just reminded me how hungry I already was when this whole thing started".
"Me too, Miss Molly said something about fried chicken for lunch! Lets go!" Buck turned and led the way. Chris offered a hand to help Vin up and the depressed tracker took it.
In that very moment, a loud, strangely pitched voice came from behind the bushes.
"Hold it right there, Larabee!"
With the speed of lightning, seven guns appeared out of thin air, pointing at the source of the sound.
No one appeared.
Chris was about to respond when another, equally pitched voice beat him to it.
"No, you hold it there, McCallister!"
What was this?
The previous voice sounded again, really close to the bushes. "You dont scare me, Larabee. Ill walk outta here with the gold and you aint gonna be able to stop me. I got twenty five guns pointed at ya right now!" Now, Chris realized what had been strange about the voice it was young, but he hadnt noticed before. He frowned.
Vin peeked through the bushes as quietly as he could and grinned. It was the kids.
"Oh, really? Well, I got Vin Tanner covering me from a rooftop!"
Vin raised an eyebrow in surprise and turned to see his best friends questioning expression. Was this for real?
"Really?" The other kid asked, defiant.
The child continued, "Yeah! So yall better put away your twenty-five guns. Yall be dead in a second, now gimme back the gold!"
"He aint lyin! I am coverin him, McCallister," Another kid yelled from the far left; Vin could see him now, perched up on a tree with a long piece of wood aimed at the other kid, simulating a rifle. "I have all your men on my sights. Give it up!"
Oh, man! Vin thought, scratching his head, Sneaky one! I hadnt seen him up there. He had, however, noticed when his own six companions walked back and began looking through the bushes beside him. He glanced sideways and took a second look, his eyes pleased to discover a fascinated look on Chris usually somber face.
Well, whaddya know? he grinned. Thats a mighty rare sight!
"Shut up, Tanner!"
"Oh, wow!" Buck whispered with a huge smile, "Thats a real bad-ass kid!"
"Shhh!" Nathan quieted him. "Theyll hear you."
The small Chris-kid spoke again, "Dont make this more difficult than it oughta be, McCallister, youre caught!"
"No I aint!"
"Yeah you are!"
"You sure are," whispered Josiah from his viewing point.
"Come now, youre goin to jail." Mini Chris waved his small wooden gun.
The first kid groaned, defeated, and began walking, his hands raised over his head when, suddenly he stopped and grabbed his foot. "Wait!" he cried.
"I got a pebble in my boot!"
"Oh, Jack!" the small Larabee whined, losing all composture.
"Well it hurts!" the young man by the bushes sat down and took off his boot, "Let me get it out!" More voices began whining all over the place as more and more kids appeared out of nowhere. Vin realized they had all been hiding behind the far trees. Im losing my touch," he thought, his own eyes full of wonder, theres a whole bunch ofem!"
Josiah smiled widely while Buck stifled a laugh. This was incredible! The kids were pretending to be Chris and Vin! Amazing!
"What happened now?" another kid appeared on the right, two pieces of wood tied up together shaped in the form of a gun in his small hand.
"He says he got a pebble in his boot."
"Oh, come on, Jack, youre always doin things like that when youre losing. I bet theres nothin in your boot."
"There is too!" Jack yelled. And besides, I didnt want to be McCallister, I wanted to be Buck!"
Behind the bushes, a grinning JD turned to face his best friend and nudged him in the ribs.
"Well, too bad, it aint your turn!" a freckled faced kid stated from the left. "Its Dales turn!"
"Oh, shut up, Andrew, I know you wanted to be Buck too, but you got stuck with bein JD!"
Stuck? JD frowned, why wouldnt the boy want to be him?
"That aint true! I always want to be JD!"
The real JD smiled again, dodging a teasing nudge from Buck.
"Thats right!" Another kid with black hair said from the right. "He always wants to be JD, Im the one who never gets to be Buck!
Back down the slope, Chris turned to his oldest friend with a questioning look. Buck just smiled at the black clad gunslinger and tipped his hat. They all wanted to be him! Who knew?
The black-haired child continued his tirade, "It was my turn. Right, Eric?"
"Nah, it wasnt." Sitting on a rock, the quiet kid called Eric, who had been playing as Vin, spoke without looking up. "Its Dales, but you can be Buck tomorrow. Mikey will be Chris Larabee, Anthony will be Ezra "
"Why cant I be Ezra?" the child frowned in annoyance.
The real Ezra smiled.
Another kid, a red-headed girl who was standing next to her twin sister spoke up like it was the most obvious thing in the world, "Oh, Charlie, you know that only Anthony can be Ezra!"
Back behind the bushes, the gambler shot a questioning look to his friends. How come?
"I could do it!" the kid promised.
The girl crossed her arms, "Really? Okay try "
"All right," the kid stood there, thinking hard for a few seconds, then he began, "Mr. Larabee," he thought a few more moments, "I will take these lowlifes to the penitentiary hmm " he stopped again.
"See? You cant just stop to think every time youre gonna talk!" young Mikey-Chris stated.
"Oh, and Anthony can do it better?"
"Hes the only one who can talk the talk, let it be." His tone was final, just like the real Chris. Back behind the bushes Ezra smiled at the amazing similarity, and what did they mean talking the talk?
"Awww," Charlie whined, defeated. "All right," he caved.
"So, like I was sayin," Eric-Vin continued, "Anthony will be Ezra, Ricky will be Nathan and you can try and beat us by bein any one of the most powerful bad guys. Heck you can even try and be Guy Royal. How bout that?"
The kid considered it for a moment and finally caved. "Okay, but I get to be Buck tomorrow!" he turned and walked to the trees where another two kids stood beside two more girls.
"He only wants to be Buck so he can kiss the girls!" Ricky-Nathan pointed out to Anthony-Ezra.
The real Ezra covered his mouth trying not to laugh, while JD fell on his knees, nearly failing to mute his own chuckles.
"I know," young Anthony-Ezra replied matter-of-factly, "He best not be getting close to my sister or therell be hell to pay!" He swiped a dry leave from his sleeve in a manner very much like the real Ezra and added as afterthought: "And the real Buck best not be kissin her either! Hes too old for her, shes only eleven!"
JD grabbed his stomach, trying not to lose it.
"Ill be passin that along, dont worry!" laughed Mikey-Chris from behind them.
Buck opened his eyes as wide as he could, he wouldnt forget that! JDs stifled laughs grew louder from behind the bushes and Buck shushed him with a glare. This was too much fun to be ending too quickly.
The kids began moving again until they were a few feet away from the bushes. The seven men were now able to recognize some of them; they were all children from the farms around town. Many of them they had seen in church or playing by the grain exchange some time or another. Josiah could easily recognize young Dale Midkiff, son of a tall brown-headed young man who had come from the east a few months back. Next to him young Mikey Biehn was the youngest of five children, all blonde and green-blue eyed like their lovely mother.
Young Andrew-JD was old man Kavovits grandson, and he was the same kid who once was caught sneaking muddy frogs inside the church just before service one day. Josiah had made him clean the pews with a very small brush for that. The kid had never tried another prank like that again and ran out of the way every time he saw Josiah.
Ricky Worthy, a tall kid from Colorado Springs had come to live there just the summer before with his mother, father and nine siblings. That was a very noisy family, the preacher remembered. He was always seen chasing Ezra, the real one, when the gambler walked out of the saloon or around town, asking him for a card trick or a story.
Then, to the right was young Anthony Starke, a very quiet kid who was always carrying books with him everywhere. Very strange kid, Josiah thought, all the time watching over his twin sister Jane and always seen with his best friend Eric Close AKA small Vin trailing along. Josiah had never pictured him trying to emulate Ezra, the sole thought of it made him laugh.
Then again this whole thing was incredible. Children, pretending to be them Them!
Josiah glanced at his six spying friends, trying to imagine what was going through their heads. What were they feeling? Watching these small people pretending, emulating things theyd only seen from afar!
To see themselves reflected in young children.
What did it feel like?
His answer would come quickly enough.
"Which one is me again?" JD asked in a whisper.
"The one with the brown shirt." Buck whispered back. "Now, shhh!"
"But which one is Josiah?" JD asked again.
"Be quiet!" Nathan hushed. "Theyll hear!"
"Sshhhh!" five voices whispered in chorus.
Just then, the kids began playing again. This time the little McCallister bandit had become someone else and was now standing beside the one who had been promised he could be Guy Royal.
"Okay," little Charlie-Royal stated, "well go to my ranch to make our plan. You hide the gold now."
"Right." Young Mike-Chris tipped his hat the same way hed seen his hero do over and over again. Vin chuckled in silence from his viewing post, the kid was really good. This was going to be interesting.
The kids took off and the others separated and began playing. Young Mikey-Chris lowered his hat and crossed a make believe main street with Eric-Vin, wooden rifle on his shoulder, walking by his side. Its amazing!" Nathan noticed, they even have the walk pegged,
"Oh, Mr. Larabee!" A young girl who looked remarkably like young Anthony-Ezra came running.
"What do you need Mrs. Travis?"
Chris grunted, oddly pleased. They had Mary in their game too!
Little Jane Starke crossed her arms around a piece of paper, just like the real Mary did all the time, "Theres many bad men coming into town. Can you protect us?"
"Sure." Mini Chris assured.
Chris turned to Buck, his eyes wide in disbelief. "Sure", Buck repeated in a whisper like it was the most common thing, "Why the hell not?"
Chris and Buck both chuckled in silence and Nathan shushed them all again.
"How dyou know about the bad men, Mrs. Travis?" Asked a very polite Eric-Vin, an adoring look in his eyes when he regarded the young lady bringing an amused glitter to the real trackers eyes. Well, what do you know? he thought.
"Oh, its right here in the newspaper, Mr. Tanner." She smiled back at him and the sweet look she gave him made the real Vin glance around expecting young Anthony-Ezra to come punching noses at any moment.
"You are very smart to notice that, Mrs. Travis." Young Eric-Vin continued in a very believable Texan drawl, " You best stay inside the newspaper shop until the gunfight is over now, we dont want you to get hurt. Right cowboy?"
"Cowboy!" Buck exclaimed. This time Chris and Vin had to hold their hands to their mouths not to laugh out loud. Boy, these kids were good!
"Right." Said Mikey-Chris, already looking around for his men. "Hey Buck, JD, come over here!" he called.
The two kids ran to their leader, ready for action. Mini Chris handed them a small leather pouch and checked it before letting go.
"Here, I want you to hide the gold, but dont put it in the back of the livery under the horse manure like last time. Its too obvious!"
"Of course it is!" whispered Ezra, his wide smile only bested by the warm feeling inside his heart. He had always known that children held their own special kind of magic, but today he understood just how powerful that magic could be as he glanced sideways to see Chris Larabees eyes glistening with genuine tears of laughter.
Magic indeed! His attention went back to the children as little Anthony-Ezra suddenly clarified the kids previous statements about him being the only one who could talk the talk.
"If I may say so, Mr. Larabee," the kid began, his southern accent a perfect replica of the original, "I might be of some assistance in this partiklar case I was wonderin if we could perchance have a word in private".
Six pairs of eyes behind the bushes turned to the gambler, "Wow!" JD whispered, "That was good!"
"Real good!" Buck agreed.
Ezra just chuckled, his face suddenly going red. Red? That was new! Hed just blushed! The gambler quickly went back to spying, his mind already worrying over his reaction.
"Whats up, Ezra?" Mikeys impression of Chris no nonsense tone was so good even his clothes seemed to be turning black!
"Well, I was understraying the subfagation, Sir, and I believe I may have come up with another sufterfugeous encoursement of actions".
The seven lawmen all but rolled on the floor laughing.
"Really?" asked Mikey-Chris, his face completely serious.
"Yes, I believe I can instragate the micreants assumptions into diversify their emulations into something that is not acute. Its simple but enconfigurated, if you know what I mean."
"Right." Mikey-Chris kept considering, leaving no doubt that he HAD understood everything the other kid had just said.
The real Ezra closed his eyes biting his tongue hard not to burst out. This kid was incredible! Where in the world had he come up with all those words?
"Well, what do you know?" Josiah whispered between muffled chuckles, "He CAN talk the talk!"
Ezra opened his eyes to see all of his friends holding their sides and mouths, desperately trying to stifle their laughter. This was just too good. Ezra didnt know what to feel except pure, healthy amusement. Did he really sound like that to the kids?
Worse! Did he really sound like that to his friends?
He felt Chris eyes staring at him, the mans usually somber mood momentarily replaced by healthy, honest fun; he tipped his hat and shook his head.
The magic was still there! Imagine that!
Josiah patted him on the shoulder, still drowning laughs and shook his head as well. Oh, Lord! He DID sound like that! Oh God! Ezra felt his face reddening again. Well, whats the matter with me? he thought. I never blush! I just dont do that!" He kept laughing and musing as the boy continued with his incredible plan.
"I believe sir, that Mr. Tannah and I can instrigate upon the rooftops of the main street and retrive the wrongdoers into a false hiding place while you and Mr. Wilmington set the furnishings astride, so to speak".
"Well, Ezra, I think thats a great plan!" Mikey-Chris said, tipping his hat once again, just like the real Chris.
"Me too!" The real Chris whispered in between chuckles. "A great plan!"
That sent everyone into yet another fit of laughter, and no one really noticed when the small bad guys suddenly appeared.
"Hold it right there, Guy Royal!" Small Larabee yelled into the air, bringing the seven lawmen back to reality. Wiping their eyes, they began spying again.
"I aint Guy Royal!" Charlie stated.
"Then who are you?" Young Dale-Buck asked from behind a tree.
"I am Jesse Royal His evil brother!"
"Good Lord!" Ezra whispered.
"Oh My!" Buck exclaimed.
"Thats a mighty bad thought!" Vin commented.
"You said it, brother". What these kids could think of, Josiah thought, how little did they know about real evil, thank God.
Just then, two more kids arrived from the far side of the forest and something happened. Something Josiah Sanchez was never going to forget. Ever! Yeah, hed re-live this moment every other day for the rest of his life.
"Look!" little Andrew-JD exclaimed, "Josiah is back!"
A tall, brown-haired girl walked up to Mikey-Chris and Anthony-Ezra and exclaimed: "Whats all the commotion, brothers?"
Six of the seven men hiding behind the bushes all but went down in tears trying to muffle the sound of their explosion of laughter.
Josiah just stared, stunned, unmoving.
Mikey-Chris stepped out of character. "Oh, Man, Rona, where have you been? Weve been waiting for you for hours!"
"Sorry, Mom wanted me to help her fix my sisters dresses. I was in such a hurry, I sewed both sleeves on the same side, but I ran off before she saw it".
"Yeah," another little girl who had arrived with Rona said, "After all, we cant leave the town without proper preachin!"
Vin couldnt stand it anymore and had to escape back toward the horses to be able to laugh, his side hurt too much now. Josiah a girl?
Oh, man, he couldnt believe these kids. How come he had never heard of this before?
They had to have been able to sneak up on him and his friends so many times, enough to memorize their words, their ways, their movements! That kid sounded so much like Ezra it was scary, but the little Chris-boy, oh man! He even had the glare all worked out. That was pure talent.
He shook his head, still grinning. How come hed never noticed those children? Was he blind? Had he lost his way so badly hed taken these kids for granted? The tracker remembered he used to be able to spot anyone, anywhere. He never missed anything that was out of place, ever.
What had happened? When had he lost his touch?
He shook his head in silence. He wanted to be frustrated or sad about this, but he just couldnt. Young voices kept running through his mind, daring him to keep the smile off his face.
He decided to worry about it later and slowly returned to his friends, his whole being deep in mixed thoughts. He approached a chuckling JD and whispered. "What happened?"
JDs eyes were bright with joy, he was having so much fun he just couldnt believe it. He whispered back to Vin what the others were still laughing at. Well, all except Josiah who apparently was still in shock.
"The girl always gets to be Josiah, because shes real smart and shes memorized a big chunk of the bible, they say. And because," he started chuckling again, "shes the only one who knows how to how did they say? inspire them into confession." Suddenly he couldnt speak anymore, laughter wouldnt let him.
"I bet she drinks herself silly as well," Nathan commented and Vin had to run back to the horses to laugh out loud again.