BLOOD AND WATER
DISCLAIMER: The Magnificent Seven television show is the property of MGM/UA, Trilogy and the Mirisch Corporation. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s), not me. This story was created for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. Thank you to the amazing writers, producers, actors, crew and directors who brought it to life.
CHARACTERS: Everyone, but mostly Nathan, Ezra, Chris (my main POVs) and Buck. Also Mary and the Judge. Three OCs, but they're meant for reflection purposes only. Read into that what you will.
STATUS: Complete in 12 chapters
EPISODE REFERENCES: "The Trial," "Witness" and a little of "Vendetta" (which is still my favorite ep). In "The Trial," we learned that Nathan had siblings. We don't know how many, but, for some reason, I decided that meant sisters.
A/N: I have one big warning. Excluding a little short story I wrote last fall, I have not written any of these characters for many, many years. A lot of this is from memory. Also, it doesn't fit into the chronology of my older stories (the last of which I wrote in 2004, I think). It's just on its own. One more item: this was originally called "Nathan and His Sisters," but it got bigger than that.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Thanks to the inestimable NotTasha for the beta.
DESCRIPTION: They say family is everything, that blood is thicker than water. When Nathan gets an unexpected letter from his sisters, he starts to learn what that means. But when the judge gets attacked by a family looking for revenge, it takes on a whole new meaning. All Seven.
CHAPTER ONE: THE LETTER
Nathan stared at the envelope, unable to move, feeling as if the world around him had suddenly come to a stop. Like the others, with the exception of Ezra who heard from his mother fairly regularly, he rarely received mail, so it had been a surprise when Mary handed him the envelope at breakfast addressed to "Mr. Nathan T. Jackson." But now that he'd seen the handwriting, he just held it, frozen, oblivious to the silence his reaction had created at the table where he sat with Buck and Ezra. Oblivious to anything outside of his name on the parchment.
Until Ezra put down his fork, the metal clinking against the plate like a chime.
"Mr. Jackson?" Ezra called the name softly. "Is something amiss?"
Nathan heard the words, but they didn't mean anything yet. He felt like he couldn't breathe.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Buck glance at the gambler, and Ezra glance back.
"Nate?" Buck shifted in his chair. He then placed his hand on the table, slowly moving it towards Nathan's arm.
That seemed to break the dam, and the world came rushing back in, making sense again. But it still seemed muted. Nathan blinked quickly a few times, and looked up at Buck. Buck pulled his hand back.
"Who's it from?" Buck asked. His voice held nothing but concern, but Nathan just shook his head. He didn't want to answer just yet, if ever.
"Excuse me," he said, sliding his chair back. With a half hearted smile, he nodded a farewell to both men and walked away, pushing through the batwing doors, the envelope still held tightly in both hands.
Once out in the open air, he found himself at a loss as to where to go. He looked up and down the street—in the direction of his clinic, the boarding house where he slept, and, finally, Josiah's church. All refuges in their own way.
After a moment, he headed towards the boarding house.
Ezra put his fork down, wondering if they should follow. Nathan was, after all, someone with whom he had…well, he supposed you could call it a friendship…and his face had looked stricken by that letter. Somewhat unwittingly, Ezra found himself wanting to find a way to help.
Looking over, he saw Buck's brow had furrowed after Nate's abrupt departure, but, in typical Buck fashion, the blithe man quickly found something else to focus on. Reaching over, he pulled Nathan's still half full meal over to his own and dumped the contents onto his plate.
Ezra shook his head, impressed despite himself. Still, Buck surely had the right idea—after all, Nate had intentionally shut them out, and who was he to deny that wish? If it were him, he'd want to be left alone. And, frankly, Buck had much more experience with sustaining friendships than Ezra, his lead was undoubtedly the correct one to follow.
He ignored the small part of him that screamed a denial of that.
With deliberate (if not forced) nonchalance, he picked his fork up again, digging into the roasted potatoes on his plate.
And yet, he found he couldn't get Nathan's expression out of his mind, the brief look of fear on the man's face when he first looked at his name on the front of that envelope.
Ezra paused with the food halfway to his mouth, and suddenly straightened, his mind sharpening with sudden realization. Buck saw the movement and raised his eyebrows in question.
"T?" Ezra said in response, meeting the other's open gaze. "Nathan T Jackson?"
Ezra arched an eyebrow in return, surprised it wasn't obvious.
"Need more than that, hoss," Buck stated, frowning in irritation. Ezra smiled crookedly.
"Mr. Wilmington, not to belabor the obvious, but trust me on this: slaves didn't have middle names, except the ones their family gave them and used only by said families. Whoever sent that letter to our Mr. Jackson used his middle name, therefore…."
Buck straightened up as well, and suddenly smiled. "It came from family?"
Ezra nodded, but his face lacked the same mirth.
As quickly as Buck smiled, he frowned, apparently coming to the same conclusion Ezra had. "I thought his family were all dead?"
Ezra just gave a shrug. "We only know that his parents are dead. We know nothing of siblings."
Buck's eyes sparkled at the idea. "Siblings? Nate?"
"I am in the dark as much as you are. But perhaps a visit to the church might be enlightening?"
Buck frowned some more, and looked down at his more than full plate. Looking up again, his hangdog expression was in full force. "Now?"
The corner of Ezra's mouth lifted. "It doesn't need to be both of us, Buck." Shoving his own plate across the table, he stood up, grabbing his hat off the table. "Enjoy."
"Thanks, gambling man." Buck grinned, grabbing the plate and dumping the remainder of Ezra's food on top of Nathan's and, of course, his own. "You'll come back and let me know, yeah?"
"Of course." Tipping his hat, Ezra headed out of the saloon as the other man happily tucked in.
Nathan continued to finger the envelope as he sat next to the small desk in his room, the sun slanting in through the small window caused the yellow paper to almost glow. Several times, he grabbed a knife to slit it open, but the knife would fall back to the desk unused a moment later. He berated himself for his foolishness—what was he afraid of?
The light knock on the door made him jump, and he hastily put the envelope to one side before moving forward to answer it.
For some reason, he wasn't surprised to see Josiah standing on his doorstep.
At least not until the older man spoke:
"Ezra tells me you may've gotten a letter from one of your sisters, or maybe all of 'em."
Nathan's jaw fell open. "What?"
Josiah's brow furrowed slightly. "Is he wrong?"
"I…," Nathan swallowed, closed his eyes, then opened them again. "No, he's not. Man scares me sometimes. How he knew that from just an envelope, I'll never know." Opening the door wider, he let it go and walked back to the desk where the yellow paper sat. Josiah walked in behind him, shut the door, and walked across to the bed. Sitting down, he waited patiently for Nathan to speak again.
"How did Ezra know I have sisters?" the former slave asked.
"He didn't," Josiah answered. "He only knew that it came from family, and he assumed it must be a sibling or siblings. I'm still the only one who knows that you have sisters." He gave a shrug then. "He also suggested that I drop by."
Nathan shook his head, and quirked a smile. "He's a truly peculiar man."
Josiah said nothing to that, simply continued to watch him. Nathan sighed. Josiah wasn't a fool: he obviously knew that Nathan was only talking about Ezra as a deflection.
Letting out a slow breath, Nathan fingered the envelope sitting on his little desk. "I haven't opened it yet, but, yeah, it's got to be from one of them. I'm still not a hundred percent sure what happened to the three of them after they split us up after my mother….after her death. And I…" He swallowed thickly, shivering a little. "I tried to look for them after the war, just as I tried to find my father, but I…I…." He shook his head, still ashamed of that failure.
"So," Josiah hummed thoughtfully, "how did they find you?"
Nate shrugged. "My father, I suppose. He must have sent them a letter, once he'd found me, telling them where I was. He told me how to reach them as well."
Josiah didn't hide his puzzlement at that. "That was almost a year ago, Nathan. You've known where they were for a year?"
His hands shook as he picked the envelope up again.
"And you didn't write to them?" Josiah queried softly, his tone tentative.
Nathan shook his head. "Tried. I didn't…I wasn't sure what….and I kept putting it off. I don't know how it's been a year already."
His friend sighed, but gave a nod. "Time is the only thief we can't catch."
Nathan glanced at him, seeing nothing but empathy in those sad blue eyes. Josiah did know. Knew too well.
"Don't let it steal more," Josiah offered quietly.
Nathan released a heavy breath, but he nodded in agreement. Grabbing the letter opener, he slit open the envelope and drew the paper out. He glanced up at Josiah again as he unfolded it.
Josiah cleared his throat, and stood up. "Do you want me to leave?"
Nathan gave a sharp headshake. He hadn't known it before, but he really didn't want to read this letter alone, and when Josiah sat down again, he felt almost relieved. Turning the letter right side up in his hands, he skimmed the first few lines, and then started reading out loud.
"Dear Nathan," he began, his voice shaking slightly. "I hope this finds you well. I am sorry it has taken me so long to write this letter. I admit, I did not know whether you would want to hear from me, or from us, but if I did not try, I know I would regret it. We all would. You are our brother, and though it has been nearly twenty years since we last saw each other, you are still family. And, these days, family has come to mean a great deal to me."
He looked up, meeting Josiah's soft gaze. His friend encouraged him with a nod, and Nathan went back to reading.
"I don't know how much our father told you about what happened to us after we were split up, but we fared about as well as you would expect. Rachel, Esther and I ended up at a small plantation on the eastern edge of Alabama. The family's name was Small, and they were good owners. Their farm was pillaged in the war, and, after, they could not afford to keep us on—they could barely afford to feed themselves. Bereft, the three of us moved around until we finally found permanent work in Tennessee, working as servants in different homes in Nashville. We live there now, in a small house on the edge of town. Our father found us there a few years ago. It was wonderful to see him, to learn that he had survived. He was convinced you had as well and, after staying with us for a time, he left to find you. When he wrote to us last year to tell us that, not only were you alive, you were a lawmen and working as a doctor, we could not believe it to be true. But he sent us the news clippings from the local paper and, sure enough, there you were, the truth of his words in black and white."
Nathan paused, licking his dry lips.
"We had hoped," he continued reading, "that you would write to us. But perhaps, the same reason that has prevented us from writing you is what keeps you from doing the same." Reaching the bottom of the page, he coughed roughly, wishing he had a glass of water to drink, or better yet, a belt of whiskey. Josiah seemed to understand, because he was suddenly there, holding out his flask. Nathan smiling in gratitude, took a long pull, and, with the liquor still burning in his throat, he handed it back.
"Anytime, my friend."
Drawing in a deep breath, Nathan turned the paper over, to finish reading.
"Unfortunately, I cannot let fear stop my hand anymore. As I write this, Esther is coughing in the next room, and I know that she is too ill to keep working. She is failing, and no doctor in this city will see us without a referral from a white family, and neither I nor Rachel can approach our employers for help. The healers, meantime, simply tell us there is nothing they can do. And so, I am writing to you. We need your help. The healers have told us that the weather where you are is better for conditions like Esther's, and we have thus decided to move west. We are hopeful that we can find work in one of the new cities out there. We would very much like to stop and see you, and perhaps, with your learning, you may be able to cure your sister. Of course, if you do not wish to see us, then we will not stop."
"Our plan is to take the train to Santa Fe, and then to book passage on a coach to Four Corners. If you leave word that you do not wish to see us at the Santa Fe train depot, we will reboard the train north, to Denver. I anticipate that we will be in Sante Fe the week of April 30th. I look forward to hearing from you, but, please, do not feel as if you owe us anything. We will be fine either way, but I would be lying if I did not say that I hope that you will write."
"Your sister, Leah."
He stared at her name for a long moment, before putting the letter down, trying to take it in. His sister. His sister. Reading her words, he could hear Leah's voice in his head, her too smart tongue that often got her in trouble as a teenager. God, how he had missed her.
Leah was the oldest of the siblings, and six years older than Nathan. She used to take care of them when the old master took mother away, and when father was too beaten to talk to them. She was always the strongest, keeping them from feeling lost and alone as they huddled together in the hut. Thinking of her now, he could almost feel the way she'd wrap her arms around him and rock him, holding him tightly whenever he was scared—which, as a child, was almost all the time. Losing her, hell, losing all of them had broken something in him, something he didn't get back for a long time.
"She writes well," Josiah said softly, interrupting his thoughts. He'd almost forgotten Josiah was even there. "She shares your intelligence."
Nathan couldn't help but smile at that. "Leah was determined to learn how to read," he explained, almost absently. "She was friends with the youngest daughter on our plantation, and the girl taught Leah, even thought it was forbidden. That girl took a big risk, I realize now, but I guess…I guess she thought Leah was worth it. Leah then…she taught the rest of us." His smile deepened, feeling a rush of affection. "If Leah hadn't taught me how to read, I don't think I'd be doing this, now. I don't where I'd be, but I'd definitely not be here. I owe her so much."
Josiah smiled softly. "So…?" he prompted.
"So," Nathan repeated, looking down at the letter in his lap, "I guess my sisters are coming to Four Corners."