Fandom: Magnificent Seven-OW
Pairing: Gen (Vin-centric)
Warnings: character death, angst, breechcloths
Author: Lily Zen
Notes: I wrote this prompt on comment_fic: "Mag7, Vin, vision quest in a sweat lodge." Then I filled it myself. LOL!
Disclaimer: Not mine.
It was almost too hot. Between the heat from the fire in the wide, low hut, and the heat coming off of the other men's bodies, Vin was sweltering, but it was the good kind of sweat, the healing kind. Pulling in air that scorched the lungs, and feeling like when he exhaled he was letting go of all the poison he held trapped in his soul.
There were two men in the back, if there was a back to the rounded hut, with drums, keeping a steady rhythm to the beat of his heart, or maybe his heart had followed the drums, letting them lead him on this journey in a sympathetic reversal of the role he usually played with his friends. Vin found himself closing his eyes, relaxing into the repetitive thumping of their hands on the taut hide surfaces of the drums.
It didn't bother him that he was nearly naked in a hut filled with several other nearly naked men. A couple had eschewed even breechcloths and sat naked, baring themselves to the world. While Vin didn't have any particular interest in that himself—he was of a modest nature and had worn his breechcloth from his time with the Kiowa—he could understand how a man might find that freedom appealing, especially when they were going to be baking in this clandestine fire for hours.
He'd have to remember to thank Ko-Je for the invitation again. Vin wasn't sure why he'd been extended the honor. Typically, he stayed away from the Indian villages. Not because he wanted to, but really because…well, it just caused a wealth of problems for him. Spending a lot of time on their land could ruin a white man's reputation fast, get him labeled a sympathizer. Vin had no need to go borrowing trouble.
However, Josiah had come up for a couple days to bring some supplies in from town, and to visit his friends in the village. Vin had been feeling restless and come along. Their last day in the village, Ko-Je had offered to have the rugged tracker at the sweat they were preparing for the next day. It had been years since Vin had participated in such a ritual, and it brought back a sweet longing for days passed by. He said yes.
So there he was in his underwear, sweating his balls off with a dozen other sweaty fellas.
He breathed deeply, and exhaled slow. Somewhere in the distance he heard children laughing. He remembered the field of wildflowers just outside the summer site of the Kiowa village where he'd been raised, and how there were always fresh cut flowers in the cabin before his ma got sick and died. The tall ones with their tiny purple buds, clustered together tightly. White flowers with their delicate, silky petals, a single flower to a stem. Bright yellow-orange flowers that looked like the sun with a huge, dark center to them. Ma's favorite was the pink ones: pale pink like the color of a girl's blushing cheeks with long, slender petals, gently rouged a little darker just before they disappeared under the golden center filled with pollen. She used to wear them in her hair, the pastel seeming all the brighter against her chestnut curls.
Vin smiled at the thought, or at least felt happiness inside of him. He was slipping away from his reality, existing between the pounding rhythm of his heart and the pulse of the drums.
The children laughed again somewhere outside or maybe it was inside of him? All of the sudden he saw Gaho as she'd been the day they met. They were running through the wildflowers. He was laughing wildly, his voice a high, childish squeal as the older Indian girl caught him up in her arms and lifted him, swinging them around and around in a dizzying circle. The fringe on her dress flung out as the world seemed to spin around them.
Gaho had come with her mother to care for his mama, he knew that much. She was sick and the nearest neighbor was too far for Vin to reach on his own. Thankfully the Indians had always been kind to them, and their summer village began on just the other side of the wildflower field.
A woman called to them from the cabin door, her voice loud and sharp, commanding attention though he did not know her words then. The two of them sobered, and Gaho put him back on the ground, holding him by the shoulders until she was sure he was steady. The only solid thing in his world right then was her strong grip, and he clung to her hand as they went in the cabin.
The air was heavy with the stench of disease. The flowers in the jar on the roughhewn table were wilted. His mother laid in bed and would not get up, no matter how much he begged her to. Vin promised to behave, he tried to tempt her by telling her how pretty the wildflower field looked, how blue the sky was, how the sun shone cheerfully and the bugs sang with joy. She smiled at his tales, cringed at his tears, and finally shot an imploring look to the imposing Kiowa woman tending the fire in the pot-bellied stove. "Remember, you're a Tanner," his mother whispered to him painstakingly, like it was the most important thing she could say at that moment.
The Kiowa woman said something to her daughter once more, and Gaho cupped his elbow in her hand. He remembered thinking that her skin was so dark, like the bronze figurine on the shelf that used to be his daddy's. Gaho led him away from the bed to sit in the corner, where she distracted him with games and food until at last they heard his ma give a rattling exhalation. Vin looked up in time to watch Gaho's mother, Adoette, pull the blanket over his mother's face. He exploded into tears without ever having been told that his mother was dead.
Someone shifted and leaned in to put a few more rocks on the fire. The movement stirred Vin, and he blinked his blue eyes open lazily, watching in a daze as the stones were dropped carefully into the deeply dug pit where the fire lay. Embers danced into the air no matter the other man's caution, like bright red fireflies. He watched them, fascinated, until they burned themselves up and disappeared, nothing left but a thin film of ash.
Thump-thump-thump-thump-th-thump. The drums stuttered, or maybe that was his heart.
Some of the men were chanting, a low murmur of 'weh-o-weh-o.' Vin wasn't one of them, but he let their song lull him into a state of complacency. He broke away from those memories of the time right after his mother died. Although he didn't remember much of it, what he did remember wasn't pleasant. Thank god for Gaho holding his hand through it all, through those tumultuous months where he tried to adjust to living with the Kiowa and fought off bouts of bad behavior. He was lucky they'd kept him with the tribe, adopted him into their ranks with open arms.
It seemed a lifetime ago that Vin sat in another sweat lodge of slightly different construction. He was younger then, less interested in the spiritual side of it than he was in proving himself to be one of the men, a warrior worthy of sitting knee-to-knee with the others in the dry, crackling heat.
The fire danced in the center of the tepee, and the shadows danced on the hide walls in tandem. They moved capriciously, like a breeze, and he daydreamed, turning each chaotic snap and sway into his own live performance. In them he saw the traditional dances, the buffalo herds, the mustangs darting over the plains.
He was growing faint. The heat was too much for him, his body ill-prepared to handle such stresses. The warrior next to him grasped his thigh and shook him, startling Vin out of his own mind. His companion leaned close and said to him, "You must go. Get clean air, return home. Perhaps the next sweat you will be ready." Vin nodded and slipped out of the narrow opening, conceding defeat in the face of the all-powerful force of the tribal fire. Better men than he had fallen because of it. He wouldn't be the first nor the last. All he could hope to do was save a little face by not swooning like a woman in front of the chief.
On his way back to the tepee he shared with his adoptive mother, Adoette, Vin was waylaid by the dulcet tones of the girl who had taken him on as a brother, Gaho. She was older than Vin by almost ten years, and had already borne three children. One had died in the first year, but her other two were healthy and strong.
Gaho called him into her tepee. Her husband was at the sweat, like all the men of importance in the village were, and her children were asleep. She paced before the low fire, chewing worriedly on the end of one of her braids, which Vin knew was a sign that she was both deep in thought and troubled.
"What is it, sister?" he'd asked in the language of the people.
She stopped pacing and looked at him from across the blaze. It highlighted her cheekbones and made the subtle dip beneath them appear almost monstrous. For the first time Vin noticed that she had lines at the corners of her eyes. Gaho was growing old, leaving him behind in youth all alone. She had always seemed so vibrant to him before, but now in that deep, dark night, the bronze of her skin cast in shadows and kissed with firelight, she looked tired and scared.
"Vin," she began, "I think it is time for you to rejoin the white men."
"What?" he nearly shouted. Gaho shushed him hurriedly and eyed her children surreptitiously. They slept onward. Continuing in a quieter voice, Vin asked her, "Why would I do that? My family is here."
She eyed him sadly, and touched a hand to her breast. "Yes, you are family, the brother of my heart. You have grown into a young man that I am proud to know and in you I see the beginnings of a great man, like a tender sprout coming up from the soil, but you will never reach your potential here, Vincent Tanner. This place is too small for you, too limiting. A boy must endure a trial to become a warrior among us. I put this to you as yours: leave us and discover the white man's world. Only then can you know if this is the one you want to be a part of."
Vin should have known there was something else wrong with that night, that conversation. The only excuse he had was that he was young and still very self-involved. He saw nothing but what Gaho projected at him and all she wished for him to see was the concern of a sister for her brother, not the insidious serpent crawling throughout the Kiowa camp.
"What does mother say?" he asked upon careful reflection.
"It was her idea," Gaho replied as she took slow, measured steps around the fire toward him, "And I agree. You need to know where you came from to see if where you are going is where you truly should be."
He sighed, his thin shoulders heaving with the effort, body still streaked with sweat and soot from the lodge. His sister's lips quirked upward in a smile. "Come now, Vin, you cannot fool me. I know you have been curious. I see your face whenever the warriors go to trade with the white men. This will be good for you."
Vin flashed a grin at her accompanied by a sly look from under his long brown lashes, and it was the mischievous look that had often precipitated one childhood adventure after another. Needless to say it was often followed by a stern lecture from Adoette and days of punishment.
"See?" Gaho laughed. "You will be fine. Mother has spoken with the warriors to leave tomorrow. They go to meet with a buffalo hunter, and they will take you with them so that you may ask the hunter if you can ride with him. How far you choose to go is up to you, brother."
A thought occurred to Vin suddenly, and he blurted it out before he could stop himself. "Why are you telling me this, and not mother?"
Smiling, his sister responded with, "I asked her if I could. I wanted to say goodbye to you away from the others. Mother agreed because she thought you were more inclined to argue with her than you would be with me." Gaho chuckled. "I guess she was right."
"I won't go if you don't want me to," Vin argued finally. Gaho cupped his cheeks in her palms and pressed her lips to his forehead.
"I want you to," she whispered, "I want you to see the world, not just this little piece of it."
They hugged tightly, and the next day brought with it tears and laughter as Vin rode out with the warriors.
Two weeks later he heard that his village had been slaughtered by the Army. They had refused to move, to leave their ancestral lands so that the white man could expand unhindered by their presence. He saw then the manipulating that Gaho and Adoette had done. They had known somehow what was coming, and they had concocted a plan to spirit him away to safety.
He was angry with them for a very long time, even though they were dead.
As he sat in the lodge, Vin realized that he was no longer angry. He was saddened by their deaths, but he understood their motivations. Remembering Gaho's firm, guiding hands and her gentle smile; the look on Adoette's face whenever he'd done something very well—fierce pride, heartfelt affection—and her lectures all born from a place of deep, abiding love…Vin could no longer hold their actions against them for he realized that he would have done the same for them. He felt something inside of him crumble and yield to new growth.
The flap on the hut stirred as someone got up to leave, and a cool breeze swept in, making Vin shiver at the abrupt shift in temperature. As the new air became part of the old, Vin found that he was breathing easier despite the fact that his body was coated like a horse's that had worked up a lather.
As the drumming drew to a close and the men began to stretch, he heard the sounds of men speaking outside the hut in English. "Gentlemen," drawled a lazy Southern man in a voice that made Vin think of sun-brewed sweet tea and mischief always about to boil over, "Might I suggest that you unload the wagon from a—"
"Ez, if you ain't gonna help, you don't get to critique the way we're doin' the work," Buck's voice bit back, sounding strained under some sort of heavy burden.
"Yeah, Ezra!" JD piped up, ever Buck's shadow.
Vin heard Nathan chuckle to himself. No doubt he was shaking his head back and forth with that amused grin on his face, the one he wore whenever Ezra did something particularly entertaining, usually at the gambler's own expense.
"Now, brothers…" Josiah's deep, clear orator's voice rang out, easily penetrating the thin walls of the building where the fire was dying, "Let us not argue. The sooner we get this wagon unloaded, the sooner we can partake in the refreshments that Ko-Je has so generously offered. Ezra, son, get your ass over here and lift."
A grumble followed that statement, but Vin knew that Ezra wouldn't deny the older man's request. He didn't usually deny them much of anything. Oh, he'd put up a fuss, but when push came to shove Ez always had their backs.
"Come on, Standish," Chris called, "Put your back in it."
"My jacket…" the gambler very nearly whined.
"Take it off!" came the chorus of shouts from several of their party. Vin thought he heard Chris's voice, and Nathan's, and even JD's. He started laughing to himself as he carefully stretched his limbs and unbent his lanky form from its cross-legged position. A wash of emotion hit him as he parted the flap and left the hut, blinking his eyes as he emerged. Night had passed into daytime, and with it the arrival of the Seven and their wagon of burdens for the village. He stood watching his compatriots remove a couple of wooden writing desks from the back of the wagon, silent and smiling until JD noticed his presence and cried out, "Vin! Hey! There ya are!"
His hand raised and he moved to tip his hat automatically, only to remember that he hadn't worn it to the sweat. His motion stuttered to a stop, and then resumed itself as a friendly wave. Vin strolled up to his brothers as Ezra and Chris set one desk down on the ground. With a sudden burst of deviousness, Vin grabbed Ezra—stripped down his white shirt—and pulled him into a hug. "Hey, ya'll, missed ya!" he teased.
Ezra tensed in the hold and sputtered, "Mister Tanner! What is the meaning-? Oh lawd, you are disgusting! Unhand me and locate the baths post-haste!" He held his arms away from Vin stiffly. The tracker backed away and immediately started guffawing upon catching sight of Ezra's face. The others were already laughing. Only Ezra appeared unamused as he studied his rumpled white shirt. Then he too turned a quirked brow at Vin and murmured with a small smirk on his face, "Well played."
Vin nodded and stumbled away, wiping tears from his eyes. He wound up standing next to Chris as his laughter died down. He looked over at the man in black, the one he'd called a friend from the start. Chris was grinning widely. A good look for the man, Vin thought. "Hey, cowboy," he greeted.
As their steely-eyed leader perused his clothing, or rather his lack of it, Chris raised his eyebrows. "Indian," he said with a nod and enough warmth in his voice that Vin knew he didn't mean anything by it, was only teasing.
Vin laughed in accordance. "Yup," he agreed cheerfully, and clapped the other man on his shoulder.
The Seven conversed as much as they argued and teased while they unloaded the last of the desks—some of the women were setting up a small schooling room for the kids, but they'd needed some help getting them from Four Corners to the village. Naturally, the Seven had volunteered their services. As they worked, there was a sense of belonging, of community between them. It was then that Vin came to the realization that Josiah was more than right when he called them 'brothers.' Somewhere along the way, these six men had come to mean more to him than just a friend would. They had slotted themselves into his heart right next to where his mama, Adoette, and Gaho all rested. They were family.
Somehow the knowledge settled Vin in a place where he hadn't known he'd been upset. Fire cleansed, and then the fields were renewed. He was home again.