Disclaimers:  I do not own the Magnificent Seven or any of its characters.  I am making no money from this.

Notes:  An AU Modern-day universe, not ATF though.  Fourteen year old Ezra contemplates a life on the street.

Warnings:  Mentions of Child Abuse, physical and sexual!  And sorry, but there is an OC.



Lost in the Dark



Part One



Ezra stood shivering under the awning of a store.  It was closed, abandoned, and looked as if it had been for a good long
while.  The boards nailed across the broken windows were weathered with age.  There were cracks and holes in the awning
itself, but it was better than nothing as he huddled in the shadows, trying to stay out of the chill night and even colder rain that
pattered down from the evening sky.

He stood there, watching the street and wondering how things had gotten so bad that he was contemplating selling himself like
one of those women on the street corner.  He was hungry, that's why, and he wanted someplace dry to stay for the night
instead of the filthy alley he'd been forced to sleep in last night.  At times like these he usually only had to play a couple hands of
poker and he'd have enough for a modest dinner and a stay in a moderately nice motel.  But not this time.  He'd been banned
from the table by the cretin who ran the illegal establishment Ezra had most recently been attending.  It was his own fault
really.  he had gotten cocky and had won too much.  He should have known better than that.  No grown man liked to be shown
up by a kid who didn't even have a learner's permit to drive yet.

Ezra winced, remembering the outcome.  His wrist was hurting, his ribs flaring whenever he breathed.  He didn't know if
anything was broken, but it surely did hurt.  As did the myriad of bumps and bruises he'd gotten from the goons who's egos
had been ruffled by a far more talented player than themselves.  They could have at least left him with a couple of dollars,
something, instead of pulling every last dime from his pockets.  They'd even found the twenty he kept in the lining of his jacket
for emergencies.  They'd kept the jacket, too.

His stomach rumbled, reminding him of why he was standing here, staring out at the street corner and contemplating an option
that scared the wits out of him.  He'd known boys who sold themselves.  A few of them were regular patrons of the poker
tables he'd been to in the past.  The work was dangerous, but some of them made good money.  He ignored the voice in his
head that reminded him of the bruises he'd seen on some of those boys, of the haunted pained look in their eyes.

He worried at his lower lip with his teeth, then winced a he nibbled a little too hard and set one of the splits in his lower lip to
bleeding again.  It had gotten colder as day turned to night and he began to shiver as the last remaining daylight fled.  The
shivering continued as night set in.  He turned, looking over his shoulder at the abandoned store.  Maybe he could sleep in
there.  He was thin enough to slip in through the slats.  The lock on the door would be easy enough to pick if he found a sliver
of metal to use.  It would be dry at least, better than sleeping in an alley at any rate.  However, there was still his stomach to
consider.  He was just so hungry.



*****



Cinnamon was a longtime veteran of her chosen profession.  At twenty-six, she was downright old compared to others who
worked the street corners.  Each girl seemed to get younger and younger when they started, some less willingly than others.  
She'd gotten used to seeing new faces.  But every one of them knew better than to try and hustle on her block without
permission.  She'd worked too long and hard to put up with other girls sneaking onto her turf, trying to steal away her
customers.  Whether with a word of warning, or a solid right cross, they soon learned to keep away.  She wouldn't tolerate
people stealing from her.

She was a bitch, but she could be nice when she wanted to be.  She'd helped a few girls on their first nights, offered up advice
when needed.  There were even a couple of girls working with her most nights, girls she'd made friends with.  They watched
each other's backs, tried to keep each other safe.  After all, there was no one else who would do it for them.

That was how she'd recognized the look on that boy's face when she'd seen it.  It was a slow night, the rain keeping most of
the business away.  Hell, it wasn't doing much for the state of her hair, but her make-up was holding up well enough.  She had
been checking her face in a mirror when she'd first noticed him.

He was hidden in the shadows of what had so long ago been a shoe store.  She couldn't see him well, hidden away as he was,
but she knew that he was there, the air in his lungs puffing out in a cloud of vapor with each exhale.  He was just standing
there, watching her and the few other girls who had braved the bad weather.  When the streetlights kicked on, she'd gotten a
better view of him before he'd disappeared back into the shadows again.  He was hurt, that much was plainly obvious by the
bruises and the blood on his face and clothes.  There was fear in his eyes, terror as he flicked his gaze from Cinnamon to the
cars passing by.  He was contemplating joining her, she realized.  It broke her heart seeing someone so young willing to sell
their body.

The rain picked up.

Cinnamon ducked under the overhang of diner.  The people running it were nice enough.  They let her and the other girls hang
around outside their place, didn't make a fuss or turn none of them away when they went in to eat or to use their restrooms
when they needed to.

Turning toward the shadows of the shoe store, she decided she couldn't just sit by and let the boy whore himself.  Most people
wouldn't give a damn, but she did.  No kid, boy or girl, should think this life was an option.

"You're not going to get much business from there," she said, loud enough to be heard over the din of the rain.  She turned,
smiling warmly into the darkness.  "Why don't you come on out?  It won't hurt to get to know each other, seeing as how you
want to work on my corner."

There was silence for a good long while.  For a moment Cinnamon thought for sure that the boy had run for it.  Then she heard
a small, but clear voice speak up.  "I'm sorry, Ma'am, I was unaware of the etiquette.  May I inquire if I was to seek permission
before offering up my services to the public?"  His accent was distinctly southern and smooth as silk, and he had such a way
with words for someone so young.  He stepped out from under the awning and darted over to the diner, but stayed just out of
reach, his vibrant eyes fearful and wary.

"Come on," she invited, smiling.  "No sense in standing out there in the rain when there's plenty of room under here."  She
gestured to the overhang above her head.

He hesitated, but soon joined her.  He was shivering badly and soaked through to the bone.  Cinnamon could see that despite the
chill weather, he wasn't wearing a coat.  And she was right about him being hurt.  His face was bruised, a cut decorated his
cheekbone and his lips were split in three places, one on top and two in the bottom.  The knuckles on his left hand were raw
and bloody, the fingers discolored, as was his right wrist which had also swelled quite a bit.  And the way he held his arm
around his middle told of some injury to his ribs.

Cinnamon decided not to call any attention to his injuries.  She was sure that the first mention of a hospital or the clinic, even a
doctor, would make the boy run for it.  He was young, probably barely in his teens if that old at all, but it was obvious that he'd
seen some hardship in his life.  It wasn't the injuries that told her that, but the look in his eyes.  There was something in his eyes
that said he was too familiar with the cruel side of human nature.

"I'm Cinnamon," she greeted, trying for a casual tone.  "But you can call me Cindy.  What's your name?"

"Ez-Ezra," he said, curling his arms around himself a little tighter.  "Was I supposed to ask for permission Miss Cindy?  I didn't
mean to cause trouble."

Cinnamon brushed away his worries.  "Oh, it's no trouble.  It's not as if we're likely to be after the same clients, is it?"  She
turned her head to the sky, seeing a flash of lightning streak the darkness.  "And tonight, I doubt if either of us will be earning
much."  She looked over to the boy, just in time to catch a faint sense of hopelessness flicker in his gem-like eyes.  "Say, you
have a place to stay the night?  I have a lumpy old couch that might be comfortable enough and if the weather's better
tomorrow, I can introduce you to a few men I know might be eager to meet you."  To be honest, she did know of a few men
like that, but she sure as hell wasn't going to be introducing Ezra to any of them.  Oh no, she had a better idea.  She'd just have
to be careful.  One wrong step and Ezra would be running out on her.  And how would she help him then?

Ezra took a step back, his face paling.  "I don't think ... I don't want to inconvenience you."

She couldn't tell if he was more afraid of her, or of the prospect of actually renting his body out to strange men.  "It's not an
inconvenience.  I help out all the new talent," she said, smiling again.  It wasn't a lie.  She did help out the new girls when they
came around.  "You can ask, if you'd like."  She pointed across the street to a couple of girls who were huddled together under
an umbrella.  "The redhead.  She's one of mine."

Ezra shook his head.  "No, no that's all right."

Cinnamon nudged his shoulder lightly and didn't miss his flinch from the minor contact.  "Come on, let's grab something to eat.  
I don't know about you, but I'm starved.  And Mike makes the best meatloaf."  She gestured behind her to the diner.

"I don't have any money," Ezra said.

"I'll pay," she replied.  Before he could object, she added.  "And don't think it's charity.  You can always pay me back for it
later."

Ezra nodded and followed her into the diner.

Over the satisfying meal, Cinnamon tried to coax him into divulging more information about himself.  But she didn't make much
progress.  She got a last name, 'Standish,' and the fact that he'd run away from an uncle's house.  However, he wouldn't say
why, or where his parents were, if he even had parents.  And he wouldn't tell her how he'd gotten hurt.  She didn't push him
though; she didn't want to scare him off.

It took some effort to get him to come with her back to her place.  But the lure of a warm place to sleep on a cold wet night
won out over his initial objections.  Her apartment was small, but it was close-by.

"The bathroom's through there if you want to get washed up," she offered.  "The towels are in the cupboard.  I'll see if I can
find you something to wear to bed.  You'll get sick if you stay in them wet things."

Ezra disappeared into the bathroom and Cinnamon went off to her bedroom.  It took her a few minutes of searching to find a
t-shirt that wasn't too effeminate.  Unfortunately for Ezra, she was actually quite fond of the color pink and pale pastel colors
that she didn't think that the boy would like.  The gray one would do well enough, even if it did have the phrase, 'Go Ahead
Bask In My Cuteness,' emblazoned across the front of it.  She left it hanging on the doorknob and told him it was there, then
retreated to her kitchen to find the first-aid kit she had in there.

When Ezra came out a few minutes later, he gently tried to tell her than he was fine.  She nearly cried at the sight of him.  He
was small and waif-thin, the shirt he wore hanging down near to his knees.  Now that he was cleaned up, the bruises and cuts
seemed to stand out in stark contrast to his pale skin.

She dug around in her kit and brought out a rolled up ace bandage.  "At least let me wrap your wrist for you," she said.

With obvious reluctance, Ezra inclined his head and carefully moved to stand in front of her.  She tenderly took hold of his
injured limb.  Then she went and found a pillow and a blanket and sent him off to bed, wishing she could offer more than a
lumpy sofa for him to sleep on.  She didn't think he'd accept the offer of her bed.



*****



Cinnamon slept until late afternoon.  She sat up with a start, worried that her guest had disappeared in the night.  She hurried
from her bed and out into the living room, breathing a sigh of relief when she found Ezra still asleep on her couch.  Relieved,
she gave in to her impulse and ran the very tips of her fingers through his hair.  He hummed in his sleep, nudging up against the
faint contact.  The action gripped Cinnamon's heart and rallied her conviction to help the boy.

Breakfast was quickly made.  Toast and coffee.  She didn't have anything else and frankly, she wasn't the best cook in the
world.  Lunch would be better.  She had a couple frozen pizzas she could cook up.  And they could have dinner at the diner
again.

They spent the day companionably.  Ezra was witty and intelligent.  He provided a refreshingly good conversation.  The day
passed quickly.  And soon it was time to get ready for work.

She sent Ezra to get dressed in the clothes he'd worn yesterday - dry now after a day of hanging over her shower rod - while
she went into her bedroom.  Before she did anything else, she made a quick phone call, and hoped her gamble would pay off.



*****


It was half-past nine when the beat up old pick-up drew up to the curb.  Ezra's stomach was churning.  He'd watched
Cinnamon all night.  She'd gone with a couple of men already, but never before extracting a promise out of Ezra not to go off
with anyone while she was gone.  He'd readily agreed, not really all that keen to go with anyone at all, let alone a complete
stranger.  Cinnamon had assured him that she had picked someone for him already, someone who would take care of him.  The
thought still left him feeling sick though.  He didn't want to do this.  But he needed money, not just for himself now but because
he needed to repay Cinnamon back for all of her kindness.  She'd bought him meals, shared her home with him.  The least he
could do was offer up a monetary recompense.

Cinnamon strolled over to the cab of the truck with a sway to her hips.  She was smiling as she greeted the man inside.  Ezra
couldn't hear what was being said, but he did notice that Cinnamon looked over at him a couple times during the conversation.  
Eventually, she called Ezra over.

At first, Ezra had trouble convincing his feet to move.  He took a breath, trying to calm his racing heart and forced himself
forward.  Cinnamon reached out and cupped his face in her hands, a sad smile on her face.  "You go on now, Ezra.  He'll take
good care of you," she said.

"All right," he croaked, heart pounding in his throat.  "I'll see you later?"

She sniffed and smiled shakily.  "Of course."  She pulled him into a hug.

When she let go, he saw tears on her cheeks.  Why was she crying?  He didn't understand.  There was no time to think on it
though, as Cinnamon opened the truck door for him and helped him to clamor up onto the seat.  He barely had the time to
buckle his seat-belt before the truck began to move.

Surreptitiously, Ezra glanced to the man driving the truck.  It was dark, but the streetlights added some illumination whenever
they passed under one.  In the flashes, Ezra could make out dark hair and a thick mustache.  The man was big, not fat but
well-muscled.  Ezra tucked himself close to the door, wary of the stranger even with Cinnamon's approval of him.

Not surprisingly, they pulled over into an empty lot.  The man turned on the cab light and looked over at Ezra.  "So, your
name's Ezra, is it?" he asked, reaching out and clamping a large hand on Ezra's shoulder.

Ezra couldn't stop the shivers that began to wrack his body.  "Yes, sir," he replied.  He unfastened his seat-belt and scuttled
closer, fingers reaching out toward the man's jeans.

His fingers had barely curled around the denim and unfastened the button before they were grasped by much larger hands.  
"Now hold on there, kid," the man said, holding Ezra's hand in a careful grip.  "I'm guessing Cinnamon didn't tell you much
about me, did she?"

Ezra's eyes were wide, wondering just what horrors this man had in store for him.  "No, sir.  She said you would take care of
me.  D-Do you want to use my mouth?  Or-"

"No!" the man snapped, making Ezra flinch away.  Blue eyes sparkled in the dim light, but they weren't full of anger.  
"Cinnamon said I'd take care of you, because that's what I'll do."  He reached into his pocket and pulled out something that
made Ezra's eyes widen.

It was a detective's badge.



To Be Continued ...