Rating: PG-13 Bad language, Violence

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven is owned by Trilogy, Mirish, MGM. No money is being made. This fanfic is purely for entertainment purposes.

WARNING: Some content may be unsuitable for sensitive readers. Please, if you don't want to read a story that has something sad in it, just delete this now.

Author's Notes: I've been working on this story for over a month now. But, during the last three weeks, I've had to go to the emergency room three times and I've been in and out of hospitals; I'm tired of needles and I'm tired of tests and I'm just not in the best of spirits. So, I thought I'd work on this story again 'cause writing fic usually seems to make me feel better. :) I'm back home now, at least for the weekend, and I thought I'd go ahead and post it. Thanks to Judy and NotTasha for betaing it.

Feedback is greatly appreciated. 

This would fit into the first season, somewhere after Witness.

 

Free
By: Ruby

*****

"Billy, just hold still, now," Chris Larabee cautioned the frightened boy.

"I'm really sorry, Chris. I was just playing up here with Free. My Aunt Meggie and I used to play up here all the time, but the floor isn't strong anymore and now I can't get back down," Billy's high-pitched voice quivered.

Chris watched as the small yellow-striped kitten frolicked and played all over the little boy, climbing up the front of his shirt to disappear over his shoulder. Billy reached around and gently pulled the kitten from his back, depositing it in his lap and trying to keep a hold of it. "I know, it's okay. Just stay still like I told'ja and I'll be right there," he told the boy.

Billy swallowed hard, trying to force the tears back. " 'Kay."

"Chris?" Nathan called from below. "Can you get 'im?"

"Yeah," Larabee spoke through gritted teeth, "I can get 'im. No problem, Nate." Chris spoke to the healer as he smiled at the scared young boy, trying to make him feel better.

Billy Travis sat cross-legged on the upper floor of an old, abandoned barn just outside of town. The wood planking had rotted away in places, creating gaping holes here and there.

Still upset about the loss of his father, Billy had been spending more and more of his time alone lately, and Mary was really starting to worry about him. And then, this afternoon, when the boy hadn't shown up for lunch, Mary had called out the seven, or the four, since Ezra, Vin and JD were out of town, and the peacekeepers had started searching for the boy. It was just luck that brought Nathan to the barn. He'd heard soft muttering, which turned out to be Billy comforting his kitten that he held in his lap.

After climbing the rickety wooden ladder to the second floor, Jackson quickly discovered that he would be too heavy for the disintegrating floor after he created another hole when he placed one foot on the wood planking. Luckily, he'd still had most of his weight on the ladder and had saved himself from a nasty fall. Chris showed up soon after, with Josiah and Buck quickly coming behind him. It was then decided that Chris was the one who would have the best chance of getting to Billy, being the lightest of the bunch present.

So, now, here Chris was, standing on a creaking, rotting wooden floor, wondering if, at any second, the whole thing wasn't going to collapse, sending him and Billy straight into the jaws of doom. The floor creaked under Larabee's feet as he slowly made his way to the Clarion editor's only child. "Got 'im," he called down to the men below when he reached the boy's side.

"Billy? You okay, honey?" Mary called out worriedly.

Billy held his kitten close to his chest. "Yeah, I'm okay," he answered, putting up a brave front for his mother.

Chris picked the child up and slowly started back across the floor, headed for the ladder. The gunslinger took cautious steps, trying to keep the child calm all the while. "So, who's your Aunt Meggie?" he asked, trying to keep Billy's mind off the predicament.

"She's my mom's little sister," he answered as he pulled the kitten's claws out of Chris's neck. "She comes and stays with us sometimes. She's older than me, but she's not as old as Mom and the rest of you," he clarified innocently.

Chris hid his chuckle at the unintentional slight. Still making his way slowly across the rotted floor, he kept up the reassuring litany. "So, Billy, you never told me how you came up with the name 'Free' for your kitten." He glanced at the small child and watched as Billy cocked his head at him. Holding the kitten closer to his chest, the child answered, "I named 'im Free, 'cause that's what it said on the box he came out of."

Chris blinked twice before it hit him. This time his chuckle wasn't silent. "I think that's a great name, Billy," he laughed out, ruffling the boy's hair with his free hand. Glancing back at the floor, he noticed that he only had a couple more feet to go before he made it to the ladder. Suddenly he heard a loud crack and the floor dropped out from underneath him and he felt himself falling. Wrenching his body around, he got Billy on top of him, so that when he hit, he wouldn't crush the child beneath him. Blinding, wrenching pain crashed through him as he slammed into the floor. He heard Billy cry out and he pulled the boy beside him so he could use his own body to cover Billy's and keep the falling debris from hurting the child further.

"Chris! Billy!"

Chris heard the others calling to them. He looked at the small body that lay next to him. Billy's scared eyes gazed up at him, tears straining to be free. "You okay, Billy?" he asked, while checking the boy over with his eyes and his hands.

"Yeah." Billy frowned. "You okay, Chris?"

"Yeah," he answered, trying to move some of the debris that had fallen on top of him. He had to stop moving when his vision started to swim.

"Chris?" A quiet voice asked. "Chris? You don't look so good. Are you gonna die?"

Grinning, Chris worked hard to pull his arm from under the rubble, reaching over and rumpling the child's hair. "No, Billy, I'm not gonna die." He could hear the other men trying to get to them. When he and Billy had fallen, they'd landed inside one of horse stalls.

"Chris, there's some beams blocking the door, it'll take a while to get you two out. Hold tight," Buck called out.

"Either of you hurt?" Nathan asked worriedly.

"We're okay," Larabee answered. "Just get us out of here."

Finally twisting his body out of the pile of rubble, he found Billy trying to make his way to his feet beside him. "Whoa, now," he admonished the child, reaching out and grabbing onto his small forearm to stall his attempt at getting up. "Let's just sit here a second and make sure that you're okay."

"I'm okay," Billy assured him. "I..." all of a sudden, Billy's eyes became huge, his forehead scrunched up and he opened his mouth. "Chris!" he yelled. "My kitty!"

"Free?" Billy called out, looking around frantically.

Chris quickly glanced around, spotting a tiny yellow tail sticking out from underneath a large board. Leaning forward, he closed his eyes as he shook his head. Sighing, he looked back up at the scared but hope-filled young eyes. "Billy," he had to pause to swallow the lump in his throat. "Billy, your kitten," he glanced once more towards the animal before looking back at the boy. He watched as Billy's face crumpled up in a frown, his lower lip started to quiver as he looked around Chris's body to see what he'd been looking at.

Before he could stop him, Billy was over there trying to pull the board off the dead animal. "No," his high-pitched voice squealed.

"Billy," Chris's breath caught in his throat as he bent towards the child. "Damn," he hissed out. At least one of his ribs was broken. "Billy," he started to pull the child back, but when he did, the board came with the boy, revealing the dead kitten beneath it.

"Oh hell," Chris breathed out, shaking his head.

Billy stood, his body shaking as he stared at the small, lifeless body. Reaching down, he picked the tiny animal up, holding it up to his face and peering into its eyes. He looked at Chris, his face full of confusion.

Chris slowly got to his knees, trying to ignore the pain coming from his ribs and his back. He made his way to the boy's side just as Billy handed him the tiny animal.

"Fix him."

Chris swallowed, taking the dead kitten from Billy's small hands. "Billy, I can't fix him. He's dead."

"No." Billy frowned as he glared at him. "Fix him!" he yelled.

"You doin' all right?" Nathan asked from outside the door. "We're almost in there."

"Hurry up," Larabee yelled before turning his attention back to the distraught boy. Glancing down at the dead kitten in his hands, he took in a deep breath before letting it back out as he looked up at the boy. "Billy, I'm sorry, I just can't fix him. He's dead." He shook his head. "All we can do now is bury him and-"

"NO!" Billy yelled louder, kicking Chris in the leg. "Fix him! Fix him! I want him back!"

Chris quickly placed the cat on the straw covered floor, then reached out, pulling the child into his arms. Racking sobs consumed the boy's body and, throwing his arms around Chris's neck, he cried, "I want him back, Chris. I want him back. I want my Daddy back." Chris's throat caught, strangling him for a moment. Holding the child in his arms, he tried to soothe him, "I know, son. I know. It's okay. It's okay, Adam."

Time stood still as Chris tried to remember how to breathe.

Billy pulled away from him slightly, a quizzical look on his face. "I'm Billy, Chris."

"I know you are," Chris's voice was raw, gravelly. He had to look away from those sorrow-filled, confused eyes, and he glanced down to hide the tears in his own eyes.

Billy rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. "My Dad's not ever coming back, is he?"

Chris looked up, seeing the raw anguish in the boy's eyes. "No, son. No, he's not. But you still have him, in here," he pointed to the boy's heart, feeling his own heart lighten a bit hearing the words.

"Can I keep him in there forever and ever?"

Chris reached out, grasping Billy's shoulder. "Yeah, he's yours forever and no one can ever take him away now," Chris answered, speaking more to himself than to the child. He'd have Adam forever, the memories of the good times as well as the nightmares of the bad. He'd always have his son, just like Billy would always have his Dad.

Sniffing, Billy rubbed his nose, looking down at the small dead kitten. "Do you think I could bury Free next to my Dad?" he asked in a timid voice.

Smiling sadly, Chris pulled him close again. "I don't see why not," he answered.

"Chris?" Billy looked down, wringing his hands together.

"Yeah, Billy?" the gunslinger asked.

Looking back up, Billy's face had a hopeful look to it. "Will you..." he gulped, tears threatening to fall. "Will you... " he paused again and Chris had the horrible feeling that the boy was about to ask him if *he'd* be his Dad. Chris wasn't sure what he would say. What he could say. He had a son. Was there room in his heart for another? Could he go through the pain of losing another son if something were to happen? Could he find it in his heart to stop grieving and start loving again? He was pulled from his reverie by Billy's quiet, small voice. "Will you... " the child looked back up at him, "will you help me bury Free?"

Chris let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Sighing, he smiled sadly, knowing that the answer to that question was the answer to the rest of his questions as well. Pulling the child close to his heart in a crushing embrace, Chris Larabee didn't even try to hide his tears. Nodding his head, he finally spoke, "Yes, Billy. Yes, son."

the end

 

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