The Heart Lives On

by S. Larabee Tanner

Author's Note: Thanks to Luna Dey who beta'd for me, and to my friends and fellow list members who allowed me to try out my fics on them.

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven and all related characters, concepts, etc. are the property of CBS, MGM, and Trilogy and other Powers That Be. No copyright infringement is intended or, and no profit is being made.

Feedback: Feedback is welcome, but no flames please.

For the third time in a few days, Buck watched his oldest friend reject the attempts of young Billy Travis as he tried to get close to him. The ladies' man watched with a saddened heart as Billy headed home with his head hung low. As he looked back towards the jail and to where Larabee sat Wilmington felt his anger rise. He pushed off the post he was leaning against and headed straight for the blonde.

All to aware of the Ladies' man who was headed his way, Larabee could see by his walk that he wasn't at all happy. "Don't say it Buck," he called out as he stood and adjusted his hat.

"The hell I won't," Wilmington hissed as he landed a right hook across Larabee's jaw, sending the blonde falling backwards. He stood shaking his sore hand as Larabee landed with a thud on his rear. "Ella might as well have killed you with them. You have no right to blame Billy for their deaths. He lost his pa, and he's hurting just as much as you are," he ranted, then turned on his heel and headed for the saloon. He needed a stiff drink.

The man in black sat there rubbing his jaw and watched his oldest friend storm off. He had seldom seen Buck mad, but when he was he had a good reason to be. He knew Wilmington was the only one of the seven that had the guts to knock some sense into him like this.

Larabee pulled himself onto his feet and headed into the jail. He tossed his hat onto the desk and sat in the chair behind it. He continued to rub his jaw where Buck's punch had landed and thought about what the other man said.

Chris thought back over the last few days and how he had rejected any attempt Billy made to get close to him. He knew it wasn't the boy's fault his wife and son were dead, but any time he started to let the Travis boy close a twinge of guilt would overwhelm him. He would start to feel like he was betraying Adam.

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Mary's heart broke when her son passed her on the way to his room. She had heard and seen Buck confront Chris. She hated to see the brooding man reject the boy. She knew of Larabee's past, but she still secretly hoped that they could help each other heal. Now, more and more she could see her Billy was going to get really hurt. She didn't have the heart to tell her son to stop trying to get close to the dark clad lawman and that the other peacekeepers would be glad to do things with him.

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Billy laid on his bed staring at the ceiling trying to figure out why Chris kept pushing him away. He looked up to the man in black as a role model, and his awe of the man bordered on hero worship.

Larabee had made it possible for him to come back home to live. The boy turned to look at the small wooden horse that sat on his bedside table. He remembered the day Chris gave it to him.

Billy reached out and closed his hand around the small figure, and as he brought it closer to him he let the tears fall. He studied the horse. "What did I do to have him hate me?" Billy asked aloud to no one. The young boy clutched the horse as he cried himself to sleep.

Mary had been standing outside his door. She had heard everything he said, and she wanted desperately to shield him from the hurt, but she knew she couldn't.

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Chris paused outside the boy's window in the shadows. He hung his head trying to hide the tears that threaten to fall. How could he have been so mean to a little boy that just wanted to be close to him?

"That little boy needs you as much as you need him," came a voice from he darkness.

Larabee jumped at the voice. "Damn, Buck! You should know better than to sneak up on a man like that."

"Sorry Pard." Buck smiled as he came into Larabee's view. "Why are you pushing him away?"

"Feel like I'm betraying Adam by letting him close," the blonde whispered.

"Hell Pard. You're not betraying Adam by caring about that boy. Hell both him and Sarah would want you to keep living." The tall lawman smiled. "Tell you a secret Adam told me the day we left."

Larabee's head shot up. "What?"

"He wanted a little brother," the mustached man simply stated.

A smiled brightened the blonde's face at the memories that his friend's statement brought back. "Really?" He watched his friend nod. "I have been pretty hard on Billy."

"Yep. Think maybe you owe him and apology," the scoundrel leaned back against the building.

Chris nodded. "I'll do that in the morning."

"Good idea Chris." Buck reached out and patted his friend's shoulder before leaving the blonde to think.

+ + + + + + +

The early morning silence was broken by a frantic scream. Chris bolted form his spot in front of the salon to where Mary stood in the street. "Mary what's the matter?" He could see the worry and fear in her face.

"Billy's gone. I can't find him anywhere." She barely got it out before yelling for the boy again.

"I'll find him. Stay here in case he comes home." The blonde ran for the livery and quickly saddled his horse. He emerged a few minutes later already mounted on the big animal's back.

The others had gathered to see what was going on. "Stay and search the town. I'll try his old homestead," the lawman barked out as he turned his horse and headed North out of town.

Chris was able to follows Billy's tracks without much effort. He slowed his horse and looked around as he came upon the Old Travis place. "Billy where are you? Your ma is worried sick," he called out. Just as he was climbing off the big black he caught movement out of the corner of his eye over near the house. Chris reacted quickly and sprinted in the direction of the movement and caught the boy as he tried to run.

Billy fought him. "No, let go." He tried to pry the man's hands loose.

Tightening his hold, Chris pulled Billy to him and wouldn't let go. "Easy, Billy." He felt the boy stop fighting him. "It's my fault you ran isn't?" Billy didn't answer; he just looked at the ground. He tried again. "Billy, I was walking by your window last night and I heard you crying. You ran because of me, didn't you?" He watched the boy nod. The tall blonde sighed. "I'm sorry for what I've been doing to you."

"Why? What did I do wrong that made you not like me?" was all the boy asked as he watched the gunfighter.

Larabee felt his heart sink at the boys words. He hung his head for a brief moment then looked up at the boy. "Felt like I was betraying my son's memory if I let you get too close." A grin crossed his face. "But, it got pointed out to me that I was wrong for acting that way." He rubbed his jaw at the memory.

Billy smiled. "Will you tell me about your son? I would like to know about him. I could tell you about my pa, if you want."

"Deal." Larabee smiled as he stood with the boy in his arms. "But, first we need to get you home to your ma."

"Okay," the boy answered as he let the blonde put him on the big black and then mounted up behind him.

As the pair rode back to town Chris started to tell the child about his son. Billy listened intently to the stories and made comments about how he did some of the same things that Adam had done. "You think yer son and me woulda been friends?" the young boy asked.

"I am sure you would have been really good friends."

Billy smiled and leaned back against the broad chest behind him. "I woulda liked that."

As the two reached town Chris smiled and asked, "Once your ma is through fussing over you, what do you say I start to teach you how to ride?"

"Yeah." The child couldn't' hide his excitement.

Chris smiled. It felt good to have a reason to smile again.

As they stopped in front of the local newspaper office, Mary came running out. She took her son from Chris. "Thank you so much, Mr. Larabee."

Chris tipped his hat before climbing off his horse. He nodded to the boy. "When you get things settled."

Billy smiled. "Ma, can I go with Chris? He's going to teach me how to ride. Please?" He looked up at her that puppy dog eyes look.

Chris fought to control his laughter. "Kid's been learning from JD."

Mary had to laugh. "Guess he has. Sure you can go." She sat him down and smiled with pride as she watched Billy and Chris head for the livery to get a fresh horse and then ride out of town together.


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