Main Characters: Chris, Billy
Webmaster Note: This fic was previously hosted at another website, and was moved to blackraptor in May 2012.
Chris Larabee looked out the filmy window of his shack as the sound of hoof beats caught his attention. A frown creased his handsome face as he recognized his visitor, and he flew out the door toward the approaching horse and rider. "What are you doing out here alone?" Then he saw his visitor's stricken face. "What's wrong?"
"I-I'm...runnin' away." Billy Travis looked down from far atop the horse he had borrowed.
Reaching up and taking the little boy from the back of Josiah's horse, Apostle, Chris said, "Josiah know you borrowed his horse?"
Shaking his head, the little blond's face crumpled and tears streamed down the chubby cheeks. As Chris took him into his arms, Billy buried his face against the man's broad shoulder and sobbed heart-brokenly.
"Hey," Larabee said softly as he held the child snugly against himself, "What's wrong? Why are you running away?"
Between hiccuping breaths, the weeping child said, "C-cause...Ma's go-gonna be mad... I done s-some...thing bad." Then he jerked back, staring wide-eyed at his friend. "D-don't put me in jail Ch-Chris!"
Torn between laughing and crying himself at the small boys words, the blond said, "Tell me what you did, son." As the child hesitated, he added, "I promise I'm not going to put you in jail." While Billy fought to compose himself, Chris carried him into the shack, settling the little boy on the table. Pulling his handkerchief from his pocket, the man gently wiped the tiny, tear-stained face. Getting young Travis a cup of water, he stayed close as, taking it in both hands, the child choked down the drink between sobs. Larabee stroked one rough hand through the thick blond hair and down the trembling back.
Several long moments passed before Billy was calm enough to speak. Brushing away the last, errant tears, Chris tilted the cherubic face back, looking into the red-rimmed eyes. "Now," he said softly, "Tell me what's going on."
Sniffing loudly, wiping a sleeve across his nose, Billy said in a quivering voice, "I didn't mean to do it, Chris, honest."
"Billy, what did you do?"
Reaching into his coat pocket, the little boy pulled out a pocket watch, or what had once been a pocket watch. The heavy case was all but crushed. Handing it over with a shaking hand, he said, "I...I just wanted to show it to David."
Taking the timepiece, Larabee tried to place where he had seen it. Then he realized that faint sounds came from inside the case. Sounds not typical of a watch. Carefully prying open the once decorative silver cover, the man grimaced. The watch inside was broken. Framed inside the lid was a picture of Mary and Billy Travis. He remembered where he had seen it, then. Mary had allowed the little boy to show it to him once. It had been his father's watch.
"H-honest Chris, I didn't...I didn't...I DIDN'T MEAN TO!" The brokenhearted child wailed.
"Of course you didn't, Billy," the blond said reassuringly. "Why don't you tell me what happened."
"I wanted to show it to David. He called me a liar, when I told him my Ma gave it to me after...after my Pa..." he choked off another sob.
"Shhh," the gunman whispered. "It's okay."
"I told David about it, and he said I lied. So, I told him I'd show it to him. Ma was talking' to Mrs. Potter. She didn't see me get it. I took it out to where David was. I showed it to him, and he said he still didn't believe me. He said if it was mine, I wouldn't a had to sneak it out. Then he called me a bunch a names, and I got mad, and I hit him."
"Then what happened?" Chris questioned when the child grew quiet.
"We got in a fight. I know I ain't supposed to fight Chris. I remember what you told me, that you don't start no fights. But he made me so mad, Chris. I ain't a liar!" Once again the tears began to flow.
"No, you're not a liar, son. So, how did the watch get broken?"
"I dro...I dropped it when we were fighting. We were in the alley. David saw the watch and he grabbed it. Before I could catch him, he ran behind the livery to the corral. I tried...I tried real hard to catch him, but he's bigger than me. He threw the watch through the fence. When...when I finally got it...one-one...ONE OF THE HORSES STEPPED ON IT!"
Larabee clucked compassionately, and lay the ruined device on the table. Gathering the once more sobbing child into his arms, he settled into one of his ladder-back chairs. Tilting back on the two rear legs, he rocked them both. Cuddling the little body against his chest, he rubbed a hand up and down the child's arm, humming softly.
Chris knew that, by now, the little boy's presence had to be missed. Mary was probably tearing the town apart, looking for her child. He would have to take the little blond into town, help him explain things to his mother. Then, as the blond finished his thought, he realized that the tiny body curled up against him was relaxing. With a small smile, he continued rocking while young Travis drifted to sleep, worn out by the day's events.
Larabee had nearly rocked himself to sleep as well when the sound of several horses roused him. He didn't have to look to know who was outside his house. Moving carefully, so as not to wake the boy, he moved to the door. He was standing on the porch as the little 'posse' arrived.
Reining in, the other peacekeepers, along with the pretty young newspaper editor, took in the sight before them. Before the widow Travis could cry out in relief, Larabee pressed a finger to his lips and shook his head vigorously. Mary realized then that her child was asleep, couched in the strong arms. She smiled at the sight, as tears of relief streamed down her pretty face.
Chris slipped quietly back into the house, depositing the sleeping child on his bed. Coming back outside, he greeted his friends. "Hoped we could get back into town before you all went on the worry."
"What happened, Chris?" Mary asked. "Why did he take Josiah's horse and ride out here alone?"
Holding out the tear-dampened handkerchief, he opened it to reveal the ruined memento. "It was an accident," he said as the woman's mouth flew open in shock. Guiding her to a chair, he squatted down next to her and related the tale her son had told him. By the time he had finished, Mary, too, was in tears. Looking around, he saw the faces of his six friends. Each man felt the pain of the small boy.
"Mary, can I?" Vin held out his hand. Taking the ruined watch from her, he asked, "Can I take it for a bit? Can't promise nothin', but I've got some tools I use for m' guns. Might be able t' put it right."
"Reckon if I can put y'all back together I might be able to help," Nathan added.
"I offer my dexterity and keen eye for detail, at your service," Ezra said.
"Thank you gentlemen," Mary said with a smile.
Tipping their hats, the six peacekeepers left to return to Four Corners, leaving Mary and Billy in Chris' hands.
Larabee leaned against the upright, smoking a cheroot, as he watched the comings and goings along the dusty street. He smiled compassionately as he watched a small figure diligently sweeping the boardwalk outside the Clarion's office. A little farther down, outside Potter's store, another flurry of dust erupted around a vigorously sweeping broom. Both Billy Travis and David Potter were working off their punishment, as they had for nearly a fortnight. While David had been heard grumbling every day, Billy took his punishment with stoic resolve. Chris could still see the heartbreak in the cherubic face and knew that Billy had yet to forgive himself.
Mary had been understanding as the little boy explained what had happened. Having already heard the story from Larabee, she knew what to expect. As much as it broke her heart, she had restricted her one and only child from playing for three weeks, and had doubled his daily chores.
An all-too familiar growl drew the blond's attention to the table behind him. Turning, he watched the three men huddled around a nearby tabled. They were hunched over, hands moving with deliberation as they continued to work on the broken watch. Larabee shook his head as Vin grumbled another epithet and pointed the business end of a tiny screwdriver at Ezra. Green eyes flashing, Standish made a whispered comment, grabbing the tool from the sharpshooter.
Stifling a chuckle, Chris turned back to watch the street. They all knew that the chances of the three men restoring the watch to its former condition were non-existent, but they continued to try. Watching the child across the way, Larabee realized that, while he had learned one lesson already, Billy Travis would soon learn another. He would learn just what true friendship was.
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