Main Characters: Chris, Billy Travis
Tag to the episode Witness.
Webmaster Note: This story was formerly hostead at another website and was moved to blackraptor in June 2012.
Chris reined Pony in, coming to a stop in the street outside the Clarion Newspaper office. Billy Travis came running out, dragging his mother behind him. He smiled as the youngster excitedly told Mary of the plans they had made while he was laid up the day before. He had gotten bored quickly with Nathan’s orders to rest at least one day after being shot by the men who had tried to silence Billy before he could remember who had killed his father. Finally he had managed to sneak out of his rented room without the healer seeing him, and went to sit in the sunshine on the boardwalk. As he set there watching the townspeople going about their business, he had spotted the little boy watching him, from the front window of the newspaper.
Trying to make it appear coincidental, he sauntered across the street, taking up a seat near the window. He couldn’t help but smile when he heard the newspaper office’s door open a few minutes later. Turning slightly he caught sight of the little blond out of the corner of his eye. Billy was slowly making his way along the boardwalk toward him.
“You ever been fishing?” Chris asked quietly when he knew the boy was close enough to hear him.
“A long time ago... with my father,” Billy answered with a catch in his voice.
Nodding, Larabee said, “Was thinking about going fishing tomorrow. Reckon your Mama’d let you come along?”
A wide grin threatened to split the cherubic face, but he said quietly, “I’ll ask.”
“Alright then, you go ask her.” He chuckled as the sound of little footsteps running back along the boardwalk echoed against the building. It was only a couple of minutes before they repeated themselves, and Billy Travis appeared right in front of him.
“Ma said if you’re sure you’re feelin’ up to it, it’s fine with her.” The little boy reported.
“Good enough. What else do you think we can talk your Mama into letting us do?” Chris smiled down at him, watching Billy’s face light up with excitement. They had spent nearly an hour discussing the possibilities, only ending when Nathan stomped over to stand before them, plainly irritated.
He could barely admit to himself how much he looked forward to spending time with the newspaperwoman’s son. It had been a long time since he had gone fishing for fishing’s sake, but that wasn’t the draw. It would be fun to get away from everything for a few hours with the boy. He missed those times with Adam.
“Billy, you ready?” He called. The boy was still rambling on about their plans. At Chris’ coaching he ran over, and the gunman pulled him one handed up into the saddle before him. Smiling at the boys reaction to Mary’s last minute instructions, he clucked his tongue and coaxed the black forward. Leaving the pretty young blonde to watch after them, the duo trotted out of town.
They rode in near silence, something that Larabee was used to, but hadn’t expected from the young man. The reason soon became apparent when the little blond head lulled against his arm. The morning sun combined with the gentle gait of the black gelding had lulled Billy to sleep. Enjoying the feel of the small body cradled against him, Chris let his mind wander to times in the past when another body had curled up against him in sleep. He sighed, letting the pain of loss wash over him. It was something he shared with the child; the pain of missing someone ripped from your life by anger and violence.
“Billy?” Chris nudged the little boy sometime later as they reached the spot he had chosen for their fishing expedition.
“Hmmm? Where are we?”
“We’re about ten feet away from the fish,” Chris said lightly. “You ready to go get them?”
“Sure!” Instantly awake now the child slid from the saddle and landed on the ground with a leap. Not even looking back, he ran full tilt toward the water.
“Billy, don’t get too close til I get down there, okay?”
Shaking his head, he dismounted and pulled the gear from Pony’s back. Gingerly pulling his arm from the sling, he balanced the poles in the stiff crook of his elbow, carrying his saddlebags in the other. The black ambled toward the water, intent on a cold drink. Chris strode toward the bank as well, watching Billy as the boy edged as close as possible to the water. “You fall in, your mama’s never gonna trust me to take you out of her sight,” he admonished lightly.
Grinning the little boy backed away. “Aw Chris, I wasn’t goin’ any closer.”
“Well see that you don’t, cause I can’t bait the hooks and watch you at the same time.”
Trotting over to the man, Chris said, “Can I help?”
“Reckon you can keep from getting the hook in your hand?”
“I’m not a baby,” Billy said, much as he had to his mother earlier.
“Yeah, think I heard that somewhere before,” Larabee teased. “Alright then, but be careful.”
They readied the lines and cast them into the calm water. Sitting side by side on the cool bank, the two fishermen watched the water in silence for some time. Chris stole a sidewards look at the little blond from time to time, and he realized that there was something on Billy Travis’ mind. At first he thought to simply let him work it out for himself, but the longer they sat in silence the longer he worried that the events of the past few days were weighing on the child.
“You look like you’ve got something serious on your mind,” he said, trying to sound as casual as possible.
“Yeah...” Billy's voice was soft and high, reminding him of another voice that he ached to hear again.
“Want to talk about it?”
“Not s’posed to,” he said in a somber tone.
“Ma said I wasn’t to ask you...about...” he trailed off with a shrug.
“About what Billy?” Chris was growing concerned now. What was it that Mary had sworn her son to secrecy about?
“About... about your family...” he stumbled through the words.
“Why not?” He was angry now, though he wasn’t certain at whom.
“Cause she said it’d make you sad, and I shouldn’t make you remember ‘bout them.” His honest answers ripped through the gunslinger’s heart.
“Billy, talking about my wife and my little boy doesn’t make it hurt anymore than it already does to miss them. Does it hurt too much to talk about your pa? More than just missing him does?”
He sat quietly, his tiny face serious, a frown telling Chris that he was considering the question. Finally he shook his head. “No. It hurts all the time anyway, talkin’ about it don’t make it hurt any worse I reckon.”
Chris nodded. “Then you ask me whatever you want, and I’ll answer it the best I can.”
Billy relaxed, his cherubic face lighting up with a smile now. Then he sobered once more. “What happened to them Chris?”
“They died in a fire.” That was all he wanted to share right now. Besides, Billy didn't need details Not yet. He was too young and had already seen too much violence as it was. Chris wouldn’t add to it.
“I’m... I’m sorry...” The little boy was telling the truth. Despite his own pain at the loss of his father so violently, he could feel the man’s pain for his own loss.
“I appreciate that Billy,” Chris kept his voice even, keeping the pain at bay.
“Were you there?”
“When it happened? No. Me and Buck were down in Mexico, selling some horses.”
Nodding, the little boy contemplated the explanation for awhile. Then, “What was his name?”
“I like that name.”
“Me too,” Chris smiled and ruffled the thick blond hair.
“Was Adam as old as I am now?”
“Not quite. He was almost five.”
“What did he look like?”
Chris stumbled on that question. He had lost the few pictures of his wife and son in the fire, and remembering their faces was becoming more and more difficult as time passed. “Well, he was dark haired like his mama, had hazel green eyes like me... reckon he’d have been a big fella... if he’d had the chance to grow up.”
“What did he like to do?”
Chris chucked. “He liked to worry his mama, sort of like you worry yours. He wasn’t afraid of much, and that gave us both fits sometimes.”
“Why? What did he do?” Billy asked with a grin now.
“Well...” Larabee tried to decide which story to tell his little companion. “Reckon he did about anything that came to mind. He wasn’t a bad boy, but he was curious about everything. Once he was supposed to be on the porch playing, but when his mama called him for dinner, he didn’t come in. She went to look for him, but couldn’t find him anywhere. I was just coming into the house and I heard her yelling his name. I came running, and we were both about as scared as we could be, thinking something had happened to him. Then, all of a sudden we heard a little giggle, but it was coming from above us. That little rascal had found a way to get up on the roof of the porch, and was just sitting up there. When we got him down and started scolding him, he said that he had just wanted to play hide-and-seek!”
Billy giggled, tried to stop, and giggled even harder. “He sure found a good hiding place!”
Smiling, Chris had to agree. “Reckon he did at that...maybe not as good as some you’ve found, but it was pretty good.”
Billy’s smile faded, thoughts of trying to hide from ‘the devil’ to save his mother coming back to haunt him. Chris watched the emotions playing across the boy’s face and mentally kicked himself for bringing up such recent events. “You want another story?”
“Yeah,” Billy said with a smile. He moved closer to the man in black, leaning against the big man’s leg.
Chris felt a tug at his heart, but felt a comfort that only the trust of a child could bring. He smiled and rested one arm around the boy’s narrow shoulders. Sitting contentedly for once, he began to recall more memories; more stories of his son.
“Well, let’s see now. We lived away from town back then, out beyond Eagle Bend. So, Adam and his mama didn’t get to go into town very often. When we all went as a family, it was pretty exciting. One of those times, Adam was in a pretty wooly mood. He’d vexed his mama since he’d crawled out of bed, to the point where she was about to keep him home and send me off alone. Now I wasn’t keen on that, since she wanted some lady things that I wasn’t keen on looking at.” He stopped at the sound of the little boy’s giggle. Billy was tickled at the tone he had ended in. Smiling, he realized with some surprise that re-telling his life before the fire that had nearly destroyed his future didn’t leave him feeling raw and consumed by rage. It hurt, he doubted that would ever change, but it was a pain that carried a bit of joy in the memory of those days.
“So, what happened?” Billy asked. “Did they stay home?”
“Hmmm?” the man stirred form his memories. “No, after a few false starts we got going. The whole way there was Adam, bounding around the wagon bed like a spider who’s web’s caught in a high wind. And he was asking questions so fast it seemed almost like he was two little boys. About the time I finished answering one question, he was half way through asking his mama the next one. By the time we got to town, Sarah and I were both about to collapse from all his jabbering.” Again he stopped, listening to the child’s sweet laughter. For a moment he felt a sense of pure joy, buoyed by the child-music. With a sigh of contentment, he hugged the narrow shoulders and stretched, barely registering the twinge of pain in his arm.
“When we made our way into town I left Adam with his mama at the dry goods store while I went on to the feed and grain. Sarah wasn’t real happy that I left him with her let me tell you, but I figured he’d be more interested I the things at the store, licorice whips and such.” He paused and chuckled, then with a shake of his head he said, “besides, my ears were aching from his chattering!”
Once more the boy’s laughter filled the air, joined by that of the man.
“Well, about 20 minutes later I looked up when I heard a little voice call, “Papa?” There stood my little boy, in the open doorway. I asked him where his mama was, and he answered 'at a store, Papa'. I couldn’t believe it! I looked out the door, and sure enough, Sarah was just running out the door of the dry goods, calling Adam’s name. She was looking up and down the street, and I had to call her name three times before she even heard me. I scooped up Adam and ran toward her, and she was running toward us. When we met in the street, she started scolding him for disappearing. Finally we all calmed down, and I asked him why he had done it. He looked at me, putting his little hands on his hips, and said, ‘too many ladies, Papa...don’t wanna see dresses!’ “
”Don’t blame him,” Billy said with a sigh. Shaking his head he repeated, “don’t blame him.”
“Me either Billy,” Chris agreed.
The day moved on around them, while they sat quietly enjoying one another’s company and fishing. Chris spoke of other times with his family, the little adventures of every day life. With each wonder-filled memory, the gunman found that some small part of his pain had dissipated, leaving in it’s wake a tiny bit of joy reclaimed from his tightly held grief.
The gunman paused from time to time, leaving an unspoken offer for the child to share his own memories, but Billy remained quiet. Perhaps it was just too early for the child to voice the past that he had shared with his father. Chris didn’t push. He understood only too well that only Billy Travis would know when the time was right. Chris Larabee only hoped that he would be there when it happened. He would like to be able to repay the gift that Billy was giving him that day. The gift of remembering without the sadness and pain.
As the sun began it’s move toward the Western horizon, Chris had to admit that the day would have to come to an end soon. “Reckon we’d better head back to town before your mama starts worrying.”
“Yeah, I reckon,” Billy agreed with a sigh.
Chris chuckled, once more ruffling the thick, straight locks. “Don’t mean we can’t do this again real soon.”
“Really? Maybe next time we could go hunting?” Billy said, smiling now.
Laughing, Chris nodded, “sure...but for now we’d best head back.” He pulled the poles out of the water and secured them to his saddle. As he returned to the bank, Billy was attempting to pull the catch line from the water. Stepping up behind the little boy, Chris leaned over him, reaching around to put his hands over the child’s. Together they pulled the line from the water, Larabee marveling at the feel of the tiny hands wrapped warmly in his own. Pulling the line, over half-filled with fish, and carrying it to the horse, they mounted the black gelding and began the return trip. Before they started off, Chris carefully returned his arm to the sling.
Looking back at the man in black, Billy said with a twinkle in his eye, “I won’t tell Nathan.”
With a wink, Chris said, “appreciate that pard.” He urged Pony forward, the little boy tucked safely before him on the saddle. The man still missed his son; the boy still missed his father, and that would never change. But, for the moment, they took comfort in being together...the father-less son and the child-less father.
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