Author's note: Obviously the boys don't belong to me. This is my take on ten years after the last episode of the Magnificent Seven TV show. For any one that's read my earlier stories posted at this is a lead-in to my Petrie's Folly. My deepest thanks to the mighty Pookwana with her red ink. K.T. the Opinionated, who's just that.
Translation of foreign words are at the end of the story. I Dreampt that I was Dyin' is my own poor attempt at poetry. After much research I was unable to find a poem that said what I wanted.
Warning this is a death fic: It is not a recent death and as much as we all hate the idea it's going to happen at some point.
Make Me No Grave
10 years later challenge
Make me no grave within that quiet place
Where friends shall sadly view the grassy mound,
Politely solemn for a little space,
As though the spirit slept beneath the ground.
Rising smoke stained the clear blue sky before them.Buck rode hard trying to keep up with the fast moving Larabee. The two men raced silently side by side on straining lathered horses. An agonized wail carried to Buck from the distraught Larabee as the ranch came into view revealing disaster. Putting his spurs to the exhausted horse Larabee raced on.
"Oh God no," Buck whispered as visions of the past came back to haunt him. Once more a Larabee home lay in smoldering ruins. The big barn was still burning. Frightened horses moved agitatedly in corrals and by some strange quirk of fate, clean sheets and diapers still hung on the lines which some how made the carnage worse.
"Annika!" Chris screamed as he rode into the yard and slid from the back of the wind blown horse. Nightmare revisited as Buck launched himself onto his friend preventing him from entering the smoldering ruin of the house.
A sooty and disheveled Annika Larabee appeared dropping to her knees wrapping her arms around both of the men. "Everyone is safe, hush now. The children are fine, as am I," Annika soothed, stroking tear streaked faces.
Chris raised a disbelieving hand and traced the soot stained cheek. "Safe?" he whispered.
"Yes, not so much as a scorch," Annika moved into the welcoming embrace and began to sob. "Stupid tears . . . why is it I cry now?" She fussed trying to find a clean spot on her apron to wipe her eyes.
"You're beautiful woman," Chris gently kissed her trembling lips.
"Blind as a bat, Christopher Larabee," Annika chuckled weakly.
"And what are you staring at Buck Wilmington?" Annika Larabee glared up at the man.
"About the most beautiful thing I ever saw in all my born days," Buck answered wiping the tears off his cheeks.
"Huh, such sweet talk will be getting you no pie today." Annika's chin quivered before she obviously took herself in hand. "Call the children in. I bid them wait just to be safe."
Buck whistled shrilly and three children raced from hiding followed by a slower moving fifth child that watched his siblings protectively.
"Unca Buck, Unca Buck bad men came and burnt our house," three year old Adam reported excitedly as he climbed his uncle's tall frame to get into the comforting arms. Buck's big arms snuggled Adam, repositioned five-year-old William and the baby Sarah that William had been carrying, smiling contentedly as they added to the noise level. Seven-year-old James moved over to lean against his father for comfort.
"Kev's acting funny Pa," James looked up, content that his father could fix everything.
"Between Kev and I, we managed to drive the raiders off. Kev's feeling the weight of a man's responsibilities," Annika said sadly, looking toward their oldest child.
Chris and Buck exchanged a shaken look as they studied the boy.
Now if that don't bring back memories. Rifle laid up on his shoulder and his hip cocked that way, even the way he tilts his head hiding under that hat brim. Only thing missing is that damn smelly coat and those scruffy whiskers. Of course that gunbelt fit Vin. Won't be long before Kev grows into it though. Where have all the years gone? Buck thought tearfully.
He looks more like Vin every day. Chris felt the old ache. This boy is the greatest gift you could have ever given me you damn scruffy Texan.
"Kevin," Chris acknowledged the new found manhood in Kev's eyes.
"They rode south then swung west." Kev reported hoarsely.
"You did good, you and your ma. I'm proud of both of you," Chris praised.
"I was scared," Kev admitted.
"A man who doesn't get scared isn't someone a sensible man wants to ride with," Chris answered. "It's how you handle fear that's important."
"I shot some of them," Kev's voice broke.
"You were protecting your kin," Buck reminded.
"I need . . . somethin' but I don't know what Pa," Kev began to shake.
Quickly Chris lunged forward and caught the boy as Kev's legs folded, both of them landing on their knees with a slight thump in the dust. "It's alright, you can let go. Buck and I'll keep watch."
"'Kay," Kev said in an exhausted tone and laid his head against his father's chest when the comforting arms pulled him close.
James moved over and took the rifle and gunbelt holding Vin Tanner's old mare's leg from where it was looped over his brother's shoulder. Wide frightened eyes lifted to his father's face.
"James, I need you to do something real important," Chris said.
"Yes, Sir," James responded concentrating so he'd be able to do the job properly.
"Put my saddle on Skillet and ride over to your Uncle Nate's. Tell him I need him to bring his bag. Now ride smart, watch for those raiders and don't run your pony into the ground. Pace yourself, getting there safe is the most important thing."
"Yes Sir," James answered.
"Leave your pony and borrow one of Nathan's to ride back on unless Nate need's you to do something for him," the worried father ordered studying the far too young boy.
James straightened and nodded before heading to the corral to get his horse.
"Buck, see if you and the children can walk out Horse and Rosey before we lose a couple of good horses. Just keep the kids busy, alright?" Larabee ordered softly.
"Sure Pard," Buck studied his friend's strained features. Chris pulled his hand out from under Kev and exhibited blood stained fingers.
"Damn," Buck hissed and scooted his charges off to help him with the horses.
Annika took a deep breath and moved Kev's jacket to examine the wound. "Get that look off your face husband. I'll not be losing a son today. I would not let him go as a bairn, I'll not be letting him go now and don't you be giving up on him either."
Chris nodded in agreement taking a deep breath. "He didn't even know he was shot."
"I'll be getting a sheet off the line for bandaging," Annika said as she hurried off.
After cooling the exhausted horses properly and turning them into a corral. Buck had the children help him roll the wash tubs over to the still burning barn where he sat them back on their stands and filled them with water to heat.
Nathan always needs hot water. Buck nodded in satisfaction at his work.
"I'm hung'y Unca Buck," Adam wrapped his arms around Wilmington's leg.
"There's nothing to eat Adah. Momma's kitchen is all burnt up," Will reminded tearfully.
"Now don't fret your Uncle Buck ain't gonna let you go hungry. Let's go see what your momma has in the root cellar.
Working together Annika and Chris got the wounded boy stripped, bandaged and bedded down in some clean sheets from the clothesline.
"Kev's gonna be embarrassed to death when he finds out you took his clothes off big as he is," Chris chuckled weakly.
"Yes maybe he'll not be getting shot again then," Annika huffed.
"Bless you, Buck Wilmington," Annika said tearfully as she claimed her crying daughter. The one time rogue had not only changed the baby but had rescued meat from the slain chickens which was bubbling away in pots salvaged from the ashes of the kitchen.
"Chris we got riders headed this way," Buck warned.
"That'll be Nathan," Chris answered distractedly while trying to soothe the children.
"Yeah but that ain't," Buck pointed to a much larger cloud of dust coming from the east.
"Annika, take the children to the root cellar," Chris ordered checking his rifle and pistol.
"Kev shouldn't be moved," Annika protested.
"Buck, grab the end of those sheets. We'll carry him in a sling," Larabee ordered.
Quickly the two men had Kev moved to the root cellar where Annika and the other children joined him. Out of danger from any stray bullets, Annika sat on the dirt floor telling stories, while nursing Sarah and stroking Kev's hair. A pistol lay in her lap.
Wilmington and Larabee's stance relaxed as the riders grew close enough to identify.
"It's JD and Chanu, some of the men from town. Go tell Annika it's safe to come out. But Chris, if I was you I'd be sure to call out first," Buck laughed. "That woman'll part your hair."
"Annika has a tendency to shoot low," Chris reminded.
Buck winced as he remembered Annika's shooting lessons and the shot up scarecrow.
Kev had been moved out of the root cellar and was once more under the grape arbor when Nathan and James rode in.
"How bad?" Nathan demanded curtly as he slid off his horse. The healer stumbled a bit and grabbed onto his saddle until his damaged knee would support him properly.
"It took some meat out of his side. We seem to have the bleeding stopped for now but it'll need cleaning and some stitches," Chris responded.
Nathan's troubled look lightened slightly. "Where is he?"
"Under Annika's grape arbor it's the shadiest place we have at the moment," Chris sighed deeply looking over the ruined buildings.
"Chris, I'll see to Kev. You've got a boy that's carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Think he needs to hear that he didn't mess up from his Pa," Nathan nodded over to the exhausted James. One tired little step after another but the child was gamely cooling the lathered horses.
"Damn I didn't re. . . ," Chris groaned.
"You were busy with Kev. No time like the present," Nathan shooed the worried father off.
"Here son let me help with that," Chris took a set of reins and began to lead Nathan's gelding. "I wanted to thank you for all your help."
"Thank me?" James stopped in his tracks. "I didn't do anything. I just hid while they burned our house."
"You did a man's job today James Devin Larabee," Chris stated firmly. "And you did it well."
"I didn't help run 'em off Pa. That was Ma and Kev," James protested with a catch in his voice.
"So what were you doing while your Ma and Kev shot at raiders?" Chris asked softly as they stopped walking long enough to let the horses take a few swallows of water.
"I took Will, Adah and Sarah to the spring and hid them in the cold cave," James' voice shook as he recounted the incident.
"Your Ma told you to?" Chris asked gently.
"Yes Sir," James answered.
"You had the babies out there all on your own? What if some of those raiders had found you?" Chris asked seriously.
"I'd have shot anyone trying to come through the door," James growled.
"Seems to me your Momma trusted you to take care of the most valuable treasures on this ranch." Chris smiled down warmly at the troubled boy.
"But we lost our house, and the barn , all our clothes, even our beds," James protested.
"Son those are just things, just things. They can be cleaned, fixed or replaced. You, Will, Adam and Sarah can't be. I've never been more proud of you and Kev than today. I sure didn't want to let you ride over to Nathan's." Chris stopped the gelding so it could take another drink.
"I know Pa," James nodded as he let the other horse get a drink.
"I knew you were man enough for the job. I just didn't want any of you kids out of my sight," Chris admitted shakily.
"I know Pa, I could get there the fastest and you might have needed Uncle Buck to help with Kev. He knows more about doctoring than me." James sounded so adult at that moment.
"Still tore the heart out of me watching you ride off," Chris admitted.
James nodded and they walked some more. "Pa?"
"Yeah James," Chris looked over.
"Is Kev gonna die?" James asked weakly.
"It's not a bad wound. I've lived through a lot worse. Your Uncle Nathan'll have him fixed up in a jiffy." Chris answered seriously.
"That's good," James sniffed.
"Boy there's one more thing I really need from you today," Chris said.
"Yes Sir?" James looked up.
"Your Pa could sure use a hug even if you're too big for that sissy stuff anymore," Chris smiled down.
"I think maybe I need one too, Pa." James allowed himself to be lifted into a tight hug against his father's broad chest. "Pa you're crying," James whispered in shock as he tried to wipe Chris' tears away.
"I almost lost you all today," Chris sniffed.
"Have you hugged Will and the babies? They were awful good and stayed real quiet for a long time." James patted his father.
"I think maybe we better put these horses away now and go hug some babies. What do you think?" Chris sat the boy down and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe both of their faces.
"I think so too," James agreed. "Pa, I love you."
"I love you too James Devin Larabee. Now stop making your old man cry. JD'll make fun of me." Chris muttered.