Disclaimer: I don't own the Magnificent Seven, not making any money, just cheap thrills
Warnings: Angst, AU, tissue warning
A/N: I am so sorry for the wait. I have been fighting depression/anxiety for the last few months. This has been the worst bout I've experienced in at least 15 years. Let me tell you that stuff really wreaks havoc with writing. Thanks to SJ and her willingness to discuss plot points with me I was able to fight past the depression and complete the story. After this I plan to complete stories before I post them, just in case I get hit with another double whammy. Thanks y'all for your patience, hope you'll find the conclusion to be worth the wait.
A Little Help From My Friends
Vin patted his pocket. Yep, the candy for his brothers was still there. He looked up at Chris, a small smile blooming on his face. He didn't think he had ever had such a good day in his life. "Thank you for taking me with you," he said in response to the questioning look on Chris' face.
Chris smiled, "You're welcome Vin." As the ride continued in companionable silence, Chris became lost in thought. It felt good to hold a small body in his arms again but he couldn't help wishing that it was his son seated in front of him.
"They say you need to face the past," Vin quietly spoke the message of the spirits. Clamping his hand over his mouth, he stared up at Chris in horrified silence. He shouldn't have said that! Nobody was supposed to know about the spirits, Pa had said so.
"Vin?" Chris was confused. Why would the boy have said something like that?
Vin ducked his head, his face coloring with shame. He should have obeyed his father. "I'm sorry...I shouldn't have said anything."
"I'm not angry Vin, I just don't understand why you said that."
"I ain't supposed to say."
Chris frowned. "So you're just going to leave me confused?" He bit back a smile at the look which came over Vin's face as he thought that over.
"My Ma was Apache..."
"Your Pa doesn't want you telling people?"
Vin could hear the disapproval in Chris' voice. "No, he don't mind folks knowing that. It's my gift he don't want me to talk about."
"Gift?" He was confused again.
"Ma had the same gift." Vin paused, bracing himself to continue. He shouldn't have said anything, but he had and he owed Chris an answer. "The spirits talk to me, they tell me things I need to know. I ain't supposed to tell; folks don't like it when you're different." Please don't hate me.
Chris was silent for several minutes. He didn't really have a problem with what Vin was telling him. He just wasn't sure that he believed it. "Spirits huh? That who you meant when you said I need to face the past?"
"Yes sir," Vin nodded. He felt hope growing. Maybe he hadn't lost his new friend after all.
"What else did they tell you?"
"Nothing." That wasn't completely true, but he didn't think Chris would like the spirits telling his secrets. They hadn't told him yet anyway, they had said they would tell him what they meant later.
Chris gave the boy a small smile. "Well I suppose it's good advice. I'll try to work on that," he placated his young friend. When Vin raised an eyebrow and shot him a doubtful look he was sure the boy was going to call him on it. Nothing more was said, however, Vin just heaved a sigh and leaned back against him.
Josiah chuckled at the sounds coming from the kitchen. Ezra had surely been put out when their expected guest had failed to arrive until well after lunch. The younger man would be mortified if he knew he was behaving like many a housewife. He'd deny it of course, claiming that he was only bothered by the rudeness of the man in accepting an invitation to lunch and then failing to arrive until after the meal.
One thing he had learned about Ezra in the time he'd been here was that the man was a stickler for etiquette. He had even gone so far as to give the boys etiquette lessons along with their regular schoolwork. Josiah wasn't too sure how well some of those fancy manners would go over here in Wyoming, but he supposed it wouldn't hurt the boys to know how to act in more polite society. After all, you never knew where life would take you. He only needed to look at Ezra for the truth of that.
He winced at the sound of a lid slamming into place. He sure hoped Mr. Larabee and Vin got back in time for supper. Speak of the devil. Stepping outside, he moved to the hitching rail. "Did you have a good time son?" he asked as he lifted Vin down from the large black horse.
"Yes Pa, thank you for letting me go. I gots the candy too," he added, patting his pocket where the candy laid.
Josiah grinned down at the boy. "That's good son, why don't you keep hold of that until after supper." He looked up at the man still astride the horse. "You'll stay for supper?"
"No need for that," Chris tried to refuse. He knew in these hard times a man sometimes could barely feed his own and Sanchez had four children to feed.
"You missed lunch and I'm sure you could use a hot meal."
"Please Chris," Vin put in. "You could meet my brothers and Mr. Standish," he added.
He couldn't say no to those big blue eyes. "A hot meal does sound good." He climbed down from the saddle, tying the horse to the hitching rail.
"We should probably wash up, supper should be ready soon," Josiah said. "Boys, come wash up for supper!"
He woke with a gasp, his sweat soaked shirt clinging to his body, his breathing labored as if he'd just ran several miles. The nightmare which had plagued him for several nights was as elusive as ever. He wasn't sure how he knew it was the same dream. He could never remember the events of the nightmare so how could he know it was the same one each night?
"Chris? You okay boy?"
"Yeah, just a bad dream," Chris replied. Scrubbing his hand over his face, he took a minute to get his breathing under control. "Go on back to sleep Bill."
Bill harrumphed, but he laid back down. He wasn't one to push a body. If Chris decided he wanted to talk about whatever was bothering him then he would. Pushing him would more than likely only convince him to leave.
Knowing he wouldn't get anymore sleep tonight, Chris grabbed clean clothes and headed down to the creek. Stripping off his sweat soaked nightshirt, he waded into the cold water. At this rate he was going to have to start sleeping in the nude or he'd be washing clothes every couple of days. He didn't understand why the nightmare wouldn't let go. It had started the day Bill had asked him to stay on after he was back on his feet. He wanted to stay, God knew he did. He hadn't felt so much at peace in a long time and he hated to leave it behind. He shook his head. How could he even consider staying when Sarah and Adam were out there somewhere?
Maybe he could come back after he found them. The more he'd come to know Vin and his family, the more at home he felt, surprising him greatly. He had expected to be uncomfortable around so many boys, living reminders of what he had lost. Yet he wasn't, on the contrary he had gradually grown closer to each of them.
The youngest JD had been the most difficult to be around, reminding him so much of Adam with his enthusiasm for life and boundless curiosity. Nathan, though still a child, was the most like an adult. The boy was very intelligent and wholly focused on his studies when he wasn't doing chores. He rarely played with the other boys, but he was always aware of them, always looking after his younger brothers. Buck, too, would often be found taking care of the younger boys. Like his youngest brother, he possessed an enthusiasm for life, but being older he was less likely to let it lead him into trouble.
Chris enjoyed the visits with Josiah too, when he was able to get away from the mine. A child of missionaries, Josiah Sanchez had traveled the world, giving him a unique outlook on life and a love of nature. Chris had quickly realized that it was that love for nature that had led the older man to becoming a farmer, settling down on the farm that had been in the family for eighty years, once again making it a working operation.
Ezra had been a surprise. Obviously well educated, Chris hadn't expected to find somebody like him in the wilds of Wyoming. He wasn't a bad man, actually he was very easy to get along with, but Chris still wasn't comfortable around the man. He was too refined, too much the gentleman, too like the type of man Sarah deserved.
A short distance away, a small boy tossed his head, whimpering as he was assaulted with the images of his nightmare. "No Chris...don't..."
"Vin, wake up Vin," Nathan called, shaking his brother's shoulder. This was the third night in a row that Vin had woke him up, the same cry on his lips each time.
"Nathan?" Vin squinted, looking up at his brother through sleep bleared eyes. "I'm sorry."
"You want to talk about it?" Nathan asked, ignoring the apology for now.
Vin shook his head.
"Can't, not my secret to tell."
Nathan frowned. "Whose secret is it? Is it Chris' secret?"
Vin nodded. He wanted to tell somebody but the spirits said he couldn't, not yet. He hoped he could soon, maybe then the nightmare would stop.
Nathan's frown grew. "I don't think Chris should ask you to keep secrets, not if it's the kind of secret that gives you nightmares."
"He didn't ask," Vin mumbled.
"Then you can tell me what the secret is."
"Can't," Vin shook his head.
"I don't understand Vin. If Chris didn't ask you to keep it a secret, why can't you tell me?"
"Ain't my secret to tell."
Nathan shook his head. Lord but his little brother could be stubborn. "Vin I'm sure Chris wouldn't mind."
"Chris don't know."
"He doesn't know that you know his secret?" Nathan was confused. "How do you know it then?"
"No," Vin replied. "He don't know the secret."
What? Now Nathan was really confused. "That doesn't make any sense Vin. How can Chris have a secret that he doesn't know about?"
"The spirits said he don't."
Nathan sighed. "Did the spirits tell you what to do with this secret?"
"I have to make Chris remember the secret, but I don't know how."
"I thought you said Chris doesn't know the secret."
"He does, but he doesn't remember it so he don't know it," Vin explained.
"Oh. Maybe you should talk to Pa about it, he might know how to make Chris remember."
Vin shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe."
Putting his fingers under Vin's chin, Nathan tilted the younger boy's head until he could look him in the eye. "Will you think about it? I don't like seeing you having nightmares, Pa wouldn't like it either."
"You ain't gonna tell him, are you?"
"Not yet, but I will if you keep having nightmares."
"I'll think about it," Vin finally agreed.
"Good." Nathan smiled down at the younger boy. "It's still early, why don't you see if you can get some more sleep." With gentle hands, he tucked Vin in. He just hoped the boy could get a little more sleep. Standing up, he moved towards the door.
"Nathan? Thank you."
Nathan smiled softly. "You're welcome Vin." It was nearly time for him to get up and gather the eggs, he didn't think it would matter if he got them a little early.
The days passed and Vin was no closer to an answer than he had been. He had thought about Nathan's suggestion, but finally decided not to talk to his father. He wouldn't be able to explain things any better to him which might make the man fear Vin's gift. He didn't want to have to return to the days of hiding who he was. Vin didn't think he could do that again. He needed to find a way to make Chris remember or he would leave. The spirits had told Vin that if Chris left he would never see him again because his friend would be dead by Christmas.
Having overheard the conversation between his brothers, Buck too had been thinking. He didn't have any more idea than Nathan about Chris' secret, but if it was hurting his brother he'd have to do something about it. Buck knew that Vin wouldn't go to Pa about the secret. He'd spent too much time hearing that being part Apache was bad, it'd take more than a few weeks before he believed their father's words of assurance. In the meantime the younger boy was suffering from horrible nightmares. Making up his mind, Buck gave a short nod and headed out to the barn to talk to his father. He found him in the back stall working on some leather harnesses.
"Pa, can I talk to you?"
Josiah looked up, a mischievous glint in his eyes. "Looks like you can," he teased.
Buck gave a small smile, but he didn't laugh, he wasn't in a teasing mood. "It's kind of important."
Josiah sobered, "What is it son?"
"Well...um I got a problem that I'm not sure how to handle." Buck bit his lip as he wrestled with how to continue.
Josiah waited patiently for the boy to get his thoughts in order. He'd learned early on that rushing a child would only get him flustered until he took twice as long as if he just let them be.
"The thing is, well I know a secret, sort of, and I think if I tell one person about it that it'll help him and somebody else. It ain't my secret though and I only know it cause I overheard something. What do you think I should do?" Buck looked up at his father, his dark blue eyes filled with the faith that only a child could have.
Though he showed no outward sign, Josiah was stunned once again by the faith his children had in him. For a few minutes he seemingly focused on his leather work. In truth he was using the chore as a distraction while he thought over his son's question. "Were you eavesdropping?"
Buck shook his head after a moment's thought. "No sir, I couldn't really help overhearing."
Josiah nodded. That told him the secret had likely been spoken of during the night, perhaps as one of the boys dreamed. "Is it the sort of secret you should tell me? I mean is it a secret that might hurt you or one of your brothers?"
"I don't think so. There is somebody that needs to know the secret, but I don't know if I should tell him."
"Knowing when to share a secret can be difficult. Let me ask you this son, will telling the secret help or hurt?"
Buck sighed, scuffing the toe of his boot in the dirt. "I think it'll help, but I ain't sure."
"One can never be sure that they're actions will help, but most of the time doing nothing will cause more harm than good."
Buck nodded, a grim smile crossing his face. "Thanks Pa, I know what to do now. Is it okay if I go over to Mr. Miller's mine?"
So the secret had something to do with Bill or Chris, probably Chris if he didn't miss his guess. He'd let Buck handle it for now, but if it seemed he needed help he'd be there to offer it. "As long as your chores are done."
"Thanks Pa, bye!" Buck called as he turned and ran towards the entrance of the barn.
"Be back in time for supper," Josiah called after him, chuckling under his breath. That boy surely could move when he wanted to. He saw Buck wave to him, letting him know he'd heard.
By the time he arrived at the mine, Buck wasn't so sure about what to do. Before he could make up his mind to go back home Chris looked up and waved him down from the crest of the hill. Buck decided that it was a sign that he was doing the right thing.
"Hey Buck, what brings you around?" Chris asked.
"Just thought I'd come over and visit, be neighborly," Buck shyly replied.
Chris frowned. He admitted he didn't know Buck as well as he knew Vin, but this shy boy wasn't familiar to him. "Something wrong son?"
Buck shrugged his shoulders, scuffing his boots in the dirt. Now that he was here, facing the man whose secret was hurting his brother, he didn't know how to start.
"Is everything okay at your place?" Chris gently asked.
"Mostly," Buck mumbled.
Chris sighed, dropping to one knee so he was at eye level with the boy. "You know you can tell me if something's wrong."
"It's about your secret."
Chris was confused. "I don't have any secrets Buck."
"You don't know it, I heard Vin say so."
The confusion grew. "How can I have a secret and not know it?"
Buck shrugged. "I don't know, it has to do with...um..." he trailed off, suddenly realizing that Chris might not know about the spirits. "Do you know about Vin's gift?"
"You mean that he can talk to spirits?"
Buck let out a relieved sigh. "The spirits told him the secret and it's making him have nightmares. I don't want my brother to be hurting so I come to tell you that you have to remember the secret." Buck was proud that his voice only quaked a little as he made his demand.
"I'm sorry Buck but I don't know what secret the spirits could be talking about."
"I don't know either but I hear Vin at night, calling out to you and sometimes to a Sarah and Adam." The fury that lit in Chris' eyes at mention of those names had Buck backing away.
Chris glared at the boy. "You keep your nose out of my business boy and you can tell your brother the same thing."
"I can't Chris, the spirits want me to help you remember," came a voice from behind him.
Chris spun, his glare intensifying as he saw Vin. "I don't know what secret you're talking about boy."
Vin sighed. He wasn't sure the time was right for this, but Buck coming here was making him act. He had been surprised when his father had told him Buck had gone to the mine. That surprise had turned to alarm at the mention of a secret. He hadn't even bothered to ask for permission, he had simply turned and ran towards the mine, hoping to stop Buck. "You do, but the spirits say it's locked inside you."
Chris growled, "Spirits hell! You've been going through my things, haven't you? That's how you know about Sarah and Adam." Anger at the invasion of his privacy blinded him to the fear in Vin's eyes as the boy took a step backwards. Quickly he closed the distance between them, as he reached for Vin's arm Buck was suddenly between them, shoving him away.
"You leave him alone! He didn't do anything wrong!" Buck stood protectively in front of his younger brother, his body trembling with fear and anger.
"The hell he didn't," Chris snarled as he regained his footing.
"Please Chris," Vin peaked out from behind Buck, "you have to remember so they can rest."
Chris blinked, the statement slowing his anger. "So who can rest? Your spirits?"
"No Chris, your spirits," Vin quietly corrected the man.
That stopped the anger, turning it to confusion. "I don't talk to spirits."
"Not spirits you talk to, they're spirits that are tied to you," the boy gently explained.
Chris shook his head. "No, there's no spirits tied to me. You're wrong Vin, you and your spirits."
"She says she's sorry. That she didn't know what she was doing. She never meant to hurt you but if you don't remember the pain and accept it they can't find peace."
"No," Chris whispered. He staggered away, images flashing through his mind. It couldn't be true.
"Sarah needs your forgiveness Chris. You have to remember so you can forgive her." Vin followed the blond man, his eyes glistening with tears as he saw the pain he was causing his friend.
"No!" Chris cried out, dropping to his knees.
Chris struggled against the wind, the dust so thick it was nearly choking him. He wished he could take his family out of this god-forsaken land that had already cost them a daughter, but where would they go? Nobody would buy a farm in the heart of the dust bowl and without funds they couldn't go anywhere else. He refused to turn his wife and son into hobos. As hard as life was here, at least they had a home and with it hope for the future. His head lowered against the wind, he finally made it to the kitchen door.
Stumbling inside, he was barely in the door when he tripped over something. He fell to the floor, instinctively bringing his hands forward to catch himself. The floor needed washed again, it was feeling very tacky under his hands. It took a minute to realize there was something on the floor and another minute to recognize the substance as blood. Blood! There was so much blood, too much blood. A pit opened in his stomach as he turned back towards the thing that had tripped him. Adam! No, no, it couldn't be his boy. What had happened? Why was his son lying there so still? Why was he lying in blood? He had to get him out of the blood, Adam wouldn't like lying in it. He was only five, still young enough for the sight of blood to upset him. Crawling forward, he picked the boy up in his arms, dragging him away from the blood. He was cold, Adam shouldn't be this cold. "Adam, wake up son. Please wake up honey, talk to me Adam, please." His pleas fell on deaf ears. Sarah, he had to find his wife, she would know how to make Adam wake up. Struggling to his feet, he carried Adam through the house, searching for his wife.
He found her in their bedroom, sitting in the rocker. The rocker she had spent hours rocking Adam in when he was a baby and later their little girl. The baby who had laid in her crib, choking to death on the dust that constantly moved through the air, dust that no walls could keep out. They hadn't even known what was happening until Sarah went to wake her from her nap. He still remembered the sound of Sarah's scream. He could hear it now, but Sarah only sat in the rocker, her hands crossed over her stomach, a knife protruding from between them. He wasn't aware of anything after that. He didn't feel the pain when his knees hit the floor. He didn't hear the sound of his voice as he screamed out his pain. He wasn't aware of pulling Sarah into his arms to join Adam, of holding his family in a protective embrace. He didn't know when a neighbor stopped by, finding him on his knees, broken by the loss of wife and child. He didn't remember the funeral, or later returning to his farm and setting match to timber. He didn't remember watching it burn. He didn't remember driving away from the farm that had cost him everything, nor when he had begun searching for them.
"Why? Why did she do it? I loved them both so much, why couldn't she stay with me? Why couldn't she let Adam stay with me?" Chris looked up at the sky, his face streaked with tears. "Why?" he cried to the heavens.
Vin and Buck watched, both boys frightened by what they were seeing. They'd never seen an adult cry before. They'd never expected to see a man on his knees, crying like a small child. Uncertainly Vin moved forward, Buck reluctantly following him. "She was scared Chris," Vin quietly spoke, passing on the message Sarah needed her husband to hear. "She didn't mean to hurt you, she only knew that the dust had taken one child and she was afraid it would take the other. She thought she was doing a good thing, keeping Adam from suffering like Emily had. Sarah didn't know she was causing him and you pain."
Chris looked up at the boy. He could see the truth in the sky-blue eyes. "Is she talking to you now?" he whispered.
Vin nodded. "She needs you to forgive her Chris. She needs you to accept what happened. It's the only way they and you can have peace."
Chris took a shuddering breath. Could he forgive her for tearing his world apart? He had loved her, more than life itself, how could he not forgive her? "Tell her I forgive her and that I'll be with them soon."
Vin gasped. "No Chris, you can't. Sarah says you still have things to do here. She won't be punished because she was hurting too much to know what she was doing, but you will be. She says you're needed here."
"That sounds like her, always trying to take care of me." Chris smiled sadly. "Will she wait for me?"
Vin smiled. "Forever and a day."
Any doubts fled with those words. Sarah had always said she would love him forever and a day. There was no way Vin could have known to use them. He closed his eyes, picturing his Sarah as she had looked the day he first saw her. "I love you sweet woman. Take care of our children until the day I join you."
"She will Chris. She loves you too." Vin smiled, relieved that the job the spirits had given him was done. When they had told him that Chris would die if he didn't remember the secret, he had been more afraid than he'd ever been before. He hadn't known how he was going to make Chris remember. A hand landed on his shoulder. Looking up, he smiled at Buck. "Thanks for butting in Buck."
Buck nodded, he was just glad it had worked out. "You think he'll be okay?"
"I think so. The spirits say he will be."
"Well they've been right so far," Buck smiled.
Vin stepped forward, wrapping his small arms around the man kneeling on the ground. "Thank you for staying around," he whispered. He smiled as he felt strong arms returning the hug. Silently he promised Sarah and Adam that he would help Chris to heal.
Well there you have it, the opening story of the Sanchez family universe. Now that the opening story is completed, this universe is open to any who wish to play in it. Please feed the muse with reviews.