Title: A Hole In The Heart
Author: Cathy Roberts
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
Characters: Chris, Nathan, Josiah, Ezra
Date: August 9, 2011
Summary: Written for my "Wild Card" prompt for the Mag7 Bingo at Mag7DayBook. Could be considered a crossover with "Falling Skies". You didn't think that this was the first trip here for the Skitters, did you? I don't own either show, nor do I make money from either show. I also don't make any apologies for blatantly stealing dialogue from both shows.
After having spent three years wandering around, alone and looking for a bullet to end his guilt, Chris had figured that he'd be used to feeling alone. But, ever since he'd met Vin Tanner and the others, Chris had grown used to having other people around. Hell, he'd even gotten comfortable around children again; especially young boys that always reminded him of Adam. Seeing boys Adam's age, or the age he would have been had he lived, had Chris been there to protect him like a father should, still brought a stab of pain and guilt to Chris's heart. But, it wasn't as sharp of a sting as it had been before he'd taken up with six men who had more in common than most people ever figured.
Hell, Chris had even begun to think that he could maybe risk falling in love again, if not with Mary Travis, then with some other woman. Even the thought of being a father again held some appeal. That was, until those damn bugs had dropped down from the sky in a huge ship that seemed to defy both gravity and logic. He'd been lucky to have gotten out of town alive, and felt even luckier that his friends had also gotten out alive. And what did he turn around and do? He sent them all off in different directions, and it felt wrong. Funny, how in the past, he'd been able to ride off alone and not feel as if he was abandoning the others, but now that he'd sent them off, that's just how he felt. Alone and abandoned. And just wrong, like a part of him had been cut away, and he couldn't patch it up.
It had been three days since he'd scattered the majority of them for various errands. It had been three days that had, at times, made him wish that one of those bullets had found him at some point during those three years. Or else turn him into one of those murderin' sons-of-bitches that Vin used to hunt down for the bounty. Then again, Chris really didn't think that any judge would condemn him for permanently shutting up Conklin, or sending Guy Royal to an early grave. How the Hell that man had eluded jail was beyond Chris's comprehension, and he'd been so tempted to turn the man back when he showed up with what remained of his men, asking for help. Yet another reason to hate those damn bugs, Chris thought. If it had been any other time, he'd have laughed in Royal's face, but now, with those bugs trying to kill or capture them, Chris just couldn't turn them away. And, it was more a matter of not wanting to turn away those men, because Chris was sure they'd have followed Royal if he'd been turned away. The men still alive weren't there when all the trouble was going on with Royal, and Chris had no beef with them. They were respectful when in town, didn't get too drunk or rowdy, unlike the men who worked for Stuart James.
Chris leaned back against the tree, inhaling deeply on his cheroot, a parting gift of sorts from Vin. Despite his enjoyment of the tobacco, Chris was determined to kick Tanner's ass once the man returned. And J.D.'s too, because he was just as guilty. Chris knew they'd gone into town the day before they left, had taken great risks to bring back personal items for people, things to make life a little more bearable. They might have acted recklessly, but their hearts were good.
Chris just wished that those men with their good hearts were back already. Eagle Bend was close, and even if they'd stayed the night, they would be back by now. Hell, Ezra shoulda been back yesterday, too. Maybe it had been a mistake to separate. Maybe he should have sent people he didn't care about.
"Mighty quiet out here." A voice behind him and to his right said, startling him. Chris's hand was on his gun before his brain registered that it was Nathan, but he quickly slightly relaxed once it registered who was there with him.
"Yep. You'd never know that there was a horde of people just over that rise."
"One of the scouts came in," Nathan said as he stepped up even with Chris. "Looks like Ezra and Josiah are back. They've got the cannon."
Chris gave Nathan a quick smile at that news, and he put out the cheroot, saving the rest of it for later. "That's good to hear. Now, if only everyone else would get their asses back…"
"Then things will be good again," Nathan quietly added. He shrugged at Chris's look. "I can't explain it, Chris. I just know that things just don't feel right."
"I feel that way, too. It's funny, because I've never felt like this before when I've been out alone, or when one of you all has to be somewhere else."
"We've never been in a situation like this before," Nathan pointed out as they walked back toward the camp. "Somethin' like this makes you appreciate what you've got a bit more."
"That it does." Before he'd met any of them, Chris was happy to pass through town after town, not really interacting with anyone. Hell, even the day he'd come to town, he'd known Buck was there, but he hadn't intended to seek him out. That had changed once he'd met Vin and Nathan. At that point in time, Buck had been nothing but an old friend; an old friend who came with both good and horrible memories. Chris had a hard enough time back then dealing with the good and horrible memories, and didn't need to be seeing Buck and dredging up even more. Then there were the times when he'd get drunk enough to where he quit blaming himself for Sarah and Adam dying, and chose to blame Buck, instead. It had been Buck who'd convinced him to stay in Mexico an extra night, and while drunk, Chris would jump on that. But, when sober, Chris knew that it wasn't right to blame Buck. Chris could have returned home without Buck. And would have most likely died along with his wife and son. That was something he could see now, something he could be grateful about. In the past, that chance had haunted him, made him feel guilty for living when they died. Of course, after finding out that Ella had been behind their deaths, Chris did find himself wondering if they'd have lived that night just to die some other time. The crazy bitch was determined to rid him of his wife and child, and Chris had no doubt that she'd have found some other way to get rid of them.
They reached camp just as the others were arriving. Josiah and Ezra looked tired, Coeehajo looked haunted. The cannon looked beautiful in its deadliness.
"I was beginning to think I needed to send a search party out for you," Chris said as he greeted his friends. He pulled Ezra and then Josiah into quick hugs, too relieved to have them back to care about what others might think of the display of affection. He even put an arm around Coeehajo, giving his shoulders a bit of a squeeze. It was a bit of a relief to Chris to see that haunted look fade a bit from the young man's eyes.
"Yes, well, we felt that a slow and steady return was preferable to alerting the enemy to our new acquisition." Ezra said.
"We kept to the hollers and trees as much as possible," Josiah added. "There don't seem to be any bugs down that way now, but we didn't want to take any unnecessary chances."
Chris walked over to the wagon that they'd brought back with them, nodding as he saw the cannon balls in the back of it. "It looks like we've got a decent amount of balls, can give those bugs a straight path to Hell."
"Amen, brother," Josiah agreed with a grin. "We need to decide how to best use it. Should we set it up here to defend the camp, or move it close to town and go on the offensive?"
"I'd prefer to wait until everyone else is back before making that decision," Chris said as he turned around to face his friends. Coeehajo had wandered off, which was fine with Chris right then. The boy didn't need to know that Vin, J.D. and Chanu were not yet back, either.
"You mean that we're the first to return?" Ezra asked, worry now in his eyes.
Chris nodded. "Although, I expect the others to be returning soon. I suspect they've got bugs to avoid."
"Eagle Bend is less than a day's ride under normal conditions," Ezra pointed out. Chris's eyes narrowed as he regarded Ezra. He knew just how far away the damn town was, and didn't need reminding of it!
"And we know that the bugs were already out in that direction," Nathan softly interjected. "They'd have had to be extra careful goin' and comin' back."
Ezra glared back at Chris. "So, then I'm to assume that of the four of us, I'm the only one worried that it has taken our compatriots three days to get to and from Eagle Bend?"
Chris took a step toward Ezra, acutely aware that the smaller man didn't back up, but stood his ground. It never ceased to amaze Chris how Ezra could get him riled up so quickly, and here he had been, actually missing the man!
Chris could feel Nathan and Josiah moving in closer, but he didn't spare them a glance. "I'm going to put that comment down to the fact that you're tired from the trail. Because if I end up believing for one moment that you think I don't care about my friends, then I just might end up doing something I regret."
They continued to glare at one another, and finally Ezra nodded. "You are most likely correct, Mr. Larabee. I am tired from the trail and would like nothing more than to get a hot bath, clean clothing and a full stomach. Unfortunately, I don't see any of those things being in my near future, and that has most likely made me a tad peaked and edgy. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to see if I can find something to eat, even though I know it won't be near enough to sate my hunger."
Ezra turned and walked away, and Chris could hear sighs coming from the other two. "I think I'll join him. Nathan? Have you eaten yet?" Josiah asked.
"Not yet. I'll walk with ya." With nods at Chris, the two headed off after Ezra.
As he watched them walking away, Chris found himself feeling badly about what had just happened. Not badly enough to go after Ezra and apologize, but still, it didn't set well with him that he had gotten upset over what Ezra had said. He'd been trying so damn hard to hide his fears from Nathan and the women that it had cut to the bone when Ezra implied that he didn't care.
A rumbling from his belly reminded Chris that breakfast had been a long time ago. He thought about grabbing something to eat, but that would mean following the others, and while Chris wouldn't mind sitting with his friends, he really didn't feel like talking to them, or anyone else, for that matter.
Turning back to the wagon, Chris leaned on the side and looked at the cannon balls. Could it really be enough to run off those bugs, he wondered. And if not, then just how much fire power would be enough? Would it be better to keep the cannon here, where the women and children could be protected? Or should they go on the offensive, and attack those damn things? The only drawback to that plan was that they had no idea where the bugs were keeping the people they'd captured. If, as Vin had surmised, the people were being kept in that huge ship, then would the cannon be more harmful than useful? Enough people had already died, and Chris didn't want to risk losing more, even if it happened while trying to save them.
Well, there was one thing for certain, Chris thought. Nothing would be decided until the others got back. His stomach rumbled again, and Chris sighed. Might as well grab some grub and hope that Ezra wasn't looking for a fight. Chris patted the nearest cannonball, then headed toward the cooking fire. He was almost there when a commotion from the edge of camp caught his attention. It sounded like more people coming in, and while Chris didn't have to be the one to greet them, he just felt better about it if he was. After all, it was his land that had been turned into a sanctuary, even if most of the people there were inclined to forget that fact.
As Chris headed toward the newcomers, he saw that he wasn't the only one. Mary and Inez were headed that way, as were Ezra, Nathan and Josiah. And, as always, Conklin. Chris wasn't sure why Conklin always hurried to greet any newcomers, and he wasn't sure why it annoyed him so much that the man did so. But, Chris was annoyed, and wished for the thousandth time since those bugs first landed that Conklin had run off in another direction.
Chris could now see the newcomers, and he stopped in his tracks. It was a group of men from Eagle Bend, and Stains was there with them. His heart in his throat, Chris slowly stepped forward, knowing that he wasn't going to like what Stains had to say; because why was Stains there, but not J.D. and Vin?
As Chris neared the group, he could see blood stains on everyone's clothing, and the thought that some of that blood might belong to J.D. or Vin almost made him gag.
Conklin saw Chris and frowned. "He said he wouldn't tell us anything until you got here."
Chris ignored Conklin, knowing it was safer for everyone concerned if he pretended that the man simply didn't exist.
Stains nodded once in Chris's direction. "Seems I always have to be the one tellin' you bad news, Larabee. You don't know how sorry I am about that."
"Where're my men?" Chris asked, not wanting to hear about anything else.
"The bugs got them. They attacked the town yesterday morning. We sent the women and children out the other end of town, and set up barricades. Tanner and Dunne had given us all lessons the night before, showin' us how to fight the bugs, and we were ready. Tanner and Dunne were finishing breakfast, and then were headed back here, but then the bugs were spotted. They decided to stay and fight with us. We held our own pretty good, and then one of those flying wagon things of theirs came up on us from the other end of town…where I'd sent the others for safety. Tanner realized that the bugs were after the women and children, and he grabbed some men and somehow made it through town, trying to…"
Stains stopped and looked off into the distance. "It didn't matter. That flying wagon fired at the buildings, settin' them on fire. It distracted us enough that the bugs in front of us got the upper hand. Dunne yelled for everyone to run and regroup. Claimed we had a better chance if we could get away and then attack again. Before we could do anything, we saw the bugs coming down the street, herding people in front of them. Dunne was quick to tell us to not try anything, because the bugs would kill all the prisoners if we tried to free any of them. Some of the men couldn't handle seein' their families like that, and they tried to…they were killed by the flying wagons. Between the buildings burning, people screaming, bugs all over the place, and the fear that the bugs would kill everyone…well, things went to Hell. Dunne told us to separate, get out of town and regroup in the woods. We waited all day, and by noon, this is all that were there." Stains indicated the group with him.
Stains continued, "I had a scout at the edge of the woods, and he reported that the bugs left town. Once the fires had pretty much died down, we went back. Buried the dead. I didn't see Tanner or Dunne among them, and can only guess that they were captured, too. We rested up a bit, then started for here, been ridin' all night and morning, goin' slow to avoid the bugs, and would appreciate a place to rest and something to eat."
Stains gestured toward the people who had ridden in with him. "And we want to go with you when you head out to get them people back."
No matter how hard Chris tried, he just couldn't wrap his mind around the words that Stains was saying. He'd thought it had been bad when Stains had told him and Buck that Sarah and Adam were dead, burned to death in their own home. But this…this was beyond Chris's comprehension.
He felt a hand at his elbow, and heard Josiah telling Stains and the other men where the cooking fires were located, and that he'd make sure they were told about it before anyone headed out.
That was when Chris's mind decided to work once more. To head out meant that there was someone alive to help, to rescue. To head out meant that Vin and J.D. weren't dead. The two of them might be in a bit of a bind, but Hell, they'd all been in binds at one time or another, and Chris was pretty confident that Vin could handle himself. Then again, Chris couldn't help but remember the day they'd met, and that Vin had been the one more determined to go and try to help Nathan, armed with just a rifle. Truth was, Chris thought he was heading for his own death that day, and he just hoped that Nathan and Vin made it out alive. It had been the best thing in the world when the lead stopped flying and they were all alive, because that was when Chris realized that he could depend on both Vin and Nathan to watch his back. Over the past year or so, they'd all come to realize that about one another.
And now Vin and J.D. were depending on the rest of them to watch their backs. Chris wasn't going to let them down. Not now.
"Gentlemen," he said, his voice finally returning as he turned to look at Josiah, Nathan and Ezra. "I'm sure that the three of you, like me, would like nothing better than to go rushing off right now. Get our own back with us."
The other three nodded, but it was Ezra who grimly smiled. "I take it that you don't think that's the best course of action."
Chris's smile was equally as grim. "You take it right. We need a plan. And we need to wait for Buck to get back. As far as we know, those bugs don't kill the people that they take, except when we try something foolish, like trying to rescue one of them."
"Very true," Josiah said. "However, you told us that Vin hadn't been able to see where the people were being kept in town."
"That's right. He left me his spy glass, so I could check it out. That's the first part of the plan. Get the lay of the land now that those bugs are running the town, find out where they're keepin' everyone, and then plan on how to get them back."
Ezra nodded. "I had best start to find some others to instruct on how to load, aim and fire a cannon. Our latest acquisition is going to get used sooner than we had planned."
Chris nodded. Now that he had a plan, or at least, the beginnings of one, he could breathe a little bit easier. Vin and J.D. weren't dead, not yet. And if he had anything to say about it, they'd stay alive, and then the seven of them could start sending the rest of those damn bugs to Hell where they belonged.
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