Massacre at Turtle Creek
by Sue M
Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em...damnit!
Summary: The town had been prospering, elections were forthcoming. Where had our seven heroes fitted into the scheme of things? They hadn't and they drifted apart. Ten years on and destiny is calling them again. Will they answer?
Betad by Phyllis, thank you, honey! Thanks to all at Blackraptor for the challenge and their wonderful archive.
Vin Tanner was riding like a man possessed...but then, he was...consumed with a need. He knew he only had days to bring this together, days before two of his closest friends could lose their lives, along with the townsfolk they protected. And so he hunched down, ignored the wind as it whipped sand into his face...and he rode.
FOUR CORNERS - EIGHT YEARS PRIOR
"It's a boy!"
Six peacekeepers rose to their feet in congratulations as Josiah handed out cigars.
"How is Amelia?" Chris asked.
"Mother and baby are doing well," Josiah beamed.
"Do you have a name yet, Josiah?"
Sanchez clasped the young man by the shoulder, looking toward Nathan. "He does, JD...it's Nathaniel Christopher John Sanchez."
"Can we see him?"
Josiah looked fondly at the young sheriff that stood before him. "Most certainly, follow me."
Walking from the big room of Josiah's thriving sheep farm and into the master bedroom, the six men removed their hats, smiling at the pretty brunette in the bed. Congratulating her, they kissed her cheek, then shook Josiah's hand, the first of the seven to take a wife but the second to sire a son, Nathan's son, Obediah, being born just one year earlier and Rain expecting to deliver again, any time in the next month.
"When can we hold him?"
Dunne turned to the five men admonishing him. "What?"
Afraid to hold Obediah for a whole week because he had thought the baby too tiny, he didn't want to miss a moment of this little one's first days. Amelia patted the bed.
"JD, come here, sweetheart."
In less than a minute, she had JD settled and had passed her precious bundle over to him, the others chuckling at their youngest's expressions as the baby took hold of JD's finger with his tiny hand.
And so it began. Soon Jacob was born to Rain and Nathan, then Hannah to Josiah and Amelia, followed by Nathan and Rain having Amos.
While Nathan studied to become a doctor, Josiah's sheep farm kept him from town. Before retiring, Judge Travis successfully arranged a pardon for Vin, Chris took to staying at his cabin more and more and Inez continued to refuse to give in to Buck.
The town was prospering and the seven lawmen, were barely needed as they once had been. Buck noticed JD becoming more and more restless since Casey had married and moved away. It had been on the cards, it was clear the young man was no longer enamored with his former paramour, but they had remained firm friends.
The day it finally came to an end was prompted by Ezra while he, Buck, Vin and JD sat together in the saloon.
"What is it?"
Vin wasn't normally forward with his questions, but it was clear Ezra was distressed by a letter he had received. The southerner looked at them.
"Mother was shot and injured while attending a high stakes poker game in Carson City. It would appear the injury has left her incapable of moving her legs and she has requested I join her." He sighed. "It would seem she is in need of full-time assistance."
"So, she's coming here?" Buck asked.
Ezra shook his head. "No, she wishes for me to join her...there."
JD sat upright. "You...you're leaving?" He watched Ezra stand and place his hat on his head and his hand on the easterner's shoulder.
"She's my mother."
With that, he touched his hat and left.
Vin sat forward. "Well...that about sets us straight. Guess I'll be movin' on, too."
Buck and JD stared at each other then back at the tracker.
"How long you been thinkin' on that?" Buck asked.
Vin shrugged. "I'm a free man; the town's grown real big...don't need the likes of us lookin' out for it no more, Josiah's gone, Nathan's doctorin' and Chris hardly ever comes in."
"What will you do?"
JD answered Buck's question before Vin could. "Y'know, I always wanted to be a Ranger, maybe now's the time to head for Texas."
"You too?" Buck wasn't really surprised, but it still hurt to hear the words.
Vin nodded. "Was thinkin' on doin' the same thing, kid. 'Bout time I went home, I reckon."
JD sat up straight "Let's all go. Whaddya say, Buck?"
Wilmington looked at the young man he considered a brother, then to Inez. In truth, it had only been JD, Vin and Inez keeping him there. Chris and Ezra had become detached, and with Nathan and Josiah having set out new lives for themselves, the group had become virtually dysfunctional.
"Give me a minute." Getting up, Buck approached Inez. "If I told you I was thinkin' on leavin' town, would you consider marryin' me to make me stay?"
Inez looked at the man she had loved but kept at arms length for years. In all that time, he had never proposed, not marriage, anyway and neither had he stopped bedding women. She smiled fondly, but shook her head.
Trying not to look hurt, Buck returned to Vin and JD. "Alright...I'm in."
A few days later, the six remaining peacekeepers said farewell to Ezra. A few days after that, Chris agreed to stand in as sheriff and he stood on the boardwalk with Josiah and Nathan, to say goodbye to Buck, Vin and JD. Vin and Chris clasped forearms.
"You could come along with us."
Chris shook his head at Vin. "Never has been of interest to me. Take care of yourself, my friend." As he watched Vin mount up, he turned to Buck and JD. "Still time to change your minds."
JD smiled, remembering the last time the blond had said that to him. Buck winked.
"Nah, I guess this is it, stud. It's been a good ride." They shook hands. "Look after yourself."
JD suddenly found he couldn't see. His eyes were swimming and he began to have doubts. Josiah squeezed his leg as JD sat atop his horse.
"You will all be missed."
With a nod and a touch to their hats, the three wheeled their horses and headed out.
As Vin rode on, he recalled his time with Buck and JD. They had been good days, JD had matured with the experience and they had done some good work together. Then Vin had been seconded to the special force, losing touch with his two friends after that, though he had heard of Buck's life-threatening injury which prompted the big man to retire from the Rangers, not that he needed to, but Buck had figured it was a sign. Vin couldn't imagine what a wrench it had been for Buck and JD to part company, the young man electing to continue.
But the two had found each other again, and now, for the first time in ten years, Vin, still a Ranger, was attempting to bring the seven together as they once had been...if he was successful, not only would it save many civilian lives, but also the lives of Buck Wilmington and John Daniel Dunne.
Deputy JD Dunne smiled at the townsfolk as he passed them on his way to the sheriff's office. He loved this town. It reminded him of Four Corners in the early days when the seven first came together. He smiled at his reflection in a shop window; he really looked like he belonged in the west, now. Black hat...one that Buck heartily approved of, black boots, blue denim pants, blue patterned shirt and a soft, brown, calf-hide waistcoat. Yep, he had certainly lost that 'easterner' look he had been so teased about. As he entered the jailhouse, he grinned at the sheriff, pushing his hat off to hang around his neck.
"All quiet, Buck."
Wilmington grinned back. "Good. How about we go get some breakfast, huh?"
JD nodded. "Sounds good to me."
While they were eating, JD leaned forward. "Should I go over to Turtle Creek today? Missus Penny is out of a number of items and it'll be days before the stage can drop them here. I guess the railroad changing their course really has been a drain on these towns."
Buck shook his head. "Naw...you'll be gone three days at least...the stage'll be here almost the same time as you get back." He shuddered, pausing for a moment. "I don't know why, but...something' s not right. Don't ask me to explain it...I can't, it's something Chris 'n me developed in the war. So, for now, I'd rather you stayed close to home."
JD grinned at the concern of the man he respected above all others. "Whoa...that took me back a few years!"
Buck wiped his mouth and took a sip of coffee. "You may have been around a while now, kid...but to me...you'll always be my little brother." Buck winked at the younger man. Even after ten years, JD still looked like the kid Buck had grown so close to.
JD sipped his milk. He had long given up feeling uncomfortable about Buck looking out for him. Truth be told, he thanked God every day he still had Buck in his life. His only regret...he still missed the others, and always wondered where they were or how they were doing.
"Maybe we could go visit the others someday soon."
Buck brightened. "Go wire Chris, see if the ol' dawg is up for a visit." He chuckled as the younger man was on his feet and out of the door before he had barely finished the sentence. It had been a few years; it would be good to see them and the town again, especially with Chris back in control there, that kind of authority suited the ex-gunslinger.
JD caught up with Buck as the brunet was leaving the restaurant and on his way back to the jailhouse,
"Telegraph's down. Archie says he hasn't had confirmation of the stage leaving, so he tried to wire Turtle Creek, but it's dead." His eyes widened as Buck tugged his arm.
"Come on, let's take a ride out an' have us a look-see."
JD followed him. "What are we looking for?" He stared at Buck...he knew that look, the look he had received often while riding together in the Rangers. "Indians? Out here...now? But...oh God."
In minutes they were heading out.
FOUR CORNERS - ONE DAY EARLIER
The once prospering town was considerably quieter since over half of the businesses had closed when the railroad took a different path, so a rider coming in at full speed easily got the attention of the town's sheriff. Larabee didn't hide his grin as a familiar face alighted from his horse, approaching as he extended his hand.
"Vin, good to see you."
They clasped forearms, their other hand gripping a shoulder also. They held their position for a few moments until Chris spoke.
"I got your telegram. Looks like you were right; and now, the only way to reach them is to ride there. Everyone's agreeable; just say the word and we're outta here."
Vin nodded. "Let me change my horse an' I'm ready." He looked at the blond. "Chris...word is...these raidin' parties are leavin' nothin' an' no one to tell the tale. As they see it, they're attemptin' to take back the land the railroad stole from 'em. The army is on their way, but they're headin' for Turtle Creek first."
Tanner's eyes widened as Josiah, Nathan and Ezra came toward him. "Ezra... when did you git back?" He shook hands with all three.
Standish grinned. "Mother and I returned here six months ago." He pointed to the saloon. "We bought this and run it together now as a hostelry, boarding house and gambling establishment. Of course, it would be considerably more profitable if the town was as prosperous as it had been before I departed, but business is brisk enough to give mother and me a good lifestyle."
Tanner couldn't help grinning, then sobered. "We ready?"
They all nodded, Josiah spoke. "Let's go to the aid of our brothers."
In less than ten minutes, five men were heading toward the town of Three Hills, not one of them considering the consequences of their actions should they fail. This was their destiny; if this was how they were to die...they would die as seven.
Looking around as they sat on their horses, JD had to admit, there was a certain familiarity to what he was seeing. It was eerily still and an odd sense of foreboding hung in the air.
"We need to get back to town and prepare."
JD looked at Buck. "And if we're wrong?"
The brunet grinned. "We'll look stupid...but we'll all be alive."
Wishing they could feel some comfort in those words, the two lawmen turned and headed back to town.
It had been a long time since four of the five men had ridden so hard. Despite the years taking some toll on their bodies, it felt good and the urgency with which they were riding was spurring them on to make good time, the only drawback being, they would need to rest the horses at some point. But until then...they pushed on.
Despite trying their best to ease the townsfolk's fear, panic was rising. The pair directed anyone wanting to leave to Four Corners... Eagle Bend had long been a ghost town. Those staying, helped Buck and JD barricade the town as best they could, the very fact some wanted to stay, decided the men's fates...they wouldn't leave them defenseless. That night was long and arduous, fires burning in the streets to illuminate the hours of darkness. By dawn, the first wave of Apaches hit.
With accuracy honed from years of practice, JD and Buck, along with the dozen or so that had remained, took out many of the raiding party from the safety of their wagon barricades. Some broke through, firing flaming arrows into stores and homes before being shot and killed. When it finally subsided, the two took stock of their situation.
"If many more had jumped the wagons I don't reckon we'd be here to tell the tale, now," JD said as he dropped wearily to the ground and re-loaded his guns and rifles. He rested back against the wagon to catch his breath as he looked back at the burning town.
"Don't help none that they got guns neither," Buck added. He noticed JD swallowing hard as the young man took a swig of water from a canteen.
"D'ya reckon they hit Turtle Creek?"
Wilmington sighed. "Yeah...I reckon." A noise alerted him. "Here we go again."
While they had camped out to rest the horses...and themselves, Vin had discovered Chris had spent a few years in Laramie after leaving Four Corners, drifting as a ranch hand. Despite his desire to return to ranching, Chris realized he no longer wanted to own his own. After a few years drifting, Larabee had returned to the town of Four Corners after hearing the news that their sheriff had left on being told the railroad would not be coming there, at least not any time soon. He had once again become sheriff and...for the most part...been happy.
Mary had remarried and moved away once she realized the blond had no intentions toward her. Chris had never explained it to her, but, while he admired Mary as a feisty pioneer and held a deep affection for her as a friend, she was not his Sarah, and never would be. If someone like Sarah came along, he might reconsider, but for now, he chose to remain a widower.
Josiah and Amelia had only had the two children, Nathaniel and Hannah, regretting they had not been blessed with more, but grateful for the two healthy children they had. As well as sheep, their little property now had pigs and chickens and was holding its own. Occasionally, Josiah would spend some time in town with Chris, Nathan and Ezra and, occasionally, found himself over at the church, patching up his old repairs.
Nathan had remained the town's doctor, but was now a teacher, also. Seeing the need for a school, he and Josiah had set things in motion, Ezra putting up most of the cash alongside the town council. Nathan found it very fulfilling. He and Rain now had Obediah, Jacob, Amos and Carla, with another on the way. Ezra and Maude had reconciled their differences and, for the first time in their lives, were truly at peace. Happy in each other's company, their business was thriving. Life, for them, was good.
Vin was still a Ranger, but only until the conclusion of this mission. The frontiers were becoming safer, save for the odd breakaway groups of bandoleros, desperados and Indians, such as the raiding party he was chasing down now. The special force he had been with was now dispersed and he was once again part of the frontier battalion. Tanner had had enough. He yearned for something he thought he could live without...companionship, always intending to return to Four Corners to seek out his friends...and... who knows...maybe even settle down.
The group set off at first light. On approaching the town, despite still being some distance away, the fighting was evident by the sound of gunfire.
Vin grinned...Larabee was back...and it felt...good.
As a mounted brave cleared the barricade, JD was on his feet and pulling him down to the ground, the two wrestling in the dirt as they fought fiercely for control of the knife the Indian was wielding. Buck could see the struggle but was having his own problems, now standing, to fire repeatedly at the onslaught of Apaches. As it slowed, he dropped down, vaguely aware of a noise beside him. Buck looked, half expecting to come eye to eye with an Apache, relieved to see a shaky JD at his side.
JD nodded, too winded to speak. In seconds, they were off again, both men wondering if they would survive the next attack. Despite firing repeatedly, only stopping to re-load, they knew they were outnumbered. Gunfire from beyond them caused the two men to momentarily stare at each other and then at the retreating Indians. Their next move was to dive out of the way when five horses jumped the wagons and five familiar faces slapped their horses away and dropped down next to them.
"Thought you two could use some help."
Buck grinned at Chris. "What gave you that idea, stud?"
Larabee laughed and got into position. Vin squeezed a grinning JD's arm.
"Vin...how did you know?" JD laughed. "Yeah, right...never mind!"
Despite desperately wanting to greet each other, the seven stood together as the next attack began, firing repeatedly as wave after wave came at them. Vin broke away to climb to the roof of a long- abandoned hotel. JD decided he would try and reach the other townsfolk and see how they were holding up, Josiah went with him. Buck kept firing and looked at Chris.
"Just like old times, huh, big dawg?"
Larabee shook his head. "I must be crazy."
Wilmington laughed. "So, nothin' new there, then."
Ezra glanced over. "While I am ecstatic at this touching reunion, could we possibly concentrate on the job in hand? I have no desire for my scalp to adorn an Apache lance any time soon!"
Nathan huffed. "Ain't no way no knife's gonna git through that thick head o' yours."
"I thank you for those words of comfort, my friend." Ezra replied, both men still firing.
Buck fired while laughing out loud. "Aaahhh...good times."
Vin took out his spy glass and searched the horizon full circle, a smile forming on his lips. There were no more out there. If they could beat this wave down, they were home and free. He fired off a few shots, finding his targets, then climbed down to rejoin his friends and relay the good news.
"How have you been, John Dunne?"
JD grinned at Josiah as they took their positions at the barricade, having first stopped at the livery to release the horses, in case a flaming arrow found its way there. "I'm good, thanks. How's Amelia and the children?"
"They'll be all the better for seeing you and Buck. You will be returning with us, won't you?"
JD shrugged. "Depends on whether we got anythin' here to stay for I guess." He looked around at the burning buildings...he seriously doubted it. As the firing started again, JD barely heard the whistle before he felt the sharp thud to his thigh. Gasping he stared at the arrow sticking out from his limb, riding out the pain as it washed over him. He couldn't pass out now...he had a job to do. Being on the opposite side to JD's injury, Josiah was oblivious and so the two men kept firing.
Vin scrambled down in the dirt to take a position with the others. "This is it...if we can beat these down, we're clear."
His words spurring them on, they doubled their efforts.
After a while, an eerie silence descended. Slowly, the five men stood as they looked around, closely followed by others emerging from their safe places. A minute or so later, whoops of joy could be heard, as the townspeople realized they had survived.
The five men shook hands. They too had lived to tell the tale. Suddenly Buck looked around.
"Where are JD and Josiah?"
"They went to the far end," Vin informed him. "Far as I could tell before I got back here, they were both doin' good."
Larabee surveyed the body-littered street and the smoldering and still burning buildings. "Let's go find out."
One by one people emerged to rejoice at their good fortune, some shaking Josiah's hand and slapping JD on the shoulder and back. The ex-preacher turned to his young friend, not noticing the awkward stance or the sweaty features and hugged him tight, alarmed at the cry out from the younger man. As he released him, JD clung to an upturned wagon.
"JD...son, are you hurt?"
Dunne smiled weakly back at him. "I'm fine, Josiah...it's nothing."
Catching sight of the arrow protruding from JD's leg, Josiah took a sharp breath. "I'm inclined to disagree with you, John Dunne. Can you walk? Let me help you to Nathan."
"NO!" JD waved an apology. "No...give me a minute, okay? I just need...a minute."
As he started to slide to the ground, Josiah helped him down and leaned him back against the wagon, relieved to see five men walking toward them, one starting to run, his long legs getting him there in seconds.
JD swallowed. "Buck...it's...not too bad...really, I'm fine."
"Yeah, well, we all know your *fine*, boy." He glanced at Nathan as he crouched down to take a look.
From the corner of his eye, Jackson saw movement and before anyone had even realized what was happening, he removed a knife from the sheath on his back and threw it. Six men turned their heads at the movement, looking on in surprise as a brave screamed out, clutched his chest and collapsed dead just feet away from them. Ignoring the looks of admiration, Nathan continued with his ministrations.
Trying hard to ignore the doctor's poking and prodding, JD looked anxiously at his friends. "Did everyone make it?"
"A few townsfolk didn't," Chris sighed, "and it looks like there's not much of the town left, either, although the horses escaped okay."
Vin tapped Ezra on the arm. "C'mon, let's take a good look around." He turned sharply as JD cried out.
"Sorry, JD, but it's got ta come outta there. Now hold still...I'm gonna cut off the shaft."
With a yelp, JD arched in pain then passed out when Nathan took out another knife and made a quick movement to take off over half of the arrow. He looked at the concerned faces of the men. "I need to do this while he's out. Anyone got any whiskey?"
Ezra instantly handed him a flask. Running the liquid over the blade, Nathan handed the knife to Vin while he ripped open JD's pant leg. He looked at Josiah and Buck.
"Ya need to hold him...this is gonna hurt."
Vin handed the knife back and watched in fascination, all thoughts of checking the town momentarily forgotten, as Nathan poked the point of the knife into the wound, using it to ease back the flesh around the tip. Arrow heads were shaped so that, when removed, they would tear the wound even more, so the trick was to tease the flesh away from the tip as it exited. JD stiffened then growled as he clearly felt it.
Chris squatted to hold the now wriggling legs and Nathan continued, ignoring JD's loud protests and relieved when he finally had the arrowhead in his fingertips, just as JD again, went slack. Using the whiskey once more, he poured it into and over the wound, then looked at Vin.
"My horse has my bag tied to the saddle."
With a nod of understanding, Vin went to retrieve the bag and Ezra headed off to check the area, while, in the meantime, Nathan used a clean bandana from his pocket to staunch the flow of blood.
An hour later, a makeshift camp had been made for the seven and the townsfolk. Night was drawing in and Vin and Ezra had scared up enough food to feed everyone that night. Chris and Josiah had rounded up all the horses and fashioned a makeshift pen to hold them. Buck was sitting with JD, who was sleeping on and off and clearly fighting an infection, but Nathan was satisfied it wasn't too serious. Chris joined them, watching Buck run a damp cloth over the injured man's face and neck.
"Still hovering, Buck?"
The brunet smiled. "He's family, Chris. We've seen an' done a lot together. Hell, I guess he was kin right from our first days together... just like you."
Larabee smiled back. "What goes around comes around, huh?" He took a quick look about him. "This town is done for, Buck. Everyone here is interested in heading to Four Corners. Vin is too. Be kinda nice if you and JD were thinking the same."
"Need any deputies?"
Buck and Chris laughed as JD's raspy voice came through quietly but clearly. Chris nodded.
"Reckon I could use a few, seeing as the town'll be having a few extra residents soon."
Buck helped JD drink, while glancing at Chris. "What's the pay?"
Larabee pursed his lips. "Dollar a day plus board and room?"
JD and Buck laughed, they both spoke together as they extended their hands for Chris to shake.
As the group of seven men and townspeople broke camp, a wave of panic emerged at the sight of a large dust cloud in the distance. Vin checked it out through his spyglass.
"It's the army."
Standing together, JD propped up between Buck and Josiah, the seven greeted the group. Dismounting, the Captain approached and saluted.
"Half of my troop moved on to Four Corners. I see you've already been raided." He looked around the town and at the people. "Many casualties?"
Larabee shook his head. "Not from our side...we were lucky, killed a lot of Apaches, though." He pointed to an area where they had stacked the bodies ready for the army to deal with. "Did they hit Turtle Creek?"
The Captain's face paled. "It was a massacre at Turtle Creek...men, women...children... horrendous. The town was razed to the ground. We feared the worst here, when we saw the smoke in the distance."
"Could use a hand gettin' these good people to their new home."
The soldier nodded to Tanner. "Consider it done." With another salute, he went to instruct his troop. Chris looked at his friends. "Time to go home."
Nathan scowled as JD was assisted onto his horse by Josiah and Buck. "You shouldn't be ridin', JD."
First grimacing, as he took to his saddle, then smiling, JD looked at Nathan. "I'm good, Nathan. Ain't no way I'm riding out of this town and into the next in a wagon. I want us to ride as seven...just like we used to, 'sides, I'm twenty seven, I ain't a kid any more."
Ezra winked at JD. "Finally, he admits his age."
JD waggled his eyebrows. "Maybe."
His huge grin was infectious as he looked at them all sitting atop their horses, each man, in turn, looking from one to the other.
Ezra caught Buck's eye. "Mister Wilmington, it might interest you to know, the widow Martinez has been back in town for two years and asked after you before we departed."
Buck frowned. "Martinez?"
"Oh, pardon me...the former Senorita Recillos."
Buck slapped Chris on the shoulder. "Well damn me." He grinned and again looked along the line of, with him, seven men, nodding with satisfaction. "This feels right." He moved next to JD and, winking, placed a supportive hand on the younger man's shoulder.
They all grinned back. JD chuckled as Chris agreed and held up one hand. "Let's ride!"
Nodding to Chris and with a signal from the army Captain, the little group of townsfolk headed out, followed by seven men, seven friends... protectively riding in a line behind them, heading...home.