A Ranger's Code

by Maggie

Authors' Note: This is an answer to the Dunne’sDarlin challenge by Leslie and Marla. It is set in an AU I have created, where the seven are Texas Rangers. It is set before the Civil War, just after the War with Mexico. It's a short piece and I have no idea if I'll even venture into this realm again, but it was fun, so I might. Enjoy!

"Chris, you know this is the only way to figure out their plan."

"I don't know, J..."

"I can do this, " JD interrupted, "I'm the only one who can...and you know it."

Damn kid is too smart for his own good. But he's right. Chris looked away briefly, gathering his swirling thoughts. After a long moment's pause, he returned his gaze to JD, staring intently into the kid's hazel eyes and imparting his patented "look". . .the one that told JD that Chris was deadly serious and that he'd better pay close attention to what the Seven's leader was about to say, "It's dangerous."

"I know."

"You won't have anyone to watch your back."

"I know."

"All right," sighing, Chris looked at the young man before him, so full of life and brimming with confidence. Chris knew that this was going to be tough on all of them, especially Buck. And JD? Despite the kid's emphatic claims that he understood the risks, Chris also knew this would be hardest on him. . .and what made it even worse, was. . .that he'd be on his own.

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Chris Larabee pondered on those thoughts for the hundredth time in the past two hours. How had he let JD Dunne talk him into something that would most likely kill the boy? The captain shook his head and watched the sun slowly slide behind the mountains outside his office window.

He had regretted the moment he agreed to this plan, but knew JD was one of the best Rangers Texas had, even though he had only been a member for a short time. Larabee snorted at the memory the thought conjured up.

The green horn Easterner had walked straight up to him and in one breath said, "I'm the best horse rider East or West of the Mississippi and can shoot faster than Wild Bill Hickock and I aim to have me a Ranger's badge if I have to go through you, all the way to the Governor's office".

Texas Ranger Troop M had been standing behind their captain when the youth had arrived and couldn't or wouldn't contain their mirth as they watched the scene unfolding. Chris had wanted to turn and shoot them all then and there, but knew it would cause too much trouble. For one, he would have to find replacements for the neanderthals and that would prove almost impossible. So, he just ignored their snorts and cackles and concentrated on the black haired boy in front of him.

"Is that right?" The captain saw something in those hazel eyes and was impressed, but not enough to accept the whelp just yet. "What makes you think I want a wet behind the ears KID in my troop?"

JD flinched at the condescending tone, but ignored it. He'd heard all this, time and time again, from the master of the house his ma had worked for and did what he had done then, faced him head on. "I know you only have the best. I admit I'm not that old but I'm good, real good and I want to be the best."

Chris frowned at the youth, thinking he was trying to flatter the older man, but as he stared harder into those eyes, he saw nothing but truth shining in them.

"Come on, Chris. At least give the boy a chance." Sgt. Buck Wilmington had been the first to start the laughter at the snot nosed brat, but he too had seen something akin to longing in Dunne's eyes.

Larabee didn't usually hold a democracy when making decisions, but he heard something in his old friend's voice to match the youth's eyes. This more than anything helped him decide. "Alright, but this is only on a trial basis. The first time you fuck up, you're out." Chris shook his head once, berating himself for growing soft. "Report to Corporal Sanchez to pick up your gear and assignment."

That had been a year ago. A long hard year for the seven Rangers. And now, now they were facing something they had been fearing since the first bonds of friendship had formed, the loss of one. Oh, they had been hurt plenty, but they had always been together. But now, one of their own was going into a situation without backup and it was eating them up inside, especially Buck.

The sergeant had tried everything he could think of to keep Dunne from going through with the plan, but in the end, the youth had pointed out it was the only way they had of protecting the families still left on the border.

A band of renegades had been raiding and killing along the Texas/Mexico border near El Paso for over three months. There wasn't a clear description on any of them, just they were young. Young and deadly. So far, twelve men, eight women, and five children had been murdered. Killed without mercy. They had been found gutshot, hung, and burned beyond recognition.

After an unsuccessful attempt by local sheriffs and the Army, the Governor had issued the capture of the Death Squad, a name given the bandits by the local law, to Texas Ranger Troop M, otherwise named, The Magnificent Seven. The Seven had tracked and almost captured a few of the outlaws on several occasions, but each time their efforts were thwarted by bad luck or bad karma, which Josiah deemed the cause.

So, now, their youngest member had issued this strategy, knowing the older men would not like it. Let him go undercover into the gang and find out their plans, then get back to the others and take them down. Simple enough, but the most dangerous thing in the world.

Lt. Vin Tanner had offered to take Dunne's position when he presented the plan, but even though he looked young enough, the Lt. had gained a reputation over the years and JD pointed that out.

He told Tanner that the first time he picked up a rifle they would know he was the Hawk. A name he'd gained when he rode with the Comanches, before the treaty put them on the reservation.

Dunne, in turn, used this logic on the others also. Each of the six had made a name for themselves before the boy had joined and it would be fairly hard for any of them to try and mask that.

Ezra Standish, who had yet to gain rank other then private, due to his disobedience to superiors, was known as the Gambler. He had surpassed the names of Brett Maverick and Doc Holliday as being a card shark, plus his attire was far from outlaw material. How he had become a Texas Ranger, only the seven would ever know.

Nathan Jackson, the first free black to become a Ranger and troop medic, had made his name throughout the territories as the Knife. He could throw a knife as swift and as deadly as a bullet from a gun. Plus, his color wouldn't match up to the renegades’ description. That was one thing they knew for sure. The gang was all white.

Corporal Josiah Sanchez, oldest of them all and the most temperamental, was known far and wide as the Preacher. He had long ago forgone the confines of the church, but he still allowed his faith to guide himself and his friends in their dangerous endeavors for justice. He had not even considered going in, but he had tried to discourage the youth from such a risk.

Sgt. Buck Wilmington, troop liaison for the fairer sex, had earned a far less flattering label, the Scoundrel. His superiors had even frowned upon the idea of him being a part of the organization, especially the married ones, but they had put that aside and based his induction on merit alone. Wilmington was ready, willing, and able to go undercover, but he too would not pass.

Finally, the sole decision rested on the illustrious leader, Chris Larabee. A man who had left death and destruction in his wake many times before riding with the Rangers. His name had caused fear in many and still did in some circles. He had fought in the War with Mexico, as did the others, except for JD. During the conflict, Larabee was tagged as the Bullet. It had only taken one for him to put a man down and still did.

Chris thought he would regret his decision of taking JD on, but as he watched the seven men together over the months, he realized there was nothing he could have done to stop it. A fate of some sort, he didn't know. He only knew they were complete and were on the verge of losing it all.

As Larabee's thoughts drifted back from the past and once more into the present, he noticed the pitch black of night hanging around him. A chill of foreboding engulfed his heart and sliced straight into his soul. God help them if they lost this hand of fate.

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I can do this, I know I can. I have to. JD wouldn't allow any other thoughts inside his head. He could feel the blood oozing from the wound in his left shoulder, but he ignored it. His only concern now was to get to the others and stop these bastards from killing again.

Dunne knew it was a sheer miracle he had escaped, but knew the fight wasn't over yet. Five of the renegades were still trailing him and he had stopped covering his tracks a few miles back. Now, he was just praying the guys were nearby, as they had been since he went in, and could reach him before the bad guys.

Suddenly, JD came face to face with the ground. A startled gasp, followed by a moan of agony, erupted from his mouth as he realized he had tripped on a hidden tree stump. A stump that he would soon love and cherish, as he heard the horses pounding near him. If he hadn't fallen, they would have ridden right on top of him, but due to the precarious way he fell, he was covered by the brush hiding the tree stump.

The outlaws could be heard cursing around him, but Dunne refused to breathe and let them hear him. As long as he didn't move, he would be fine. JD knew this, but the unexpected noise of other horses heading toward them caused the younger man's heart to leap. The boys.

The Ranger tried to think of some way to alert the incoming riders, but nothing other than screaming at the top of his lungs came to mind.

The sound of hoofbeats was immediately replaced by yells and then gunfire.

Oh God, you have to do something, JD. They'll cut them down.

Dunne fought his way into a kneeling position and tried to see through the underbrush at the fight taking place around him, but no luck. The foliage was too thick. So, with the last of his waning strength, the youth made his way to his feet and almost toppled over at the sight before him.

The five bandits had someway surrounded three of the seven and were pelting them badly with gunfire. JD swallowed hard as he recognized the horses the Rangers had been riding. A gray, a strawberry roan, and a blazed-face gelding. Buck, Ezra, and Vin.

JD started weaving in and out of the bushes, hoping to move into a position to help his friends. As he neared a knobbed tree, he saw a hand snake out from behind it, holding a revolver. Dunne forgot anything and everything, as he threw himself at the man who was about to shoot Buck Wilmington in the back.

A primal scream erupted from JD as he went rolling over and over, vying for the gun still clutched in the gunman's hand. Dunne fought with everything inside him. Fear, anger, hate, and love. The love for the men he now called brothers. He would gladly give his life two times over to save any one of them, especially his big brother, Buck. The one man who had taken him in from the beginning and tried to teach him the ways of the west.

The emotions playing inside the boy were the only thing keeping him alert and not letting him give in to the blackness lurking around him. JD blocked out all the noises and concentrated only on his and the other man's breathing. An ominous click entered his concentration and he somehow knew he had lost.

At least, he hoped, he had saved Buck. These were Dunne's last thoughts as he heard the gun fire and felt himself jerk back and dive into unconsciousness.

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Silence. That was the only sound that greeted JD Dunne, as he struggled to awaken. He didn't know what he would find when he did open his eyes, but he couldn't hide in the black void of nothingness any longer. He had to know, now.

Slowly, one eye slid open and then the other. Darkness greeted him and the youth's chest began to constrict with fear. Oh God, I'm dead. He turned his head slowly from side to side, but still no sign of light or life.

JD quickly slammed his eyes shut once more and tried to get his breathing under control. As he concentrated on his breaths, in and out, a noise made its way into his mind. Not a loud noise, but something other than silence. Dunne strained his ears in hopes of getting a better indication of the sound, but it seemed to be getting quieter.

JD opened his eyes again, wanting to catch a glance of whatever he was hearing, so he could tell it not to leave him alone. As he scanned the room once more, he saw a flicker of something near the far side. He stared at it until finally, it began to take shape. It was a person. Who, Dunne wasn't sure just yet.

He never let his gaze leave the form and was startled when it jumped. It seemed to be sitting up in a chair of some kind, but was once again stock still. JD couldn't stand it anymore.

"Hello." He didn't recognize his own voice, but knew he was the one who had spoken. The figure stiffened slightly, then slowly stood and came near where Dunne lay.

"JD?" The boy recognised that voice.

"Captain." JD let a small smile crease his features, as his captain, his brother came into view.

Larabee let out the breath he had been holding since he heard the strangled croak from the bed. "Damn, JD, don't you ever pull a stupid ass stunt like that again, you understand me?" The venom in the leader's words had the youth straightening up in bed.

What had he done now? JD let his mind wander, until the events leading up to his present condition hit him. "Oh....."

"Yeah, oh..." Chris glared at the kid a few more minutes and then he broke into a grin. "I'm glad you're okay." Larabee reached out and patted Dunne on the shoulder.

JD returned the smile, not wanting to be subject to the glare any more. As he continued to stare at his leader, a thought suddenly struck him. "BUCK!" He jerked up in bed, instantly regretting it, as the stitches in his left shoulder were pulled.

"Easy." Chris placed his hand on the youth's chest and pushed him back onto the bed. "He and the others are just outside. I made them take Buck out to get some air and food. I'll go get him." When the leader was sure the youth would stay put, Larabee left JD and went in search of the sergeant.

Dunne sighed, Buck was okay. The gunman hadn't got him. Before any more thoughts could plague the boy, the door slammed open and sunlight invaded the darkened room like a beacon.

"KID!" Wilmington had the biggest grin on his face, as he stared into the hazel eyes of his best friend. "You're damn lucky, you know that." Buck grabbed the chair Chris had vacated earlier and dragged it over to the youth's bed.

"Yeah, I was real lucky to get away from that gang."

"Hell, I ain't talking about that. Yeah, I admit that was pure luck too, but I'm talking about that boy not blowing your fucking head off. What the hell were you thinking? You were safe where you were. Why did you break cover and tackle that guy?" Dunne could hear the underlying anger in his friend's voice.

"I knew they had the three of you surrounded and wanted to help. So, I was trying to move in behind them, when I saw this gun aiming for your back." JD swallowed hard, as the memory flooded into his mind.

"Hey, it's okay now, JD. I'm fine and so are you." Buck patted Dunne's hand, then took it into his own. "We're all fine now that we're together again."

JD felt the anxiety leave him and his eyes began to droop, but another thought struck him. "The gang?"

Buck smiled softly at his kid brother. "We got 'em. While the Lt., Ez and I were coming to save your ass, the Captain, along with the others, took two more troops and rounded up the whole bunch. Ole Vin had followed your droppings and we found the hideout easy."

JD smiled, contented to know that all was right with the world once again. "Buck?"

"Yeah, kid?" Wilmington leaned over so he could hear the boy better.

"I'm tired." Dunne yawned, then snuggled deep in the covers and went to sleep.

The sergeant laughed, finally letting himself feel the peace of having his little brother back into the fold.

The End