"What you gonna do about it, boy?
Two to the left, one on the right, and J.D. was fairly sure there was one more somewhere behind him. Counting the leader, that made at least five guns to J.D.ís two. Hardly fair, but heíd be gentle...
"Drop your gunbelts. Youíre all under arrest." J.D. Dunne, Four Cornersí duly appointed sheriff, calmly waited for his orders to be carried out.
"Donít think so." Curly Pete, wanted in two territories and parts of Mexico, was positively smirking.
The hard way then, thought J.D.. OK by me. He narrowed his eyes in anticipation of what would come next.
What came next was noise, then surprise, as J.D. realized he was staring at the sky. What had gone wrong? Hadnít he drawn first? Judging from the growing darkness, he wouldnít have much time to figure it out. He knew he was dying, he could feel his life slipping away into the dust of the street.
"Son." The sky was replaced by the friendly form of Josiah Sanchez.
"Jos...wha..." Speech was difficult.
"Rest easy, J.D. It wonít be long now." Josiah looked down at him sadly. "Forgive me, but I couldnít let you do it. The Bible says ĎThou shalt not killí, J.D.. Thou shalt not kill". Josiahís opened his outstretched hand to reveal the cartridges out of J.D.ís twin Colts.
With his mind screaming denial, J.D. slipped into the darkness...
J.D. awoke sodden with sweat and gasping for air for the third time in as many days. "What in hell was going on? So far heíd dreamt Ezra had shot him for his inadequate poker playing skills, Nathan had sneezed while removing a bullet --fatally wounding him with his knife, and now Josiahís betrayal. What next? Vin? Chris? Buck? Would the dreams stop after that? He shivered in the cold, wet bedclothes.
One of the many pleasures in Buck Wilmingtonís life was his tutelage of the town sheriff, and it usually included an early morning visit to his pupil. Lately, however, J.D. had grown a little haggard, and today Buck meant to find out why. Besides...last night had been spent solo and sober, and he needed to needed to take it out on someone.
Still and all, Buck couldnít help but grin as he passed the Bath House en route the the jail--the memories were just too pleasant and a little too recent. Nothing like a hot tub of water to ease a manís soul and raise his spirits, especially if the company is of the fairer sort. Maybe J.D. just needed to bathe more.
The door to the Sheriffís Office was barely open before Buck sensed something wrong. J.D. sat at his desk, looking for all the world as miserable as Chris Larabee normally did. Hell. Buck thought irritably, I know he wants to be like Chris, but this is taking it a bit far.
"J.D., get off your butt and join me at breakfast. You look like you could use some." Buck didnít wait for an answer, he grabbed J.D.ís hat from the desktop, plopped it down on J.D.ís head, and pulled the younger man towards the door. If J.D. launched a protest, Buck didnít hear it.
Staring deep into his coffee, Sheriff Dunne wore the expression of a doomed man. No amount of ribbing from Buckís quarter seemed capable of breaking through the layer of despair J.D. was living within.
"Boy, what in hell is wrong with you? You look like youíve lost your best friend, and you ainít even got a best friend!" Buck kept up his cheerful assault.
"Iím gonna die, Buck."
"Hell, kid. Thatís whatís bothering you? Weíre all going to die. You. Me. Everybody."
"Yeah, but Iím gonna die soon. Iíve had dreams..." J.D. went quiet, unwilling to reveal that his dreams involved his friends.
"Dreams?" Buck was incredulous. "Youíre this worked up over dreams? J.D., everybody has dreams of dying. Itís nothing to worry about. Hell, even Iíve had dreams of dying. Donít mean a thing."
J.D. fidgeted, trying to decide whether to confide in his friend. "I gotta go. Thanks for the coffee, Buck."
"Iím paying?" Buck tried to look aggrieved. "Just promise me youíll get some sleep?"
Pushing back his chair, the boy-sheriff of Four Corners gave Buck an unreadable look. "Sure." He rose and strode out of the hotel headed back to his office, to the only haven he could imagine. Sleep was the last thing he wanted. Sleep meant dreams.
J.D. stared at the paper...unable to grasp what he saw. The new wanted posters had arrived by stage, and at the top of the stack was one with his name and likeness. Somehow there was a $500 bounty on his head--he was wanted for murder. This couldnít be happening. How could he be a murderer? It was a mistake.
"J.D." Vin Tanner leaned against the entrance to the Sheriffís Office, looking very much the bounty hunter.
"Vin." J.D. waved the poster. "This is wrong. You know me. Iím no murderer." J.D. watched with widening eyes as Vinís hand slid towards his sawed-off Winchester. This wasnít happening.
"J.D., itís dead or alive. The choice is mine. Heck, Iíve wanted to quiet you down for a long while. Now I can do it legal like." Vin slowly smiled, drawing his rifle out of its holster.
"Vin! Wait! You canít do this!" J.D. dropped his gunbelt. "Iím unarmed!"
Somewhere in the distance J.D. heard a gunshot. Then all was quiet.
"NOOOO!!!" Four down, two to go.
"What?" Chris Larabee looked up at his friend in total confusion. "J.D. had a bad dream, and you think Iím the answer? He looks up to you, Buck. You tend to him."
"Chris, he looks up to me, but he worships you. Hell, he probably thinks more of your opinion than he does anyone else alive. All you need do is talk to the boy."
"About what? Dreams of dying? Weíve all had Ďem. Heíll get through it, just like we did." Chris sipped his coffee, thinking it could stand a little more whiskey. "Besides. What good would I do? Iím still half convinced heíll end up dead before the yearís out."
Buck stared levelly at the man who was closer than a brother to him. He knew he cared as much about J.D. as Buck himself did, but would never admit to it. "Just talk to him, Chris."
"Allright. Iíll talk to him." Chris glared. "Happy?"
"Enough." Buck rose and turned to go, not bothering to hide his smile. Chris could fool the others...
J.D. stared apprehensively as Chris Larabee strode into his office. Few men on this earth commanded his respect as Chris did. Heíd die for him. J.D. thought about that for a moment...but mentally shrugged off the concern.
"Hi Chris. Whatís up?" Rising nervously, J.D. tried to guess why Chris would visit him. It wasnít a normal occurrence.
"J.D." Chris looked nervous himself. "J.D. We need to talk. Thereís a problem."
"Can I help?" J.D. puffed out his chest, glad to be consulted by someone of Larabeeís stature.
"Yes, I guess you can help, at that." Chris smiled, a particularly evil smile. "J.D., Iím tired of a snot-nosed little brat licking my boot heels. Youíre a pitiful excuse for a sheriff, for a man, for damn near anything. The way I see it, Iíd be doing the world a favor by removing you from it. So..." He paused. "What do you think?"
"Chris." J.D.ís mind came to a screaming halt as Chris Larabee slowly drew, aimed, and cocked his Colt. And pulled the trigger.
He heard a familiar sound.
J.D. shuddered awake. Only Buck. Maybe Mary.
Chris entered the Sheriffís Office and shook his head in amusement as J.D. upended himself and his chair at the sight of him. Buckís right about the dreams getting to him, Chris thought.
"Chris!" As he scrambled to his feet, J.D. had gone pale as death.
"Relax, J.D. Iím not here to kill you." Chris smiled. It was apparently the wrong thing to say, inasmuch as J.D. went even paler, which Chris thought odd...seeing as death was so pale to begin with.
"Right." J.D. began to take deep breaths, attempting to regain his lost composure.
"Buckís been worried about you. Says youíre having dreams." Chris looked genuinely concerned, which made the hairs on J.D.ís neck stand on end.
"Dreams? Ha-ha. Maybe a few. Iím just not sleeping well, thatís all."
"Weíve all had those dreams, J.D. Buck has. I have. Theyíre nothing to be ashamed of." Chris was trying his best to be soothing. It wasnít working.
"Right." J.D. said again. His vocabulary was shrinking rapidly. He couldnít keep his eyes off Chrisí gun. "Look. Chris. Itís nice talking with you, but I gotta go. I promised Iíd help Mrs. Potter with something."
J.D. edged carefully around the man in black, escaping into the street.
As night fell, Four Cornerís Sheriff could be found in the saloon, drinking his fifth cup of coffee in the last two hours. No sleep, no dreams. He didnít want Buck to kill him. J.D. couldnít even hazard a guess at Buckís motivation. Fighting over a woman didnít seem likely. Maybe itíd be an accident, like with Nathan. J.D. looked over at Nathan, seated with Josiah near the stairs. Nathan caught his glance and smiled at him. J.D. smiled wanly back. Nathan didnít mean to kill him. Josiah, on the other hand..
J.D., for the second time that day, fell out of his chair. Buck wasnít going to need a dream to kill him, just his usual joking around would do the trick. J.D. wearily reclaimed his seat.
"Son, you really need to get some rest. Is that a gray hair I see on your head? Yes indeed, itís a gray hair. Let me get that..." Buck plucked out the offending hair. "Whoa. Guess I was wrong. It wasnít gray after all. But it will be, if you donít quit fretting."
"Buck. Iím fine. I donít need your advice or your help, and I sure donít need you talking to Chris about me."
"So Chris talked to you?" Buck had already spoken with Chris, but J.D. didnít need to know that.
"Yes. Chris talked to me, and Iíd appreciate it if youíd both just leave me alone." J.D. stood, mustered his few remaining shreds of dignity, and headed for the door. He didnít make it.
"Boy, youíve still got a few things to learn." Buckís voice grew dangerous. "And facing death is one of Ďem."
J.D. slowly turned to face his friend, his surrogate brother, his mentor. Buckís gun was inches from his mouth. The hammer was back. J.D. dripped sweat and waited for the sound. The cold glint in Buckís eyes seemed to freeze time itself, because the sound didnít come. J.D. still waited, unable to look away from the gun barrel which would soon end his life.
"J.D.?" Buckís eyes now gilinted with amusement. "J.D.?" Buck waved his gun in front of J.Dís face. "Itís not loaded, J.D. I was making a point. If you die tonight, you die tonight. If you die forty years from now, then thatís when you die. Itís not something you can stop from happening. Son, if I could Iíd promise you youíd live forever. But thatís just not going to happen. Iím sorry."
The color slowly returned to J.D. Dunneís face. Buck was right. Worrying about getting killed would just get him killed that much sooner. No point in rushing things. Buck was right. He looked around the saloon, trying to decide how embarrassed he should be.
Ezra pretended not to have noticed, but smiled slightly when J.D. made eye contact. Nathan and Josiah looked sympathetic, as they usually did, even in his nightmares. Vin was leaning against the bar showing no expression at all, which was probably for the best, considering J.D.ís frazzled state. But where was...
"I see youíre still alive."
J.D. jumped a good six inches at the sound of Chrisí voice. Much to his delight, he felt more irritated than frightened...once his heart resumed beating. He turned to view twin grins on Buck and Chrisí faces. J.D. smiled back. No more nightmares. Suddenly his smile faded...all that coffee...heíd never get to sleep.
Casey looked magnificent, wearing a lowcut blue dress, curved in all the right places.. From the moment she walked into the Sheriffís Office J.D. felt ten feet tall and stronger than a dozen men, ready to take on the world, if required to. Casey closed in on him, brazenly taking his hands, smiling up at him.
"I know we had dinner plans, but something has come up..." Casey demurred.
"Wha..?" J.D. looked past Casey, for the first time noticing a smiling Vin Tanner leaning in the doorway.
J.D. awoke sodden with sweat...