Dark Times
Broken Friendships

by Jackie and Lanna

Vin Tanner sat quietly with Chris Larabee at their usual table in the saloon, watching JD Dunne. The kid was sitting by himself, tossing whiskey down like it was water and snarling at anyone who approached him.

Vin chuckled suddenly and glanced at Chris.

"He's been studying you, Pard," he remarked softly. "Doing a fine imitation."

JD had been in a bad mood for well over a week. He had been hotheaded, cocky and getting into fights that nine times out of ten he picked. Vin had the sneaky suspicion JD was half trying to kill himself and half trying to put distance between himself and everyone else by imitating Chris. It had been happening ever since his return from Eagle Bend. And neither Vin, nor any of the others knew why.

Chris threw a half serious, half mocking glare in Vin's direction and returned his attention to JD.

"Reckon we've left 'im to his thoughts long enough? Maybe it's time to help him improve that mood he's in."

"Reckon yer right Pard. But remember when Bucklin tried to talk to! 'im?

Never heard so much cussin' come from JD b'fore." Vin chuckled, removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He looked at Chris and a wicked gleam appeared in his eyes. "But if yer willin' t' give it a try. So am I."

The pair looked at each other, then stood as one and went over to JD's table. Sitting down, Vin swiped the whiskey bottle and took a good pull from it, ignoring JD's growl of "that's mine. Get yer own!"

"Now that ain't nice JD. Didn't your Ma teach you how to share with yer friends?" Chris teased, his green eyes twinkling. He took the bottle from Vin and poured a measurable amount down his throat. Taking it away from his lips he licked them and cocked his head to one side. "Well, I think that's fine whisky don't you Vin? So it can't be that that's turned our happy JD into a prickly cuss."

"Go screw yourselves and mind your own business," JD muttered, glaring darkly at them, not caring that he was being so insubordinate.

Vin raised a brow and looked at Chris. "Don't know about you, pard, but screwing myself is a little difficult for me."

"Got a hammer but don't think that'll work with a screw," Chris winked at the tracker who hid his face under his hat, while he got his mirth under control.

"You can both go ta hell! I ain't stickin' around here bein' laughed at by you two." JD jumped to his feet in one smooth movement, sending the chair he had been sitting in scraping noisily along the floor. Reaching out for the bottle of whiskey his face grew red in frustration as Chris quickly grabbed it up, holding it behind his back.

"Uh, uh, uh! Think you've had enough of this JD. Best you wait 'til you're man enough to handle it."

JD's fists clenched and unclenched and Vin was certain the kid was going to actually pull his gun. Instead, JD stalked over to the bar, demanded another bottle and, as he turned to head out, said, "Put it on their tabs." He disappeared out the door.

Chris shook his head. "Stupid kid."

"Ya know Chris, I think something's really botherin' him. Maybe we went too far." Vin eyed the door thoughtfully, watching it as it swung back and forth on its hinges. "He usually joins in the fun and gets out of any dark mood he's in, this time he ain't biting." He lifted his eyes up to meet Chris', not being able to stop the crooked grin from sprouting on his face.

"And if we don't figure out what it is real quick, he's gonna cost us a fortune buyin' his whiskey, 'cause he's real pissed at us."

Buck Wilmington wandered over and sat down, eye serious. "What the hell was that all about?" he asked, nodding toward the still swinging doors.

"Not sure Bucklin," Vin answered, taking the bottle from Chris's hand and passing it to the ladies man. "Thought maybe you could shed some light on it. Afore he puts us all in jail jest fer the hell of it."

"Well then." Buck got to his feet. "How about we go track down our ornery friend and find out what's eatin' him? And if he won't cooperate, between the three of us I reckon we can throw him in jail until he changes his mind."

Chris nodded agreement and stood, leading the other two outside and scanning the street. No sign of JD. "Probably in his room," Buck said and Chris nodded, leading the way to the boarding house.

Normally, he would have minded his own business, but this was one of his men and it had gone on long enough. It was time to put a stop to it before something happened that got one of them killed.

When they reached JD's door, they all looked at each other before Vin

took the lead and rapped on it three times. "JD, you can run but ya can't hide. Time t' spill the beans."

"Go away and leave me alone!" The three men winced and ducked their heads on reflex as a hard object was thrown at the still closed door.

"Kid! If ya don't open this door right now! We're knockin' it down!" Buck bellowed. He decided that enough was enough, and looked to his two companions for their agreement. He grinned when they both nodded their heads.

There was a moment of silence and then the door opened and it was all

Chris could do not to draw his own gun. JD stood there, a cold look in his eyes and his gun positioned so that he could easily shoot whoever he felt like shooting first. "I told ya, leave me alone," he growled softly, his eyes daring them to challenge him.

"JD. Do ya really wanna shoot us? If ya do, then go ahead and if ya don't then put that gun away and let us talk about this." Buck's voice was soft and it was not long before JD responded to it. Glancing at Vin, who gave him a reassuring nod, JD sighed and slowly lowered his weapon. He stepped back further into the room allowing the three men to enter.

"You got any more o' that whisky left, kid? 'cause I'm real parched," Vin asked as he sat on the bed. He figured he would try and lighten the mood, before they started to ask the young sheriff what the problem was. It worked. JD smiled slightly and nodded. Holstering his gun he reached for the bottle on the bed stand and handed it to Vin.

Chris took the bottle when Vin was finished, had a slug then handed it to Buck.

Vin watched JD closely, noticing the strained look about his face and the firm set of his jaw. Something was really not right about him, and Vin hoped they could get to the bottom of it quickly; before Chris lost his patience...and his temper.

"Wanna talk about it JD? We're kinda worried about ya." He held up his hand when he saw JD begin to look defensive. "And before ya go loco on us, we ain't pryin', jest tryin' t' help."

"Yeah kid, you gotta admit you haven't been in the best o' moods lately," Buck added, starting to hand the bottle to JD and then thinking better of it and giving it to Chris instead.

Chris took another drink, then eyed JD closely. "Enough is enough, son," he said quietly. "It's time to stop being a tough guy and picking fights all day long and tell us what's going on."

Defiance flashed through JD's eyes as he met Chris' gaze. For a moment, they stared at each other and then JD closed his eyes and turned his head away.

The three men waited patiently, and were just beginning to think that JD was not going to talk to them when his quiet voice filled the silence.

"It's 'cause of my Ma. This week is the anniversary of when she died."

The room was silent for a moment as his friends digested the information. They had all lost people they loved and it made their hearts ache to realize what JD must be going through.

"Aw kid. That's a hell of a thing to keep to yourself. We coulda helped ya through it," Buck said finally.

Vin sighed and stood up. He walked over to JD and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Well, we know now. Yer not alone with it anymore, JD. We're gonna ride with ya on this one from now on."

Chris felt his chest tighten. He knew exactly what JD was going through. He went through it every year when the anniversary of Sarah and Adam's deaths came around. He got worse than JD had been lately and it tended to happen around their birthdays and Christmas time too. He shook his head and lowered it, his hat hiding his eyes.

Buck decided that the somber faces of Vin and Chris were not going to help JD lighten his load. "Hey fellas, I'm hungry. How about we head over and fill our bellies?"

JD was going to decline, but thought better of it. His friends were trying to help him. He felt a sudden pang of guilt, but pushed it away. "Sure Buck, I'm in. How bout you two?"

Chris and Vin nodded agreement and the foursome headed out to get something to eat.

+ + + + + + +

The next morning, or rather, afternoon, as JD was just finishing getting dressed, there was a knock at his door.

With a tired sigh, JD got up and answered it, surprised by who this visitor was.

"John!" he greeted the man, stepping aside and letting him enter. "What are you doing here?"

JD had met John Calhoun during his trip to Eagle Bend. He was a older man, older than Chris but younger than Josiah with kind blue eyes brown hair laced with white.

As it turned out, the man was from Boston just like JD and the pair had hit it off. JD hadn't expected to see him so soon again, but was happy to nevertheless.

John smiled as he entered the room. "How've you been JD?" he asked, his voice silky and smooth.

"I've been okay. I'm lucky, I've got people to watch my back so I can relax," JD answered, gesturing towards a chair.

The young sheriff felt a little uneasy as John continued to keep eye contact with him as he moved across the room and sat down. "I didn't expect to see you around here. Thought you were heading back to

Boston," he said, repeating his earlier question in a different form.

John smiled. "I am. Had to pass through here first though and thought

I'd take advantage of the opportunity." He paused. "How are those friends of yours you told me about?"

"They're fine. Been treating me like a kid as usual. Guess I should be grateful I've got someone who gives a damn."

JD wasn't sure why he was talking so freely to this man who was almost a stranger, especially about his friends. He could be dangerous for any one of them. There was Vin's bounty to worry about for starters and Chris was always having someone or other seeking him out for a contest to see who was the fastest draw. Yep, his friends were a mixed bunch, and all had something lurking in their past that could creep up on them; and JD sure didn't want to be the one to clear the way. But still, he liked Calhoun, and what was the harm in sharing a whiskey and passing the time of day with him?

Calhoun sipped his whiskey thoughtfully. "How long have you been friends with these men?"

"We've been together for a while now, must be gettin' on for a year." JD looked questioningly at Calhoun. "Why do you want to know?"

Calhoun waved a dismissive hand. "Just curious. Seems strange to me that after all this time, they would still treat you like a kid. Haven't you...proven yourself more than capable?"

JD thought about the question for a moment. How many times had he asked himself that? And he could never come up with an answer that satisfied him.

"Well I thought I had, and maybe I have. I guess it's just that I'm the youngest so they kinda think they gotta look out for me. They know they can count on me when the chips are down, just like I know I can count on them."

After he had finished answering, JD wondered if he was trying to convince himself as well as Calhoun. Surely he wasn't doubting the friendship he and the other six peacekeepers shared. The thought startled him; he had never even entertained the idea that his idea of friendship was different to theirs.

Calhoun studied JD a moment, then said, "JD, I never did tell you what it is I do. I'm a Psychiatrist. I'm thinking of staying in town a few days and I'd like you to come see me if you feel you need to talk. I certainly see issues here that could cause some big problems for you and your friends later on if not addressed."

JD was struck dumb. A psychiatrist? What the hell did he need a psychiatrist for? He was about to make a rude reply but stopped when a thought struck him. What if Calhoun was right? If he was a psychiatrist, and JD had no reason to believe he wasn't, he would be able to see telltale signs of a problem. He always believed that he and the other six peacekeepers would remain friends, even if they didn't stay together. What if there was something lurking amongst them, that hadn't shown itself yet? What if he was going to get hurt by one or more of them? He mentally shook himself. Was he going to listen to the words of a complete stranger? Words that could jeopardize his friendships and his job?

JD looked Calhoun straight in the eyes when he finally answered him. "I'll keep it in mind, John. But, if ya don't mind, right now I gotta get over to the jail." He walked over to the door and opened it, waiting for his new friend to leave.

John downed the whiskey and stood, moving to the door. "I'm staying in

The hotel," he said as they walked down to the street. Outside, he put a hand on JD's shoulder and gave a friendly squeeze.

"Feel free to come by any time. I'm always ready to listen and will never treat you as anything less than a man." He patted JD's shoulder, then turned and headed toward the hotel.

Across the street, Chris watched the man walk away from JD and nudged Vin. "Ever see that man before?"

Vin narrowed his eyes and shifted his weight from one leg to the other. "Not that I can recall. Seems t' be mighty friendly with JD though don't he?"

The two men watched as JD stood for a moment, watching the man's back. They both caught his eye as he turned to walk towards the jail house and were a little taken aback by the look of mistrust that crossed JD's face before he turned his eyes away and began walking along the boardwalk towards the jail.

Chris' eyes moved back to the stranger as he disappeared into the hotel.

"Find Ezra," he murmured to Vin. "I want to know who that man is what is business with JD is. Then I want him watched."

Vin raised his eyebrows and cast a sideways look at Chris, his head hardly turning. "Should I be sayin' 'yes sir' and salutin' at ya Larabee?" He didn't wait for an answer, in case it was a fist in his face. Straightening his back, and hiding a smile, he began walking towards the saloon in search of Ezra.

Chris watched him, glaring at his back, then headed toward the Jail to check on JD. He silently entered the room, eyes swiftly moving to where JD sat at the desk. "Don't need to be here ya know," he murmured. "Why don't you find Casey and go fishing or something?" He said.

JD looked steadily back at the man who had become his leader. "Why do you want me to do that?" he asked. "Trying to keep me out of the way for some reason?"

The younger man waited for Chris's reaction. It seemed that all of a sudden he was questioning everything about his life and his friends. He wanted to know where he stood and if he was safe. And if he had to watch the others extra carefully, then that's what he would do...starting with Chris.

Chris frowned. "Just a suggestion, Kid. Ya don't need to be burying yourself in work during a time like this. Spending the time with Casey might be better for ya is all."

JD lowered his head; he was finding it hard to be suspicious of his friends. One minute he wondered about their motives and the next he was feeling guilty because they seemed to be genuinely concerned about him. "I just wanna be on my own, Chris." He looked back up at the older man. "I'm okay. Really. I just need a little time to myself."

Chris regarded him a moment, then nodded. "All right. Just don't bury yourself too deep all right?" He turned and left just as quietly as he had come, going over to the saloon and joining Vin and Ezra. Chris looked at Ezra, knowing Vin would have already described the man to him.

"If this guy shows up in here tonight, I want you to get him into a game and feel him out. Find out what he's doing here and what his interest in JD is."

"It will be my pleasure Mr. Larabee." Ezra replied. "There is nothing I like more than ridding people of their money. Especially if they are of the unsavory variety."

Vin snorted. "Jest hope he don't turn the tables on ya Ezra. To my mind, he looked like a bit of a slippery fella." He regarded the gambler thoughtfully for a moment. "Kinda like you, I reckon."

Ezra opened his mouth to retort, but his eyes were drawn to the doors as they opened. "Ah, and here is the slippery fellow now."

Calhoun had changed clothes and headed into the saloon for a drink as well as to survey the other six men he was interested in. He spotted three of them out of the corner of his eye, but didn't look over. Instead, he went straight to the bar and when Inez came over, smiled charmingly and asked for a beer. He then moved to a table and took a seat.

Vin looked over at Chris and raised an eyebrow and Chris replied with an almost non-existent nod.

This made Ezra roll his eyes. They were at it again. He had never met two people who could communicate that way, with a look or a nod. They held a complete conversation without saying a word, leaving everyone else around them having to guess at what had just passed between them.

Vin stood, startling Ezra out of his thoughts. "Said I'd help J'siah with the church roof. Reckon it's about time I showed up over there."

"Hang on, I'll come along with ya." Chris pushed himself to his feet and, after giving Ezra a brief nod, the two men exited the saloon, leaving Ezra to extricate what information he could from JD's new best friend.

Calhoun watched the pair leave, then allowed his eyes to travel to the other man. The gambler by the look of him. With a slight smile, he got to his feet and moved over to the other table. "I see by your choice of wardrobe that you are a gaming man, my friend," he said with a warm smile. "Might I join you in a game of cards?"

Ezra could not believe his luck; he had not had to leave his chair. The Gods were smiling down on him tonight; he could feel it in his bones.

"Why certainly sir, it would be my pleasure." The gambler reached out for the deck that was lying on the table, but was startled when a hand suddenly clamped down over his, halting his movement. He looked up into the face of the stranger who was wearing a pleasant smile on his face.

"If you wouldn't mind, sir. I like to start a game with a clean deck."

Calhoun reached into his own pocket and removed a fresh pack of cards.

His eyes never leaving Ezra's he sat down and proceeded to shuffle. "So sir," he said, "have you been in this town long?"

Ezra eyed the cards warily, and felt a ripple down his spine at the man's searching question. Chris was right to be wary about him; he was making Ezra feel decidedly uncomfortable.

"What is your reason for asking, sir. Or are you making light conversation?"

Calhoun looked up from shuffling the cards. "I'm sorry, I have a habit of being too familiar when I meet new people. Maybe I should introduce myself before we have a conversation and a game of cards." He held out his hand to the wary gambler. "I'm John Calhoun, from Boston."

John's smile was warm and friendly as he waited for the gambler to shake his hand and introduce himself, keeping his eyes in direct contact with the other man's.

Ezra took hold of Calhoun's hand reluctantly and shook it once. "Ezra

Standish, from everywhere," he answered. He cleared his head and focused on the task he had been set. "And while you seem to be in a talkative mood, may I ask you what brings you to Four Corners?"

"Just passing through," Calhoun replied as he watched Ezra deal the cards. "And visiting a friend," he added, smiling to himself as he noticed Ezra's discomfort.

"A friend?" Ezra asked non-committedly. "Who might that be? Maybe I am also acquainted with them."

The gambler was feeling more and more uneasy by the second. He fanned out his cards and grimaced inwardly when he saw what a shocking hand he had dealt himself. Oh Lord, was it ever gonna be a long night.

"JD Dunne," Calhoun replied as he looked at his own cards. "We met a couple weeks ago in Eagle Bend. Charming young man after my own heart. Got along famously especially after we discovered we share the same geographic origins." He looked back up at Ezra. "I raise five cents."

"Ah, Mr. Dunne! Yes he is a very friendly young man." Ezra tried to concentrate on the cards in his hand, but was somehow drawn to the man sitting with him at the poker table. "So, you are leaving soon then? Do you have your passage booked on the stage?" The gambler could not help feeling hopeful that Calhoun would say yes to his last question. He found him very unnerving, and yet, at the same time, a very interesting individual.

"Well I do plan to stay a little while. I'm a mite concerned for JD. He told me all about his mother and I'd just like to make sure he comes out all right before I head home. Did I mention I'm a physiatrist?"

Ezra was taken aback, a rare occurrence for him. This man was a psychiatrist?

JD didn't appear to need the services of one, although he had been a little hard to get along with lately. Chris and Vin had told him what JD had said about it being the anniversary of his Mother's death, and that they were going to help him through it, so Ezra figured they did not need the services of this complete stranger; whether he was a psychiatrist or not.

"Has JD requested your services, Mr. Calhoun? After all, he has a number of friends in this town to help him through his hard times. It seems odd that he would seek the help of a psychiatrist. He has suffered a number of pit falls in the time I have been acquainted with him, and has been able to ride them well." Ezra lifted his eyes to look at Calhoun, "So there really is no need for you to be concerned."

A small, silky smile passed Calhoun's lips. "One more never hurts, especially if they are going to be around for a few days." He studied


"Are you certain you have nothing you need to talk about?"

"I can assure you I am perfectly fine, sir." Ezra replied, although for one fleeting moment he had almost been tempted to mention his ongoing fear that his friends did not entirely trust him. "And if I ever am in need of psychiatric help, I will seek it out myself. Although I thank you for the kind offer."

A thought suddenly struck him. "Did JD ask for your assistance then? Are you helping him in a professional capacity?"

Another silky smile crossed John's lips. "Now that would violate doctor/patient confidentiality." He tossed in some more money and added, "I call. Full house," he said, laying down his cards.

Ezra's heart suddenly felt a little lighter and for the first time in a long time it was hard not to show his feelings at the poker table. With the best 'poker face' he could muster he carefully placed his hand on the table.

"Four sevens. Which, unless I have been playing poker wrongly for a number of years, beats your otherwise fine hand."

Ezra looked again at his cards as he reached to the middle of the table to rake in his winnings. Saw the four cards in a row, all sevens, and wondered if the cards were sending him a message. He believed in coincidences normally and not in signs and superstitions. But on this occasion he wondered. He was one of seven peacekeepers in the town of Four Corners, and at that precise moment he truly believed that the cards were being used by some unseen force to remind him of that fact in order to protect him from the very unsettling presence of the man seated across from him. A man who Ezra believed had been attempting to draw him into his web.

Calhoun stood. "Thank you for the game, Mr. Standish. I believe I will take my leave to explore this find town some more."

"You are very welcome, Mr. Calhoun." Ezra stood and offered his hand. After a gentlemen's handshake the gambler watched Calhoun leave. He sat down and stared at the cards still laying on the table, lost in thought. Vin, Chris, Buck and Nathan and come in earlier and were watching from another table. After Calhoun left, they watched Ezra for a moment then Nathan called out, "What's the matter, Ezra? He give you too good a game?" Ezra turned in the direction of Nathan's voice. "For your information Mr. Jackson, I beat him easily." Almost too easily he added to himself. "But I must confess I found his presence a trifle unnerving." Ezra stood and walked to the table the other peacekeepers occupied. He drew up a chair and reached for the bottle of whiskey that Buck had seemed to have claimed for himself.

"What did you find out?" Chris asked quietly. Ezra sighed. "Very little I'm afraid." He poured a sizeable amount of whiskey into a glass and almost threw it down his throat. "He an Mr. Dunne met in Eagle Bend, and JD must have told him about his Mother, because Calhoun seemed concerned for JD's mental state over her loss." He looked around the table. "Did any of you know that Calhoun is a psychiatrist?" Surprise flashed through all their eyes. "Now what the hell is JD doing hanging around with a head shrink fer?" Buck exclaimed. "That boy doesn't need one of them! He needs us and that's all!"

"Reckon he thinks different," Vin drawled. "They seemed mighty friendly earlier. Maybe JD figures Calhoun can help 'im more 'n we can." A dark look passed Buck's eyes but he didn't reply, taking a slug of whiskey instead. "You get any sense of him?" Chris asked. "Think he's going to be a problem?"

"Well, he informed me that he intended to stay in town until he felt that JD no longer needed him," Ezra informed them. He shifted in his chair uncomfortably. "And I must confess Mr. Larabee, I found him to be a very unsettling individual and propose that we keep a very close eye on our friend Mr. Calhoun." Chris nodded. "Was afraid of that." He paused. "All right, everyone keep a close watch on him as well as JD." He looked over at Nathan. "Let Josiah know when ya see him." Nathan nodded. Chris finished his drink, got up and left the saloon with a quiet, "Watch your backs."

+ + + + + + +

Josiah looked up from the piece of wood he had been sawing as he sensed someone approaching. He stood to his full height and squinted into the early morning sun, watching as a figure approached, one with a gait he did not recognize. Calhoun smiled when he saw the man he knew would be Josiah Sanchez. Putting on a curious look, he tipped his hat and said, "Good morning good sir. You must be the man of the cloth I've been hearing about." Josiah raised an eyebrow. "You've been misinformed. I lost that cloth a long time ago." He picked up a handkerchief and wiped it across his sweating forehead. "So if you wanted me to hear your confession, you're a few years too late." Calhoun chuckled. "No, no confessions. Just curiosity and a fondness for meeting people." He offered his hand. "John Calhoun. Passing through on my way home to Boston to have a visit with JD Dunne and meet some of the friends he told me about." Josiah eyed Calhoun curiously but nevertheless extended his hand. "Josiah Sanchez. One of JD Dunne's friends. But I'm sure you already knew that."

The two men shook hands and Josiah was shocked to find his curiosity getting the better of him. This man seemed mighty friendly, and he could not understand why the others had so many doubts about him. Nathan had come by the night before and told him about Calhoun and their suspicions that he was up to no good, but the ex-preacher, on first impressions was at a loss. The man appeared genuine, and Josiah always felt that he was a good judge of character. "Pleasure to meet you Mr. Sanchez. JD spoke highly of you during our many conversations." He glanced around at the church. "He certainly wasn't speaking lightly when he told me about your work with this church. A truly splendid piece of work."

"Thanks. I've tried to make it a place that people can feel safe in. I might not be a preacher any more, but I still like to tend the flock and help any strays if I can," Josiah informed Calhoun. He felt at ease with the newcomer and was enjoying the conversation they were having. "Have you met any of the others yet?" knowing the answer already but interested to know what Calhoun would say, after the cautious way the others were acting. Calhoun nodded. "Shared a very entertaining game of cards with Ezra Standish last night. Sorry to say I haven't actually met anyone else yet other than you, but I will eventually. I'm very eager to, especially after all JD has told me." Josiah chuckled. "You'll find them a very mixed bunch. But they can be counted on, and that's always good to know." He tilted his head to one side. "D'you want me to track 'em all down with you and make introductions? I'm sure once they meet you you'll hit it off with them." And Josiah truly believed that. He felt that John Calhoun could be a good friend, and he wanted the others to see him the same way, and not as a threat, like they thought now. Calhoun smiled to himself, keeping eye contact as he nodded. "That would be very kind of you indeed Mr. Sanchez. But I don't want to take you away from you work," he gestured to the church. "It'll be here when I get back." Josiah stood ready to leave with Calhoun and then he remembered something. "Ah no. I've got young Billy Travis comin' by soon, he has to help me this morning. He was caught trying to sneak off fishing and his Ma thought a little time in God's house would help him see the error of his ways." He looked apologetically at his new acquaintance. "Maybe I can meet you later." Calhoun laughed. "To be young again. That's quite all right. Perhaps a drink later this evening?"

"I'll be there," Josiah replied. "And maybe by then you would have met the others and we can all share a bottle." Calhoun smiled and nodded, shaking Josiah's hand again. "Delighted."

He tipped his hat, then turned and moved off, grinning to himself. Sanchez was even easier than Dunne. Speaking of whom... There was JD sitting outside the jail, playing with a small knife. John stepped up the boardwalk and came to stand next to the boy. "Good Morning JD," he greeted.

"Morning John," JD answered with a welcoming smile. "Was just sittin' here thinking about you. I saw Vin a while ago and told him a friend of mine was in town. He's lookin' forward to meeting you." The younger man looked back at his knife and expertly flipped it into the air and caught it effortlessly in the other hand, by the handle.

"And I look forward to meeting him," Calhoun replied, his eyes following JD's movements. "Just met Josiah Sanchez. I look forward to a deeper conversation with him." He paused. "You're quite good with that knife."

"Aw, it's just something I do to while away the time." He looked up with a broad smile. "I don't always catch it by the handle though, and I've got some scars to prove it!"

John laughed. "I can believe it. Can't be perfect all the time. Have

You eaten yet?"

"No I haven't." JD answered. "Have to feel awake before I eat breakfast. You?"

"Not yet. Felt like a little walk first. On my way to the restaurant now. Care to join me?"

JD stood and stowed away the knife. "Yep, I think I can eat now. In fact, I know I can! You never know, some of the fellas may be there too." He smiled happily. "I really want you to meet all of my friends. I know you'll get along with them."

"I know I will too," John replied, wrapping his arm around JD's shoulder and squeezing affectionately. They then set off for the restaurant. John hid his smile when he noticed Buck Wilmington there, but pretended he hadn't noticed.

JD's eyes showed their pleasure when he saw Buck sitting alone at one of the tables. "John! Buck's here! C'mon, I've been dyin' for you to meet him." The young sheriff pulled Calhoun's arm and led him over to where Buck was eyeing them both. JD with worry and Calhoun with distrust.

"JD," Buck greeted, shoving a chair out for him. He eyed Calhoun but said nothing. Turning his eyes back to JD he raised a questioning eyebrow.

"John Calhoun," John said, offering his hand and locking his eyes to Buck's. He put on a warm smile, letting the warmth reach his eyes, giving the appearance of a non-threatening, potential friend.

Buck looked at the offered hand, and slowly back at Calhoun's face before reluctantly reaching out and giving it a brief shake.

"John's the one I told you about Buck, from Eagle Bend. Remember?"

"A pleasure to meet you," John said, his voice silky as he began his attempts to draw Buck in. "JD told me a lot about you."

"Yeah, well he hasn't told me nearly enough about you," Buck answered with a slight frown.

"Buck," JD hissed quietly, "Be nice, he's a friend o' mine."

John smiled, breaking eye contact long enough to look at JD. "It's all right, JD. Natural for a close friend to be suspicious of a new one." He looked back at Buck, locking eyes once more. "What would you like to know good sir?"

Buck blinked a few times. Boy was this guy a smooth one. "Don't know where you got your information from sir but I ain't good. JD's obviously been painting too pretty a picture of me." He decided he couldn't wait for Chris to meet this guy; he'd soon slap him into shape. "As for what I'd like to know, Calhoun. Well, for starters, how long you plannin' on stayin' in town?"

'Hmm,' Calhoun thought. 'This one is going to be a problem.' Out loud, he said, "As long as I feel it necessary. I'm a psychiatrist by trade. I was in Eagle Bend on request for my services and, after meeting JD here, I thought I'd visit him and his town. Give my services to whomever wishes them." He smiled.

Buck rubbed his hands together when his big plate of breakfast was placed in front of him. "Well, don't reckon we get much call for a psychiatrist around here. We're all crazy, and have t' say we kinda like it that way."

JD shifted uncomfortably in his seat, wishing Buck would at least try to be friendly. "Em, John," he said, trying to smooth over the tension emanating from Buck. "Shall we order breakfast?"

John nodded. "Certainly." He ordered pancakes from the waitress then turned his attention back to Buck, frowning slightly. "You know Mr.

Wilmington, I'm sensing something disturbing you inside. If there is anything you'd like to discuss while I'm in town, feel free to come by my room any time."

Buck stopped, his fork halfway to his mouth, and lifted his eyes to look at Calhoun. "The only thing disturbing me inside is I haven't filled my empty belly enough yet." With that, he shoved the full fork of food into his mouth.

JD sat silently, not quite being able to believe Buck's behavior towards his friend. He promised himself that he would get Buck on his own later, and tell him what he thought of his manners. For a change, it would be JD giving the lecture about behavior.

After breakfast and after Buck had left, JD and John sat drinking coffee and talking. After a few moments, John said, "Your friend, Buck. Is he always like that?"

JD stared into his coffee for a moment before raising his eyes to meet Calhoun's. "Well, to be honest, no. He's usually pretty friendly. He kinda looks out for me, and he's wondering about you. He'll come around, you'll see."

Calhoun's eyes became serious. "JD, You're my friend and as my friend, I feel the need to warn you. I've seen Buck's type before. I've seen this situation many, many times before. I call it the big brother syndrome. One man befriends another, younger man and that friendship grows until they love each other like brothers. I can clearly see you two have that here. However, with the big brother syndrome..." he paused, as though collecting his thoughts. "Well, the older 'brother' will behave like any other older brother. Except with some differences. Usually, an older brother will guide his younger brother...be there if he makes mistakes and so on.

He'll allow the younger one to grow up and take his life into his own hands. In cases where Friends become like brothers, it's far different. The older one will guide the younger one, but won't entirely trust the younger one not to get himself killed. So the older one will stick to the younger one like glue. Basically leading him through life, never allowing him to truly have his own free will. Eventually, the younger comes to depend on the older. He can't get through life without him."

He shook his head, sadness in his eyes. "It's very tragic when I see these cases. Just last year, I counseled a fifty five year old man who's older 'brother' had died. This man just couldn't function on his own. Ended up in a home."

He shook his head, sipping his coffee.

JD sat in stunned silence. Slowly digesting every word Calhoun had said, until it began to make clear sense in his head. Surely that wouldn't happen to him and Buck. They were friends. Yeah, Buck looked out for him and helped him to stay alive, but so did the others.... and he helped them to stay alive too. But he couldn't help thinking that Calhoun's words could hold a little bit of truth. Buck could be very over protective sometimes, leaving him feeling stifled.

Even when it came to the way he wooed Casey, Buck always seemed to have some sort of advice or other. Was it possible that this Big Brother thing could apply to him? After all, Calhoun was a psychiatrist so he had to know what he was talking about. Maybe he should listen more to what his new friend had to say, because right about now it seemed to make a lot of sense.

JD sighed and sipped at his coffee. Boy, things were getting more confusing and complicated by the second.

John waited a moment then turned his gaze back to JD. "Are you alright? I know that comes as a rough blow and it might not be the case with you and Buck, but you should be aware just the same."

JD lifted sad eyes to meet Calhoun's. "Yeah, I'm okay. Was just thinking on what you said. I hate to admit it but I reckon you could be right. And I'm not sure what to do about it."

John was silent for a moment. Finally, he said, "My advice is that you

Talk to Buck. Make him see what he's doing and that he needs to stop and let you live your life as you see fit. That you want him to treat you as he treats the others." He smiled inwardly. He knew exactly how Wilmington would respond. And his reaction would serve his purpose very, very well.

JD nodded his head slowly. He knew John was right, but it sure wasn't going to be easy. He stood up quickly, "Thanks for the advice John," he said. "Now, I gotta get going. What have you got planned for the day? Anything I can do for ya?"

"No, no," John replied with a smile. "I'll be quite all right. Just going to have a look around this fine little town some more. Meet some new people. Perhaps we can have a drink later on?"

JD nodded. "Yeah I'd like that. Meet in the saloon?"

"Deal. Have a good day."

"You too!" JD's smile dropped as soon as he was out of Calhoun's line of vision. How was he going to broach the subject with Buck of asking him to back off a little and give him some room? He thrust his hands in his pockets and walked along the boardwalk. "Hey! JD!" Buck called from where he sat outside the jail. He motioned him over. JD's heart fluttered in his chest. Ah well, now's as good a time as any to get it over with. He tried to put on his usual smile as he walked towards his friend. "Hey Buck," he greeted as he took a seat next to the ladies man. "Like to tell me what the hell you were doing at breakfast?" Buck gave him a look. "Eating." JD huffed impatiently. "You know what I mean, so don't go pretendin' and jokin' about it. What have you got against John? Is it because he's a threat to you?" Buck was silent for a moment then said, "JD look. There's something awful strange about that man. You know I'm a reasonably good judge of character and that man is not good. I think you should stay away from him."

"Well I don't!" JD said, raising his voice a little. "In fact Buck, I think I might just spend a little more time with him and a little less with you. John thinks you take care of me a little too much and don't let me live my life. And I'm beginning to agree with him." JD stopped and closed his eyes for a few seconds. He hadn't wanted it to come out that way. He continued a little more quietly.

"Look Buck, you gotta back off. I know you're only lookin' out for me, but I need to look out for myself sometimes. I'm sorry you don't like John and think there's something not right about him, I really am. But that's your problem and not mine. So, if you don't like him that's fine, but don't expect me to not spend time with him just 'cause you tell me." Buck couldn't speak for a long time due to shock. Finally, he said, "You actually think I'm smothering you? You actually don't trust my instincts? How many times have my instincts saved your life, boy?" Buck was starting to get angry. "If you don't trust my instincts, then what about the others huh? Ezra played poker with the man last night and he felt something wrong too!"

"Probably because Ezra knew he'd met his match! John is smart, and I reckon Ezra couldn't pull the wool over his eyes like he can with most new folks and that turned him against John." JD's voice had risen again and he stood up before he continued. "You know what? I don't care what any of you think! I like him He's my friend, and right now I prefer his company to yours! So just stay out of my way, and keep your opinions to yourself!" Buck stood up as well, anger clouding his eyes. He grabbed JD's arm tightly. "Dammit JD! Your damn fool head is in the clouds again! You can't see past this guy's disguise and see the snake there that's ready to rip you apart!"

JD looked down at the hand gripping his arm. "Let me go!" he growled, his voice low and angry. "And if you ever grab me like that again I'll rip you apart!" Buck's eyes narrowed. "Careful who you challenge, boy," he growled softly even as he let go. JD 's eyes met Buck's head on. "Stop giving me advice Buck," he said, "I'm a grown man. I don't need you coddling me!"

"Well I sure don't see a man standing in front of me." Buck's fists clenched and unclenched, anger oozing from him. "Goddammit!" he muttered and, turning, he stormed angrily off toward the saloon. JD was left standing alone on the boardwalk, watching Bucks retreating back. His heart felt heavy, but it also felt surprisingly free. He didn't like the argument with Buck and hoped that, once he had thought over what JD said he would see sense and they could all get along together. But if it turned out Buck couldn't see past the end of his nose, then JD figured he was better off without him as a friend.


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