Angie repeated what Nathan had told her to say. He quickly looked in her mouth.
"Well, your Mr Jackson was quite right. Now I have patients all afternoon but seeing as you came so far I'll see you after supper, it's so hot I can't relax anyway. Can you bring your daughter back this evening?" he asked Chris.
"She's not my daughter, just doing a favour for her mother is all, Mrs Dixon is indisposed at the moment." The blushing gunman explained quickly.
"Well that's mighty fine, but can you bring her at say, half seven?"
"Sure we can do that, right Angie?"
"Yes Mr Larabee," she said very quietly.
Suddenly Angie didn't feel like a young lady any more she just wanted to be a little girl and she wished her Mom were there more than anything. As they walked out Chris suggested they head for the hotel, as they would need rooms for the night, she just nodded and followed him. As they walked Chris realised she was lagging more and more behind. He stopped until she caught up.
"Angie are you alright?" he asked leaning down so he was closer to her level.
"Mmm, I guess," she replied but couldn't hold back a little sob as it escaped, her head down, he placed a single finger under her chin and lifted it.
"Oh honey don't cry it'll be alright, he's a good dentist, Nathan wouldn't have sent you here else, would he?" God I wish Buck were here to do this, he thought.
She shook her head, allowing a small smile to return.
"Be brave and it will all be over before you know it," he advised, still holding her chin up with one finger.
"It's easy to be brave around you, Mr Larabee," she said.
He looked a little embarrassed. "Well you've never seen me at the dentist," he admitted, with his own small smile. "Come on lets get those rooms and see to the horses."
JD and Janet hit it off instantly. She just loved to mother the men in her house, whatever their age. Buck had been a joy to her and she was genuinely sorrowful that tomorrow he would be gone. When he had first arrived he was so sick and so weak she thought his every breath would be his last, that he just wouldn't have the strength to take another. But he did, he just kept on taking one breath after another. The first time he had regained consciousness and was in enough of his right mind to know what was going on, the first words he said were, "thank ya darlin'". No matter what she did, no matter how sick he was, now much pain he was in, how tired he was, he always thanked her, he always apologised for putting her to so much trouble, and he never complained. As he got stronger he flirted with her, flattered her and generally made her feel special.
"Young JD, do you know how much you mean to him?" Janet asked JD, as he was about to go in and sit with his friend.
JD just shrugged in response.
"A whole powerful lot son, a powerful lot, he's a good man, jist you make him proud, you hear me?"
"I try to Miz Janet." He smiled shyly, but then added. "But don't you tell him that!"
"Oh honey don't you think he knows already? Now you go in there and sit 'till he wakes up, he's missed you."
"I missed him too," JD admitted as he let himself in.
As JD watched his friend sleep so peacefully he realised just how anxious he had been, sitting there was like releasing a breath held too long. He could see Buck, hear his steady deep breathing, only now was he really believing he was all right. As he sat there he noted some of the many scars Buck carried. Some looked fairly minor others more serious. As he went to once more pull up the sheet Buck had kicked back he noticed the heavy ragged group of scars on the inside of Buck's left knee. He remembered Chris saying something about Buck being wounded in the war, and nearly losing his leg. How many horrors and tragedies did Buck hide behind the mask of jovial good humour? When he was Buck's age would he still be as full of life? So unbitter? So non-judgmental? He wondered. Like Buck, would his glass always be half full, or like Chris, half empty? He wanted to think he would, that he could retain his positive outlook. He and Buck had very similar backgrounds, both born on what was known as the 'wrong side of the blanket', both raised by strong women who made sure they knew how much they were loved and who died when they were in their late teens. Since he wouldn't, or at least he hoped he wouldn't, face the horrors Buck had seen, he believed he could retain his optimism. Buck, he knew, would like him to retain his innocence, he wasn't quite as innocent as Buck liked to imagine (or was it pretend) but he hoped he would never be as cynical as Ezra.
JD's musings were cut short by a sudden yawn from the bed. He looked down at Buck as he stretched, his eyes still closed. Finally bleary dark blue eyes opened to find a pair of very familiar knees in his line of vision. Slowly he turned his head to look up.
"Hey," JD greeted quietly.
"Hey yourself, kid." Buck smiled not his usual huge grin but not a bad imitation as he pushed himself up in the bed. "We going home now?"
"Tomorrow, Chris is here too, Doc says you can go tomorrow if we take it steady."
"The Doc worries too much, I'm fine," Buck assured.
"So fine you've been a sleep all afternoon, you're so full of cr " His curse was cut short.
"Don't you use coarse language in my house, boy!" Janet warned coming in with a tray of food.
"Sorry ma'am," JD apologised.
Buck eyed the tray of food suspiciously. "Lord Janet I can't eat all that!" he exclaimed.
From what JD could see Buck would normally eat all the food on the tray in no more than two or three mouthfuls.
"Oh now, come, it's only a little snack, 'sides some of it is for young JD here, but " she turned on Buck wagging her finger at him, "you will eat half and no less, you hears me boy?"
"Yes ma'am," he agreed wearily.
Buck did eat half, which amounted to three biscuits with honey on them, a slice of apple pie and a glass of lemonade, but JD could see he was struggling. If he had any doubts about just how ill Buck had been, seeing him struggle through such a small meal blew them away. Whatever Chris wanted, he resolved that the journey home was slow and gentle. For his part Buck noticed that JD ate slowly, he wondered if he was just trying to keep him company.
+ + + + + + +
Angie and Chris booked two rooms at the hotel and having located Buck's big grey stabled their horses next to it. The gentle horse greeted not only his familiar stable companions but also Chris. Larabee took the time to pet and fuss the horse that Buck spoilt just as much as Ezra did Chaucer and talked to and fussed over just as much as Vin did Peso. In fact all told Max was the most spoilt of all their horses, Buck was just careful not to let anyone see him talking to his horse. Unlike Peso or Chaucer, Max was gentle, obedient and compliant. Chris knew in an emergency he could put anyone on him and he would look after them, but only for Buck would he run his heart out.
"You miss him don't you, fella?" Chris whispered rubbing the greys neck as it nuzzled him. "Know what old boy? Me too, but tomorrow you and me will bring him home."
Angie smiled as she watched and listened to him talking to the horse about his friend. Suddenly Chris remembered he was not alone and pulled away abruptly.
"I er I was just making sure he was aright," he stuttered.
"Oh is that what you were doing? Well he looks fine to me, a bit lonely maybe, missing his master and his friends." She smiled as there appeared on Chris' cheeks a blush! She had made the great, the scary, the kill-um'-dead-with-just-one-glare Larabee blush!
"Come on, lets take the saddle bags to our rooms" Chris was already carrying his and JD's as he walked past her.
Angie quickly picked up hers and hurried after him. Once that was done they intended to set out for the doctors office again. Chris knocked on the door of her room, which she opened a little to quickly.
"I'm ready, but um, Mr Larabee, could I talk to you a moment?" she asked hesitantly.
"Of course, Angie."
She stood back from the door so he could come in.
"I was wondering if when I go back to, to the the "
"Yeah, well will you come with me?"
"I said I would didn't I?"
"No I mean all the way, will you be there when he's actually you know doing it pulling my teeth out?"
Chris didn't instantly respond to that. He had indeed just imagined he would deliver her to the office and wait outside until it was done. Nor had he been joking about his own performance at the dentist. His one and only experience was when he had broken a back tooth in a fall, eventually the broken tooth had become infected and had to be pulled. It had taken Buck a whole week and two bottles of whisky to get him though the door and then Buck and the dentist had literally held him down until it was done. Why he wondered was she asking him? JD was more her friend, Buck would be up by now (he hoped) he was a lot better at this sort of thing. Buck was the only person Chris had ever seen sit calmly in the dentist chair and not move when the man pulled his tooth. In Buck's case it was a wisdom tooth, as he remember actually it was two wisdom teeth. He had grunted some and gripped the armrest but that was all. Chris was aware Angie was still looking at him.
"Wouldn't you feel happier with JD?" he asked.
God no! She thought. He's too young, he's not like dad and besides he thinks I've got a crush on him. "Well no, um he's nice and all, but he is um very um young." Here she ran out of words.
"Well you know Buck will be up and about soon, he's real good at this kinda stuff, you'll like him, everyone likes him."
"Yes I know, JD said so, so did Casey. But I've never met Mr Wilmington, please Mr Larabee." She looked at him imploringly.
"Very well, but you must call me Chris, Mr Larabee sounds like my father, alright?"
They met up with JD and Buck and whiled away an hour before going to the hotel for supper. Angie liked Buck, just as she had expected to. He flattered her, never talked down to her and she instantly felt safe around him. During the meal, one of them ate well, three barely at all. Chris frowned at the other three as they picked and poked at their food. Seven thirty approached and Angie and Chris set out for Mr Nixon's office. Mean while JD took Buck to the saloon, Doctor Finley had quietly told him a couple of beers would do Buck no harm and they might even help.
+ + + + + + +
"Miss Dixon, I'm ready for you now," Nixon called from the door.
"Don't worry about it Angie I'll be there, come on." Chris put a hand on her shoulder as they got up.
Angie was a star patient, she sat as still as she could, Chris stood right next to her, holding her hand. She squeezed it until he thought he would lose all circulation. The first tooth came out quite easily the second one was more reluctant but it came. Angie couldn't stem the tears or the whimpers but she sat and took it. When it was done and the cavities were cleaned, she turned and hugged Chris, hanging on for dear life to make the memory of the pain go away. Chris wasn't sure how to handle this and simply stood there ineffectually patting her back. Now the strange conversation he had had with her made sense to him as she hugged him. Eventually she composed herself and they moved out on to the sidewalk to find JD and Buck waiting for them.
"Well now young lady, were you a brave patient?" Buck asked.
Chris was pleased to see a genuine Buck grin on his friend's face and even a little colour, which was probably due to the beer but it was still good to see. JD on the other hand did not look good; he looked tired and pinched. In fact as Chris looked more closely he noticed that JD's left cheek was looking distinctly red. Angie gave Buck a little smile but then looked down a little ashamed.
"I tried to be," she admitted quietly.
"Oh you did more than try, she was wonderfully brave," Chris explained.
"Well you couldn't have been worse than ol' Chris here, he screamed like a baby," Buck began to explain. "Me an' that ol' dentist fella had a hold him down an "
"BUCK!" Chris bellowed.
Wilmington backed up a few paces. "Now Chris, you know it's the truth." He looked around Chris. "He was pathetic!" He looked back at Larabee and backed up some more. "Now Chris I'm a sick man still, you wouldn't hit a sick man would ya?"
Suddenly Buck was running and Chris was chasing.
"He won't really hit Mr Wilmington will he?" Angie asked, some what alarmed.
"No, not really, Buck is quite safe," JD assured.
"Miss Dixon." Angie turned to see Mr Nixon at the door, her jacket in his hand. "You forgot this."
Ever the gentleman JD crossed to collect it.
"Young man do you want to come in?" the dentist asked.
"No! No why would I?" JD blurted out.
"Well unless I miss my professional guess because you have one hell, excuse me ma'am, of a tooth ache," he said calmly with just the hint of a smile on his lips.
"I I do not, I'm fine," he stammered out, blushing so that the rest of his face matched his cheek.
Angie came to stand beside him. "You didn't eat any jerky yesterday and almost no supper tonight," she pointed out. "Oh come on, JD, it's not so bad and if your tooth hurts as much as mine did your better off without it."
The blush JD had had drained away as he paled in sheer terror.
"No..no..no..never!" He turned to run, and ran smack into Buck.
"Never what?" Buck asked.
"JD needs to see the dentist, but he's scared," Angie explained, her hands on her hips, a look of pity on her face.
"Scared? JD? Surly not, the brave sheriff of Four Corners afraid of the dentist? I can't believe it? Can you Chris?" Buck, grinning from ear to ear looked at Chris. "Oh I forgot you can believe it, can't you?"
"I am not scared!I just don't need the dentist is all!" JD stated.
Suddenly Buck's big hand shot out and cupped JD's hot cheek. The younger man yelped and stepped back.
"Dentist." Buck stated.
"Dentist." Angie stated.
"My door is open." Nixon stated.
"Good luck." Chris said.
"Aw hell!" JD exclaimed as Buck grabbed the scruff of his neck and propelled him through the door.
+ + + + + + +
The next morning Buck had to say goodbye to the two people who had saved his life at the risk of their own. Dr Finley shook his hand and warned him to take it easy. Janet wept openly as she hugged him, told him to eat properly, behave himself and come back to see her sometime.
"Don't you worry darlin', you know I could never stay away from a beautiful woman like you for long." Buck embraced the woman tightly, struggling to hold back his own tears.
For the first two hours on the road home he was quiet and subdued, but as the morning progressed his spirits returned. He wanted to be home. Max was happy they were at last on their way as well and he stepped out proudly now he had his master back on him. Angie was also quiet, her jaw ached, it was hard to eat and she was now hungry having only managed some oatmeal at breakfast, more than anything she too wanted to be home.
They stopped for lunch by a small creek, although still swollen it didn't look to be too high, Chris was hopeful they could make it back across the big wash with no problems this time. True to her word Angie provided lunch. Then she chased JD and Chris out if camp to shoot something for supper. Buck had already stretched out on his bedroll under a tree to sleep as she set about tidying up the camp, and collect firewood.
"How are yer teeth?" he asked from under his hat.
"Oh!" she was startled having thought he was asleep. "Well it's alright I guess."
"So it hurts and it's hard to eat and you wish you were home already." Buck sat up and looked at her, he was smiling, not grinning just smiling, an understanding reassuring smile.
"No I mean yes how did you know?" she stammered.
"'Cause thats how m' guts feel."
She walked over to him and sat down. "I thought you were all better now?"
"Mostly better, but I need to get home, Nate's there if I need him. Which I won't!" he added hastily.
Buck didn't normally talk about himself let alone admit his infirmity to anyone least of all fourteen-year-olds he hardly knew, but he wanted her to know he understood how she felt. After that they both took a nap as they waited for the others to return. Chris came in first leading Pony who was dragging a large bundle of firewood behind him. Angie woke but not Buck. Eventually JD also rode in with two dead birds tied to his saddle. Dismounting he strode carrying his prize looking like the cat who stole the cream.
"Here you are." He held them out to Angie.
"Here I am what?" she retorted.
"Well I can't cook them like that they need plucking and cleaning first," she explained.
"Hey I'm the man I shot 'um youre the woman you pluck and clean and cook 'um." JD dropped the birds and turned to go.
"Both of them! Do you know how long it takes, if you want to eat JD Dunne you better help me."
JD turned back. "No, its woman's work, I'm a sheriff not a scullery maid!"
"That is wrong! It is just so wrong! You should "
"JD!" Chris voice cut through the argument. "Pluck, now!"
"Aw hell Chris, it's not my job - she should do it!" JD hated being told off in front of others.
Chris was about to explode when another voice said.
"JD pluck the damn bird before I pluck you!"
"Buck!" JD exclaimed. "How long have you been awake?"
"Long enough; now git going and pluck."
JD picked up one of the birds and Angie the other, she headed downwind of the camp, he upwind.
"Not there JD!" she exclaimed pityingly.
"Why the hell not!" he fumed.
"'Cause if you do it there we will have a camp full of feathers," Buck explained. "Now take the bird and go with Angie, and don't blaspheme in front of a lady."
JD was about to point out that 'damn' was just as bad as 'hell' but one glare from Chris told him otherwise, as he trudged off after the fourteen year old.
When the birds were plucked and cleaned and JD had thrown up after his first contact with fowl guts, Angie set about cooking. She produced roast meat and biscuits, and as she served up she gave Buck a very small portion compered to the two others. Chris was about to say something when he was himself on the end of a glare this time from JD. As they all watched surreptitiously he ate all the food on his plate.
"There's more meat and biscuits if you want it?" Angie informed him casually.
"Well that was right fine darlin' don't mind if I do have some more."
As Angie got up to refill his plate she winked at Chris who now understood her strategy. JD's jaw was also sore after having a single tooth removed, but unlike Angie his jaw only ached on one side, so he could eat on the other side. Chris and JD were still keeping their distance from Angie as she cleared up the dishes. Since Buck reckoned he hadn't been pulling his weight he strolled down to the creek in the last of the light to help with the dishes.
"Thanks," Angie said as he squatted down next to her.
+ + + + + + +
As the two of them returned to the camp Angie was walking beside Buck gazing up at him as she walked. She put away the dishes and then offered to take Max down to the creek with Ben, she did not offer to take the other horses. When she returned to make coffee she made a point of asking Buck how he liked his coffee, but not the others. That night as they talked of past adventures and triumphs.
"Wow, Mr Wilmington you are so brave, I can just see you standing up to those ruffians," Angie said with awe in her voice.
"Hey, I was there too, you know," JD pointed out indignantly.
"Oh yes JD, I'm sure you were very brave as well, tell me about the duel Mr Wilmington, Casey told me all about it."
The next morning she made breakfast, as before she gave Buck a small portion, only this time she gave Chris and JD the same small portions, but did not offer them seconds when she did Buck. Then she tacked up Max before she did Ben. As the morning ride progressed Angie spent most of her time riding beside Buck. She would gaze at him longingly when he wasn't watching. Every so often she would ask how he was feeling. Eventually JD managed to get her on her own.
"What are you doing?" he asked though gritted teeth.
"What do you mean, want am I doing?" she asked innocently.
"You know what I mean, gazing at Buck like a love struck calf!"
"Well, why not gaze? Mr Wilmington is a very handsome man you know! Any girl would have to be blind not to see that."
"Right, any girl! Do you know how many women he's had?"
"What does that mean, 'had'?" So angry was JD he had forgotten he was speaking to a fourteen-year-old.
"Well it means he's courted a lot of women."
"Oh I know that, but never me! Bye JD." And with that she spurred her horse on to catch up with the others.
+ + + + + + +
"Buck, have you noticed Angie acting oddly around you?" Chris asked.
Buck frowned. "Odd? How odd, she's real attentive and kind is all, what you getting at pal?"
"Christ Buck you of all people can't be that blind, the girls besotted with you!"
"Don't be loco man, she's just a kid, she's even too young for JD."
"I'm telling you, she's got a crush on you." Buck continued to look incredulously at his old friend.
Chris would have said more but just then Angie galloped up. After lunch where once again everyone got small portions but only Buck got seconds, Buck slept, JD collected firewood and Chris hunted. Whenever JD was near, Angie asked him questions about Buck until he was so sick of it he mounted up and went for a ride. Supper followed the same routine with JD and Chris forced to get their own seconds and refill their own coffee mugs. This time it was Chris who accompanied Angie to the stream to wash the pots. JD came and sat beside a sleepy looking Wilmington.
"How you doing?"
"I'm tired and I want t' sleep in m' own bed."
"Well I can sympathise with that." JD rubbed his jaw where the dentist had pulled what was left of his tooth. It turned out he was like Chris; he had long ago broken a back tooth that had become infected. While JD wasn't as good a patient as Angie or Buck he wasn't in Chris class of bad patient. "From what that doctor told us you were lucky to survive, lot of people in Porters Town didn't."
"I know. You just never know do you? I mean I always though if'n I didn't die old in bed, I'd die from a bullet, never though a ham pie would damn near kill me!"
"Buck about Angie," he started hesitantly.
"Oh don't start all that again! What makes you think Angela Dixon has a crush on me?"
JD studied his friend and then looked down. "Well she the thing is I think she's got a crush on me as well," he confessed
"No! What makes you think that?" Buck asked his voice full of concern and shock.
"Well she asked me if I could love her, if I thought she was too young, and you she practically drools over you!"
Buck tried not to laugh as he considered his response, but the amusement in his voice was all too evident.
"Well ummm "
"This is not funny Buck!"
"Yeah it is, you want me to talk to her for you?"
"For both of us. I'm telling you she has a crush on you as well! Please Buck, I don't know what to say to her!"
+ + + + + + +
For the next two days Angie continued to fawn, drool and generally fall over herself to do everything she could for Buck. Chris was forced to pull Buck aside and ask him why the hell he wasn't doing anything about the situation. On the contrary he appeared to be encouraging it. Buck assured him he was the expert on women and Chris should leave it to him. JD was getting baffled. He was sure about what Angie had said to him that night in the shack, and now she was ignoring him and throwing herself at Buck, who was old enough to be her father! He tried to tell her Buck wasn't interested, he tried to point out he didn't like being called Mr but she retorted that calling a man Mr was a mark of respect. It wasn't lost on JD that she called both him and Chris by their first names.
On the third day they didn't stop after lunch as they had on the first to days. Although Buck was looking tired he was anxious to get home, JD and Angie were mostly recovered and able to eat normally. Finally they made it into town; Mrs Dixon, Nettie, Casey and Nathan were waiting for them. Angie turned to Buck as they walked the last few hundred yards into town. She made sure JD was watching as she said.
"Thank you Buck, it has been most enjoyable to travel with you, I do hope you feel more your old self very soon."
"Well thank you Miss Dixon, and thank you for you delightful and attentive company," Buck responded, sounding not unlike Ezra.
She then rode off and dismounted in front of her mom who hugged her. Chris and JD just sat there watching; JD's mouth hanging open.
"What's the matter with you two?" Buck asked as he pushed Max on.
"She and you I thought she didn't ... not you?" JD stumbled out trying to comprehend.
Chris decided he was completely out of this conversation, and pushed Pony into a trot and into town to dismount near Nathan.
"JD why did you think Angie had a crush on you?" Buck asked. "Did she do to you any of the things she has been doing for and to me in the last three days?"
"Well no "
"Well she asked me she said "
"JD, I think you should think about what she actually said and about who she was talking about. Afternoon, Casey!" he called out suddenly as they passed Angie and Casey on the sidewalk.
JD looked down as he passed them, both young women smiled up at the two men and then descended into giggles as they clung on to each other for support.
"Oh no!" JD gasped.
"Oh yes, JD! Oh yes."
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