J.D. could hear raised voices around him, and wanted to tell them to knock it off before they set more rocks to crumbling but couldn't quite get up the energy. J.D.'s murky brain slowly translated the noises into words.
"Buckif you don't settle down I'm gonna tie you up with this rope!"
"Settle down? Settle down!? This fool kid just threw himself halfway offa a cliff, bustin' his ankle and god knows what else, and you want me to settle down!?" Buck's voice sounded outraged, even to J.D.'s foggy ears, and he couldn't help the groan that escaped his lips.
Buck was instantly beside him, his voice down to a rumbling murmur now. "Kid? J.D.?" His hand brushed back J.D.'s hair. "C'mon, kid, open your eyes for me."
J.D. thought about it for a moment. The voice persisted. "C'mon, J.D., open your eyes, son."
J.D. considered it. If Buck was here, he couldn't possibly still be on the ledge. Big as Buck was, they both would've tumbled over the edge by now.
Unable to stifle the hysterical giggle that escaped, J.D. heard Buck's voice grow concerned. "J.D., I mean it now, open your eyes. I know you're awake, kid."
Very carefully, J.D. opened one eye, and then the other, fully expecting to see his own foot again. Instead, Buck's mustache loomed over him, the rest of Buck's face slowly coming into focus behind it.
"Who else, kid?" Buck's voice was relieved. He rested a hand on J.D.'s forehead, and then shifted it down, supporting the back of his neck.
J.D.'s eyes slowly focused. He was in the woods, and could see his horse tied up near Vin's and Buck's, and Vin moving toward him with some sticks in his hands.
"Whatwhat happened?" J.D. asked, trying to lift himself up.
"Now, you hold still, J.D.," Buck scolded, placing a hand on J.D. to keep him down. "We were hopin' maybe you could tell us that. What were you doing up there?"
"Well I was out ridingSam was trying to find me," J.D. said slowly, trying to pull the pieces out. "I tied my horse up and " he stopped suddenly as memory flooded him. "Oh. Yeah."
"What, J.D.?" Buck asked, as J.D. fell silent.
"Never mind," J.D. said flatly.
"I said, never mind!" J.D.'s voice was sharp, and Buck could feel the little fire rising along his neck that only J.D. could ignite.
"Now, you hold on just a second there," Buck started angrily, but stopped as Vin placed a hand on his shoulder. Swiveling his head toward the interruption, he choked back the angry words in his throat as Vin silently held up the sticks and then nodded toward J.D.'s ankle.
Buck swallowed and nodded, understanding. They still had to get J.D.'s ankle splinted and get him back to town. Time enough for explanations later.
J.D. tried not to scream when they splinted his ankle, he really did, but the pain in his head was pounding something fierce to begin with, and the shooting flames in his leg when Vin pressed the branches together broke his resolve. Buck grasped his hand so tightly J.D. thought scatteredly that maybe Vin would have to splint that, too, when he was done, but he gripped Buck back, just the same. Sweat was pouring off his forehead when Vin finally, mercifully, finished.
Vin's voice was hoarse. "How ya doin', kid?"
"Fine," J.D.managed to mutter, between clenched teeth. He could see the two men look at each other, and thought disgustedly, 'Well, ask a stupid question!'
Buck gently pulled his hand out of J.D.'s, and then grasped his shoulder. "You rest a moment, kid, while me'n Vin' talk, okay?"
J.D.'s eyes were closed and he nodded, spent.
Buck motioned to Vin, and the two moved to the side.
"What're you thinkin'?" Buck asked.
"Well, trail's pretty steep. Wagon wouldn't make it."
Vin shook his head. "It'll jar his ankle more bumpin' along this path than iffen we just rode with him."
Buck nodded, resigned. "All right, then."
He turned back toward J.D., kneeling again by his side and place his hand on his arm. "J.D., son?"
J.D. blinked his eyes, then opened them. "Yeah?"
"We're gonna head on back to town, let Nathan take a look at that ankle of yours."
Buck watched, alarmed, as J.D. struggled to pull himself to a sitting position. "Easy, kid, let me help you there."
J.D. tried to push Buck away, but couldn't manage to get his hands to move in the direction he wanted. He gave up, frustrated, letting Buck place his arms under his shoulders and his knees, pulling him up off the ground.
"Dammit, Buck, I can stand," J.D. protested helplessly.
"Ain't no need to stand, kid, you're just gonna be getting on a horse," Buck said matter-of-factly, moving to hoist him over his own horse rather than J.D.'s.
"Heywhat're you doing?"
Buck settled J.D. with some help from Vin. "Heading back to town, kid."
"I've got my own horse, Buck."
Buck placed his feet in the stirrups, mounting behind J.D. and wrapping his arm around him, to J.D.'s great disgust. "Yup, that you do, kid," he said calmly.
J.D. would've rolled his eyes, but his head was just hurting too darn much. He settled for closing them, fighting leaning back for as long as he could before finally giving in.
+ + + + + + +
The ride back was just about harder on Buck and Vin than it was on J.D. J.D. had tried to suppress his moans, but the jolting motion of the horse and the combined pains in his head and foot were too much for him. Within ten minutes tears were leaking from his eyes and he had turned his head to the side, burying his face against Buck's chest and biting on his lips. Five minutes after that Buck had shifted J.D. into a cradled position in his arms, trying to remove some of the movement from reaching his body. It worried him that J.D. didn't even protest the change.
As much as both Buck and Vin knew that someone who hit their head was supposed to try to stay awake, they were both relieved when J.D. finally passed out.
+ + + + + + +
It took them forty-five minutes after J.D. had passed out to get back to town. By then, dark had come, and the men waiting in town had grown increasingly concerned when Buck and Vin had failed to return with J.D. As Buck and Vin's horses came into town, J.D.'s horse trailing behind, four men rose from their various positions and met in the street in front of the clinic.
Josiah reached up to where Buck had J.D. still cradled in his arms.
"Let me help you, brother," he said, his voice gentle, before taking hold of J.D. and gently easing him down. He turned and carried J.D. up into the clinic, Buck and Nathan hurrying behind.
J.D. began to stir as Josiah was lowering him onto the bed. As he became aware, the first feeling that washed over him was relief that he didn't seem to be on the back of a horse anymore. One of his last thoughts, in the throbbing moments before he had passed out, had been to question whether staying on the damn ledge might not've been a better idea.
But if he wasn't on a horse, and he wasn't on the ledge, where was he?
"Buck?" he asked, his voice frantic.
"Right here, kid." Buck grabbed J.D.'s hand, lowering himself quickly. He read J.D.'s panic, and placed his other hand on J.D.'s arm. "It's okay, kid, we're at Nathan's now. Everything's gonna be just fine."
Nathan stood in the doorway, blocking the other men's entrance. "You all stay out there, nowain't no room for me to work with all of you in here."
He turned and went toward J.D., not bothering to wait for their response. Josiah gave him a questioning look, and Nathan nodded. "Might need your help. You may as well stay."
Josiah nodded and stepped back, allowing Nathan access.
The pulsing in his head reduced J.D.'s world to a small circle. The only thing just barely visible on the edge of it was Buck, and J.D. gripped his hand for all he was worth. Another shape moved across the border of his vision, and then Nathan was there, speaking calmly. "Well, now, J.D., seems you got yourself into a bit of a mess. Where are you hurting, son?" His hands were already running over J.D.'s hair, checking for the source of the blood trickling down his forehead.
J.D. yelped as Nathan touched the cut on the top of his head, and Nathan pulled his fingers back. "Sorry, son."
He scanned the ripped clothing and scrapes visible on J.D.'s shoulder, and then ran his eyes down to J.D.'s ankle. Buck, who had been watching Nathan anxiously, spoke up.
"Looks like he broke his ankle. He fell a ways down the side of a cliff, Nate."
Nathan checked the splint, and then returned to stand by J.D.'s head. "J.D., I need you to look at me, okay? I need to have a look in your eyes."
J.D. kept his eyes closed. Nathan's voice grew firmer. "J.D., I know your head must be hurting, but I need you to open your eyes for me."
J.D. wished people would quit telling him to open his eyes. He knew if Nathan would just leave him alone and quit poking at him, the pounding in his body might stop. He tried to tell him that, but all that came out was a whimper.
Nathan's hands were resting on J.D.'s cheeks, his touch gentle, as he looked toward Buck. Buck took up the cue. "C'mon, J.D.," he urged. "Just open your eyes for Nathan."
J.D. knew he was beaten whenever Buck's voice took on that pleading note. Fine, he'd open them, but this was absolutely the last time. He steeled himself and pulled his eyes open, Nathan's fingers immediately securing first one, and then the other lid. He examined J.D., and then pulled away, and J.D. immediately closed his eyes again.
Nathan looked at Buck. "He been sick?"
Buck shook his head, and Nathan nodded, satisfied.
"J.D., is anything hurting besides your head and foot?"
J.D. started to shake his head, and then wished he hadn't. "Can'tcan't really tell," he finally said. His voice sounded funny to him, and it felt like his head was still shaking, or maybe it was the bed, and then J.D. heard Nate's voice say something about shock, and then he felt a blanket over him, and then he didn't feel anything.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan had worked quickly after J.D. had passed out, first trying to reassure a now-frantic Buck that J.D. would be okay.
"Temperature feels okay, Buck, and he don't seem to have a concussion. Just passed out from all the pain."
Buck ran his fingers through his hair, then brought his hand down to rest on J.D.'s. "His hands feel clammy, Nate."
"That's normal, Buck. His body's fighting off shock. Long as we keep him warm, he should be okay." Nathan cleaned the cut on J.D.'s head, but left it unbandaged. "Not too deep," he commented, looking over at Buck, who sat gripping J.D.'s hand.
Buck let out a shaky breath. "Seemed like an awful lot of blood, Nate."
Nathan rested a reassuring hand on Buck's shoulder before continuing to work. "Scalp wounds bleed a bit, Buck. Looks like he took a pretty hard knock, and I'm guessing his head's been hurting something fierce, but his pupils are okay and he ain't been nauseous. Iffen he's got a concussion, it's a mild one."
Buck nodded, watching as Nathan carefully removed J.D.'s torn clothing and began to clean and bandage his scrapes. He winced in sympathy each time Nathan touched the carbolic-laden cloth to the wounds.
"How'd he do all this?" Nathan asked, as he continued to dab.
Buck shook his head. "Like I said, he fell over the edge of a cliff, caught himself on a ledge. Wouldn't tell me what happened. Looked like he fell fifteen, maybe twenty feet before landing."
"Well, he's lucky. Other than his head and ankle, nothing seems broken. Gonna need a few stitches in his shoulder, and he'll be plenty sore for a while, but he'll be just fine long as he takes it easy." Nathan turned to Josiah. "Might want to let the others know he'll be okay. Come on back in, thoughI'm gonna need your help holding him when I set his ankle."
Josiah moved from the wall where he had been leaning. He gripped Buck's shoulder before moving to the doorway. "Easy, brother."
Buck gave him a quick glance before turning his worried face back to J.D.
Josiah stepped out onto the porch, where Chris, Vin, and Ezra sat waiting. All three rose to their feet as Josiah stepped out.
"Looks like he'll be just fine," Josiah said calmly, before they could ask. The three faces, all normally inscrutable, relaxed slightly.
"He say how he fell, Josiah?" Chris asked.
Josiah shook his head. "Passed out again pretty soon after we got him in there." He held up his hand as he saw their faces tense again. "Not to worry, brothers, Nathan doesn't think he's too badly injured, just in a whole lot of pain."
"He set that ankle yet?" Vin asked.
Josiah shook his head. "About to do that now." He turned, then, heading back inside.
Nathan was readying a needle to stitch the deepest of the cuts on J.D.'s shoulder, and Buck was sitting by the bed, his hands trying to smooth J.D.'s hair away around the clotted cut. He saw J.D.'s features begin to shift, from the smoother comfort of unconsciousness to the lined awareness of pain. As J.D. began to stir, Buck shifted his hand to J.D.'s neck, speaking soothingly.
On the porch, the waiting men heard faint groans, followed by slightly louder yelps. They looked up and toward the closed door.
"Guess he woke up," Vin said.
"Astute as always, Mr. Tanner," Ezra said dryly.
Vin started to reply when they heard a sharp scream, quickly choked off. Vin spoke again.
"Guess he set that ankle." He threw Ezra a challenging look, daring him to comment.
"Again, Mr. Tanner " Ezra started, then stopped and thought better of it. Vin smiled. They waited a little while longer, and then the door opened and Nathan walked out, followed by Josiah.
Chris looked up at Nathan. "Well?"
Nathan folded his arms and leaned back against the door. "He'll live. Took a knock on the head, not too bad though. Don't seem to have a concussion. Head's been hurting him, but should be a lot better by morning. Scraped himself up some, especially on his shoulder, but nothing too deep. Twisted his ankle real good, and broke a coupla the smaller bones in his foot, but it's not as bad as I thought. He's gonna hafta stay offa it, though, at least three weeks, and keep the bandages on a while after that." Nathan shook his head ruefully. "Should be feeling well enough to give me trouble about that pretty quick, too."
He looked at the others. "Soanyone know how this happened?"
They looked at Vin. He filled in the parts he knew. "Picked up his tracks over by the creek bed, followed'em up into the woods. Horse was tied up in some brush; didn't look like no struggle. Foot tracks went up to a ledge over the valley. Looked like he lost his footing, fell down a ways. Seemed a mite upset when we asked what happened, didn't say much."
Nathan nodded. "Don't seem in the best mood now, either. May be best if y'all leave him alone till the morning; might be a bit more cheerful then."
"Well, as it appears that Mr. Dunne will live to see another day, I believe I saw some new monmenarrive on the stage today." Ezra stood and stretched, then stepped off the porch.
Chris looked at Vin and raised his eyebrows. Vin nodded slowly, his jaw twitching. "Guess I could use a drink." They looked at Josiah, who smiled. "Nothing like the spirits to soothe the weary soul, brothers." All three stood and headed with Ezra toward the saloon. Nathan turned and went back inside the clinic.
J.D. lay staring at the ceiling, a scowl on his face. Buck sat leaning back in the chair, arms folded, watching him. Nathan gave Buck a querying look, and Buck shrugged. Nathan walked over to the corner and began preparing something.
"Ain't gonna drink none of that tea, Nate, so don't even bother heating it up," J.D. said flatly, continuing to look at the ceiling.
Nathan didn't bother turning around. "It'll help you sleep, J.D., keep down some of that swelling in your foot."
J.D. didn't answer. Buck eyed him, but stayed silent. Nathan turned around, carrying a tin cup. He walked over toward the bed.
"I said, I ain't gonna drink that," J.D. repeated, his voice slightly louder this time.
"I heard you just fine, J.D.," Nathan replied calmly. "I don't want you getting no fever, though. Think it'd be best iffen you drank it."
J.D. folded his arms and rolled to the other side, turning him away from Nathan but bringing him face-to-face with Buck. Buck continued to remain quiet, but shot J.D. a look and held it. J.D. glowered back at him for a moment, then shifted his eyes to stare at the wall.
"J.D.," Nathan said patiently, still standing by the side of the bed. "Goes down easier hot than cold."
"I said " J.D. started to repeat again, his voice raising in pitch, but was cut off by Buck, who exhaled in exasperation.
"Gimme that tea, Nathan," Buck said edgily, reaching his hand out. Nathan smiled slightly and handed the cup to Buck. J.D. eyed him warily. Buck looked at him steadily. "All right kid, I imagine I'd be in a piss-poor mood if I fell offa a cliff, too, so I ain't gonna say nothing about the attitude. But I ain't gonna argue with you, neither. Now, drink the damn tea, or "
Buck didn't finish the sentence, just held the cup out to J.D.
"Or what?" J.D. couldn't stop himself from asking.
Buck raised his eyebrows. "Keep arguin' and you'll find out, kid." J.D. glared, trying to hold out, but finally sighed and accepted the cup. Buck smiled as J.D. raised the cup to his lips, making a grimace at the bitter taste.
"Good choice, kid."
J.D. finished the tea and handed the cup to Nathan, scowling, and leaned back against the pillows.
Nathan looked at Buck. "You staying?" he asked, knowing the answer.
Buck smiled slightly. "Now how could I pass up such charmin' company."
J.D. opened his eyes, the effects of the tea already making that an effort. "I don't need no babysitter, Buck," he said testily.
Buck just eyed him and leaned back in his chair. "Go to sleep, kid," he advised. J.D. sighed in exasperation and closed his eyes again. Within moments, he was breathing deeply. Buck shook his head and shared a look with Nathan.
"Gonna be a long few weeks," Nathan said.
"Yup," Buck agreed.
+ + + + + + +
J.D. was on the ledge. He knew he was on the ledge, even though it was pitch black, because he could hear the roar of the rocks crumbling. He struggled for a hold, but every movement sent eddies of ground draining away beneath him. He could feel himself being pulled down, and his movements became frantic. If only he could seebut the blackness swirled around him like a whirlpool. Somewhere he heard Sam calling for him.
"I'm here," J.D. yelled, or tried to, but he couldn't make sound come out.
Sam continued to call plaintively, searching for him, but his voice was getting farther and farther away.
"Over here," J.D. tried desperately to say, but instead of words, the roaring of rocks came tumbling out of his mouth.
He felt himself falling, Buck's voice suddenly floating somewhere above him, and he tried desperately to hold onto it, but the rocks were roaring, roaring, and there wasn't any hold
+ + + + + + +
"Shhh, it's okay, J.D., it's okay, son," Buck whispered, stroking J.D.'s sweaty hair. He had been awakened by a strangled cry, bolting upright in the chair he had fallenuncomfortablyasleep on. It took him a moment to register the trembling body on the bed, and another to register that J.D. was not in painwell, physical, anyway, but appeared instead to be dreaming.
He pulled his chair in closer to the bed, continuing to murmur softly, running his hand along J.D.'s forehead and then pushing back his hair. "All right, kid, you're okay."
J.D. slowly quieted, his trembling ceasing, and he relaxed again into peaceful sleep. Buck kept his hand cupped on the side of J.D.'s head, looking down at him, until finally he nodded back off to sleep himself.
+ + + + + + +
Daylight pushed against J.D.'s eyes, and he resisted for a moment, giving in to the softness of the bed. He could feel something uncomfortably warm on his face, though, and a throbbing pain in his ankle. Slowly, the events of the previous day trickled back to him. He briefly wondered if maybe it had been a dream, and hopefully pulled his eyes open. A wave of disappointment washed over him as the ceiling of Nathan's clinic came into focus. He shifted his eyes slightly, trying to make out the weight on his face, and cringed slightly as he recognized Buck's hand.
"Geez, Buck," he muttered, reaching up and pushing Buck's hand off of him.
The movement startled Buck awake, and he shot up, eyes flying open.
"Whwhaoh, hey, kid, you're awake," he grinned, seeing J.D. staring at him.
"Why'd ya hafta go'n sleep like that, Buck," J.D. grumbled, a little embarrassed.
Buck stared at him for a moment, as if he was some strange new kind of ant, and then spoke slowly. "Gee, kid, I dunno, thought maybe it'd be fun to fold myself into this chair for a while so that the pain in my ass could match the one lyin' on that bed."
J.D. flushed slightly and dropped his eyes, guessing at why Buck must've been sitting so close. Buck continued to eye him for a moment, then gave him a quick grin. "Sohow're you feeling?"
"Fine, I guess," J.D. mumbled, yawning and starting to sit up.
"Whoahold on there, J.D., where d'ya think you're goin'?"
J.D. gave Buck a pointed look. "I feel fine, Buck."
Buck snorted. "You forget about your ankle?"
J.D. peered down the bed, and winced as he saw the hardened bandages Nathan had fixed around his foot.
"Geez," he said disgustedly, continuing to pull himself into a sitting position. Buck grabbed him and pushed him back down onto the bed.
"Hold up, kid, you ain't moving till Nathan takes a look at you," Buck ordered, his hand held firmly against J.D.'s shoulder.
"For Pete's sake, Buck," J.D. snapped, trying to push Buck's hand away, when the door opened and Nathan walked in, followed by Josiah.
Nathan grinned at Buck. "Feeling a mite better today, is he Buck?"
"I am feeling fine," J.D. articulated carefully, glaring at Buck.
"Till I knock him back over the head he is," Buck muttered, letting go of J.D.'s shoulder and standing carefully, stretching the kinks out of his back.
Josiah took in the looks being traded between the two. "Why don't you go get some breakfast, stretch your legs a bit and let Brother Nathan take a look," he suggested to Buck diplomatically.
Buck winced as his muscles protested the movement. "Guess I could use a walk," he admitted. He turned to J.D. "I'll be back soon, kiddon't you go nowhere," he teased as he walked out the door.
J.D. rolled his eyes, turning to Nathan instead of responding.
"How long I gotta wear this thing, Nate?" he asked, indicating the bandages on his foot.
Nathan looked at him sternly. "That depends, J.D. You do as I say, maybe only three weeks. You try to get out of this bed, ain't no saying."
"Three weeks!" J.D. protested, having heard only the first part of the answer. "I can't wear these for three weeks."
"That's IF you stay off your feet, J.D." Nathan responded firmly. J.D. hissed in frustration and leaned back against the pillows.
"Three weeks," he said again, dejectedly.
Josiah chuckled, as Nathan moved in, checking J.D.'s various cuts and scrapes. "Well, now, son, three weeks isn't so long in the grand scheme of things. Why, I heard tell about a man, lived twenty years in "
"Aw, Josiah," J.D. protested, interrupting, "I don't want to hear 'bout no man who spent no twenty years in bed." He swatted away Nathan's hand, now prodding at the bandages on his shoulder. "And I don't want to be poked at, neither."
Nathan and Josiah shared a look, and then both looked at J.D. Nathan held his gaze, the silence stretching for a moment. "I'm going to finish checking you out, now, J.D.," Nathan finally said quietly, and then reached back down, placing one hand firmly on J.D.'s arm and lifting the bandages with the other. He studied the stitches for a moment before nodding, satisfied, and then re-bandaged the area with fresh cloths.
"All right, J.D., I need to look in your eyes, now."
J.D. acquiesced reluctantly, allowing Nathan to pull his eyelids open and then following his fingers when requested. Finally Nathan stepped back, smiling.
"Well, son, considering you took a tumble off the side of a cliff, I'd have to say you're looking pretty good today."
"Good," J.D. said flatly. "So when can I get up?"
"J.D.!" Nathan said, exasperated. "Three weeks! And I don't want you moving around too much in that bed, either, or you'll rip out my stitches, you hear me?"
J.D. groaned and shut his eyes, not answering. Nathan's eyes flashed, and Josiah laid a hand on his arm. "Brother Nathan, why don't you go join Buck for breakfast?"
"Why don't both of you go, and leave me be?" J.D. grumbled quietly, not opening his eyes.
They ignored him, Nathan looking back at Josiah. "You mind keeping watch over him for a bit?"
"I don't NEED nobody keeping watch," J.D. protested, opening his eyes again and glaring at Nathan and Josiah. They continued to ignore him.
"Not a bit, Nathan, not a bit," Josiah said, settling down into the chair Buck had vacated. J.D. sighed, exasperated, and leaned back, closing his eyes again.
Nathan nodded. "Good. I could use some fresh air." He threw another look at J.D. and then turned and left the clinic.
+ + + + + + +
Buck pushed open the doors to the saloon, blinking his eyes as they adjusted to the murky light. He saw Chris and Vin sprawled at a table, and made his way over to them, settling himself in an empty chair.
"How's the kid?" Chris asked, not looking up from his coffee.
"Surly," Buck responded shortly.
"Surly?" Chris asked, looking up, a small smile twitching at his mouth.
"Yeah, surly," Buck repeated, his eyes daring Chris to laugh.
"Well, now, that's a surprise," Vin drawled, not looking up from his coffee either.
Chris hid his smile with a forkful of food. Buck glared at him for a moment, and then at Vin, before sighing and motioning to the waitress. His coffee and plate had just come when Nathan pushed his way into the saloon and, seeing them, headed over to the table and sat down.
"Hey, Nate, how's the kid doin'?" Vin asked, glancing up at him.
Nathan grimaced. "Surly," he said shortly. This time both Chris and Vin hid their faces in their coffee.
"You see?" Buck said defensively, turning to them. They both continued to be seriously thirsty, and Buck finally turned away, glowering. Chris and Vin looked at each other and grinned. Finally, Vin turned to Nathan.
"He up for company, yet?"
Nathan smiled ruefully. "Well, he may not be, but he ain't gonna have much choice. Don't trust him just yet to stay in that bed. Josiah's with him now."
"How long's he gotta stay there, Nate?" Chris asked.
Nathan shrugged. "Three weeks offa that foot, if everything heals the way it should. Longer'n that, if he messes with it."
The four men shared a look, and then Nathan signaled to the waitress. "Gonna be a long three weeks," he mumbled, sighing.
+ + + + + + +
After eating, all four men headed over to the clinic, carrying plates of food for J.D. and Josiah. Nathan pushed the door open, and saw Josiah standing at the window, J.D. lying asleep on the bed. Josiah turned as the men entered.
"He give you any trouble?" Buck asked quietly, jerking his head toward the sleeping form.
Josiah smiled and shook his head. "Well, now, he woke up once, looked at me and growled something-or-other, and fell right back on asleep. Seemed a mite perturbed I was still here."
Vin walked around to the side of the bed, scanning J.D.'s injuries. J.D.'s eyes slowly opened, and he focused in on the tracker, yawning.
"Oh, hey, Vin. Whatcha doin' here?" He blinked. "Where'd Josiah go?"
"Right here, kid," Josiah spoke from his place by the window. J.D. turned, and took in the five men standing in various places around the room. He sighed.
"Don't none of you have better things to do than stand around watchin' me sleep?"
Chris's eyebrows rose slightly at that, and he tilted his head. "How're you feeling this morning, J.D.?" he asked quietly.
J.D. started to snap something back, then looked at Chris's face and thought better of it. "Fine, I guess," he said instead, knotting the sheet around in his hand. "Nate says I gotta stay in bed for three weeks," he added, throwing his tormentor a baleful look. Nathan held his gaze.
Chris cleared his throat. "Well, I guess Nathan oughta know, huh, J.D.?"
J.D. looked up at him, and then flushed and sighed. "Yeah, I guess so," he agreed half-heartedly.
Buck put the plate of food down next to the bed. Nathan stepped over, adding a tin cup. J.D. eyed the cup, and then Nathan. Nathan folded his arms and stepped back, leaning against the wall.
J.D. turned back to the food, eating steadily and ignoring the cup. He ate about a third of what was on the plate, then leaned back, pushing it away and closing his eyes.
"You ain't touched the tea, J.D.," Nathan said quietly, still leaning against the wall.
"Ain't planning on touching the tea, Nathan," J.D. replied evenly, not opening his eyes.
Nathan's voice was steady. "J.D., your body's still fighting off infection. You need to rest and that tea helps you do that."
J.D.'s eyes flew open. "Nathan, I ain't done nothing but sleep since yesterday. Ain't gotta drink no tea to help me out with it!" J.D.'s voice was rising, and he was pulling himself up. Buck stepped forward, picking up the tea.
"J.D.," he growled, holding up the cup. He held it out, staring daggers at J.D., until he finally sighed, grabbed the cup and downed the tea in two gulps, placing it back on the table none-too-gently when he finished and leaning back, closing his eyes pointedly. Buck sighed and pulled the chair out, sitting down.
The others stood for a moment, and then Vin said quietly, "Well, kid, guess we'll let you get your rest."
He waited for an answer, and when there was none, he turned toward the door, accompanied by Chris and Josiah. Chris turned and touched his hat, nodding to Nathan and Buck as he left. Out on the porch, Chris looked at Vin, the corners of his lips twitching.
"So surly," he said, nodding his head.
Vin nodded back, his mouth twisting suddenly in a half-smile. "Yup. Surly."
They turned and crossed toward the jail, Josiah heading toward the church.
+ + + + + + +
When J.D. woke up later that morning, the first thing he noticed was that the chair was empty. Rolling over, he saw Nathan sitting at the table, reading a book.
"Ummhey, Nate," J.D. said tentatively.
Nathan turned and eyed him. "How you feeling, J.D.?"
"Okay, I guess." J.D. paused. "Look, Nate, I know it ain't your fault I gotta stay in bed. I was just kind of mad." He looked at Nathan sideways, chewing his lip, and Nathan smiled at him.
"It's okay, son, I know it ain't no fun to be stuck in bed."
"Yeah." J.D. leaned back. He caught sight of the empty chair again.
"Hey, Nate?" he asked.
"Yeah?" Nathan followed his gaze. "He went out for a bit, J.D. Had some things he needed to do. Said he'd be back 'round noon."
J.D. nodded and leaned against the pillows, quiet for a moment.
"Guess he's kinda mad at me, huh, Nathan?" he asked, not looking at him.
Nathan's eyes twinkled for a moment. "Well, now, J.D., I wouldn't say he was mad, exactly. Maybe you should speak to him a bit, though, when he gets back."
J.D. nodded, still looking away. They sat in silence for a few more minutes, J.D. staring out the window and Nathan reading his book, when the door was pushed open slightly. Ezra's head appeared around the side.
Nathan looked up. "Decide to join us this morning, Ezra?"
Ezra frowned at him, then stepped into the room. He looked at J.D., who was still staring out the window lost in thought. "I hear that entry into this place of healing is accompanied by considerable risk?" he queried quietly, raising his eyebrows and nodding toward J.D.
Nathan's lips twitched in a grin, and he shrugged one shoulder. "Risk is a mite lower, just now," he responded.
Ezra nodded, walking over to the bed, clearing his throat to get J.D.'s attention. "Well, now, son, I must say I have seen you in finer moments."
J.D. turned, noticing Ezra for the first time. "Oh, hey, Ez." He looked out the window at the sun. "Up a bit early, ain't ya?"
Ezra raised one eyebrow. "I will have you know that I have been known to arise with the sun on more than one occasion, young man."
J.D. grinned at him. "At least two or three, huh, Ez?"
Ezra sighed, and pulled up a chair. "I thought you might wish to alleviate your tedium with a small game of chance, my friend." He reached into his pocket, pulling out a fresh deck and waving it at J.D. "Care to play some cards, son?"
J.D. eyed the deck, then sat up, pulling himself back against the headboard. "Okay, I guess. Ain't like I got nothing else to do."
Ezra arched an eyebrow, and then began to shuffle the deck. "Your enthusiasm overwhelms me, Mr. Dunne."
Nathan stood up, stretching. "You think you can stick around for a bit, Ezra?"
"Certainly," Ezra replied, his eyes continuing to watch the flying cards.
Nathan nodded. "All right, thenI'm going to head on out for a little bit. Won't be too long." He looked pointedly toward J.D. "Don't you try moving too much while I'm gone."
J.D. ignored him, picking up the cards Ezra had dealt him.
Nathan stood, waiting for an answer. When J.D. didn't offer one, Ezra turned. "Have no fear, Mr. Jackson, you have my assurances that J.D. and I shall amuse ourselves in complete repose."
"Yeah, what he said," J.D. mumbled, not looking up from his cards. Ezra smiled at Nathan's grimace.
"Well, now, Mr. Dunne," he stated, turning back to J.D. as the door closed. "You wouldn't care to make our little game more interesting with a little wager, now would you?"
+ + + + + + +
Buck stood on the porch of the jail, talking to Vin and Chris, when two horses pulled up, their riders dismounting and tying the reins around a post. Sam followed his father over toward the porch.
"Morning, gentlemen," John Williams said, smiling at the men. They nodded back.
"John. Good to see you." Chris responded.
John reached his arm back and drew his son forward. "Sam here was getting a bit anxious, waiting for J.D. to ride out. Thought we'd ride into town ourselves, make sure everything was okay."
The men looked at each other, then at Sam. Buck scratched his head remorsefully, then spoke. "Sam, son, I'm sorry about that, we clean forgot you were waitin' to hear what happened. Things here got a bit hectic."
"Whatwhat did happen, Buck?" Sam asked, his words coming out fast. "Where's J.D. at? He okay?"
"Hold on there, son," John said quietly, placing a hand on Sam's arm. "Let Mr. Wilmington answer your questions." Sam flushed, but looked back up at Buck silently, waiting.
Buck stepped down off the porch. "Well, now, Sam, turned out J.D. had a bit of a fall yesterday, that's why he never made it back." He held up his hand, seeing Sam's mouth open. "He's just finewell, he will be, anyhow. He's resting over at the clinic."
"How badhow bad's he hurt?" Sam asked, licking his lips, which suddenly felt a bit dry.
Buck shrugged, and Vin answered. "Some scrapes and bruises, mostly. Hurt his foot a bit, has to stay offa it for a few weeks."
Sam's eyes were wide. "Geeza few weeks? In bed, huh? That's awful." He shook his head in sympathy. Buck rolled his eyes, as Vin and Chris exchanged a quick amused look.
"You want to see him, Sam?" Buck offered. "Bet he'd be glad of some company."
Sam shrugged, looking down suddenly. "Ain't so sure 'bout that," he mumbled. "Guess none of this would've happened iffen I'd found him like I was s'posed to."
Williams placed his hand on his son's shoulder and opened his mouth to speak, but Chris's voice came first, firm. "Samain't none of this your fault, you hear? J.D. had an accident. That's all."
Sam risked a glance at the frightening gunslinger, then nodded. "Guess so," he said, but sounded unconvinced.
John squeezed Sam's shoulder. "Why don't you go on with Mr. Wilmington, son, say hello to J.D. before we head back?"
Sam shrugged one shoulder and then nodded, following Buck as he stepped off the porch and headed across toward the clinic stairs. Chris pulled out a chair and jerked his head in invitation, and John nodded his thanks and settled down, waiting for Sam to return.
Buck pushed open the door to the clinic, poking his head around the door. "Gotta surprise for you, kid," he said cheerfully, grinning at J.D.
J.D. and Ezra looked up from their game. J.D. gauged Buck's face carefully. He didn't look too mad. "Hi, Buck," he said, testing.
Buck winked back at him. "Hey, kid, it safe to come in?" He smiled as J.D. flushed, looking down.
"Shoot, J.D., you ain't even asked about my surprise," Buck responded, accepting and dismissing the apology without a word.
J.D. looked interested, glancing at Ezra and then back at Buck. "Well?" he asked, staring at Buck expectantly. When there was no answer, he said impatiently, "Well, c'mon, Buck, what is it?"
Buck stepped into the room, opening the door wider. "Brought you a visitor, kid. Thought maybe you'd want some company."
J.D.'s face shifted slightly as Sam hesitantly stepped into the room, and Buck frowned, not quite able to read the expression on his face.
"Hey, J.D.," Sam said, whistling slightly as he took in the bandages and scrapes.
"Hey, Sam," J.D. said, laying down his cards. They looked at each other awkwardly for a moment, then Ezra stood, laying his cards down.
"Well, now, much as I have enjoyed our game, I'm afraid I must take my leave," Ezra said, placing his hat on his head. He touched the cards laying on the table. "We'll finish later?" he questioned, more than stated, looking at J.D.
"Yeah, Ez, thanks," J.D. responded, still looking at Sam. Ezra headed toward the door, and Buck turned to follow him, turning before he left to look back at the bed.
"I'm gonna be right out on that porch, kid, so don't even think about trying to get up," he warned.
J.D. waved his hand at him disgustedly. Buck smiled, then gave Sam a quick glance before turning and following Ezra out.
Sam shuffled his feet for a moment. "Soguess you got hurt, huh, J.D."
J.D. rolled his eyes slightly. "Nah, just felt like hangin' around in the clinic all day," he responded.
Sam looked at him, a little taken aback by his tone, but tried again. "Sowhat happened, J.D.?"
J.D. didn't respond, but asked his own question. "What happened to you? I gave you extra time."
Sam shrugged one shoulder, looking slightly ashamed. "I dunno. Not so good at tracking, I guess. I followed your trail over to the creek bed west of town, but lost it there."
J.D. looked at him. "Thought I showed you how to track across a creek."
Sam grimaced. "Yeah, I thought so too. I dunnojust lost the trail, I guess." He looked at J.D. somewhat pleadingly. "I really looked for it, J.D."
J.D. nodded, but avoided his gaze. Sam stood for another minute, then asked again, "So how'd you get hurt, J.D.?"
J.D. shrugged. "Fell." Sam waited, but J.D. didn't continue.
Sam looked down at his feet. "So I guess you're kind of mad at me, huh, J.D.?"
J.D. looked at him, a little surprised. "Whatta ya mean?"
"Well" Sam lifted his eyes, then lowered them again. "Guess this is kind of my fault, huh? If I'da found your tracks, maybe none of this woulda happened."
J.D. grimaced and shook his head. "Ain't your fault, Sam. Can't do what you ain't been taught right." His voice was flat, and he leaned back against the pillows.
Sam shook his head. "Naw, J.D., I know you showed me how to do it. Guess I just didn't do it right."
J.D. didn't answer for a moment. When he spoke, his voice was quiet, and his eyes remained on the ceiling. "Look, SamI ain't feeling so good. Maybe it's better if you come back some other time."
Sam looked at him, chewing on his lip, and then nodded reluctantly. "Okay, I guess." He backed toward the door. "See you in a few days?" he asked hesitantly.
"Yeah, sure," J.D. responded, rolling over to look at him before rolling back onto his back. "I'll see you."
Sam backed toward the door, then turned and pushed it open, nearly running into Buck in his haste to get to the stairs.
"Whoa, son, what's your hurry?" Buck asked, reaching out a hand to steady him.
Sam looked up at him, his eyes a little bright. "Sorry, Buck, guess I didn't see you there." He paused, looking away and flicking at his eyes quickly. "Guess I ain't so good at seeing what's right in front of my nose," he added quietly.
Buck held him by the arm, stopping his descent down the stairs. "What's that mean, Sam?" He gave Sam a searching look. "You finished up in there pretty quickJ.D. give you a hard time?"
Sam shook his head quickly. "Nahhe's just tired, I guess." He looked at Buck. "He is gonna be okay, right?"
Buck sighed. "Look, Sam, J.D.'ll be fine. He just ain't in the best mood today. Maybe it'd be better if you came back in a few days, give him some time to rest up a bit." When Sam only shrugged, Buck added, "He's gonna be goin' stir-crazy pretty soon, gonna need someone to spend some time with. It'd be a big favor to all of us if you came back and helped out a bit, once he's had some time to heal."
Sam nodded, brightening slightly. "Yeah, guess I could do that."
Buck clamped him on the shoulder. "Good man." He turned Sam toward the steps. "Go on, nowyou're Pa's waiting on you over by the jail with Chris'n Vin."
Sam nodded and loped down the steps. Buck watched him go for a moment, before turning and pushing the clinic door open.
He paused in the doorway, eying J.D. He was lying in the bed, staring at the ceiling. His jaw twitched when the door open, but otherwise didn't acknowledge Buck's entry.
Buck spoke quietly from where he stood. "Sam seemed a bit down when he came out, J.D. You have anything to do with that?"
J.D. shrugged his good shoulder, but didn't answer.
Buck sighed, and walked over to the bed, pulling the chair over and sitting down. "You gonna tell me what's eating you, kid?"
J.D.'s eyes flared for a moment, then subsided. "Nothing, I guess. Just feeling kind of tired."
Buck looked at him questioningly, but didn't push it, leaning back instead in his chair. He sat there for a moment, then asked, "You mad at him for not finding you, J.D.?"
J.D. sighed, exasperated. "I already told him I wasn't. He ask you to ask me that?"
Buck shook his head slowly. "No, kid. He seemed kinda worried about it, though." He paused. "You say something to make him think that?"
J.D. pushed himself up. "Look, Buck, I already said I told him I wasn't mad, okay?"
Buck raised his eyebrows, but said only, "Okay."
J.D. looked at him somewhat pleadingly. "Look, Buck, I really am tired. I'm just gonna rest a bit, okay?"
Buck slowly nodded. "All right, kid." He sat up, then stood, pulling the chair over to the window, where he sat back down. J.D. followed his movements with his eyes.
"You know, you ain't got to stay here, Buck," J.D. tried.
Buck gave him a look, and J.D. stopped speaking. "Fine," he said grumpily, leaning back and closing his eyes. Buck smiled. "Have a good nap, kid."
J.D. lay there for a while, but sleep didn't come right away. He mentally reviewed the time he had spent with Sam, trying to remember what he had shown him about tracking across water. To his frustration, he couldn't remember what he had said, and he sighed loudly, before he remembered that he was supposed to be sleeping. He froze, listening, but didn't hear any movement from Buck. He relaxed slightly, continuing to replay the lessons in his head.
Buck sat in the chair, watching the frown lines dance across J.D's face. 'Boy couldn't play possum if his life depended on it,' he thought, his lips twitching slightly. He settled in, watching for a while, until the lines smoothed out and J.D.'s breaths evened, J.D. sinking into a real sleep.
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