Speed and Control
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: This is for Phyllis, for her birthday. Some elements of this fic were inspired by an episode of the Brit TV show 'Follyfoot', give yourself lots of bonus points if you know which bits and can identify the borrowed lines. :0) Thanks to Helen and Firefox for the beta work.
"Hey Vin wait up!" JD called, causing the tracker to pull up and look over his shoulder.
JD had already dismounted and was looking at Milagro's left foreleg.
"Was' up?" Vin called as he wheeled Peso back to join him.
"He feels lame." JD looked over his shoulder. "Watch him for me while I trot him up?"
"Sure," Vin agreed.
JD took his horse's reins and led him a short way down the track, then jogged back passed Vin, with Milagro at the trot. This confirmed it. JDs bay was lame, his left front leg was hot to the touch and slightly swollen.
"What do you think it is?" Vin asked, after he too had examined the leg.
JD was the youngest, but he had worked as a stable hand and was very knowledgeable about equine injuries and ailments. The young sheriff shook his head.
"Not sure, it's the leg not the hoof, so it's not a stone bruise or laminitis."
There was nothing for it, they put Vin's gear on Milagro while JD mounted up behind him on Peso, they were going to be late back, but hopefully Milagro's injury wouldn't get any worse.
Two days later the two of them finally made it back to town, just as Chris was thinking it was time to send out a search party. It didn't take long for the word to reach the rest of the Seven that there was something wrong with JD's horse. By the time JD, Tiny and Nathan were all examining the poor creature all the others were gathered around watching. Tiny fetched a deep bucket of cool well water, while JD wrapped his horse's leg in rags, the two of them then coaxed the horse to place his injured leg in the bucket and stand there while the water soaked up into the rags. The consensus of opinion was that Milagro had pulled a muscle. There was a chance he had suffered a small fracture, but either way the treatment was to cool it and rest it. The resting was going to leave JD with no mount for as much as three months.
"Well, looks like I'm gonna need to rent a horse," JD commented to the livery owner.
The big man looked a little worried. "Truth is I don't have much to choose from right now, not fast saddle horses, there's Rosie." He indicated the compact little dun pony. "She's fit, but a bit on the small side, compared to the others."
JD looked at the mare, she was a good horse but she'd have trouble keeping up with the others, and she was considerably shorter than any of the other guys' horses. He cast his eye around the two corrals behind the barn.
"What about him?" JD pointed at a fine-looking dapple grey.
"Yeah there is him, only just got him. You remember the Laceys?"
JD nodded. The Lacey family had given up there small homestead after Mr Lacey had lost his leg when his horse fell and rolled on him, crushing it beyond repair. He had reassured Nathan repeatedly that he didn't blame him, but the healer had still felt bad about the outcome.
"That the horse that rolled on him?" JD asked.
"No, that was one of his plough horses, it had to be shot, broken leg - thats why it fell in the first place. He needed a replacement to pull the wagon so we did a straight swap." Tiny looked at the grey. "He's very green, only cut and broke last spring, but he's fast."
JD walked up to the rail and took a closer look. The horse was about sixteen hands, but he had the short back and high head carriage that spoke of at least some Indian pony blood, that would make sure footed as well as fast.
"You tried him?" he asked Tiny.
"Nope, not had the chance."
"Can I give him a go?"
"What's his name?"
"Penwood." JD raised an eyebrow. "Don't look at me, I didn't name him."
+ + + + + + +
Buck watched JD ride back into town and crossed to the livery to meet him. He watched critically as the young man began to take his tack off the grey, which threw its head around uncooperatively.
"You planning on keeping him 'till Milagro's fit again?" he asked.
"You're serious aren't you?" Buck's tone was one of horror and incredulity.
"Why not? Just 'cause he's a little tack shy? Look at him."
"Well sure he's a looker but "
"And he's fast, you should have seen him this afternoon," JD enthused.
Buck sighed and shook his head. "I'll bet, and he's young too - what is he two, three?"
"Just on three I reckon."
"He's green broke, head shy an' skittish." Buck had seen the way the horse was fussing, just having his tack taken off. "In our work that makes him a liability."
JD looked around. "What about Chaucer or Peso? And Pony, he's not exactly a pussy cat you know."
"They may be high strung or just down right evil." He shot a glance over at Peso in the other corral. "But they're experienced horses, they don't bolt at the first gun shot or throw a hissy-fit when a bird flies up in front of them."
"Who says Penwood will?" JD pointed out.
"You tried firing around him?"
"Well, no not yet, but he's fast."
"Fast don't mean shit, if you haven't got control, guns, horses and well other things," he added with a lecherous grin. "Same thing holds true."
JD bristled, who the hell did Buck think he was, telling him about horses? He knew as much about horses as Buck did. "You know what kind of horses I learned to ride on?" Without giving Buck a chance to respond, JD answered his own question. "Race horses, high strung, spooky, most of them not much more than two, I know what I'm doing."
There was a vehemence and determination in the young man's tone that told Buck he couldnt win this argument, so he resolved to just keep a watch on his friend and his new mount.
+ + + + + + +
In the coming days it looked as if Buck's fears were groundless. JDs temporary mount behaved well, he was inclined to throw his head and didn't get on with Peso or Pony, but that wasn't unusual, especially for Peso. JD told everyone his new horse was fine, no problem at all, he didn't tell them how carefully he was handling the young horse. Penwood was spooky, birds, wind, even shadows made him flinch. Falling back on his time with race horses, JD kept his hands soft, his body relaxed and spoke softly to the horse, keeping his attention on his rider and not the distractions all around him. As the days went by, the big horse began to settle down.
Two weeks after Milagro became lame, Chris asked JD to ride over to the little settlement of Bishop's Ridge and collect some new land registrations. The small settlement was growing fast but didn't as yet have its own post office. It was unusually windy, rain was in the air, dark clouds scudded across the sky. Penwood had settled down well, he was much less flighty, he was no longer tack shy and had even begun to greet JD when he came into the barn to collect him.
There were two ways back to Four Corners from Bishop's Ridge, the long way around Red Bluff or the quick way, over the bluff. JD pulled his collar up and looked at the threatening skies over head. He really didn't want to be caught out in a storm.
"What do you say boy, reckon if we go up and over we can beat the rain back?" he asked his horse, giving him an encouraging pat on the neck, Penwood just bent his neck into the pat.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah stood on the porch outside the jail and shivered, thunder rumbled overhead, the wind was picking up and by his reckoning the rain wouldn't be far behind it. He shook his head, JD was going to be wetter than a drowned rat by the time he made it back. Across the street Ezra came out of the saloon and pulled his red jacket around him, eyeing the coming storm with disdain. Nathan came galloping into town, he'd been out to check on the Benson baby, if he remembered right the child had croup. Right behind Nathan came Chris and Vin, back from the Wells place, from the look of them, they hadn't managed to outrun the storm all the way. Pulling the jail door closed and locking it, the big ex preacher headed across the street to the saloon, knowing they would all hole up there to wait the storm out.
True to Josiah's prediction, Chris and Vin joined him and Ezra in the saloon just as the rain arrived. Chris was shaking rain off his duster and trying to light a cigar at the same time, Vin was muttering something about how he was wet enough without Larabee showering him all over again. The two of them were almost run over by Nathan as he ran in.
"All we have to do now is wait for Buck," Josiah commented.
"He's outside, says he's waiting on JD," Nathan explained.
"Could be a long wait, if our young friend has done the sensible thing and taken shelter," Ezra pointed out.
"JD? The sensible thing?" Chris commented from the bar where he was ordering a whiskey.
"Now Chris, that boy is not as green as he looks and you know it," Josiah reminded.
"Yeah I know," Chris admitted. "Shame Buck don't."
+ + + + + + +
"Oh God," JD moaned. "Please God make it stop, please just for a second, make it stop," he pleaded, but the pain didn't stop.
JD had been thrown before, he'd been gut shot and stabbed before, not to mention beaten up, but none of them came close to the pain he was in now. His legs were on fire, unremitting, searing pain that radiated up his legs and filled every part of him. Every tiny movement sent more daggers of pain from his legs, they seemed to shoot straight to his brain and explode. He was lying in an uncomfortable position, head down on a steep slope of loose scree and red mud. His hands were dug into the crumbing slope in a desperate attempt to stop himself sliding further down. He knew when he didn't come back the others would come and search for him, but since Vin wouldnt be able to back track him because of the rain, all they could do was check the trails. They'd check the longer trail first, so it was going to be some time before help reached him.
The rain turned the mud under his hands to porridge, and he slipped down further, the movement causing him to cry out in agony. He didn't care about the rain and about how cold he was - all he cared about was stopping the pain. It could be hours before help came, if it ever did, he didn't think he could stand the pain much longer. Casting his eyes around on the rock and mud strewn slope, he spotted one of his guns. He tried to reach out for it, hoping to have some way to end the pain, if it became too much. The trouble was every time he reached for it, he slipped a little, causing more unbearable pain.
"Please someone find me, help me!" he shouted up to the empty trail above him, but the only answer was the rumble of more thunder.
+ + + + + + +
It wasn't all Penwood's fault, lots of horses would have shied away from the sudden lightning strike and the deafening thunder, the trouble was he wouldn't listen when JD tried to soothe and reassure him, he just kept backing up, not even attempting to turn and run. Inevitably, going backwards in the driving rain, on an uneven rock strewn track he stumbled and fell, tipping JD out of the saddle and then stepped on him as he tried to regain his feet. There had been a sickening and very audible crack as the bones gave way, then as man and horse panicked in their attempts to get away from each other, the rain soaked ground underneath them gave way, sliding down the steep side of the bluff. The full weight of Penwood's flank landed on JD's other leg before the horse pulled himself back up on to the track and took off. JD fell way down the slope, with no hope of getting himself back up.
Had the Lacey farm been on the same side of town as the bluff, it might have been a day or more before JD was missed, but it wasn't, it was on the far side of town. In order to get home, his 'real' home; Penwood had to run through the centre of town.
"Trouble!" Buck yelled into the saloon, before he took of at a run down the street after the riderless horse.
For a moment it looked like Penwood would remember where he now lived and head into the inviting warmth of the barn, but he didn't, he just kept running up the street toward the Lacey homestead.
"Hell and damnation!" Buck swore as he darted into the barn.
Not for the first time he was grateful his faithful horse was so placid, as he pulled the bridle on. With the throat lash done up and not bothering with the nose band, he swung himself up on to Beau bareback and headed out after the riderless horse, almost knocking Vin over as he led the others in. It took him almost half a mile to catch up with the runaway horse and get hold of it, as he turned for home he met Chris coming the other way.
"Chaucer and Peso not co-operating again?" Buck asked.
"Do they ever?" Chris looked at the big dapple-grey. "He looks like he's been running hard."
"Yeah I know, hope the kid's okay."
"He's probably walking home right now, wet to the bone, when he gets here he'll tell us it wasn't the horse's fault."
Buck shook his head. "I told him this horse was too green, too green and too young, but he wouldn't listen, he never listens - damn it!"
Chris sympathised. "Yeah he does, he listens all the time, you only notice when he doesnt do what you say. Think about it," Buck cocked his head toward Chris. "How often did you listen to good advice when you were his age?"
Buck though a moment, at JD's age he was an orphan, alone in the world - like JD. But unlike JD he didn't have anyone to give him any advice. "Never," he admitted.
"Well there you go then, he's doing better than you did."
Yeah, he sure is, at least someone is gonna come look for him.
+ + + + + + +
Vin told them there would be no chance of tracking JD in the storm, all they could do was back track the trail. While Chris and Buck had been catching Penwood, the others were saddling up, collecting their slickers and lanterns. As soon as Pony and Beau were properly saddled they all set out - except for Ezra, someone had to stay behind in case JD passed them in the dark and made it back to town. Chris hadn't even bothered to ask for volunteers, it was better to leave Standish behind than have him complain about how wet he was and how his clothes were getting ruined.
When they reached the point were the trails divided, Buck and Vin took their horses up the bluff, while the other three took the more normal trail around it. As the trail got steeper and small landslips became apparent, the men dismounted and proceeded on foot. By now the rain was no longer torrential, just persistent, the light was fading fast, so they took the time to light the lanterns. As they were reaching the summit, Vin stopped.
"What?" Buck asked.
"Look," Vin held up his lantern. "Lightning strike, recent."
Buck looked at the scorched tree. "Think that's what spooked the horse?"
"If he was here, it'd spook any horse - well 'cept 'ol Ben, reckon you could put a stick of dynamite under him an' he'd hardly bat an eye!"
Buck laughed, it was true, Nathan's horse was so docile at times they wondered if was awake, even when it was moving. "Let's take a look around."
Later Buck couldn't tell how long it took or whether he heard JD or if he just 'knew' he was there. But all of a sudden he was moving down the slope, calling JD's name.
"Buck!" JD called, thanking God all the time that someone had come. Then as small stones began to shower down on him, his tone turned from joy to terror. "Stop!" he yelled, but Buck didn't hear him. "STOP!" he tried a gain. "Oh, please God, stop!" he cried, terrified that Buck would crash into him, hug him or even just touch him. The pain was bad, so bad all he could think was how to make it end, but bad as it was, the idea that someone would touch him - move him - was terrifying.
Finally Buck got the message and slowed down, not even aware Vin was now behind him.
"JD?" he asked, tentatively.
"Help me." Came the desperate voice from below him. "But don't touch me, please."
Buck frowned, then, moving very carefully, descended so that he was beside his young friend. Holding the lantern high he took a look at JD. He was drenched, covered in mud as well as cuts and grazes. Then he looked up at JD's legs. The left one, was bent almost at right angles somewhere below the knee, the right looked like it was too short, the fabric of JD pants, usually somewhat loose, was stretched tight over his thigh.
"Oh kid," Buck breathed, instinctively reaching out his hand.
"Don't touch them, don't!" JD begged.
Buck pulled his hand back, he forced himself to think, to take in what he was seeing. Inside his gut was churning with the horror of what he was seeing, of the implications not just how much pain his young friend had to be in, but how much it was going to hurt to rescue him and what might happen to him in the future. All these things ran though his head in a fraction of a second as he very, very slowly moved so that he was behind JD.
"I'll get Nathan." Buck looked up, he'd all but forgotten Vin was behind him. "Here." Vin handed his coat to Buck.
"No, please," JD pleaded.
"It's okay, I promise, I won't touch them, I swear - trust me?"
JD looked up at Buck finally he nodded as Buck laid the heavy hide coat over his torso.
"Ok, good boy, now I'm gonna move so that your head is on my knees then you can relax, I won't let you slip."
"Please no, every time I move it hurts more."
"I understand, it won't take but a second and it'll be so much better." Even as he spoke, Buck was slipping his hand under JD's neck, alarmed at how cold his skin was to the touch. While he continued a soft litany of reassurance, Buck lifted JD's head and gently shuffled his knees under it, then eased him back down. "There, all done, you can relax your hands."
But JD didn't move, his hands remained dug into the ground. Buck pulled his own coat off and added it to Vin's, then he gently lay one hand on JD's forehead. "I'm here now, relax and breathe, that's the way to do it, breathe through the pain. Trust ol' Buck to take care of you, I won't leave you alone."
"It hurts," JD whimpered, tears pooling in his eyes.
"I know, I know, but I'm here now, Buck's here and helps coming, we'll take care of it." Buck ran his hand down JD's arm, barely touching it, until his hand lay over JD's, interlocking his fingers. "Cry if you need to JD, hell, I would. Just remember I'm here, and you're not alone anymore. Relax and trust me." Slowly he pulled JD's hand out of the mud, relieved when the cold and battered fingers closed around his.
JD's tears fell more freely now, his breathing became more hitched.
"That's it, let it go, I'm here, Buck's got you now."
"Don't let Nate cut my legs off," JD pleaded.
Oh Jesus! "I won't, he won't, it's gonna be okay." I'll make it okay.
JD bit his lip and nodded, tears flowing freely.
Please God, if you're there, if you're still listening to me after everything I've done, help him, please, please let him be alright. He's just a boy, he's got so much to give, there are so many people he could help, I'm begging here Lord, don't punish him, he's innocent.
Just then, the rain stopped.
+ + + + + + +
Buck wasn't sure how long he knelt there supporting JDs weight, but it must have been some time. Rain had stopped and the clouds had parted, revealing an almost full moon. There was sufficient moonlight that Buck had been able to turn down the lantern to save oil. His legs, bent double under him, toes jammed into the ground to keep him from slipping, were screaming at him for release, the 'pins and needles' and now cramp, were agonising. Buck knew that bad as it was, his pain was as nothing compared to JD's, whose pain seemed to come in waves. Some of the time he held on to Buck's hand with a vice-like grip and cried, begging Buck and God to make it stop. At other times he was silent. Buck spoke softly to him, words of reassurance and support when it was bad, diverting stories and reminiscences when he seemed calmer.
Damn it Vin, how long does it take you to find them and get back here? Buck silently pleaded.
In answer to his plea, ghostly figures appeared on the trail above him.
"Hey there." He gave JD's hand a squeeze. "Cavalry's here."
Clearly Vin had given them instructions, because Josiah and Nathan descended the slope very carefully.
"Hello there, John Daniel," Josiah greeted softly.
"Don't worry JD, I'm gonna take care of you." Nathan held his lantern high as he examined JD's legs.
"Bad ain't it?" JD asked through gritted teeth.
Nathan smiled. "Yeah, but I've seen worse."
"Like Mr Lacey?"
Nathan's smiled vanished. "Yes, his leg was much, much worse. I know it looks bad, and I know it hurts like hell, but I don't see no blood so the bones haven't come through. Your legs are broke, his was crushed, there's a big difference."
"That's what Buck said," JD admitted.
Nathan looked up at Buck. "Yeah? Well I'm gonna let you in on a secret, I reckon ol' Buck here is a mite smarter than he likes to let on."
"Careful, don't want that getting out." Buck winked down at JD. "Where are the other two?" he asked.
"Chris took off for town to fetch a wagon, Vin's scouting below us, see if it's gonna be easier to take JD down rather than haul him back up the trail."
Josiah's narrative stopped dead when JD gave a gasp of fear.
"Easy JD," Buck soothed.
"What's the matter?" Nathan asked.
"JD's worried about what's gonna happen when we have to move him," Buck explained.
"I ain't gonna lie to you JD, it's gonna hurt and I wish I had some laudanum with me, but I don't, I don't even have any whisky."
"Where's Ezra when you need him?" Buck muttered.
"In town, in case we missed JD in the night. Chris is gonna bring him and the laudanum," Nathan explained. "We're not gonna do anything until Vin gets here, so you just lay still." Nathan looked up at Buck. "How are you doing?"
Buck didn't even look up. "I'm fine."
Nathan and Josiah exchanged knowing glances. Once JD was moved and Buck had to stand up he'd be anything but fine until the circulation in his legs returned to normal, but that was a problem for later.
"Hey up there!" Vin's voice from not far below them broke the uneasy silence that had fallen over the group. "I'm coming up."
Vin explained that he had found a reasonably easy route back to the trail along the bottom of the bluff. Since JD was closer to the bottom than the top, that was the way they would get him out. Leaving JD alone with Buck once more, Vin guided them and the horses to the bottom of the slope.
"How are we gonna move that poor boy Nate?" Josiah asked once they were out of earshot.
"Not sure, how ever we do it, it's gonna hurt."
"Nate can I borrow yer big knife?" Vin asked
"Go me an idea."
+ + + + + + +
Buck stroked JD's forehead, worried about how cold it felt. "Hang on in there little brother, it won't be much longer," he whispered.
"'M scared Buck," JD admitted
"I know, but Nathan knows what he's doing, ya gotta have faith in him."
"I do, but I'm still scared."
"Yeah, me too kid, me too."
They didn't have to wait long before the others were back. Vin had used Nathan's big knife to strip a huge piece of bark from one of the bigger trees, it was just big enough to carry a man of JD's size. As an impromptu litter, it was the best they could do.
"Ok boys, listen up," Nathan began. "this is how we're gonna do this. Buck an' me are gonna take the right side, Josiah and Vin you two take the left. We lift him up bit by bit and slid the bark under him, starting from the shoulders, when we get to the legs "
"NO!" JD cried out desperately. "Don't touch them, please don't, I I thought I could handle it, but I can't, I just can't."
"JD son, it's gone past that now, we have to move you, no matter what you say, it'll go easier if you try to relax," Josiah explained firmly.
"Please don't," JD begged one more time.
"Go ahead Nathan," Josiah instructed calmly.
Jackson took a deep breath. "I'll take the right leg, Vin the left." He looked up at the tracker. "Hold both ends, lift gently on my mark. You two take a hold of his belt lift and push the bark under at the same time." Josiah and Buck nodded.
The men all steeled themselves for the coming grim task, as JD tried not to whimper. "Here," Buck had pulled out his clean handkerchief and folded it. "bite on this, you don't want to go biting through yer tongue."
JD nodded weakly and took the wad of cotton between his teeth. Having his shoulders lifted wasn't as bad as he'd though it would be, Nathan and Vin were pressing down on his pelvis to keep it still. But the next bit - he thought it was going to be bad, but he wasn't ready for the sheer blinding agony of it - he clamped his teeth down on the wad of cloth in his mouth, desperate not to scream. His friends tried their best to do it as fast as possible, on Nathan's count they lifted his hips and damaged legs, and slid the bark under on one quick move, but the pathetic, strangled whimpers of pain from JD all but broke their resolve. Just as they lowered him down, JD went limp.
"Nate?" Buck asked anxiously.
"He fainted, it's okay." Nathan assured. "Lets get him down the hill as fast as we can, before he wakes up. Josiah, can you help Buck up?"
"I'm okay," Buck protested.
"Yeah - right, try standing up."
Buck tried and failed, rolling on to his side. Josiah shook his head, there wasn't time to work the circulation back in slowly, so he just took hold of Buck under the armpits and hauled him up.
"Oh Christ!" Buck gasped, his hands taking a white-knuckle grip on Josiah's shirt, his face losing all colour.
"It'll pass, just ride it out," Josiah coached.
"You you sound like me," Buck gasped as the circulation burned its way back into his legs. "Oh Jesus that smarts!"
"I know it wasn't easy, keeping calm, not letting him see how his pain distressed you, you did well," Josiah assured softly as he helped Buck walk off the stiffness.
Buck looked in to Sanchez's pale blue eyes, not that they looked pale blue in the moonlight.
"How did you know?"
"Because I know you, when someone you care about hurts, you hurt, you can't help it. You ready?"
Buck stamped his feet a few times, it still hurt but he guessed he'd walk it off. For once luck was with then and JD didn't begin to come around until they had him at the bottom of the slope. The four of them then carried him to the point were they had left the horses. Since the ground was flat enough for the wagon, they rested there, while Vin rode ahead to intercept Chris.
+ + + + + + +
It was dawn by the time they carried JD up to the clinic. By then JD had succumbed to the laudanum that Chris had brought with him from the clinic, shock and sheer exhaustion, and was blissfully unaware of the process of getting him cleaned up and into bed. Now came the actual setting of the broken bones. Nathan insisted they all clean up and eat, while he made preparations. He even sent Ezra, who was relatively clean and fresh, away. What he didn't tell them was he needed time to think, he needed time read up and plan. Setting bones was a one shot deal, if he didn't get it right JD would be crippled for life, he could even lose one or - God forbid - both legs. It was a huge responsibility, and his perceived failure to save Mr Lacey's leg only a few weeks before still weighed heavily. Logically there was no correlation, Lacey's leg had been a bloodily mass of flesh and bone splinters, and there was never any real chance it could have been saved. But some how Nathan still felt guilty, he couldn't even contemplate telling JD he'd have to cut his leg off.
+ + + + + + +
While the others were out of the room, Nathan took time to examine the legs closely, feeling for the bones, trying to visualise the fractures. It was evident that the left leg was broken below the knee, even though both the bones were broken it seemed to be a simple fracture, the kind he'd set many times before. Having done it many times before didn't make it any easier. The right leg was another problem altogether. The thighbone seemed to be broken diagonally and the lower part of the leg had now slipped past the upper and was now lying beside it. He would have to pull down hard to get the bones realigned. The trouble was there was every chance, no matter how tightly he splinted the leg that the bones would slip and misalign again.
Splints he had, bandages he had, and he put both out ready. While he waited for the others, Nathan took the time to very carefully wash the legs that were going to be encased in wood and bandages, then he applied some salve. It was going to be at least two months before they saw daylight or water, he wanted there to be as little chance of sores as possible. The problem of keeping the right leg straight remained, but he remembered seeing something in the war. Most of his time as a stretcher-bearer had been spent in field hospitals, but toward the end of the war he had worked in a military hospital. Picking up what was left of JD's boot he got an idea.
As luck would have it Vin came in first, and after a quick conversation, he left again with the remains of JD's right boot. He passed Buck on his way up. The tall gunman looked haggard and drawn.
"Where you going?" he asked as Vin headed down the steps.
"Errand for Nate, I'll be back soon." With that he was gone, heading across the street toward Johansson's saddle maker shop.
Buck eased into the clinic quietly. "He still out?" he asked.
"Yeah, it won't last, but for now he's not in pain."
In short order Josiah, Ezra and Chris joined them. Nathan ushered them out onto the veranda, so he could speak and not risk waking JD. He outlined what was going to happen and what their roles would be. Once he was sure everyone knew their job the men entered the small room. The first job was to very gently move JD so that he was lying across the bed, so that the big brass bedstead didn't get in Nathan's way. Buck positioned himself, kneeling on the floor behind JD's head. He would hold down the young man's shoulders, make sure he didn't bite his own tongue and - most importantly - talk to him. Slipping off his boots, Josiah got up on the bed, he would use his great strength to hold his young friend down. Chris and Ezra would be the extra hands Nathan would need to hold the splint boards in place and bind them up, once the bones were set.
"Are we all clear? Left leg first, then right, it's gonna be hard, it will affect you, but whatever happens you have to make sure JD doesnt see how upset you are." Nathan looked over to Buck. "It's important, he doesn't need to feel guilty as well." Buck nodded, hoping he could do what was needed.
JD didn't wake when they moved him, but he did groan and it was clear to all of them that despite the laudanum, he was going to come to as soon as the hideous pain hit him. Nathan nodded and Buck placed his hands on JD's shoulders, Josiah leaned over so that he was pressing the teenage sheriff to the bed, pinning his arms to his sides. With a final steadying breath and a quick silent prayer Nathan wrapped one big hand around the JD's pale left ankle, then he ran his hand down the leg over the fracture.
JD flinched, his eyes fluttered but didnt open.
"Hush now JD, it's okay, you're home, you're safe." Buck began what would be a continuous litany of support, comfort and encouragement. He gently pushed a thick strip of leather into JD's mouth, but he still didn't wake.
Swallowing hard, Nathan tightened his grip and in one strong, steady pull and twist, snapped the bones back into line. JD jerked, his eyes flew open, the cry of alarm and pain was stifled by the leather strap in is mouth.
"It's okay, I'm here, just concentrate on breathing, try to relax and breathe," Buck coached softly.
The setting of the bones only took seconds, but once it was set Chris had to hold on to the ankle, keeping up a gentle pressure while Nathan and Ezra worked with surprising efficiency to strap the splints to his leg, immobilising it from just above the knee to the ankle. Ezra's neat and fastidious ways made him a natural when it came to winding the bandages around the splints.
JD was beginning to get used to the pain - the searing pain had subsided into a throbbing ache. He spat out the leather strap.
"Is it over?" he asked Buck, desperation in his eyes and voice.
Buck released his shoulder and lay one hand on JD's pale, stubble covered cheek. "That was just the first one, in a minute Nate's gonna set the second one. How you doing?"
"He's gonna do that again?"
"I'm sorry kid, he has to."
"No, no more, please."
"He's gotta do it."
"Please I "
"Hush son, hush, it's gonna happen, and I'm gonna be here to help you, but nothing can stop it now. Here." Buck held up the leather strip over JD mouth, which remained closed. "Come on JD, you can do it, don't make me force you." JD shook his head. "I will if I have to, because in the long run, you'll thank me. You're too young to be a cripple, kid." All too vivid visions of soldiers, young men, boys really, younger than JD, on crutches or worse came unbidden into Buck's head. In the war too many men lost limbs, lives shattered before they could even really begin. He was no doctor, but he knew many of those young men hadn't needed to lose their limbs, that had they been given the kind of care JD was getting, some of them might have kept them. He conjured up a smile for his young friend. "It'll all be worth it in the end, come on open up for me."
Finally JD gave in an allowed Buck to put the leather between his teeth, hazel eyes big as saucers locked on to midnight blue ones.
The pull on the far more badly injured right leg, was worse, JD could feel the bones grate as they were pulled past each other, but he was determined not to scream. Holding on to the leather between his teeth with grim determination, vaguely aware of the bitter taste of the leather, he kept his eyes firmly fixed on Buck. With a sudden jolt, the bones came together again, and Buck - after he got the nod from Nathan, pulled the leather gag out.
"Is it over now?" JD panted.
"Almost, but the worst is over," Buck confirmed.
JD closed his eyes, and let some of the tension leave his body as Josiah's considerable bulk was lifted from him.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan had Josiah kneel in front of JD and hold on to his leg, providing a gentle steady pull. To Buck it looked like they were just prolonging the pain, but without opening his eyes JD confirmed that it actually hurt less that way. Nathan, assisted by Chris and Ezra, then splinted and bound up the leg, encasing it in white linen and pine from groin to ankle. Even when this was accomplished, Josiah kept hold of JD's ankle.
"What happens now?" Buck asked. "Do we take it in turns to pull on his foot?"
"Only until Vin gets here - I hope" the healer explained.
Vin arrived some half an hour later, carrying a bucket of rocks and what looked like a bizarre kind of bridle. "Sorry Nate, I got it done as quick as I could. Is this what you wanted?"
As the others watched, Nathan set to work, explaining as he did what he was doing. Buck supported JD's head so he could watch.
"I had Vin take what was left of JD's boot and have Johansson turn it into a kind of collar that would fit around his ankle, see." The shaped strip of leather from the ankle area of the boot had been fitted with laces so that it could be fitted snugly around JD's ankle. "Then he attached this bit." Nathan looked over at Vin. "Where did you find such a narrow one? It's perfect."
Vin shrugged. "Had t' get Tiny outter bed, its a bit fer a burro really."
Nathan nodded his gratitude, and continued. "See the bit's attached to the leather and runs under the foot. Once we have JD on the bed the right way around I'm gonna run a cord from the bit over the end of the bed, tie a bucket to the end and add rocks to it. The weight will pull on the leg, just like Josiah is now."
It was a tricky and painful procedure to pick JD up and turn him through ninety degrees, while all the time Josiah kept up the pull on the right leg. Once it was done they got the patient settled, Ezra was despatched to find him a nightshirt.
"Okay JD, I'm attaching the bucket now, then I'm gonna add some rocks. I need you to tell me when the pull is the same as Josiah. Can you do that?"
JD nodded. It turned out not to be that many rocks. Nathan explained that he wasn't sure, but he though JD would have to stay in bed for at least two weeks, after that he might be able to leave the bed, if only briefly at first.
"But it's gonna be a long haul JD," he warned. "It'll be at least two months before you can try to walk again.
JD, exhausted, in pain, and emotionally drained, just nodded his head and then closed his eyes.
"All of you out," Nathan shooed. "You too Buck," he instructed, seeing the big man's reluctance to move. "I'm gonna give JD some more laudanum, and then he'll sleep. You all need some rest anyway."
"As do you," Ezra pointed out. "Since I spent most of the night here in town, warm and dry, why do I not stay with the patient, while you at least get into some clean clothing and have a meal."
Nathan was finally persuaded to take up Ezra's offer, once JD dropped off to sleep.
+ + + + + + +
For the next twenty-four hours JD alternated between drug induced blissful oblivion and pain filled misery. Worse still, the laudanum began to work on his stomach and even Nathan's peppermint tea didn't help.
While JD was still in a drugged haze, Nathan had the others help him to slip Ezra's feather mattress under him. Nathan had worried that Ezra wouldn't give up his precious piece of luxury, but the gambler hadn't hesitated, if Nathan said it would ease the boys pain and aid his recovery, then Ezra could sleep on a regular horsehair filled mattress, as he said.
"I've slept on far worse in my time, if it will alleviate a friend's suffering, I can do it again."
Nathan shook his head. Ezra had come a long way in a short time.
+ + + + + + +
Once he was clean and fed, Buck returned to the clinic. He stood back while Nathan finished cleaning and dressing the many small cuts and grazes JD had picked up. Once Nathan was done, Buck sat down beside his young friend's bed. Although he looked peaceful enough, he was deathly pale, huge dark circles under his eyes. Hesitantly, Buck stretched out his hand and felt JD's brow.
Nathan looked around from washing his hands. "What's the matter?"
"Is he too warm?" To Buck JD felt hot.
Nathan dried his hands and laid one on JD's brow. "He's fine Buck."
"Is he really gonna be okay? He was so cold when we got to him," Buck remembered.
"So were you, so was Vin, getting wet doesnt make you sick, well " Nathan smiled. "Not unless you're a scruffy Texan tracker, I declare I have never come across any one who looks so healthy and gets so sick so fast." Nathan shook his head. "Why do you suppose that is?"
"My Ma used to say 'a healthy baby equals a healthy man'. Maybe Vin wasn't a healthy baby? I mean from what he's said it sounds like his folk were dirt poor."
Nathan considered the lanky gunman before him, he'd said it before, Buck really was smarter than he liked to let on.
"You know you might have something there. I bet you were a healthy kid!" he joked.
"Sure was." Buck grinned with pride.
Just then their attention was pulled back to the man on the bed, as JD muttered something unintelligible. Buck's hand went back to his brow.
"Hush kid, you're okay, just rest easy." Remarkably, JD did seem to settle down again. "Is he really going to be okay?" Buck asked softly.
Nathan sat down at the table wearily. "I hope so, he should be." He pulled his hand over face. "Truth is I'm not sure, setting bones is as much guess work as it is practice and skill. If I've done it right, they'll heal good as new, straight, strong. They could heal not quite straight, one could heal and not the other, or "
"Or what?" Buck asked. "Or what Nathan?"
"Sometimes the bones just don't seem to grow back together, the leg just sort of dies, then all you can do is "
"Cut it off," Buck finished. "Yeah, I seen that happen in the war." He looked down at JD, who looked so young; resting there cocooned in pillows. "Well it's not gonna happen to you kid," he stated firmly. "You got too much going for you, Casey for a start, you look after that girl, you treat her right, compliment her, buy her gifts, listen to her, that's the important one. Men don't listen to their women, see women don't talk like men." Buck settled back as he warmed to his favourite topic. "They don't come right out and say what's bothering them, they're more subtle than us, so you have to listen, learn to read 'um. And you gotta - and you mind me on this one boy - let 'um have their own life, there's men who say women have to obey them! Well that is just a load of hooey! Women got brains, and muscles and they can do most anything a man can, so don't go treating them like some kind of of thing."
"I'll try to remember all that," Nathan commented with a smile.
"Well Miss Rain is a fine woman and no mistake, so you make sure you do."
Nathan stood up. "Come on there's something you can help me with."
In the war, Nathan had seen men with horrendous sores from lying in the same position too long and he was determined not to let that happen to JD. His plan was that in the daytime JD would be propped up on a mountain of pillows, periodically Nathan would have him lie down and slip a pillow under his back to lift his buttocks off the bed. Together Nathan and Buck did this for the first time.
"It doesnt look very comfortable," Buck commented.
"Probably not, but he'll thank me in two months time, when he hasn't got holes you can put you're fist though, in his backside."
+ + + + + + +
As evening on that first day approached it was clear that JD wasn't going to tolerate much more laudanum, he was already throwing up more then he kept down. So Nathan cut it back in favour of willow bark tea.
By the next morning, with the last of the morphine working its way out of his system, JD was still feeling nauseous, he was in pain and very uncomfortable. On top of all that, the embarrassing practicalities of being bed ridden for weeks were just beginning to dawn on him. Nathan had rolled a couple of blankets and commandeered every spare pillow and bolster he could find, then, with Josiah's help, JD was propped up. Moving or being moved still hurt like hell, but he just grunted in response to the daggers that shot up his legs with every jolt. The bitter memory of the previous days wrenching destroyed his appetite and he even turned down the chicken soup Inez sent over.
"Hey kid," Buck called as he wandered in. Despite the herbs hanging from the rafters and the open windows, the slightly sickly stench of sickness was in the room. "Heard you were awake."
JD blinked at him wearily. Buck was alarmed how bad his young friend still looked, dark circles under his eyes emphasised his pale, almost grey pallor. The only thing that had improved his appearance was the shave Josiah had given him. Buck pulled up a chair.
"So, you feel like eating?" he asked softly.
"No," came the simple, heartfelt reply.
"What about one of Mrs Potters barley sugars?" There was just the spark of interest in JD's eyes, as Buck pulled a paper bag from his pocket. "Or how about a peppermint or somewhere in here." He rustled the paper bag dramatically. "I've got a lemon drops."
JD looked over at the bag. "Lemon drops?"
"Yup, you know it might get the taste out of yer mouth, and you can suck it real slow, make it last - you know they're just little itty-bitty things, nothing really."
"Maybe I could manage a lemon drop," the patient admitted.
"There you go!" Buck handed over the bag, setting it gently on JD's stomach were he could reach it without twisting.
Buck watched happily as his young friend pulled out one of the small drops and popped it tentatively.
"It's gonna be worth it you know," he began as JD sucked on the candy. "I understand how bad it is now, but "
"You ever break your legs?" JD cut in.
"No, no I never have, been lucky I guess, broke my arm and my collar bone and busted a few ribs in my time but "
"You don't know then."
"But I did have half the back of my leg blown away at the end of the war," Buck finished.
JD felt a pang of guilt, he'd seen the scars and had been sickened, but never had the courage to asked how the tall man had come by them.
"Spent nearly three months in the hospital, nearly lost my leg twice, once in the field hospital, once when it got infected. But I was lucky, the docs who were looking after me were good men, not like some of the butchers that called themselves 'doctor'. And I had a good friend who stuck by me."
"Yup, ol' Chris kept me focused on getting back on my own two feet again." Buck fixed JD with that penetrating gaze of his, the one that always made JD feel like Buck could see right into him. "It's gonna be a long road back son, you know me, I wouldn't lie to you, there's gonna be setbacks and there's gonna be pain and indignity, but I'll be here and so will Nate and the others and it'll be worth it - you'll see."
+ + + + + + +
There were good days and bad days and boring days - mostly there were boring days. JD was never left alone, unable to move it was a necessary safety precaution. He had no privacy, he needed help with even the most intimate things - though Nathan made sure he was the one who dealt with that aspect. For the first two weeks he was confined to be bed, attached to the simple traction system Nathan had installed. The others worked a rotation, keeping him company, bringing up food, the newspaper, books, playing chequers, dominoes, poker, and chess, they even set up a dart board, thought Nathan had to insist on some kind of warning system, after he narrowly missed being skewered by one as he walked in. Casey came in as often as she could, but Nettie was busy on the farm and she had responsibilities. Mary hovered in the beginning, but seemed to get bored after a while.
On the fourteenth day JD was released from the torture of the traction and was allowed out on the veranda for some much needed fresh air and sunshine. The next day Buck piggybacked him downstairs to the saloon. After that the bad days were the minority, mostly days were boring. One of the good days was when Buck and Ezra took him to visit Milagro and confirm that he was well on the way to being sound. Ezra assured JD that when he was fit again, he and Vin would keep the slight bay exercised, Casey would no doubt lend a hand. The days stretched on and turned to weeks and then months. Finely after eight long weeks Nathan announced that the left leg could be liberated from the splints.
It was just the two of them, Nathan and JD, and dawn was barely making an impression on the room.
"Okay, you ready?" Nathan asked.
JD nodded. Nathan took his big scissors and slipped them under the bandages, which after eight weeks were more black than white and began cutting. JD watched as his formerly mummified leg emerged. It was pale, the skin looked as if it was covered in some kind of powder and it itched, but it didn't hurt. Nathan put some salve on his hands and began to massage it into the leg.
"This is gonna help with the dry skin and it'll help get the circulation back," Nate explained.
What he didn't say was that he was feeling the bone, trying to detect any instability or major abnormalities. He thought he detected a slight unevenness on the shin, but nothing that would be debilitating or even disfiguring.
"Bend your knee for me."
JD did as ordered and Nathan flexed it back and fourth a few times.
"That's good, this is all very good JD." He smiled encouragingly at his young patient. "Let's see if we can get you up on some crutches in the next few days."
"Why not today?"
"Because you need this leg to support the other," he tapped the right leg, still splinted from top to bottom, and would remain so for at least another two weeks. "We need to get this one strong enough to support you first. And " He held up a warning finger. "Crutches will only be for occasional use, I want you resting your leg as much as possible, at least until I say so."
JD rolled his eyes dramatically. "Yes Nathan"
From now on there would be more good days than boring days - JD was convinced of it.
+ + + + + + +
Two weeks later, in the late summer heat, JD's right leg was finally liberated. It felt odd, for one horrid moment he was scared it was paralysed when it wouldn't move. But Nathan assured him it was just stiff from lack of use.
"This is gonna hurt, so get ready," he warned.
JD took hold of the sheets and gritted his teeth, as Nathan gently forced his knee to flex.
"Shit!" JD exclaimed, but then he smiled. His knee wasn't paralysed. "I'm gonna be okay," he gasped, as the sudden realisation hit him. "I really am."
Nathan frowned. "Didn't you believe me?"
JD was examining his leg, rubbing his hand over the chalk white, dry, flaky skin. "Well yes, at least I thought I did, but I until now I don't know, maybe deep down I wasn't sure." He looked up and grinned. "Thanks Nate."
"Well you have a way to go yet, we need to get your legs strong again, and " He picked up the jar of salve. "Lets start by getting your skin sorted out."
+ + + + + + +
Now he was liberated JD was a different man, he did whatever Nathan said, which included swimming.
"It's good for you, lots of exercise but you don't have to put any weight on your legs," he explained.
Buck took it upon himself to get JD back on his feet and fit. If JD thought swimming on his 'doctors' orders was an easy get out from doing any real work - and since the only work he could do was jail duty it was something he was more than happy to get away from - he was mistaken.
Some weeks later, Wilmington lay back on a smooth rock in the shallows, his legs dangling in the water, sunning himself. "To the big rock and back JD," he called across the gently flowing waters of the fishing pool.
"Again?" JD questioned, "I already did it nine times!"
"Yup, and you did it nine times yesterday, so today you do it ten times. Swim boy! Then we'll do some more of them exercises Josiah showed you."
"Tai Chi," JD supplied.
"Whatever, Nate said they were good for you, so yer gonna do them."
Buck did join him in the strange stretching moves Josiah had shown JD, and was surprised how demanding they were. An hour later, a tired but noticeably less stiff JD was pulling on his clothes, while Buck hitched up the team to the small wagon they had driven out of town in.
"You're moving a lot better," Buck commented, as JD made his way up the bank, he only needed one crutch these days, and then only when he was tired. Once JD was beside him, Buck decided it was time to suggest JD take the next step in the road to recovery. "Maybe it's time to get you back on Milagro, he's missed you I reckon."
JD shook his head. "I don't know, my legs are still weak, don't think I'm ready. Maybe next week?"
Having seen him walk up the slippery river bank unaided and climb up into the wagon on his own, Buck wasn't so sure, but he dropped the matter.
"Yeah, maybe. Lets go home, all that swimming gave me an appetite."
"You? All you did was lie there and shout at me, I'm the one who swam to that damn rock ten times!"
"Shouting is more tiring than you think."
+ + + + + + +
A week later Nettie invited all the Seven out to her ranch to celebrate her birthday, it was a quiet Sunday, and an easy ride. Chris strolled into the livery early, he found JD petting Milagro and feeding him carrots.
"Gonna get him saddled up?" Chris asked casually.
"No, not t' day, I'm taking the back board, I need t' carry Nettie's present."
The seven of them had clubbed together to buy their elderly friend a hat Gloria Potter had told them she had been admiring. While the hatbox was awkward, it would be perfectly simple to strap it to the back of a saddle. Chris didn't comment, he just waited in the barn until Buck and Josiah strolled in.
"I need to talk to you two," he said ominously.
"What's up?" Buck asked.
"JD, we need to get him back on a horse."
Buck sighed. "Yeah I know, looks like he's lost his nerve."
"Want me to have a word with him?" Josiah offered.
"Well it would be a start, thanks." Chris nodded to the big ex preacher.
+ + + + + + +
"Hey Josiah," JD called as he wandered into the old church.
"Yes?" A dismembered voice answered him.
"Err, Buck said you wanted to see me?"
Josiah's head appeared between to pews. "True, come on over here son, so we can talk."
Little flutters of nerves flared up in JD's gut, though he didn't know why. The two of them sat down on one of the pews.
"Nathan says you're all most fully healed," Josiah began.
"Yup, pretty much."
"It's been a long time coming hasn't it?" JD ducked his head and nodded. "How do you feel about it?"
JD frowned. "How do I feel about what?"
"It must have been " Josiah searched for the right word, but could only come up with one. "scary, knowing that your going down, knowing that you're all alone, hurt, wondering if anyone will find you or not."
JD shrugged. "I guess, I don't think about it."
"There's no shame in admitting you're scared, we all get scared." JD gave him a look that said 'yeah right'. "You don't believe me? I promise you it's true, fear is normal, fear is what keeps us safe, and sharp, fear is part of who you are. But we can't let it rule our lives, true courage is being scared and doing it anyway." Josiah was remembering a very similar conversation with Buck, the night before the duel.
JD stood up. "I don't know what yer on about Preacher? I ain't scared, I'm fine, what is all this about."
Josiah kept his seat, made himself remain still and calm. "Milagro's missed you, Vin and Ezra have kept him fit, but he's missed you. Time to get back on JD."
The younger man paled, but shook his head. "I'm not ready, my legs ain't strong enough yet, not yet." With that, and still shaking his head, he all but ran out of the church.
Josiah watched him go sadly. The problem was Buck was a man with nothing to prove, least of all to himself, JD on the other hand wasn't yet secure enough to understand and accept his own fear.
+ + + + + + +
JD left the church confused and angry, what did any of them know about how he felt. They didn't know what it was like, lying there in the rain, in agony, for hours, they didn't understand what it was like to have Nathan pull on your broken legs and then lie there, trapped on the bed for days. Every time he looked at a horse, all those memories flooded back. The feeling of hopeless impending doom, as Penwood panicked and there was nothing he could do about it, knowing he was going to get hurt and was helpless to stop it. It wasn't just that it was a young skittish horse, it could have happened on any horse. The more he thought about it, the more possible hazards he saw all around him, tree stumps and roots, swollen streams, pot holes, wagon ruts. Lacey's plough horse had collapse and rolled on him when his leg broke, no warning, it just gave way.
As a boy of eleven he had ridden racehorses, huge thoroughbreds, that towered over him, high strung, powerful horses, that he would have had no chance to stop had he lost control of one, yet he was never scared. The danger he was in everyday never worried him. He saw others thrown, some of them were so badly hurt they never rode again, but it that was never going to happen to him, he was never going to get thrown or rolled on or trampled, he was invincible. Now whenever he though about getting back on a horse, his gut started to tighten. He still like to visit his horse, he felt safe driving a wagon, but climbing up into the saddle filled him with dread.
+ + + + + + +
That night in the saloon, after JD, Nathan and Josiah had turned in for the night and Chris was out patrolling the town, the others sat around a table talking about JD and how to help him. The trouble was, short of forcing him on to a horse they didn't have a plan. That was until - a bottle of whiskey later - Vin reminded them that they had agreed to go and help Nettie bring her small cattle herd down from the high mountain grazing that weekend, and Ezra got a sly grin on his face.
"What you grinning at, you ol' reb?" Buck asked.
"The beginnings of an idea," Ezra drawled, taking another drink.
+ + + + + + +
Leaving Ezra in town to keep an eye on things the others set out for the Wells property early. They were taking Josiah's tool kit and JD used that as an excuse to drive a buckboard. Once they arrived, Vin, Chris, Nathan and Josiah set out with Casey and Nettie to bring in the herd. Buck and JD were to get the corral fixed and then Buck was going to do some running repairs to the barn.
By mid afternoon Buck sent JD into the cabin to make some coffee. Once he saw JD disappear inside he slipped the latch on the pigsty, where Nettie kept her big sow, Gertie. The amiable pig duly wandered out of her pen and across the yard, heading for the woods. Buck watched her go, wishing she would get a move on.
Vin, standing in the edge of the wood, mentally willed the sow to come to him. Once she was past him and ambling along, snuffling for food. Vin returned to check his work, sprinkled a few more leaves on the toothless wolf trap and pulled back to wait.
"JD!" Buck bellowed, as he came running into the cabin.
"I messed up big time kid, Gertie got out, come on you gotta help me look fer her or Nettie's gonna come after me with that Spencer of hers!"
JD pulled the kettle off the heat. "You are in so much trouble," he commented as he followed his friend out.
"Tell me about it."
They set out on foot - how far could a pig get, besides it would be easier in the dense woods to move on foot. The two of them had been going for about an hour when they emerged into small clearing. Buck quickly spotted the distinctive twin trees, like two sentinels on the far side.
Buck turned to JD. "You go that way I'll check over here." He pointed to the twin trees.
JD shrugged. "Okay, yell if you find anything."
"Sure." You better believe I'm gonna yell! he commented to himself.
Once he was in the wood, he checked his heavy leather boots were pulled all the way up, and not for the first time since that slightly drunken night hoped Vin knew what he was doing. He swore the old toothless wolf trap would do no more than trap Buck's foot and give him a few bruises. If the plan worked, the bruises would be worth it. As he approached the twin trees he scanned for the trap, which Vin told him he would mark with a twig stuck in the ground. Vin was around somewhere, keeping out of sight until the moment he and his horse were needed. With Buck 'trapped' he would turn up and send JD to fetch Nathan on Peso, Ezra's theory being that in an emergency, JD would forget his fear.
Buck spotted the twig, and forced himself to walk toward it. "You better be right Tanner," he muttered as he stepped between the twin trees.
Buck would never know if he heard the snap first or felt the pain. Ten yards short of the safe trap laid by Vin, a much bigger and very real trap had his leg held fast! His own momentum sent him tumbling to the ground, the twisting motion sending new waves of agony up his leg. Gasping for breath, Buck around to look at his foot, blood was already staining his pants around the huge metal jaws. Gritting his teeth he forced himself to sit up, just as Vin sprinted out from behind the stand of trees he'd been hiding behind.
They both knew what had happened, by pure chance, Buck had found an old trap, from the rust on it, it had lain, primed and un-found for years, no doubt long before Nettie owned the land.
"Oh God Bucklin," Vin gasped as he knelt in front of his friend.
Buck had his head down, on his knee, the knee of his pants clenched between his teeth, trying to get his breathing under control. "Damn fancy southerner, any plan of his is bound to go wrong," he gasped out.
"Gotta get you out of this," Vin stated, already looking for a leaver.
"No, not yet," Buck gasped. "The plan."
"If he ever finds out we tricked him, he'll never forgive us, get him on the damn horse." Buck ground out determinedly, between gritted teeth. Finally he looked up. "JD!" he bellowed.
Having found nothing, JD was already heading toward Buck to help him look, when he head Buck shout. There was a quality to his voice that set alarm bells ringing, and he started to run.
"Oh my God!" JD sprinted to his friend's side.
"JD, go get the others," Vin barked.
"We gotta get it off," JD insisted.
"It's too rusty." Which Vin was beginning to think was actually true. "We need Josiah and Nathan, fast. Take Peso, he's just there." Vin waved toward the trees. "I was on my way to tell you to get ready, they arent that far back, follow the stream you'll come out on the trail." He could see the hesitation on the young man's face. "Go!"
With that, JD bolted, he didn't even think about it as he swung up on Peso and took off through the trees.
+ + + + + + +
Nettie's small herd was ambling good naturedly down the trail toward the ranch, Nettie had the point, with Chris and Casey on the flanks and Nathan and Josiah pushing the drag. The conspirators had consulted Josiah about their plan, which was to say Ezra's plan. He reluctantly agreed, Casey was in on it as well, she assured them they could let out Gertie and she'd come back on her own when it was time for the evening feed. The others weren't informed, Nathan would no doubt have some kind of fit about Buck deliberately putting himself in danger. Chris and Nettie would just call it irresponsible.
Thus it was, as JD came galloping down the track, Josiah and Casey exchanged glances, both thinking he was way too agitated, but happy to see him on a horse.
"You gotta come, Buck's caught in a trap!" JD yelled.
"What the hell?" Chris intercepted him. "Where, how bad is it?"
"Back in the woods, it's old and rusty and he's bleeding," JD gasped out.
"Bleeding?" Josiah rode up, now seriously alarmed.
"Yeah, Vin needs you to get it open."
They didn't need to hear more, the cattle were abandoned as they all followed JD into the woods.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah and Nathan knelt beside Buck with Vin, while the others watched. It took both Josiah and Vin, using large branches and their boots to force the rusty jaws open enough for Nathan to pull Buck's leg free.
Buck lay gasping on the ground, while Nathan used his knife to slit the pants leg and get a good look at the wounds. The trouble was with no equipment there was little he could do except wrap a bandanna around the mangled flash and help them get Buck up on a horse and back to the ranch.
Some three hours later Buck was settled on a chair on Nettie's porch as Nathan lifted his well bandaged ankle up on to a stool, padded with a cushion. "You were very lucky," the healer explained. "If those spikes had hit bone, or you hadn't been wearing boots." He shook his head. "I saw this horse once "
"Oh don't Nathan, it's bad enough," JD commented from behind them.
Buck looked over at JD. "Bad enough it's me, but if it had been a horse?" He shook his head. "JD you're impossible."
"What? What I'd say?" JD protested.
"It's okay kid, you're just you. So how'd you get on with Peso?"
JD shrugged. "He's fast," he admitted. "But I had him under control."
Buck grinned at him, resisting the urge to say 'told you so'. "Reckon you're ready to give poor old Milagro a run out?"
"Yeah, I reckon so, I just wish I'd found that out a different way."
"You and me both kid," Buck admitted. But it was worth it.
Footnote: Penwood was a real horse I used to ride, though he was quite old when I rode him. He was not related in anyway to Penwood Forge Mill, the famous show jumper.