Sounds of Silence
PART TWO – JD
JD knew he'd get in trouble if Buck found out he'd snuck out to Chris' ranch but it wasn't fair. Ever since Chris come back after being taken by the outlaws he'd spent all his time at the ranch with that boy. JD resented the other boy ever since he'd seen Chris ride out of town with him. When they'd brought Chris home JD hadn't been allowed in Nathan's clinic except to bring a bucket of water because they didn't want to upset that boy. Then Chris had taken, that boy, out to his ranch, which meant JD couldn't go out to see his colt. Buck said Chris needed some time to recover, but JD knew better, it was because of that boy. Well he'd been patient enough, Milagro was gonna forget about him if he didn't get out there.
JD crept closer to the back of the barn trying to see where the boy was. He knew Chris was going into town today, which is why he'd picked now to visit. He'd just spend a little time with Milagro and then go home. Nobody had to know. Intent on his mission, JD missed the noise at the front of the house.
Buck pulled the buckboard up before waving a hand at Chris. "Hey there, Stud. Brought your supplies."
"I was going to come get them after lunch myself," Chris replied mildly.
"Yeah, I know," Buck shrugged. "Figured I'd bring em out, save you a trip. Got any coffee?"
"Help yourself," Chris jerked his head toward the door. Buck wasn't fooling him one bit. Chris knew the other man really just wanted to get a look at Vin. Sure enough after he'd filled a cup, in a voice trying desperately to sound casual, Buck asked, "So where's the kid?"
"Probably in the barn." Chris' words seemed prophetic because right then a horse squealed in pain. Without a word both men bolted for the barn.
Vin hummed tunelessly to himself, brushing the colt. Chris had called it Milagro, which Vin knew meant Miracle in Spanish. He was a really easy going horse. It wasn't old enough to be ridden a lot, but Vin had already slipped up on his back a couple of times. Just sitting on its back wasn't harmful and in fact helped the horse get used to the idea. Laying the brush aside he grabbed hold of Milagro's mane and proceeded to leap up on his back. True to his nature Milagro took the sudden liberty with good grace.
It was too bad the same couldn't be said of the dark hair boy watching from the window in the back of the barn.
Forgetting that he was trying to be quiet, JD yelled, "Hey, get off my horse!"
Peso picked that same exact moment to express his displeasure at Vin paying attention to another horse. Reaching over his stall, Peso sank his teeth into Milagro's hindquarters.
Milagro reared, squealing in pain. Vin was startled, but gripped with his knees, and held onto the horse's mane. His Cheyenne grandfather would have been proud at how he rode out Milagro's upset. It was this vision that greeted Chris and Buck as they ran into the barn.
"What's going on here?" Chris yelled.
Too furious to think about what he was doing, JD burst around the corner of the barn launching himself at Chris. Yelling incoherently he started to beat Chris' legs with his fists.
Stunned at the sudden outburst Chris froze for several seconds.
Buck's reaction was quicker, he grabbed the boy in a bear hug picking him up off the ground. Still upset at what he regarded as the last straw, JD continued to struggle and yell.
"JD... JD... JD!"Buck was finally forced to yell.
It worked. JD froze as he realized that not only had he been found out, but he'd hit a grownup.
Seeing he now had his son's attention Buck asked, "You want to explain what you're doing here and not in school?"
Remembering again all the reasons he had to be upset, JD burst into speech. It was rapid-fire and rambling, but finally Buck and Chris got the gist of it. "And he's riding my horse!" JD finished on a wail pointing toward where Vin now stood beside Milagro.
"And that gives you permission to attack Chris?" Buck asked seriously. "Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you're not mature enough for your own horse after all."
This brought fresh sobs from JD who flung himself into Buck's arms. Cuddling him close Buck looked over JD's shoulder at Chris. "Guess I missed some signs."
"Guess so." Chris looked over at Vin, who had watched the entire scene with wide eyes. "Why don't you take JD to the house and get him calmed down. We'll be along in a minute."
Chris waited until Buck and a now silent JD left before approaching Vin. "So, how long have you been riding Milagro?"
Vin shrugged, looking down at the ground.
Chris sighed, "Well, I guess I never told you not to. Come on, let's go up to the house." He put a gentle hand between Vin's shoulders to urge him along. Instead of the slight flinch he'd come to expect, Chris was surprised and pleased when the boy actually stepped closer.
Chris couldn't know how much what Vin had just witnessed had affected him. The other boy had screamed, hit and generally behaved in a manner Vin had never seen. He was sure that either Chris or the other man would take a belt to the boy, but he had held him and hugged him and heard him out. They had corrected him with words, not their fists. The fact that they hadn't hit the boy when he did something so clearly wrong, did more than all of Chris' promises to reassure Vin that he could trust.
Vin stopped at the front porch. While he was becoming more comfortable with Chris, he didn't know the boy and the other man.
"Buck and JD are good people, Vin."
Big blue eyes looked up at Chris uncertainly.
"If you don't feel like coming in right now, you don't have to," Chris said, offering the boy an escape.
Vin nodded and sat down on the edge of the porch.
Chris sighed to himself and went inside, leaving the door open so that Vin could see inside and at least know he was welcome to come in.
"I'm sorry, Chris," said JD with a sniffle. His head was bowed, small shoulders slumped.
"I know you are," answered Chris, lifting the chin with his hand.
"And I'm gonna try real hard to be more grown up," JD added.
"Don't want you to be a grown up, JD," said Chris softly. "But if you've got a problem with something, you need to tell one of us."
"Yes, sir," said JD.
Buck smiled as he stood behind JD watching the exchange.
"Now, Vin didn't know Milagro is your colt," said Chris.
"His name is Vin?" asked JD.
Chris nodded. "And I didn't tell him he couldn't ride Milagro. He's been helping me take care of all of the horses, not just yours."
"Oh," said JD.
"So maybe," Buck said, "you can tell him you're sorry for yelling at him, right after we unload the wagon."
JD sighed. Buck had already told him since he'd skipped out on school, he could unload the wagon and muck out all the stalls, not just Milagro's. And then when they got back to town, he had to tell Mrs. Travis what he'd done and ask her for extra school work as well as offer to clean the school room for the next week.
Sometimes he didn't think things through before he acted.
"Let's get to it…" said Buck sternly.
"Yes, sir," JD said in a hushed voice.
"…Deputy," Buck added.
JD looked up and half smiled. Buck was serious about the discipline, but the nickname reassured the eight-year-old that it wasn't the end of the world. Sure, he'd messed up, but Buck still loved him.
Buck nodded towards the door and Chris opened it for them.
Stepping outside, they found the wagon mostly unloaded. Vin was struggling with a bag of flour that was a little too big for him to handle.
"Whoa, there, Wildcat," said Buck, grabbing the bag before it fell.
Vin stepped back with fear in his eyes. He felt responsible for causing the other boy to be in trouble. He'd hoped unloading the wagon would make peace. But now he'd displeased the men.
JD, not realizing there was any tension, stepped in. "Hello, I'm JD. Chris told me you didn't know Milagro was my horse, so it's all right. I didn't mean to yell at you. I just thought… well Milagro's my horse."
Vin stared at JD as he babbled on. Slowly a smirk came to his face and he forgot the threat of Buck.
"So you started unloading the wagon? That's great, 'cause Buck said I have to do that. And I have to clean all the stalls. Not just Milagro's stall. All of 'em."
Vin pointed to himself and then to JD and back to himself and nodded towards the barn. He wanted to help the other boy with his punishment since he'd been part of the problem.
"Yeah, sure," said JD, before looking to Buck to see if it was okay that Vin helped him with the stalls.
"Come on. Let's go," said JD as he trotted towards the barn.
Vin looked at Chris for instruction. When Chris gave him a smile and a nod, Vin grinned and hurried after JD.
Buck tossed the bag of flour at Chris, drawing his attention away from Vin. He caught it, but had to struggle to not drop it.
Buck laughed. "Nice to see him smile," he said.
"Yes," said Chris, looking at the barn. "It sure is."
JD and Vin dug into the chores, completing them quickly, the younger boy talking a mile a minute as they worked.
"Yeah, when I grow up I'm gonna be a sheriff like Buck. I'm already his deputy, you know. Well, I don't get to have a gun or nothing like that, but I read the wanted posters when they come and keep them in order for Buck. What are you gonna do when you get older? Are you gonna be a rancher like Chris? I bet you are 'cause Buck says you're good with horses and that just makes sense…"
Vin threw an armload of hay at JD.
"Hey!" the younger boy protested. "What did you do that for?"
Vin brought his fingers and thumb together several times indicating JD was talking too much.
JD rolled his eyes. "I don't talk too much. Ezra, now he's the one who talks too much."
Vin brushed imaginary dirt off his sleeve mimicking Ezra.
JD laughed. "So you've met Ezra? Yeah, he likes his fancy clothes but he's all right. He's a deputy, too. He lets me help him with the horses sometimes…"
The two boys finished the work, put the tools away and hurried to the pump to wash off some of the sweat and hay on the hot day.
Chris and Buck watched in amusement as it erupted into a water fight. The presence of JD seemed to make Vin forget his fears of the adults as the younger boy reminded him how to play.
After a couple of minutes of messing around in the water, Vin suddenly turned toward the porch, fear in his eyes.
“Smile,” Chris whispered to Buck.
“What is going on?” Buck whispered back.
“He needs to see that we think it's all right that he's playing with JD,” Chris said still smiling. He nodded approval toward Vin.
Buck cursed under his breath. “What can make a kid think it's not all right to play?”
“I don't think I really want to know,” Chris said softly. “I just want to make sure it never happens again.”
Buck nodded. Now that he was a parent, he understood that feeling more than ever. He'd do anything to protect JD from harm. He didn't want his boy to experience any more hardship than he'd already been through. Not knowing your father was hard enough, but losing your mom when you're only six was unthinkable. Buck was glad that he'd had the chance to meet Rachel Dunne. He'd only known her a few months before she passed away, but she and her raven haired boy had changed his life.
The wagon ride home was silent. Buck glanced down at his young charge. JD usually talked non-stop, always having something to say or something he wanted to know, but today he was quiet. He knew the boy was contemplating the rest of his punishment for skipping out on school and going out to see his horse.
Buck had no real intention of denying JD the horse, but the eight-year-old had realized how serious he was about his behavior. JD's birthday was only a couple months away and when he turned nine, Chris had agreed that Milagro would be his to take home. JD didn't know that was the plan, but occassionally he asked when he would be old enough for Milagro.
“Seems like you and Vin got along all right,” Buck said casually.
“Did you thank him for helping you?”
JD frowned. “It was part his fault, too.”
“Oh, I see,” said Buck. “Did he sneak out of school? Did he disobey and go to the ranch when he knew he wasn't supposed to? Did he raise his voice to Chris and hit him?”
“No,” JD said meekly. “I'm sorry, Da.”
Buck swallowed hard. It had taken JD almost a year before he started calling Buck “Da” and it still melted his heart every time he heard it. He knew the apology was genuine. JD was a good boy. But like every other boy, sometimes he had to test the limits.
“I know you are, Son,” he answered. “And I know that you'll follow through with your punishment.” He stopped the wagon in front of Mary Travis' house.
JD looked at the house, then back to Buck. “Yes, sir,” he said quietly as he climbed down from the wagon to go tell Mrs. Travis what he had done. At the first step to the boardwalk, he turned and looked back to Buck. “Da, will you come with me?”
Buck nodded and climbed down, hitching the team to the rail. JD was pretty mature for an eight-year-old, but everyone needed a little support from time to time.