The Fine Art of
Collaboration by Heather M.

On the occasion of the birthday of one of the actors whose tremendous talent created one of seven wonderful characters that made a television series, that lasted only 23 episodes, so unforgettable and enduring that it is alive and thriving more than ten years after it was canceled.

Just fluff and fun, no warnings, no infringement of any kind intended.

Feedback is always appreciated:

Writer strode into the living room. She stopped short. Muse was sitting on the sofa looking distinctly melancholy - that didn't bode well for their world.

"What's got you looking so dewy eyed?" asked Writer her original purpose forgotten as she settled on the sofa beside her friend. Noting the large album laying in Muse's lap, she concluded the reason had something to do with that.

"Oh, nothing serious," replied Muse, dabbing quickly at the corners of her eyes with a tissue as she stared at the picture on the cover. "I was just looking at this picture of our boy. Doesn't he look handsome; standing so straight and tall with his suit pressed and his hair brushed back?" asked Muse.

It was a picture Writer knew well, JD standing beside a hitching post, hat in hand, his suit jacket pushed aside to reveal the bone handle of one of his revolvers.

"He does clean up real good," replied Writer, "Myself, I'd prefer a bit more stubble on his chin."

"You know it's his birthday today."

"You mean the actor's birthday, don't you?" asked Writer.

"They're one and the same,' said Muse. "Well for the purposes of birthdays anyway," Muse added picking up on Writer's suspicious tone.

"So how old is he?" asked Writer.

"Which one?"

"The actor."

"38" replied Muse promptly.

"...And how old is JD?" Writer thought Muse took this stuff way too seriously but it was that characteristic of Muse that made her good at her job.

Muse answered carefully. "Well, in some ways he's ageless; still the wide-eyed young man that jumped off that stage so many years ago. But I suppose his age is in the eye of the beholder as they say or in this case the minds of the muses and writers if you will. More than a few like him younger. The Little Britches AU's aside I think it's been generally accepted that he's 18 or 19 in the Old West and 23 in the ATF AU."

"Yeah right, except you-know-who. She's written him as 16 in the OW and 18 in the ATF. The plots are plausible enough to make it possible for him to really be that young."

"So she's bending reality a bit, as they say 'truth is stranger than fiction'."

Writer scowled at Muse. "I don't like bending, it detracts from authenticity."

"Is it really so bad?" asked Muse. "Isn't there room enough in this fandom for more than one perception of his age?"

"Of course there is, but be reasonable, 16!"

"Consider this, years ago when commenting on the ages of the Original Star Trek crew the creators saw ensigns as universally being 22 years old. So that means that Ensign Dunne on the Maverick is automatically 22 and yet, have you seen the new movie? When asked his age Chekov replies that he is 19." Muse paused dramatically - she always liked the dramatic pause thought Writer. "If forty year old canon can be cast aside in a classic series like the Original Star Trek, then it stands to reason..."

"...Okay, okay," Writer held up her hands in mock surrender. "I'm not spending any more time on this argument - again. I like him younger too, I'm just saying be prepared for the flames over a younger JD."

"I sprinkle flames on my cornflakes in the morning," muttered Muse, opening the album to the first page.

The next photo was a head and shoulders shot of JD in profile, his chin resting on crossed arms. He seemed to be staring off into space. Writer smiled to herself when Muse sighed. Writer had to admit the dreamy pose did it for her too.

"This is my favorite picture of him," said Muse softly. "Did you ever wonder what he was thinking about in this shot?"

"Probably what most young men think of - sex, adventure, food or some combination of the three," replied Writer cocking her head to one side as she considered the subject of the photo, "I must say though, he certainly knows how to play up to the camera."

"He does indeed. This picture is from "Working Girls"."

"Oh, well I guess we know which of the three things he's thinking about."

"Poor boy," said Muse, "he got teased miserably about being a virgin in this episode, which to me adds credence to the idea he's 16 in the Old West. If he were 18 he'd have gotten around to having sex by then."

Writer decided maybe a different tactic was needed to end this discussion on age, a diversion. She reached over and counted the pages with the tips of her fingers and turned four of them over at once. Pointing to the top picture she said. "I like this bathhouse picture myself. Those aren't the pecs of a sixteen year old."

"You're pointing at Buck."

"Oh, so I am." Writer smiled to herself and pretended not to see the withering look Muse gave her.

Muse pointed to the picture below it. "I also like this picture of him standing shoulder to shoulder with the others when it came time to stare down Wicks and his men."

"That is an excellent one," agreed Writer. "It would have been a classic except Vin wasn't in it."

"He looks so composed and ready for whatever might come next."

"I don't know," said Writer, "I always thought he looked just a tad nervous. Like Buck advised him, just enough fear to stay sharp but not panicked. It was, after all, only his first big gun battle after the "Ghosts of the Confederacy". I wouldn't think he'd be confident enough yet that Wicks would be a walk in the park for him. Though to look at the rest of them, you'd think Wicks was just a Sunday stroll."

"You're probably right," conceded Muse, "maybe it's that little bit of fear; that heightened level of intensity; that seems to make him shine a little brighter just then."

Writer frowned at Muse's head bowed over the photos. She always found Muse's emotion laden, abstract observations somewhat baffling.

"What's your favorite "Ghosts" picture?" asked Muse turning the pages back to the beginning of the album.

Writer Smiled, "Easy, the seven of them riding out together at the end."

"That is a good one, but I meant your favorite JD one."

Writer searched the page for a moment before pointing. "This one, when JD arrived at the livery the morning the other six rode out to the Seminole village. He looked so sharp sitting tall in the saddle all spit and polished."

"That one is yummy," agreed Muse.

"I've always wondered whose Muse put him in the watering trough five seconds later." asked Writer semi-rhetorically.

"It wouldn't have been me," replied Muse firmly. She wandered through the pictures from "Ghosts of the Confederacy" lingering over the various ones depicting the battle with Anderson's forces. "It must have been hard for him. First he had to argue his way in to be included in the fight. Then, once he was in, he knew they still didn't really want him around and the only way he was going to earn a place would be to prove himself in battle - which he had absolutely no experience at. First gun battle; finding a dead person lying on top of him; his first time drunk; and then Buck nearly getting killed because of him - it was an awful lot to deal with."

"Almost as bad as shooting your father to death and standing trial for his murder," said Writer absent-mindedly.

"What?!?" Muse drew back suddenly and stared at her friend as if she were crazy.

Writer realized what she had just said. She shook her head and waved a dismissive hand. "Sorry, sweetie, that was another reality."

Muse didn't looked convinced...time for another diversionary tactic; muses were so easily side-tracked. "You're right it would have been very hard and I think the other six recognized it took real guts to stick it out. It showed them that he was for real and not the rich kid from the east looking for a little excitement that he was accused of being."

"When was the turning point?"

"The knife fight with Imala," replied Writer. "Chris finally relents but you can tell he still doesn't really want him around. The others obviously aren't sure it's such a good idea that JD stay but you can tell Buck's willing to give him a chance because not only does Buck lecture him about using the butt of his gun as a weapon but then he tells him to get rid of his "damn stupid" hat. It's the hat bit that says he likes the kid."

Muse smiled, "I think so too." She turned the page to the photos of "One Day Out West". "This episode wasn't exactly the best start - falling over backwards in the chair in the Sheriff's office, having the barrel fall out of the gun, then knocking himself out during the court room gunfight and then finally getting in the way of Vin's aim letting Lucas get away."

"Oh I don't know," said Writer. "The falling over backwards, and the barrel falling out of the gun were a sort of comic relief; and him getting in the way of Vin's aim was an understandable mistake made by someone who was young and still learning, and I think knocking himself out served two functions. It was comedic, but it also probably saved his life. I think they still wanted to show he was a greenhorn, and Lucas getting away helped the storyline along. I mean really, would the other six have gotten involved in the trial if Lucas hadn't escaped?"

"Writer, you're too analytical, you're right, but you're too analytical." Muse scolded gently. "Can't you just empathize with our boy's plight once in a while?"

"That's my job, Musie dear. You're the one with the endless supply of emotion laden plot bunnies. I'm the one who has to figure out a way to make those bunnies happen in a semi-plausible manner. That's the way this world works." Writer just smiled at Muse's indignant snort.

"Don't call me Musie," she muttered as she scanned the pages past "Witness" and "Nemesis" stopping at "Safecracker".

"I must say I do like the moxie he showed after being stabbed in "Safecracker", standing out in the middle of the street, one arm in a sling, a rifle braced on his hip so he could shoot at Coltrane's gang as they were trying to escape."

"Thank you," said Writer nodding by way of a bow. "I'm pretty sure that was contrary to any medical advice Nathan might have given him..."


"...And Buck likely had a few choice words afterwards about standing out in the open like that,


"...Though he did have the element of surprise and the cover of darkness on his side, it seemed to me that once he got over the shock of being stabbed he'd be mad. Mad at being caught off guard and mad at failing to protect the child Olivia. We know he's young, and impetuous, and has a clear sense of duty and of what he thinks is right. He sure as hell wasn't going to let Coltrane and his men get away while he languished in a sick bed."

"It made for a great little JD moment too, didn't it, dear?"

"Well, yes."

Muse laughed, "You're just as big a pushover as I am when it comes to our boy."

"There's a difference!"

"I'm sure there is," replied Muse with a knowing little smile.

"I'm trying to maintain a well rounded, three dimensional character. If you had your way he'd be eternally in agonizing pain due to severe injury and emotionally crippled with angst."

"What's wrong with that?"

"He needs to do the odd macho thing to be taken seriously, or the other characters will just write him off and other writers will just write him out of fic altogether."

"I suppose you're right," said Muse a little reluctantly.

Writer was still a little perturbed. They'd had this discussion a number of times before too. Some injury and some angst were perfectly acceptable but a steady diet of it was just too much. Time to change the subject again, "Buck seemed to give an awful lot of advice and I hated the way Buck seemed to take pleasure at giving him advice at the top of his lungs for all to hear. It was like he was trying to embarrass him."

"I think you're being unfair," retorted Muse. "I didn't think he was trying to embarrass JD so much as I think he was just trying to "big brother" him. I think it just took Buck a while to figure out that JD heard him just as well, if not better, if he spoke to him as a mentor and not a drill sergeant. I do agree that it did seem like Buck was always ragging on him about something. Don't get me wrong most of it was good stuff - don't fan your gun; one good shot is better than six bad ones; don't break cover, but after a while the big brother teasing about his hat; his lack of beard; how to court a girl was beginning to wear thin."

"You have a point," admitted Writer, "in the later episodes the loud and embarrassing aspects of Buck's advice did tone down a lot."

Muse began to giggle. "JD got his revenge though. Do you remember at the end of "Witness"? He paid Maude Standish to sniff at something unpleasant on Buck because Buck was driving them all crazy with his "animal magnetism" talk.

"The stunned look on Buck's face was priceless!" replied Writer laughing. "Oh! ...And remember in Chinatown when JD "accidentally" drank the love potion Buck had intended for Inez. Remember how big Buck's eyes got when JD put his hand on top of Buck's and suggested they go for a late night swim. I was afraid I was going to pee my pants!"

Muse was laughing now too, "I almost felt sorry for Buck!"

It took a minute for the laughter to subside.

"You're right though," said Muse wiping the corners of her eyes with the heels of her hands. "Buck did seem to ease up on him especially after "Vendetta". Getting beaten to a pulp like that seemed to help soften Buck's attitude."

"I like the way it was written," said Writer. "To the kid's credit he never complained once, instead, he claimed he wasn't hurt and he still managed to be vertical in time to cover Ezra when he got caught out in the open on top of that hideous coach."

"You have to wonder though, if JD had done that, how big the lecture would have been."

Writer frowned thoughtfully, "Maybe not. The seven were pretty desperate by then. With crazy Hank Connelly's help the Nicholls boys very nearly took them down."

"They did get damn close - I wonder if Sophia Nicholls felt it was worth it after all was said and done."

Writer and Muse turned pages in silence for a few minutes. The scrape of the plastic pages against the metal binder rings, the only sound in the quiet room.

"You know, as bad as the beating the Nicholls's gave him, being shot in "Lady Killers" had to be a lot worse," said Writer gazing at the pages with a fevered JD in bed and a worried Casey by his side. "Though "Lady Killers" has an especially beautifully done little scene where he told Casey how he was afraid he'd die before he had a chance to tell her he cared about her."

"That was one of his finer moments," agreed Muse, "but in my opinion it wasn't JD's worst day so much as it was Buck's worst day."

"You think so?" asked Writer giving Muse a quizzical look.

"Can you imagine the guilt Buck felt?" asked Muse. "He was doing a little too much thinking below the belt hoping to cuddle up to Kate Stokes and didn't clue in to just how unstable Mattie really was. He let himself get distracted and JD paid the price. Remember the vehemence in his voice when he told Chris to "Gun'em down!"? That was one upset Bucklin."

"I remember that now. That line sent a chill up my spine. It was the first time I really understood how dangerous a man Buck Wilmington could be. You forget because he's usually so lighthearted and flirtatious."

"Buck looked so... so... so haunted as he watched over JD.

"You know," said Writer gesturing with a pointed finger, "I heard there was an alternate bedside scene for Buck and JD addressing Buck's guilt."

"You're kidding!"

"As I recall it went something like this:"

JD is barely conscious. He manages to open his eyes. . . finds Buck next to him.

Buck beams --

BUCK: Hey there, kid.

JD (groggy, mumbling): Am I gonna die, Buck?

BUCK: Not a chance in hell. . .

But JD is already unconscious again. Buck's smile fades. He looks at his

friend. . .tears well in his eyes.

BUCK: I'm sorry, JD. . .

Muse sighed audibly, "Oh man, if it had been put to a fan vote beforehand I know which scene they would have used."

Writer smiled, "I'm pretty sure you're right." She knew which scene Muse meant. "Okay if "Lady Killers" was Buck's worst day, what was JD's worst? I mean what could be worse than getting shot?"


"Oh yeah," replied Writer. She could feel the emotion welling up inside her as she turned the pages and found the pictures for "Achilles": a stunned JD sitting on the boardwalk; the ever so white Annie in her coffin with her hair spread out like an angel's; the regretful JD, near tears, talking to Josiah; Buck fighting back the tears when he asks his friend "what he's supposed to do without him." Even Writer's analytical side told her Achilles must have been a tough one to write. "The events of "Achilles" were a real test of JD's character. Look at the expression of horror on his face when he realizes what had just happened. Sitting on the boardwalk looking at his gun as if it were some sort of strange and unknown object, he couldn't believe what he had just done. He was barely able to talk when Buck asked him what had happened."

"I remember Buck started in on him about fanning his gun or some damn thing and then suddenly realized all the advice in the world wouldn't serve JD as well as him just being a friend right then,' said Muse quietly. "... and look at this one, he's sitting in the saloon waiting to hear if Annie would live, his face is like stone."

"Remember the look on Buck's face when JD was saying good-bye to him?" asked Writer.

"Couldn't he see how his leaving was hurting Buck and Josiah?" said Muse fighting back a tear.

"He was hurting even more than they were," replied Writer as Muse sniffed.

Writer turned to the next page where Buck was handing JD his guns and telling him it wasn't a good idea to leave them in the rain. "Are you alright, Muse?"

"Oh yes," replied Muse tossing the now empty tissue box aside. "You know I always cry at this one."

"With good reason," replied Writer trying to comfort her counterpart.

They skimmed quickly through "Obsession" and "Serpents" and found themselves with still a few pages to go.

"These are new," said Muse leaning over to examine them closely.

"I added them this year," replied Writer.

"Who are these pictures of?"

"I guess you could say they were distance relatives."

"Do you know any of them?"

"Only a few," said Writer her gaze traveling down the page. "I like Tobias the best I think," she said pointing to the picture of the bearded and barefoot man, dressed in rags."

"He looks awful," gasped Muse.

"Andersonville was super and horrendous at the same time," said Writer. "It was really well done, the suffering was unbelievably heart wrenching. By the end our boy was so sick and emaciated he was hardly recognizable. AK, as always, did a great job."

"He looks too much like JD for me, I'm not sure I could stand to see him suffering like that."

Writer threw her friend a confused frown, "I thought you loved stuff like this? You always say "it's good for the Muse"."

"It is! That's why I'm not sure I could stand it!"

Writer shook her head and reminded herself that is was contradictions like that that made Muse good at her job.

"Do you suppose a cross over could be done with him and JD?" asked Muse.

"While it's been discussed on and off, there is only one attempt at a crossover that I know of. The premise is that Tobias was JD's father and he didn't make it back from Andersonville alive and that's why JD never knew his father."

"I thought the master of the great house where his mother was a chamber maid was his father. That's why he got to grow up there."

"That's one popular theory as to JD's parentage," Writer replied absently, "but there are a number of others as well."

"Who are these two?" asked Writer.

"Kirby, the medical orderly on Ajilon Prime from "Star Trek: DS9", and Henry Tucker, a Confederate soldier worried about the future of his family on the short lived series "Miracles", replied Writer pointing from one to another. "Both were decent men trying to carry on in battle situations the best way they knew how even thought they knew the odds were stacked against them. It just occurs to me now that all three of these roles were wartime situations."

"How did they end?" asked Muse.

"Well, in DS9, re-enforcements came in time. Henry died but his family lived long and prosperous lives, which was all he wanted. He just had to wait a hundred and thirty years to find that out."

"A hundred and thirty years..." mused Muse out loud, "hmmmm, a restless spirit."

"I admit I didn't warm to Lyle of Weird Science but I didn't warm to the series much either but AK did an excellent job with what little he had to work with for a role. Nor did I like Officer Koczara in Joan of Arcadia, but again the actor did a great job portraying Koczara as the racist scumbag he was - horrific hair cut by the way, but it did add to the role."

"I think I prefer him in more sympathetic roles," concluded Muse.

"You usually do," Writer said turning the page. "AK did great job with Rick on "NYPD Blue" too, but I guess you don't want to hear what a convincing slut JD could be."

"I like the big white cowboy hat, was his clientele male or female?" asked Muse.

Writer peered over her glasses at Muse.

"Oh," was all Muse said as Writer turned the page.

"He did a good job with Eddie Rourke on that show with the Angels considering that, that particular episode was not one of the series' best."

"Another soldier, did he die?"

"I'm afraid so," replied Writer sympathetically.

"It's hard to work with dead characters. They can't all come back as restless spirits, and not everyone appreciates the sci-fi options of temporal anomalies or alternate time lines."

"That's usually my territory," said Writer.

"I take various premises into consideration too," said Muse.

"I'd appreciate it if you passed some of those ideas along, especially with some of your more "unique" plot bunnies," said Writer. "Anyway, the one I've seen most recently is Max from Criminal Minds, and he was creepy with capital letters..."

Muse held up her hand, "Don't tell me, AK did a great job and Max died."

"Ahhh, yeah!" replied Writer wrinkling her nose. "Sorry."

"When did you first meet him?"

"Andersonville, it was a fluke really. It was on the history channel one night. I thought I was tuning in to The Andersonville Trial which I had already seen years ago. The show had already been on for forty-five minutes or so and a group of Union Army prisoners were in a tent planning an escape. He was long-haired, unshaven and barefoot but I knew it was him."

"I'm confused, how would you know it was him if that was the first time you'd meet him?"

"I'd *seen* him before."

Muse looked at her with a confused expression but said nothing.

"I was never one for the soaps," explained Writer, "so I never saw Paul Stenbeck (at least not until Sue sent the U-tube links) but I remember the first time I did see him. It was on The Day Time Emmy Awards show. I was at a stitch 'n bitch and the awards were on the television and OMG (and I never say OMG) after he won he stood up at the podium and played with the audience like I'd never seen before. At every hint, every little crook of a smile, the screaming became ridiculous. I wondered who the hell he was. How I figured out how Tobias was the neat and clean smiling award winner I'll never know.

"He made quite an impression, eh?" asked Muse smiling at her friend.

"Oh my yesss."

"I wish we could find a picture or better yet a U-tube of the awards."

"You never know what someone might discover they recorded it on an old cassette one day and decide to share it. In the meantime we'll have to rely on all the other Muse/Writer partnerships to gift us with some wonderful fanfic moments."

Writer and Muse sat in silence as Muse carefully turned back though the pages before closing the album with a sigh.

"So," asked Writer, "how about it? Have you got lots of new plot bunnies hopping around in your head?"

"Actually I do have one idea," said Muse.

"Tell me more," Writer couldn't hide her anticipation.

"Well, Chris, Vin and Ezra are captured by a group of sex starved lady acrobats."

"Chris, Vin and Ezra?!?" Writer was frowning.


"Lady Acrobats?" The frown deepened.

"...With an all woman traveling circus," explained Muse.

"An all woman traveling circus," repeated Writer dumbly

"Uh Huh," replied Muse her eyes bright as she nodding enthusiastically.

"It sounds more like something more suited to Buck," commented Writer dryly.

"I thought so too, whips and chains and things so I thought Buck would try to rescue them. He'd become too distracted though."

"...and JD will rescue them?" Writer was beginning to worry.

"Oh no, I thought Chris, Vin and Ezra, would make all the woman fall in love with them and they would start fighting one another over them and the woman would all end up being their sex slaves."

Writer was feeling distinctly unsure about this plot bunny and smiled weakly, "What would JD do?"

"Well, I guess he and Josiah and Nathan could keep an eye on Four Corners," replied Muse off-handedly, "someone has to."

Writer was speechless. She tried to form a thought but the words wouldn't come. She sat there, her mouth opening and closing repeated as she tried to think of a way to object without shouting something like "Are you crazy?" Instead she ended up doing a fish imitation and blinking with confusion at her friend. They had just spent the last hour...

Then it came, a giggle, then another. Then Muse's proud grin at her new plot bunny dissolved into a full blown hysterical laughter.

Writer realized she'd been had, big time! "Muse, you will be the death of me yet!"

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~