Characters: JD, Casey
Warnings: Deals with themes of non-consensual sex, but nothing too graphic
Notes: Okay, this is focused on JD. Not necessarily the JD we saw on the episodes and certainly not the JD so often portrayed in the fanfic (at least the fanfic I’ve read). This is based very loosely on the events in an episode of Criminal Minds, although it takes place in the old west. So, if you want a sweet and cuddly JD, he’s not here. The thing you need to keep in mind is that this is the 1800’s and things were handled differently.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Renegade for wranglin’ them pesky pronouns. Thanks to Jeanne, Phyllis and Robijean for looking it over! And, as always, many thanks to everyone who has, or will, read this and pass on their thoughts!
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“Look at that, would ya?”
“Damn, now, that’s a nice looking little filly.”
The three men, passing the hot afternoon in the shade offered by the covered porch outside the saloon, ogled the young woman walking along the boardwalk across the dusty street.
Deke Martin, oldest, meanest and ugliest of the trio, spit a wad of tobacco onto the freshly swept porch. His malicious grin revealed a mouth filled with rotting, broken and missing teeth. “I could think of some things I’d like ta show that little piece ‘a tail.”
“Yeah, well you wouldn’t show ‘er much, now, would ya?” Mac Turner, younger and only slightly less disgusting, splashed out a healthy amount of beer as he ducked away from the fist his companion threw in his direction.
Web Clark, the quietest of the trio, simply rolled his eyes and moved away from the other two men. His gaze stayed on the young woman, however, while his mind conjured images of what he, himself, would enjoy doing to her. None of it would be enjoyable for her; she might not even survive it. He would get pleasure from it, though. He always did.
“You boys got a problem?”
The trio turned to find a young man standing in front of them. He was wearing a city style suit and a bowler, but wore a matched pair of guns on his belt, and they all caught the flash of metal from a badge beneath his lapel. He didn’t look old enough to be off his mama’s lap, but they had heard rumors about the law in this town.
“Not at all, uh…”
“I’m part of the law around here.” JD puffed himself up a bit, trying to look bigger than he was. He fixed them with a stern look. He’d been watching the three men for several minutes, and he had a bad feeling about them. Nothing he could point to, but he was still on edge. Nodding, he said, only, “Let’s keep it that way, okay?”
“Afternoon, Casey,” JD Dunne greeted the young woman walking toward him.
“Hi, JD!” Casey Wells replied brightly. “What are you up to, today?”
“Just keeping an eye on things, same as usual. What are you up to on this fine day?”
“Running some errands for Aunt Nettie. Care to… escort me home, later?” she asked coyly, twisting the end of her hair around a finger.
Grinning broadly, the young man said, “Well, I reckon I could be persuaded.”
Her own smile lighting her face, Casey giggled before responding with, “I’ll meet you at the stables in about an hour, then?”
“Sounds like we have a plan. Well, I’d better get back to work.” Tipping his hat, he concluded with, “See you in an hour.”
The young couple rode slowly along the dirt road, chatting amicably. JD had hitched his horse to the back of the old wagon, and was sitting on the bench seat next to Casey. He held the reins loosely, trusting the horses to keep to the trail. As they often did, they were engaged in a spirited argument.
“No, I’m telling you, if I hadn’t gotten there when I did, Ezra would have gotten shot!”
“Sure! You expect me to believe that he couldn’t have gotten out of that? I mean that man’s tongue – “
“Just what do you know about his tongue?!” JD protested then he nodded to his left. “Hey, why don’t we stop off at the fishing hole? The horses could use a drink, and I’d like to stretch my legs.”
With a giggle, Casey replied, “And we could always go fishing while we’re here.”
Rolling his eyes, Dunne grumbled, “They’re still teasing me about the last time we came here to fish.”
Remembering how deeply he had blushed when they had arrived in town and she announced that she had caught all of the fish herself, Casey remarked, “Oh, they just enjoy teasing you. Fine, let’s stop off at the fishing hole.”
A short time later the young couple was sitting at the water’s edge, shamelessly barefoot as they dangled their feet in the clear, cool water. Nearby, the horses were grazing and drinking their fill contentedly.
“So, I hear Josiah’s going to have a social after church next Sunday, to try and get more people to come to services,” Casey said after several quiet minutes.
“Yeah, that’s what I heard, too. He reckons that, if you tempt folks with free food, they’ll look more kindly on sitting in the church on Sunday’s and listening to him preach.”
Rolling her eyes, Casey scolded, “JD! You shouldn’t say it like that. Josiah has a fine speaking voice. It wouldn’t be a chore to listen to him.”
“That so?” JD gave her a sideways look, dark brows pulled into a frown. “You like hearing him talk, huh?”
With a huff, Casey stuck her tongue out at him. “Grow up, John Daniel Dunne.”
Nudging against her with his shoulder, JD protested, “Nobody calls me that!”
With a giggle, the young woman leapt to her feet and ran off, calling over her shoulder in a sing-song, “John Daniel Duuuu-uuuunnne!”
Getting to his feet as well, JD ran after her. She disappeared around the curve of the mammoth bolder they often sat on and he picked up speed. Just as he rounded the corner, he heard her scream his name.
Hearing the note of panic, he called out, “Casey!” just as he felt something hit him in the side of the head. Stunned, he dropped to the ground, where he swayed on hands and knees as he tried to clear his head. When sight and sound returned, he pushed himself up, sitting back on his heels. Then he saw the young woman and his heart lurched.
She was being roughly manhandled by three men. He knew instantly that they were the men he had seen in town earlier. Her blouse had already been ripped half off her body, and her braids were being used to hold her still. She was crying and cursing them, doing her best to fight all three of them. It seemed she was doing pretty well, too, since one of the men had four long, bloody, scratches down the side of his face.
“NOOOOOO!” he yelled as he gained his feet and threw himself at the mob. He reached for his gun only to find his holster empty. It didn’t matter. Only one thing did. “Casey!” He didn’t hear the gunshot. Didn’t feel it graze his temple. He simply found himself falling into the darkness as unconsciousness once more overtook him.
Darkness gave way to a shadowy world. He stared upward, finally focusing enough to see a dark gray sky. Was it late evening or early morning? He tried moving his head but the pain stopped him. Slowly he managed to bring his hand up from his side, sliding it up his chest. As he did, he absently noted the moisture on his clothing, which his mind translated to dew. Early morning it seemed to say.
As he reached his face, he began to register more pain. The side of his head seemed misshapen, tender. He also found a huge patch of stickiness that came away on his fingertips. Moving his hand to eye level, he saw darkness there. Blood. Then memories flooded through him at a manic clip that found him fighting the pain as he turned his head just before the vomiting started. By the time his body calmed once more, he found himself shaking with weakness.
Her name gave him a strength he no longer felt he owned. Rolling to the opposite side, ignoring the pain and rising nausea, he rolled to his stomach and then pushed to his hands and knees. Finding his voice he croaked out, “Ca… Casey?”
It took several minutes for him to finally recognize that the shape he saw nearby was actually a body. A strangled cry was followed by hot tears as he crawled toward her, whimpering over and over, “Casey? Casey? I’m sorry… Casey? Casey?”
She was lying on her back. Most of her clothing had been ripped from her body, leaving her with nothing but a few torn scraps to cover her. And there was blood. She seemed to be covered in it.
“Casey? Oh God! Casey, I’m so… so sorry! Casey!” He looked up at her face, gasping when he saw her eyes were opened. “Casey?”
Placing his hand beneath her nose, he let out his own breath only when he felt hers on the back of his hand. At least they hadn’t killed her. But, when he looked once more at the dim, seemingly sightless eyes and the bloodied body, he wasn’t certain how grateful he should be.
It seemed to take days, but the young man managed to return to the wagon and the horses, and brought them to where the young woman lay. Retrieving his bedroll, he carried it to Casey and gently wrapped her in it. Picking the young woman up, he carried her to the wagon, maneuvering her onto the bed, where he laid her on a pile of straw near the front. That finished, he found himself shaking and fighting to keep his feet under him. Sitting heavily nearby, he simply breathed for a few minutes. As soon as he could manage it, though, he climbed onto the wagon seat and sent the horses forward in a walk. After a minute’s consideration, he turned the wagon toward town.
He didn’t remember much of the trip; he felt that he simply woke up to find himself at the edge of the little town that he had been protecting for the last two years. He zeroed in on the town’s newspaper when he saw the flicker of lantern light in the windows. Stopping the wagon in front of the building, he struggled to gather himself to move. His body seemed intent on falling asleep on him and he found it harder and harder to perform the smallest action.
“JD? JD! Oh my goodness, what happened?”
He turned to regard Mary Travis, the newspaper’s editor and staff of one. “Mrs. Travis, I… Casey… can you help me?”
Mary hurried to the wagon, peering over the bed until she could make out the huddled form beneath the blanket. “Oh, Lord! What happened?”
“I… we… there were men…” Dunne stammered, finding it impossible to form a coherent sentence.
“Never mind, dear, we’ll discuss it later. Let’s get her inside.” She could see enough of the young woman to have some idea of what state she was in. The town would be waking soon; they needed to get her inside before there were others on the boardwalk. “Come on, I’ll help you.”
“No! No, ma’am… I’ll get her.” His tone was protective and defensive at the same time.
It took several minutes, but JD managed to get Casey out of the wagon and into the newspaper office, following Mary as she led the way into the little apartment in the rear of the building. There he laid her on the bed. As he worked to position her as comfortably as he could, he chanced to look into her battered face, shocked to see deep brown eyes open and staring at him. He couldn’t understand it. “Mrs. Travis?”
Gently placing a hand on the young man’s shoulder, Mary said gently, “They call it shock, JD. It’s as if she’s asleep with her eyes open.” She couldn’t think of any better way to explain it.
“Oh,” was his response. Then he nearly fell as his strength gave out. He found himself being guided to a rocking chair and onto the cushioned seat. He laid his head back and allowed his eyes to close.
When he opened them again, it was to a soft exclamation. Tilting his head forward he saw that Mary was busily cleaning the blood and dirt from Casey’s body. She was covered with a sheet, and he could see that what remained of her clothing had been removed. “No… please, Mrs. Travis… I….” he wasn’t certain what he was objecting to, but he felt that he needed to protect the young woman’s honor.
Turning, Mary dabbed at the tears that were trailing down her pale face. “JD, it’s all right. I’m only trying to clean up the… trying to clean her up a little before we get Nathan.”
“Nathan!? No… she doesn’t…”
Coming to sit at the corner of the bed, near the chair the young man sat in, Mary said gently, “JD, she’s badly hurt. Nathan can… can fix her up. He won’t harm her, you understand that, don’t you?”
“I… yeah. I’m sorry, ma’am.”
Smiling compassionately, the blonde nodded and turned back toward the prone figure. “Do you feel strong enough to go get him, or shall I?”
“I’m all right, I’ll go.” Slowly he pushed himself out of the chair and then stood still for several seconds as a wave of vertigo overcame him. Taking a deep breath he stepped forward and then left the room with determination in his step.
Nathan Jackson sat with four of his fellow peacekeepers at a table in the saloon, where they were eating breakfast. Buck Wilmington, sitting across from him, had alternated between acting like a proud father to acting like a mother hen. And it was all surrounding JD Dunne.
“Now, if that boy did somethin’ stupid on the way back from the Wells home, I’m gonna kick his tail between his shoulders!”
“Buck,” Chris Larabee sighed, “that boy is old enough to take care of himself. He doesn’t need you holding his hand.”
“Ah, hell, Chris.” Vin Tanner chimed into the conversation, “Ya know Buck’s an ol’ mother hen with one chick. If he ain’t fussin’ over the kid, he’s worryin’ over him.”
“You two don’t know what you’re… well, look what the cat drug in!” Buck interrupted himself to greet the subject of their discussion. Then, as he got a look at the younger man’s face, he asked in a serious tone, “What happened, JD?”
Ignoring the question, Dunne focused in on the healer. “Nathan, can you… Casey’s… Nathan, please come with me.”
Frowning, Jackson dropped his utensils and stood quickly. “Show me where she is.”
Nodding, JD led the way back out of the saloon, the bigger man on his heels. Behind them, the others exchanged concerned looks and debated on what to do. Seconds later they were on their feet, following the other men out the door.
Mary Travis looked up as JD re-entered her home, followed closely by Nathan Jackson. Tucking the blankets more tightly around the unresponsive woman’s shoulders, she said, “Nathan, she’s been...”
Nodding once, not needing more of an explanation, Jackson took in the scene, adding it to the bruises and other tell-tale signs of a fight JD sported. He had seen far too many woman brutalized in his lifetime. Laying a hand on JD’s shoulder, he said, “I want you to go on outside – “
“I’m not leaving her, Nathan.”
“Son, listen to me. Mrs. Travis and I can take care of this but… this ain’t something you need to be here for. Besides, I need you to go fill Chris in on whatever you can about these animals, so they can get on their trail. Nobody else can do that but you, understand?”
Heaving a sigh, JD dropped his gaze to the floor and nodded. “Yeah… okay.” Without another word, he left the room.
Stepping out onto the porch, he was only slightly surprised to see the other five peacekeepers waiting for him there. Ezra looked half asleep, but the others stared at him intently, waiting for a report. Dropping to the nearest chair, he once again found himself needing to gather his strength before he began to speak.
By the time he had finished relaying what had happened since he and Casey had left town the afternoon before, the others looked gutshot. Josiah was murmuring what he guessed was a prayer, but Chris was the first to speak.
“Vin, I want you to see if you can pick up their trail.” His voice had a hard edge to it, letting them all know just how angry he was. “Once you figure out where they’re going, come back here, I want us all in on this one. Ezra, Buck, I need you to go talk to Inez, Mrs. Potter… anyone else who might have come in contact with these bastards yesterday. See if they heard anything that might help us. Josiah, since Nathan’s taking care of Casey, let’s you and me get JD patched up.”
The other men agreed with nods and tips of the hat before moving off to their assigned duties.
Chris looked down to see JD sitting, semi-conscious in the seat. “JD, let’s go.”
“I want to stay here… Casey…”
Squatting down in front of the injured man, Larabee said softly, “JD, she’s in good hands. Nathan and Mary will take care of her. But you can’t be there for her if you ignore yourself. Let me and Josiah take care of you, so you can take care of her later. Understand?”
Dunne stared at the other man for nearly a minute and seemed ready to continue the argument, but in the end he said only, “Yes.”
“Good. Okay, let’s go on over to the jail. Josiah, you want to go get some supplies over at Nathan’s?”
“Yep. I’ll see what he needs, too.” The older man tapped on the front door of the newspaper before opening the door slightly and calling inside, “Nathan, it’s Josiah. I’m gonna go get some supplies, thought I’d see what you need.” He entered the room when Jackson called back to him from the rear of the building.
JD looked as if he was going to go into the office as well, but a simple touch on the arm redirected him and he went with Chris to the jail, where he had a small room off to one side. Chris all but led him into it and pushed him so that he sat down on the bed. He should have been somewhat shocked when the laconic gunman helped him out of his jacket, vest, gunbelt and boots and got him settled on the bed.
Larabee disappeared and the young man closed his eyes. It seemed as if it were only a second later when he was jostled awake. Opening tired eyes, he saw that both Chris and Josiah were hovering over him, cleaning up the head wound that he had neglected since the attack. They had brought the small table from the jail proper, and had water, rags, and several of Nathan’s medicinal bottles spread out atop it.
He simply lay there, allowing the other men’s ministrations to keep him focused away from replaying the events of the last several hours. If they asked him to move he did, otherwise he lay still, offering neither help nor resistance.
Buck leaned against the doorjamb, watching the young man that he had taken under his wing and befriended so many months ago. If anything, JD was paler than usual, and he had been lying there, seeming to be asleep, for hours. From time to time he would let out a sound that was something between a whimper and a curse, but most of the time he was silent.
“Buck? Vin’s coming back in.”
Turning to regard his old friend, Buck left the doorway and joined Larabee out onto the porch; the blond had been sitting there, keeping an eye out for signs of further trouble. Together they watched as the tracker trotted into town atop his big black. Waiting until Tanner dismounted and stretched his aching back, the blond asked, “What’d you find?”
“Think I got a bead on ‘em…”
“They’re headin’ for Purgatorio.”
“Damn!” Larabee responded. “Are you sure?”
Nodding, Tanner explained, “Followed their tracks far enough ta be certain. Nowhere else for ‘em ta go but head fer that hellhole.”
Heaving a sigh, Larabee leaned back against the jailhouse wall, tipping his chair back on two legs. “Damn,” he repeated. “Okay, we’ll head out in the morning, go let Ezra and Josiah know. Nathan will have to stay here to take care of Casey and JD, but the rest of us will go get the bastards.”
Turning to Buck, Vin asked, “You an’ Ezra find out anything about ‘em?”
“Not much. Inez remembers them being at the saloon, but they kept to themselves and didn’t make a fuss or anything. Gloria said they picked up some supplies, but they didn’t say anything that would help us. No one else we talked to even remembered ‘em.”
“Damn. Well, reckon we’ll just have ta pick up the trail and hope we can find ‘em in Purgatorio.”
“Ya know, tomorrow’s a long way off. Why don’t we head out tonight? There should be plenty moonlight,” Buck suggested, feeling the pressure to bring the men who had harmed JD and Casey to justice.
“We’ll leave in the morning,” Chris said firmly.
“Fine,” Buck groused, knowing that his old friend was right, but not wanting to admit it. Without another word he marched off, heading toward the saloon.
“Think he’ll stay put?” Vin asked.
“Yeah, he’ll get over there and start getting on Inez’s nerves. That’ll keep him busy for a while.”
The two men laughed, then Tanner suggested, “Reckon we ought ta go keep an eye on ‘im anyway?”
With a grin, Larabee said, “Why don’t you just say let’s go have a beer?”
Shrugging, Vin said, “Thought I did.”
Standing and slapping the other man on the shoulder, Chris said, “Fine, but just one. Let me go check on JD first, make sure he’s still sleeping.” When the other man nodded and leaned against the closest upright, he strode into the jail and stuck his head in at JD’s door. The young man lay much as he had the last time he checked, one arm across his stomach and the other stretched beside him. Satisfied that Dunne was sleeping, he left the jail, closing the door behind him. Joining Vin on the boardwalk, the two men headed toward the saloon.
Behind them, in the jailhouse, JD Dunne pushed himself to a sitting position and pulled on his boots. He moved pillows and blankets around on the bed, making it look as if he was still in it, leaving his hat, vest and jacket behind as well. Satisfied, he left his room and entered the jail’s office, looking out the window to make certain that the others had left. He had overheard the conversation between the other men and knew where the monsters that had hurt Casey were hiding. He was going after them. Alone. And they were going to pay.
“Son of a bitch! I’m gonna strangle that boy! I’m gonna shake him ‘til his teeth rattle, then I’m knockin’ ‘em down his throat. Son of a BITCH!”
Chris looked up from his cards with a frown. “What are you yelling about?”
“JD’s gone!” Buck was still yelling, his face red with anger.
“What! Are you sure?”
Giving Larabee a look that would give his glare a run for its money, Wilmington said, “Yes, I’m sure. He wasn’t in his room… just made it look like he was. I checked over at Mary’s, he ain’t been there. I checked the stable, and his horse is gone.”
“Shit,” Vin looked across the table at the blond. “You sure he was asleep earlier?”
“Seemed to be.” Looking from one man to the other, Chris said, “Think he overheard us talking about Purgatorio?”
“Damn it!” Buck growled.
“All right, let’s get on the road.” Chris ordered, although he didn’t really have to. The others were already getting to their feet.
His head still ached fiercely, but he was focused on what he planned to do when he got to Purgatorio, and the pain seemed to recede from the mental images he was conjuring up. Much of the last day and a half was foggy, but he could very clearly remember the three men who had…
He pushed his mind away from what they had done; he couldn’t bear to touch the memory of what had happened to the young woman. Instead he focused back on what the men looked like and what they would look like after he found them. Those thoughts sustained him through the long night’s ride.
The sun was up by the time he rode over the rise that led down into the ramshackle cluster of buildings where all the outlaws and cutthroats came to hide out. He sat atop his tired mount, studying the town for some time. He knew that, if he didn’t play it smart, he’d be dead before he could dismount. He’d been here before, once with all of the others and, once just he and Buck had come down here, looking for Chris. He’d never been here alone, however.
Finally, realizing that nothing was getting done just sitting there, he nudged his horse forward, guiding it toward the only entrance to the town. Moving along the rutted, dirt road, he felt all eyes on him and sat up straighter to make himself seem bigger. Then he realized that he was being quickly dismissed by the dangerous men who stood on either side of the street. He couldn’t decide whether to be relieved that he wasn’t going to have to fight his way through town, or angry that he wasn’t seen as a threat. Deciding that the former would serve him better, he continued on, stopping at the first saloon on the street.
Entering, he moved to one side, letting his eyes adjust to the dim lighting before surveying the interior of the single room establishment. There were only a few patrons inside, and half of them seemed to be either unconscious or dead. None of them looked the least bit familiar, and none of them seemed to recognize him.
Satisfied, he left the saloon, retrieved his horse, and walked it to the next building. He repeated his actions three more times, before he had any success. Just as he entered the front door, he saw one of the men exiting the back. A quick check told him that the others were nowhere to be seen, so he moved through the filthy room, clearing his gun as he moved out the back door. He watched as the man entered a rickety privy sitting in the alley.
Without hesitation he moved forward, raising his gun as he did, and emptied it into the little structure. A cold smile graced his pale features as, with a single cry, Deke Martin fell; face first, through the rickety door. He walked up to him, nudged him with the toe of one boot as he reloaded. Gunshots in this town weren’t enough to draw attention, so he didn’t feel the need to rush. Something caught his eye, and he looked down to see a tarnished pocket watch that had spilled from the man’s jacket. Retrieving it, Dunne slipped it into his pocket.
“How much of a lead does he have on us?” Chris asked, eyes slanting toward the tracker beside him.
“Reckon about two, maybe three hours.”
“Damn it! Why wasn’t anyone watching him!?” Buck bellowed.
“Like I said… about ten times already… I thought he was asleep. He was barely on his feet when we took him to his room; I never thought for a minute that he was up for something like this.” Chris replied, his voice deceptively soft.
Unheeding, Buck growled back, “Yeah? Well guess you were wrong now, weren’t you?”
Heaving a sigh, the blond replied, “Yeah. I was. Now, can we focus on getting to the damn fool before he gets himself killed?”
No longer interested in talking, Wilmington spurred his horse forward, moving quickly ahead of them.
Chris shook his head as he watched his old friend riding off. Blowing out a breath in a huff he muttered, “Make that two damn fools.”
The second man entered the bathhouse twenty yards ahead of him. By the time he entered, the man was striped and chest deep in a steaming tub. He locked eyes with JD, who smiled as he fired the first round, hitting him directly between the eyes. Three shots later Mac Turner sank below the now bloody water that was splashing over the sides of the tub. Stepping over to the tub, JD looked down at the man, a pair of dark, blank eyes staring back at him from beneath the murky water. One arm was stretched into the air, a silver ring on the ring finger. He pulled it off, shoving it into his pocket to join the watch. Then Dunne resumed walking, moving out the back door of the bathhouse as he reloaded his revolver. He moved around to the front of the bathhouse and gathered up his horse’s reins. A few people looked in his direction, but his gunplay had yet to raise more than a casual interest.
The third man was harder to find. It took an hour before he located the bastard with the tell-tale scratches on his face. JD had to ask around, focusing on the working girls, knowing that the others would just as soon shoot him as respond to his questions. Even so, he asked five of the prostitutes before one would answer his questions, even with the promise of payment. The woman who finally gave him the information he sought looked vaguely familiar to the young man, but he was interested in facts, not conversation.
“SÍ, he went with Perra, back to her sala.” The woman who called herself Amora looked at the young man with curiosity and some concern. She had seen him in this place before, with Señor Chris and the other gringos he rode with. She did not see the others now, though, and could not fathom them letting this crio come alone. “Why do you ask?”
“I’ve got business with him. Where’s this Perra’s place?” His eyes were dark as he stared coolly at the woman.
Smiling sweetly up at the young man, Amora didn’t answer. Instead she said, “Why don’t you come with me to my place, instead.”
“No… thank you. Where can I find them?” He spoke softly, but his words were hard and told her very clearly that he was in no mood to negotiate.
Resignedly, Amora asked, “You will not hurt Perra?”
“No, ma’am, I’ve got no quarrel with her. I only want the hijo de puta si está tirando a.”
“Alright, I will show you.” She pushed away from the table and led him outside, skirts swishing as she moved. Outside she moved along the edge of the dusty street, staying in the shadows as much as she could. It didn’t pay to be seen with a forastero in this town unless you were working, and she hadn’t lived to the age of twenty by ignoring such information.
There was a row of tiny rooms near the center of town. She, herself, kept one of them, as did most of the women who made their living on their backs. She made her way to her room, hoping that anyone who saw them would simply think she was working. Stopping at her closed door, she turned to the young man. “Perra has her room three doors down.” With that she opened her door and stepped inside, eyes never leaving the man. “Good luck, Señor.”
Nodding tightly, JD moved away from her room, tied his horse at the nearest railing, and slipped down the row of rooms to the third one. Standing to one side, he pounded on the door. From inside he heard a muffled exclamation in a man’s voice, telling him in no uncertain terms to go away.
“Señor, alguien ha robado su caballo!” JD yelled, knowing that if the man thought someone was stealing his horse, he’d be more likely to respond. He smiled as he heard the sounds of things being tossed about and crashing to the ground as the bastard hurried toward the door.
Web Clark yanked the rickety door open so hard that the top hinge popped loose, cursing as he did. Clutching his gun in one hand and holding the tattered blanket from the bed around his waist with the other, he could only gasp as he recognized the man standing in the doorway. He tried to close the door, only to find that it was too far askew to move. He made to raise his gun, only to scream as a bullet shattered the bone just above his elbow. Stumbling back into the room, the pistol dropping from suddenly deadened fingers, he began to beg for his life.
“Look… it wasn’t me… I never… please, Mister…”
JD took great pleasure in watching the man groveling before him, the scratches down the side of his face a very clear indication of just how much it had been him. “You’re a lying piece of shit.” To punctuate his words, he squeezed the trigger, the bullet slicing through the already damaged flesh of the man’s cheek. The sound of his cheekbone breaking accentuated another scream of pain.
Dunne looked away from his prey long enough to glance at the young woman who was huddled in the corner of her bed. “Fuera, ahora y no decir nada!” he ordered, although he doubted that anyone would interrupt him if she did say something.
Gathering her clothes, Perra pulled a gown around her too thin frame and ran from the room, hurrying toward Amora’s room. Instinctively the young woman knew that she would be safe there.
His attention going back to the bleeding man, JD said through gritted teeth, “What you did… you need to pay. I want you to know the pain that…“ He took a deep, shuddering breath before he continued, “that Casey felt. But… damn you… nothing I could do would hurt you like you hurt her.”
“I didn’t… look, it was the others… I’ll take you to them… they did it!”
“Yeah? Well, seems I already found them. And you? You can say hello to them…” Dunne shot the man three more times; throat, chest and groin. He watched as the man fell to the floor, gurgling as blood bubbled from his mouth and the hole just above his Adam’s apple. Stepping over to the dying man, he finished with, “In Hell.”
JD watched as the light left the man’s eyes; the blood ceased bubbling through the hole in his throat. Hanging askew on the man’s neck was a gold chain, a tiny, gold cross. With a snort at the vision of the religious icon hanging from this monster’s neck, he yanked at it, breaking the chain as he pulled it loose and shoved it into his pocket. There, it joined his other two mementos.
They were just riding into Purgatorio when JD Dunne came to meet them. Buck, still slightly ahead of the others, reined in and gave the younger man a brief appraisal. Dunne’s face was gray with fatigue and pain, but there was a calm about him that any of them rarely saw. His voice gentle, the bigger man asked, “You alright?”
“Fine,” JD said tightly. He didn’t stop; just guided his horse around the men who had come for him, heading back toward home.
Dusk was etching deep shadows across the town as they entered it, the entire group tired and subdued from the journey. JD had yet to speak another word, although Buck had made several attempts to get him to talk. Finally, Josiah had urged him to leave the sullen young man alone.
JD reined in at the newspaper office. As he dismounted, Nathan stepped out onto the boardwalk. Suddenly looking very young and vulnerable once more, he could only say, “Nathan?”
“She’s restin’. She’s been lookin’ for you since she came to this afternoon; best you get in there and let her know you’re alive.” There was just a hint of frustration in the healer’s tone as he stepped aside and pointed toward the door.
As JD disappeared into the Clarion, the others reined in just beyond the boardwalk. Nathan set his fisted hands on his hips and scrutinized the other men. “What happened?”
“He went to Purgatorio,” Ezra said as way of explanation.
Hesitantly, kneading his hat with nervous fingers, JD moved through the newspaper office toward the apartment in the back. As he neared the half closed door, he stopped, hearing someone speaking inside. “Mary?”
Mary Travis exited her bedroom, closing the door behind her. She was all set to scold the young man, when she saw his face. Sadness washing over her features, the blonde said, “Are you alright, JD?”
“Yes, ma’am, I’m fine. Is… Nathan said that… is she awake?”
With a compassionate smile, the newspaper woman said, “Yes, but… JD, she’s very fragile. Please, don’t upset her, alright?”
Nodding, the brunet moved past the woman and quietly entered the bedroom. Inside he stood for a few seconds, his eyes needing to adjust to the dim light. The window was covered, and there was a single lamp burning, the wick low. A soft rustle brought his attention to the bed.
“JD?” Her voice was nothing but a whisper, raspy and faint.
Moving closer, JD settled in the rocking chair sitting beside the bed. He reached out, but then stopped, uncertain if he should touch her. Casey answered his question, when she reached out to him. Closing stiff fingers around hers, he found them trembling. He started to speak but, instead, found himself crying; great sobs wracking him as he suddenly felt all of the pain that he kept at bay since waking at the fishing hole.
“JD?” Casey whispered again, shocked at his reaction. “JD… I’m… I’m sorry.”
Her response had the effect of a bucket of cold water in his face. Shaking his head as he furiously wiped at the tears, he said, “No, no Casey… you’ve got nothing to be sorry about. You didn’t do anything. I’m sorry… I wish I had been able to… what they did…”
“Mary told me that you’d been knocked out, JD, you couldn’t …” she trailed off, taking a deep breath before she continued. “Nathan said you left town… where’ve you been?” There was a faint hint of the old Casey in her voice now, scolding and angry.
Ducking his head, JD wasn’t certain what to say. How much should he tell her? Mary said he shouldn’t upset her. He would rather die, himself, than bring any more pain to the young woman lying in the bed.
“JD? Look at me…” Casey ordered, her voice growing even fainter as fatigue took over. When he finally managed to lift his head, she looked into his eyes. Her lips trembled as she asked, “Are they… dead?”
Not surprised at how easily she read him, he was still uncertain of what to say to her. “Can we talk about it later… when you’re feeling better?”
There was a short bark of bitter laughter as Casey fixed him with a glare that Larabee would be envious of. “I’ll never feel… better… JD.” Her voice became a little stronger as she repeated, “Are they dead?”
As a way of answering, he reached into his pocket and retrieved the things he’d placed there. Turning her hand over, he laid them one at a time in her palm. He watched as she stared at them for a long moment, seeming to recognize each one. A faint smile of relief flitted across her face, the lines of pain and fear relaxed as she closed her hand and drifted off to sleep.
Nettie Wells came into town the next day, accompanied by Vin Tanner. She sat on the wagon seat, ramrod straight, dark eyes glittering with tears and anger. Her hands were knotted in her lap, clenched so tightly that her knuckles bled white. Vin guided the horses to the boardwalk right out front of the newspaper. He jumped out of the wagon, hurried around, and helped Nettie to the ground. Keeping his hand on her arm, he led her to the door, opened it and allowed her in before him.
The old woman turned just as she crossed the threshold. Smiling up at the young man who had become very dear to her, she said, “Vin, I need to go in alone.”
Nodding, Tanner replied, “I’ll see to the horses. You want me to git ya a room at the hotel?”
“Yes, thank you. After… well, would you like to join me for dinner this evening?”
“I’ll be back fer ya ‘round five.” He tipped his hat and turned to start on his errands.
Nettie closed the door and turned back toward the interior of the building. Taking a deep breath, she moved through the newspaper office, toward the apartment in the back.
As she came to the bedroom door, she heard muffled sounds of someone talking. Knocking, she waited until the door opened revealing Mary Travis standing there, looking tired. Nodding to the younger woman, her attention was on the bed beyond. Her niece lay there, looking very small. A memory came to mind; a tiny little girl with big dark eyes and long, dark hair, staring up at her. It was the day Casey came to live with her, after her younger sister, and brother-in-law, the little girl’s parents, died. The child, so tiny and looking very lost, had stolen her heart in that first moment.
Pushing aside her own pain, the older woman moved past Mary and across to the bed. Settling in the chair, she looked at the girl there. Casey looked up at her, dark eyes glittering with tears.
“Sweetheart…” she began, only to be cut off as the young woman, despite her injuries, threw herself into her arms.
“Aunt… Net…tie!!!” Casey sobbed, hysteria ringing in her voice. All of her pain came out in those three syllables.
Nettie wrapped her arms around her niece – her child – and held her close. She rocked gently, nuzzling against the thick, dark hair as she began to murmur gentle words meant to comfort. Casey melted against her, trembling and crying as she sought out the warmth and protection offered in that embrace.
They sat there for nearly an hour until, slowly, Casey relaxed and, eventually, fell asleep in her aunt’s arms. Mary, who had stood guard at the doorway, came in as Nettie began to guide the lax body back onto the bed. Together the two women managed to get the third back under the blankets, pulling them up to her neck.
Arching her back to ease the tension caused by holding the young woman for so long, Nettie pushed herself out of the seat and motioned for Mary to follow her from the room. Outside, she said softly, “Vin filled me in on what happened. How’s JD?”
“Buck and Nathan got him to go back to his room late last night.”
“Is he alright?”
Shaking her head, Mary said, “I’m not certain. I’m not certain either of them will… be alright. What they went through…”
Nodding, Nettie said “They’re young and they’re strong. They’ll make it.”
“I hope you’re right, Nettie… I hope you’re right.”
JD shuffled out of his room, into the jail proper. He wasn’t surprised to find someone sitting there, but hadn’t expected it to be Josiah. “Do I smell coffee?”
Nodding, the older man looked up from the book he was reading. “There’s food, too.”
Shaking his head, JD replied, “I’m not hungry.”
“You may not be, but you need the nourishment, son.”
Hazel eyes flaring with anger, the young man said, “I’m not a child.”
“No, you’re not,” Sanchez agreed. “But that doesn’t make you indestructible. Now, do you want to eat, or shall I go get some of that boiled skunk of Nathan’s and pour it down you?”
Huffing, but deciding not to answer, Dunne dropped down to the chair behind the desk and pulled back the cloth that covered the tray sitting there. His stomach made a lurch at the smell of food, but he was glad to see that, at least, it was soup and bread. Pouring a cup of coffee from the pot, he took a long drink before sitting it down. Picking up the spoon next, he dipped it into the soup. Managing a bite, his stomach growled now, as hunger made itself known.
Nearby, Josiah went back to his reading, but smiled when he heard the other man’s stomach grumble. He sat there, a quiet and steady presence that didn’t push, but only offered Dunne his company. As the young man ate, he studied him over the edge of his book. Where once there was youthful exuberance it had been replaced by a sense of peace. He had done what was necessary, for himself and for Casey, nobody would fault him for that. But, over the course of the last three days any hint of boy that remained had been destroyed, leaving behind a man made stronger by the danger and brutality of the time.
JD hurried down the boardwalk toward the Clarion at the sight of Nettie Wells’ wagon standing outside. Just as he arrived at the newspaper office, the older woman came out, Casey at her side. Mary Travis was on the other side of the young woman, who, even after a week, still looked very shaky, tiny and fragile.
Looking up, the dark haired woman managed a frail smile. “Hey, JD.”
“You’re going home?”
She nodded, reaching up and taking hold of the wagon as she pulled herself up and onto the seat. Nettie stepped up behind her.
JD hurried around and reached out, taking hold of the young woman’s hand. “Casey?”
“I… JD, I need some time, alright? Wh-what happened…” unable to continue, she covered her face with her hands as she began to sob.
“JD, give it some time, alright?” Nettie said in a firm, but gentle voice. “I’m taking her home so she can heal.”
“Can I come out?”
With a smile, the older woman replied, “Soon, son. We’ll let you know.” She shook the reins and set the horses on the road toward her homestead.
Watching as the wagon moved out of town, JD barely registered the fact that Mary came to stand beside him. Almost to himself, he said, “She hates me.”
“No! She doesn’t hate you, JD,” Mary admonished. “She simply needs time to heal… body and soul.”
“Will she be okay?” He turned to lock gazes with the blonde, his eyes awash with unshed tears.
Her face filled with sorrow, Mary could only say, “I don’t know,” before she turned away and went back into the newspaper office.
JD continued to watch the wagon’s progress, until it was nothing but a fading spot on the near horizon. He startled when someone laid their arm across his shoulders. Turning, he saw Buck Wilmington standing beside him. “Buck…”
Heaving a sigh, the big man said, “Give it time, JD.”
“Do you… I… “ he stumbled over the words, not certain what he wanted to say.
Turning and taking the younger man with him, Wilmington said, “C’mon Kid, let me buy you a beer.”
July 31, 2010