TYPE OF FANFIC: gen
MAIN CHARACTERS: Vin, JD, Seven
RATING AND/OR WARNINGS: PG, none
SYNOPSIS: JD birthday party raises questions about Vin's birth day.
This story was formerly hosted at another website and was moved to blackraptor in July 2011.
JD's eyes were bright with excitement as he glanced around at all the work that had been put into transforming the jail for the surprise celebration. The small building had been swept, dusted and cleaned, and someone had spread a checkered tablecloth over the desk. And on that red and white cloth was a pile of gifts all waiting for him along with food, coffee and a cake Casey must have baked herself – that is if her proud smile and the way she hovered protectively near the treat were any indication.
He smiled broadly and glanced around at the rest of the party-goers. Buck was puffed up like a barnyard rooster – the party organizer, no doubt about that. Josiah and Nathan each sat in chairs, grinning and enjoying the whole thing. Ezra was also sitting down, looking amused by all the fuss.
JD swallowed hard and cast a glance at Larabee, who was leaning against the far wall, watching him with a mix of good humor and a little sadness in his eyes. And, next to him, was Vin, who looked more than a little confused by it all.
And, near the desk, protecting food, drink and cake, stood Casey and Nettie and Inez, the ones responsible for the waiting meal, he knew.
"Well, say somethin', JD!" Buck prompted with an exasperated sigh.
"I, uh, don't know what to say," JD replied, grinning happily. "Wow."
"Happy Birthday, John Dunne," Josiah said, lifting an invisible toast to the youngest member of the Seven. The others echoed the sentiment.
"Well, gentlemen, this meal ain't gettin' any hotter," Nettie scolded them, and they all quickly moved over to the desk, accepting the plates of food dished up and handed to them; JD getting the largest proportions from the ladies. Then, as they settled on chairs and cots, pulled out from the cells, to eat, Buck asked, "So, JD, ya gonna tell how old ya really are today?"
JD's cheeks colored and he shot the ladies' man a hot glare. "Whatcha sayin', Buck?" he challenged the man.
"I believe Mr. Wilmington is skeptical of your–" Ezra began, only to be cut off by Nathan.
"Means Buck don't think you're as old as you say you are."
JD blushed a deeper shade of red and tried to ignore the way Casey was watching him from across the room with growing interest.
"Come on, JD, tell us the truth," Buck encouraged with a sly grin; he was watching Casey, too. "How old are ya, really?"
The young sheriff sighed heavily. "I've always looked younger than I really am," he defended himself. "Ever since I was a tiny child, so this ain't the first time I've been asked this question . . . but I guess I might've stretched the truth a bit – a little bit – when I first met all of you. . ."
"Which means?" Josiah asked, then added under his breath, "Lord, please let this sinner be at least the age of majority . . . or I'm going to feel a whole lot older than I already do."
The party-goers chuckled and JD blushed again. "I'm older 'n eighteen, Josiah," he assured the former preacher.
"How much older?" Casey asked, grinning ear to ear.
Nettie cocked her head to the side, waiting to hear the answer to that question as well. She didn't want her granddaughter being courted by someone too old, or too young.
"Anyone like to place a wager on our young friend's true nativity?" Ezra asked the group with a flash of his gold tooth.
"I say he's not a day over twenty," Buck jumped in immediately, shooting JD a challenging glare.
"Twenty-one," Nathan guessed next.
"Nineteen," Josiah offered, then added with a look at JD, "for purely personal reasons, you understand."
JD grinned and looked at Chris and Vin.
Larabee shrugged. "Old enough to know better," the gunslinger replied, but the ghost of a smile at the corners of his mouth took any sting out of the words.
"How about you, Mr. Tanner, what conjecture do you favor?"
Vin was silent for a moment, then the tracker scratched the back of his neck and said a little self-consciously, "Hell, Ezra, don't even know how old I am, so I can't rightly guess JD's age."
"Twenty," Casey blurted excitedly, casting a sidelong glance at Nettie. "Ain't that right, JD?"
The young man sighed and nodded. "Yeah, I'm twenty now," he admitted to the men. "Today's my twentieth birthday, not my, uh, twenty-second, like I said it was."
"Lord have mercy, he's a mere child," Josiah muttered, shaking his head and prompting another round of chuckles.
Then the gathered friends fell into soft conversations as they ate their meals. When they were done, Casey cut the cake and passed out slices while Inez poured drinks for the men from a bottle she'd borrowed from Ezra's private stock; the ladies each had a second cup of coffee.
With prompting, JD sat down behind the desk, now cleared of food, and stared at the small stack of gifts.
"Well, go on, JD, open 'em!" Buck encouraged with a smile and a nod.
The presents were all practical and necessary for the life he'd chosen for himself – clothes, trail gear, and new knife – but there was one exception.
JD shook the largest of the boxes, his brow furrowing at the dull thumping sound the action created inside.
"Well, hurry up!" Buck snapped at him. "Open it!"
Knowing the last gift was from the big ladies' man, JD dragged out opening it as long as he dared, then opened the gift, finding a new holster waiting for him inside. It was black and sleek, and had room for both of his guns. His mouth dropped open and he looked up at the older man, who was grinning like a fiend. "Buck," he said, shaking his head, "it's . . . it's . . . beautiful."
"Well, take it out and put it on, kid!" Wilmington encouraged, and JD did just that.
The leather was soft and supple and it clung to his body like a second skin. He slipped his guns into the twin holsters and smiled. "Thanks," he said, hoping the depth of his appreciation wasn't all too clear in the rough tone of his voice.
"Hate t' break up the party," Vin interrupted, "but I gotta head out fer m' patrol. Happy Birthday, JD."
"Thanks, Vin," the younger man replied. "And thanks again for the knife."
The tracker nodded once, lifting his finger to touch the brim of his hat in a salute to JD before slipping out the door.
The party quickly wound down, Inez excusing herself to head back to the saloon, then Nettie and Casey packed up the dishes and tablecloth so they could head back to their ranch before dark, although they left the remainder of the cake for JD and the others to finish off later.
And, when it was only the six peacekeepers left, the men all sharing a final drink from Ezra's bottle, JD frowned and asked, "What do you suppose Vin meant when he said he didn't know how old he was? I mean, everybody knows when they were born, right?"
"No, not everyone," Josiah said softly, and JD thought he caught a hint of sadness in the older man's voice. "Vin was just a boy when he lost his ma. . ."
"Just turned five," Chris said softly, not looking up from his drink.
"Five? Hell, that's no older than little Billy Travis," Buck said, frowning. "Good Lord, that had to be hard as hell on him at that age."
"But if he was five when that happened, he'd know how old he was now," JD reasoned, still confused.
"Guess maybe he lost track of time, livin' with the Indians," Nathan suggested. "Ain't like they understand time same as you and me."
JD nodded, thinking about that possibility. "You know, come to think of it, we've celebrated almost everybody's birthday now, except Vin's," he said. "Buck's last November, then Nathan's in January, Josiah's and Chris's in March, and now mine. And Ezra's is comin' up in late September."
"However did you learn when my birthday was?" the gambler asked, his eyes rounding with honest surprise.
JD grinned at the man. "Your mother told me when I asked her." He wagged his eyebrows at the gambler, then turned serious, adding, "But it ain't right, us getting t' celebrate our birthdays, except Vin."
"Don't rightly think it bothers him," Chris said, still staring into the glass that held his drink, lost in his own thoughts.
"Say, maybe we could come up with a day to celebrate it on; some day that means something special to him?" JD suggested, looking from one man to another.
"Maybe you ought to ask Vin if he'd be interested, before you go to a lot of work planning this idea of yours," Josiah cautioned the younger man.
JD nodded, saying, "All right. Well, fine. I'll ask him."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Vin looked confused. "Tell me again, y' want t' do what, 'xactly?"
"Pick a day to celebrate your birthday on," JD repeated the following morning as they all sat around a table in the saloon, breaking their fast together.
The tracker frowned. "Don't think that's the way it's done, JD. Seems t' me, y' celebrate yer birthday same day as y' were born. That's why they call it a birth day."
JD sighed and the others seated around the table tried not to snicker. "I know that's the way it's usually done, but if you don't remember the day you were–"
"Never said I don't remember the day," Vin interrupted him.
"Then you do?" JD asked hopefully.
The tracker thought for a moment, then shrugged and admitted, "Ah hell, JD, I don't recall the 'xact day . . . it was some time in late summer, 'fore the trees started t' turn real good. But I remember what happened jus' fine."
JD smiled. "Well, there, you see, that would be, what, early to mid-September?"
Vin shrugged, taking another bite of his bacon. "Don't see as it matters much, t' be honest."
"But it does matter, Vin," JD argued with the tracker. "A man's birthday, well, it's a special day, all his own. It's a day that marks him coming into the world. A day that tells him he matters."
"Him an' everybody else born on that same day," Buck teased the younger man.
JD shot the ladies' man a glare. "It's a day when you get to feel special; proud that you were born and that you're in the world, doing something."
"Admirable sentiments, my good man, but it is also a reminder of the passage of time and of all the things we have failed to accomplish," Ezra added from across the table.
"You got regrets, birthday is a good time to start making up fo' 'em," Nathan challenged the gambler.
Ezra shrugged, admitting defeat.
"What our young friend is trying to ask," Josiah cut in, "is whether you'd mind if we decided to pick a day and celebrate your birthday on it."
Vin considered that for a moment, then leaned back in his chair and said, "Hell, y'all do whatever y' like. Like I said, seems t' me, man ought t' celebrate his birthday on the day he's born, an' seein' as I can't recall, I don't got no call t' be celebratin'." And with that the tracker stood and left.
"Was that a yes or a no?" Buck asked, frowning with confusion.
"That, Brother Buck, was a maybe."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"Chris!" JD called, running hard to catch up with Larabee as the gunslinger led Pony up to the livery.
The blond stopped and turned, waiting for JD to catch up with him. "Something wrong?" he asked, his gaze sweeping over the street and stores, looking for any signs of trouble.
"No," JD said, shaking his head, "I just wanted to see if you had any ideas for a good day to celebrate Vin's birthday on."
Chris glanced down to hide the grin that threatened to pucker the corners of his mouth. "Still on that, are ya?"
"Yeah," JD admitted, feeling a little self-conscious. "Just don't seem right for us not to celebrate Vin's birthday. Anyway, I'm taking a poll to see what everyone thinks would be a good day. Got a suggestion?"
"Nope," Chris said. "Seems to me you might want to ask Vin if there's a day he thinks on as special."
JD frowned. "I was going to, but he took off for a hunt this morning."
"He'll be back in a few days," Chris told the younger man. "Ask him then."
"I was kind of hoping to have a day all picked out for him by then."
Chris started inside the livery. "JD, my suggestion is to ask Vin."
JD sighed and shook his head, then he turned and headed for the stairs to Nathan's clinic. Maybe the healer would be more help.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"How should I know?" the healer asked, frowning at JD as he scrubbed the table he'd used the day before when he'd dug a bullet out of one of the local cowboys – a slug put there by his drunken friend.
"Hasn't Vin ever talked about a special time in his life to you?" JD pressed.
Nathan stopped scrubbing and thought for a moment. Then he shook his head and said, "Nope."
"All right then," JD countered with a frustrated sigh, "what do you think would be a good day to make his birthday?"
"Day he was born."
"If we knew that, we wouldn't have to pick one!"
Nathan sighed and met the frustrated man's gaze. "Look, JD, I don't got an answer for you. Why don't you ask Vin? He's the one whose gonna know a day he thinks is special."
JD's shoulders slumped. "That's what Chris said, too."
"Well, see, that's what ya need to do." And with that, the healer went back to his work.
JD headed for the door, muttering under his breath. Maybe Buck would be more help. And he never thought he'd find himself thinking that!
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"Well, now, if we knew what day he lost his virginity that'd be a kind of birthday," Buck offered softly as he flirted with one of the few unattached women who passed by the jail.
The big ladies' man was leaning back in his chair, making eyes at the pretty redhead, and JD was sorely tempted to kick one of the two legs out from under the man, sending him crashing onto his butt.
"Well, we don't know when that was, so, do you have any better suggestions?"
Buck watched the woman until she disappeared into the dress shop, then folded his arms over his chest, closed his eyes and started to think. His brow furrowed and he chewed on his bottom lip and the tips of his moustache. Then his eyes popped open.
"You come up with something?" JD asked hopefully.
"Nope," Buck said, grinning and shaking his head. "I was just thinkin' that Miss Kate ought t' be back in town by now."
"Come on, Buck," JD wheedled, "I need some help here!"
"Why don't you–"
"I can't!" the young man snapped. "He's gone off on a hunt!"
"Ah, okay," Buck said, wondering when JD had picked up a talent for reading minds. "Well, special days . . . those are unique as every man, JD. Seems to me the only way to find a good one for Vin is to talk to him. Maybe you can do it real careful like, so he don't catch on to what you're doin'. I can help you with that."
JD, who had been leaning against the wall of the jail, pushed himself off and started off at a brisk pace, saying over his shoulder, "Thanks, Buck, but I'll ask around a little more first." The last thing he needed was Buck Wilmington trying to teach him how to be subtle. The big oaf wouldn't know subtle if it walked up and bit him in the ass. He hurried, shaking his head and muttering to himself some more.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Ezra leaned against the bar, his gaze sweeping over the patrons of the Standish Tavern, hoping some of them might decide to join him in a poker game. Unfortunately, he'd already cleaned most of them out at least twice that week already and they were all still licking their wounds.
He glanced over, watching as JD entered and headed for the bar. The younger man sagged heavily against the bartop and ordered himself a beer.
"And how goes your quest to discover a day to celebrate our Mr. Tanner's birthday on?" the gambler asked him.
JD glanced up at Ezra and sighed heavily, saying, "Not good. Chris and Nathan both said I should ask Vin, and the best Buck could do was the day Vin lost his virginity, which we don't know either."
Ezra tried hard not to smile as he nodded and replied, "That would be a day worthy of commemoration, I'm sure, but somehow I doubt it would mean quite the same thing to Mr. Tanner as it does to Mr. Wilmington."
"You got any ideas, Ezra?" JD asked, his tone almost pleading. The gambler was smart, maybe he could come up with a good day.
Rubbing his chin as he thought for a moment, Ezra said, "I'm sorry, my friend, but I cannot come up with a good candidate for you. I simply do not know enough about Mr. Tanner to hazard a guess as to a particular day he might treasure about all the rest."
JD sighed. "Same here. Hell, we don't know anything about Vin. Not really."
"Only that he is wanted in the state of Texas," Ezra reminded him. "And I doubt he would want to celebrate his birthday on the day he was made a fugitive by the lies of Eli Joe."
JD shook his head.
"Have you spoken to our resident minister?" Ezra asked the younger man.
"Josiah?" JD asked, and then he smiled. "Josiah!" He grabbed his beer, draining it in three huge gulps before slamming the empty glass down on the bartop and bolting from the tavern.
Ezra watched him go, wondering, not for the first time, how he had gotten himself tied up with this godforsaken backwater and the six other regulators he now numbered among his friends.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"Josiah, you here?" JD called from just inside the door of the church. He flinched at the way it sounded too loud in the house of worship.
"No need to shout, son. The Lord hears a whisper as clear as a shout," Josiah said, sitting up from where he'd been stretched out along one of the pews, taking a nap. "I'm here. There trouble?"
JD shook his head, sliding into the pew in front of Josiah's and turning so he could meet the older man's sleepy gaze. "I need your help, Josiah."
The former preacher cocked his head slightly to the side, asking, "What can I do for you, John?"
"It's Vin . . . I can't come up with a good day for us to celebrate his birthday on. Chris and Nathan both told me to ask him, but he's not here, and even if I did, he wouldn't tell me one because he thinks he shouldn't have a birthday, since he can't remember what his birthday really is."
Josiah paused for a moment, letting all the words reach his brain and sort themselves out. "I see," he replied. "Maybe you ought to consider letting this go?" he suggested to the young man.
JD frowned. "I can't, Josiah. It's just not fair. Vin didn't deserve to lose his mama when he was so small. . ." He trailed off and sat back with a heavy sigh. "Oh, I don't know, maybe you're right. It's just . . . my mother always told me that my birthday was a special day. That it was the day we celebrated the Lord bringing me into the world . . . and making her the happiest woman on Earth."
Josiah chuckled softly. "I'll bet it did, son."
"Birthdays were always special for us," JD continued, hunching over a little, pain and excitement mixed in his eyes. "She'd save up a little money and she'd bake me a cake, and buy me a gift to open. Nothing fancy, of course, but something, even when I knew we couldn't really afford it. And I always found a way to get her a gift for her birthday, too."
JD gazed off, lost in the fond memories and Josiah could see the love and sadness they brought the younger man. "She sounds like a remarkable woman, JD."
"She was, Josiah, she really was. And even now that she's gone, when I get to my birthday . . . well, it's kind of like I can sense her, lookin' down from Heaven to see how I'm doing after another year's gone by . . . Oh, hell, I guess that sounds pretty silly, huh?"
"No," Josiah said, shaking his head, "no, it doesn't."
"I guess I just wanted Vin to have a day when he could feel special too. But maybe it's a mistake. Maybe he doesn't want to remember his ma, or how it was when he was a boy. It must've been plenty hard for him, and losin' her, well, it must have been like the world had come to an end. . ."
"Life's hard on all of us, John Dunne. It just takes its toll in different ways. But you're not wrong. Every man deserves to feel he's valued and cared about, even if it's just for one day out of the year."
JD frowned. "I guess Vin knows he means a lot to all of us, don't he?"
A slight smile lifted the corners of Josiah's mouth and he nodded. "I suspect he knows."
"Well then, I guess maybe if he doesn't want to celebrate his birthday, there's no reason for me to prod him on it."
"I'm not sure it's that he doesn't want to celebrate his birthday," Josiah said thoughtfully. "I think it might be more that he's feeling a little guilty he can't remember the day his mother brought him into the world."
"Y' got the right of it, Josiah."
Both men jumped and turned. Vin stood just inside the doors of the church, his silent entry taking them both by surprise. The tracker dipped his head as he removed his hat, then walked up to join then, taking a seat next to Josiah. "I c'n remember m' fifth birthday," he said, the pain he felt over his loss making his voice tight and soft. "She made me a tiny cake, no bigger 'round 'n a tin coffee cup . . . she was sick, real sick even then, but she got up out 'a bed t' make me that little cake. That's when she told me I's a Tanner, 'n' how I had t' remember that an' be proud of it. An' do all I could t' keep the good name 'a Tanner alive . . . keep it a proud name . . . I didn't know she was dyin' . . . just saw the love in her eyes . . . but damned if I can recall which day that was, or even which month fer sure."
Josiah reached out and rested his hand on Vin's shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. "'A good name is better than precious ointment,'" Josiah quoted, "'and the day of death than the day of one's birth.'"
"All that, 'n' I cain't remember the exact day," the tracker said, his voice cracking slightly as he shook his head. "Jus' don't seem right."
"It's not your fault, Vin," JD reassured the sharpshooter. "And I'll bet she knows that, too. You were so little. I don't remember my fifth birthday."
Vin considered the younger man's words, then nodded. "Reckon she does know, JD. Like t' think so, anyways."
"'Love is strong as death," Josiah said softly. "She knows, son. She knows. You can bank on that."
"At least you know it was in the late summer," JD offered.
Vin nodded. "The trees were still green, just a few bits of yellow here and there, and the skies was blue. I 'member sittin' out on an old rope swing, listenin' t' the birds singin' . . . jus' don't remember the day, or even it was September or October, or even August."
Josiah thought for a moment, then asked, "Wasn't it late August or early September when Chris rounded us all up to defend that Seminole village?"
JD smiled. "Yep, started on September second. That's the day I got off the stage here; the day they were gonna hang Nathan – until Chris and Vin stopped them."
Vin smiled. "Well, guess that's as good a day as any, if y' want to make one m' birthday. Better 'n most, I reckon."
"It was the birth of the man we've all come to know as Vin Tanner," Josiah offered, giving the man's shoulder another squeeze.
And Vin leaned into the gesture, taking comfort in the fact he finally had people he could rightly call "family" again. It was something he knew he couldn't take for granted, it was too precious and he didn't know if or when it might be taken from him. The tracker nodded, making a decision. "I'd be proud t' make that m' birthday, JD."
"Then September second it is," JD said, grinning happily. "And it might even be pretty close to the real thing. Hey! That means your birthday will be the next one we celebrate!" he added.
Vin cheeks went rosy. "That's fine, but I don't want no big fuss made over it," he cautioned JD. "I don't need no fancy party."
"It won't be a big one," JD promised the tracker. "Just a little one; like mine."
"Yers was a big, fancy one," Vin argued, but JD had already slid out off his seat and was headed for the doors.
"I'm gonna go tell the others!" he called back to them. "We've got a party to plan!"
"Ah hell, JD, it's only the start 'a July!" Vin groaned. But the young man was already gone.
Josiah chuckled, shaking his head. "You have to give him enthusiasm."
Vin shook his head and snorted softly. "Give 'im a kick in the seat 'a his pants is what I oughta do."
"He means well."
"Yeah, I know he does, an' that's why I won't really do it. I think. Depends on how big this damned 'party' gets b'fore September."
The older man chuckled again.
"Josiah," Vin said softly, "y' think JD's right, 'bout his mama lookin' in on 'im from Heaven on his birthday?"
The former preacher shrugged, but said, "I like to believe there's a view from every room in the Lord's house, Vin, and if they want to, those who have passed on can look down to see how those they left behind are faring – seems only fair."
Vin considered the man's words for a long moment, then nodded, accepting them. "Then I guess it's time I had 'nother birthday. Wouldn't want m' ma t' fret none over how 'm doin'."
Josiah nodded. "Besides, Nettie will bake your cake, and that, Brother Vin, is something worth celebrating."
Vin grinned. "Y' got that right, preacher."