Alternate ATF Universe
Characters: JD, Vin, Buck.
Summary: When is a dream not a dream?
Author's Note: I don't speak Kiowa, or have even heard it spoken (I don't think) however, to make this story as authentic as possible, and thanks to an online PDF Kiowa dictionary that someone has lovingly put together, and lots of research from several sites, I have fashioned some sentences, names and phrases. They won't be perfect, especially as some of the words were the original spellings, and some were phonetic, so I hope I'll be forgiven. I have loved researching the Kiowa, and hope it reflects in the story :o)
Sheriff JD Dunne awoke to the sound of a hooting owl. Rubbing his eyes, he glanced across the earthen floor at his sleeping partners and shook his head. "Just an ole hootie owl, JD. Go back to sleep, Chris wants an early start in the morning."
On their return from town, and while cutting through woods, he, Chris, Buck, and Vin had gotten caught in a violent storm. Luckily, Vin recalled there was an old cabin somewhere close by, and within half an hour, four soaked lawmen were resting up in the rundown, drafty shack while their horses squeezed in from the rain under a heavily leaning shelter.
Taking one last look at his slumbering friends, JD turned over on his bedroll, pulled up his blanket, and tried to doze back off. What seemed like only minutes later, he sat upright on hearing a baby crying. He turned to the others for confirmation and huffed on seeing his companions still sound asleep. He was about to accept he dreamed the cry when he heard it again.
Scrambling to his feet, JD drew one of his Colts and crept toward the door. Glancing again at his three friends, he reckoned on waking them. However, he discounted the idea when he considered what they'd say if he'd woken them just because of what could be a dream. JD opened the door and winced at the creaking of the warped wood. He peered outside. Nothing but moonlit woods; kinda creepy, but it didn't look like there was anything out there. He yawned; just a dream then.
As he was about to go back inside, the crying sounded again. More concerned for the infant than worried about being wrong, JD stepped outside the cabin. He stood quietly and listened for anything that might point to where the crying was coming from and shivered at the thought of a child being out there in the dark woods, alone.
A noise from somewhere in front of him caused JD to peer into the gloom. "Hello? Who's there?"
It all happened so fast. One second there was nothing but moonlight filtering through darkness and shadows ahead of him, the next an Indian was standing there. A moment later JD staggered back when something sharp slammed heavily into his chest. He managed to get back inside and close the door, but as JD stood with his back against the rough planks, he could see an arrow protruding from just below his shoulder.
All at once the pain hit him; so intense it stole his breath. He took two unsteady steps forward before falling, barely managing to twist before his back hit the floor. Frozen in agony and his breathing labored, JD looked across at his still sleeping friends.
`Surely someone heard all that?' His eyes widened in alarm. `Were they dead?'
A snore confirmed they were not but still JD couldn't understand how three seasoned gunslingers slept through him opening the door, let alone getting hit by an arrow. Unable to find the strength to utter a cry for help all JD could do was lie there while his eyelids slowly flickered and closed in time with the volume of blood seeping from his body. The last thing he remembered was how cold he felt, and the sound of his own voice in his head screaming for Buck to wake up.
"BUCK, FOR CHRIST'S SAKE, WAKE UP! WAKE UP, I'M DYING HERE! PLEASE. BUCK!"
JD never heard the thud on the floor above him, or the hasty steps down the stairs, but he did hear Buck's frightened voice and saw his roommate's tortured features staring down at him as he was shaken awake.
"JD! Jesus, Kid, what's wrong, where're you hurt?" Buck stared at the glistening face of his best friend. The slender, heated body was trembling in Buck's hands as sweat rolled from under JD's bangs and his hands clutched at tangled sheets.
Blinking awake, JD stared around his bedroom, and then at Buck. He abruptly went from terrified to mortified. "Aww shit, I'm sorry. I must've been dreaming." As Buck released one arm, JD swiped a shaky hand across his face.
"Man, it seemed so so real."
"Dreaming?" Buck challenged as he dropped wearily onto the edge of JD's bed. "More like a freakin' nightmare, Kid. Y'almost gave me a heart attack. What was it about, a bust?"
JD pondered the question for a while. From the glow of the hallway light outside, Buck could see the boy was actually blushing.
JD finally made eye contact. "We you, me, Chris, and Vin we were dressed funny, sorta like...like back in the Old West. There was this Indian, uh, Native American, and he shot an arrow into me."
Buck narrowed his eyes. "Were you watching Westerns before bed again?"
JD's eyes widened and he sat up. That was it, it had to be. "I did catch the end of one, yeah."
Buck ruffled the boy's hair, then patted his own chest. "Jesus, Kid, you're gonna finish me off me one of these nights."
JD frowned as he checked the time and then looked back at his best friend. "Don't say things like that, Buck."
Touched by the sincerity and concern in the scold, Buck stood and moved to the door. "You want a drink? Milk, hot chocolate? Water?"
The boy smiled. "Nah, I'm good, thanks. Sorry I woke you."
"Me and half the neighborhood, but then I always said sleep's overrated. See you for work in..." Buck peered at the digital clock on JD's nightstand. "...three hours." With a wave, Buck left.
It took a few minutes for JD's heart to slow down enough to want to settle again. To kill time, he crossed the room to look out of the window. Once he got there he fixated on the big yellow moon hanging in the sky and filling his view. Leaning in with one hand on the wall, JD shivered as a memory taunted him. `A memory of ' JD screwed up his face in concentration. 'Work? Something to do with his dream? What the hell was it ?'
JD gasped, inwardly as the moon came back into focus. Oh yeah. In his dream, the moon had been red.
Two weeks on, and with Halloween closing in fast Buck was chiding the others into committing to a celebration of some sort. Vin lobbed balled up paper, hitting Buck square on the nose.
"Halloween's midweek, Bucklin. We can't be gettin' all liquored up on a school night."
Buck rubbed his nose. "We could do something the weekend before. Doesn't have to be about drinking much."
"I refuse to wear a garish outfit to satisfy your juvenile requirements, Mister Wilmington."
Buck waggled his eyebrows. "What you're wearing now's just fine, Ezra."
Standish remained unmoved. "Such an uproarious rejoinder, Buck. Your wit knows no bounds." He was surprised by the man's sudden earnest expression. "Buck?"
"Finally. It's about time you told us," Nathan scolded as he sensed a breakthrough in something that was clearly going on between Buck and JD.
"This about JD?" Vin asked, sitting upright in his chair. He hadn't missed it either.
"And now I'm thinking it's because he looks as though he hasn't slept in a week," Josiah added.
"Try more like two," Buck said, quietly.
"Good thing we're inactive." Chris's voice had all heads turn his way. His stare remained steady.
"Not a coincidence then," Vin stated.
Larabee shook his head. "I asked for some downtime. We've had a run of tough cases and I told Travis he owed us time to regroup. I didn't declare it because I didn't want JD blaming himself."
"Why would he?" Josiah asked, his brows knitted in confusion. "Does he know you're aware he's not sleeping well?" He glanced around the group. "Has the problem been ongoing since his bad dream?"
"Wait. This is still about that nightmare?" Ezra questioned. "But that was weeks ago."
"He's had more, huh?" Vin challenged.
Buck and Chris exchanged glances. "Yes, and always the same one," the latter replied, answering all questions as he did so.
Josiah nodded sagely. Of course Chris would know about this. If not from JD, then from Buck. The kind-hearted man was terrible at keeping a secret if a friend was in need.
"You know, this downtime's probably not helping. JD's got an active mind. All that mental energy's gotta go somewhere."
Four heads bobbed at Nathan in agreement .
"These are different," Buck insisted, "and like I said, started before the downtime."
"How so are they different?"
Buck looked at Josiah. "It's the detail. When he dreams, he sees a cabin in the woods. Him, me, Chris, and Vin are dressed in Old West duds. JD even knows he's dressed a little differently."
"Different how?" Ezra queried.
"Well, he said Vin has a buckskin jacket " he waggled his fingers under an outstretched arm. " With fringes on it. I'm dressed as a regular cowboy, except I have a real colorful bandanna around my neck. Chris is dressed head to toe in dark colors, and JD " Buck glanced around the engrossed group. "Well, he's dressed like some easterner wool suit, and a hat shaped like a bowler."
Vin smiled. "Bat Masterson. Figures he'd dress like one of his old time heroes."
Josiah set his elbows on his desk, steepled his arms and rested his chin on his folded hands. "Well, you're right, there's a lot of detail there, but nothing particularly intimidating."
Buck nodded. "Took a few more dreams to get the full story out of him."
The brunet then proceeded to explain the screams from JD that woke him each time, and what caused them.
Tanner frowned. "Somethin' about that sounds real familiar." He stood and went for his jacket. "Let me check it out." He stopped dead. "Wait, what'll the kid say when he knows you told us?"
"It's a relief, actually." JD walked from the bullpen door and into the room. He smiled knowingly at Buck, and then perched on the edge of Buck's desk as his friend explained.
"Me and JD share stuff, but we came to an agreement that if what we learn proves to be a problem for the team's welfare, we take it outside the CDC."
"You really think you might know something, Vin?" JD asked, hopefully.
Vin patted JD's arm. "Can't make any promises, but the Indian in the woods part sparked a memory. I just need to go talk to someone."
"I actually feared I wouldn't come out of my last dream," JD said, quietly.
Chris considered JD's words before answering. "What changed?"
JD swallowed. "I didn't pass out before waking up, and if my alarm hadn't gone off " he shuddered. " I think I might've actually dreamed myself bleeding to death." His expression of fear affected the five men with him. JD attempted a smile.
"I'm going nuts, huh?"
Chris dropped a hand on JD's shoulder. "No more than the rest of us."
With a gentle punch of support to JD's arm, and a nod to the others, Vin left.
JD's gaze followed the sharpshooter until he left. "Sure hope he can find something out." He looked back wistfully at the others.
Chris scanned the faces of men who meant far more to him than mere colleagues. "Anyone up for some fishing this weekend? I know of a place we can hold up in while we're there. Some fresh air and peace and quiet might do us all some good."
"What days would this excursion incorporate?" Ezra asked, tugging at his shirt cuffs under his jacket sleeves.
Chris shrugged. "I reckon we can arrange it for Friday through Monday."
JD's pleading gaze fixated on them one by one.
"I have an arrangement in place for Saturday. I can join you on Sunday," Standish confirmed.
Josiah closed his diary and slipped it back into his jacket pocket. "I can be there Saturday evening," he added.
"Me too," Nathan nodded. "I'll ride up with Josiah."
"What about Vin?" JD asked, quietly.
Buck snorted a laugh. "Kid that scrawny Texan's been ragging on us for months to get some fishing in. I don't reckon he's about to say no, do you, Chris?"
Larabee smiled as he started to back away. "Well, seeing as he was niggling about us all getting together for a cookout this weekend, I'd say he's up for it." He thumbed toward the door. "I'll go and talk to Travis. I find a face to face approach works well at times like this."
Vin walked into a diner and glanced around. Smiling, he approached the counter and extended his arm. The man behind the counter lifted a hinged area and walked through to grasp the offered arm in a forearm clasp.
"Guipago," the man greeted.
Vin smiled at his given Kiowa name, although the tag of `Lone Wolf' no longer fitted him these days.
"Silver Bear," Vin returned. "How are you?"
"Life is good, but I sense some disturbance for you. Come into the backroom. We can talk there."
Inside the room the aroma of steeping Yaupon leaves filled the air. As Vin gratefully accepted the dark, exceptionally strong caffeine-based brew it occurred to him his friends would understand his love of seriously strong coffee more if they tasted this. He sipped on the drink and nodded to Adam Silver Bear.
"Thanks. It's good."
"A hawk came to me in a dream and told me a lone wolf would come to visit."
"So I boiled up some leaves in preparation. There was one other interesting disclosure in my dream."
The Texan took another drink before answering. "Yeah?"
"Yes. Though the wolf came alone, waiting at the periphery were a pack of six more. Your life has changed since we last met?" Silver Bear's question wasn't truly necessary, he could see a changed man before him even before asking.
Tanner nodded. "Yeah, it has." His sparkling blue eyes met Silver Bear's dark brown gaze. "And definitely for the better."
Silver Bear frowned. "I sense a tone which suggests to me one of your pack is why you are here."
"Your senses are spot on." Sitting forward, Vin set his cup down. "I recall a story you told me many years ago, but I can't bring to mind all the details."
"You need me to retell a tale from your youth?"
"Yeah. One of my friends is havin' a recurrin' nightmare, and not sleepin' well. When he shared it with us, it sounded familiar."
"Sure, usually, but recently somethin' at the end of the nightmare changed."
Silver Bear refreshed their drinks and sat back. "Explain."
It was close to 7pm when Vin joined the others for Chinese food at the CDC. He flicked the back of JD's ear as he passed him. "Can I go into your room for a minute, Kid?"
Pushing the back of his head into the sofa cushion behind it, JD looked upside down at Vin. "Sure, knock yourself out." Even as he spoke his curiosity got the better of him. JD pushed himself up and followed Vin into his room. He frowned when he saw Vin balanced on the bottom edge of his bed and pushing a thumbtack into the ceiling.
Vin jumped down and made the object now dangling there spin. "That's a replica of a Kiowa Warrior Shield." He waggled a finger. "Now, when I say 'replica', it's no less authentic in its purpose, just a whole lot smaller than the real thing. It's been crafted and blessed by a shaman, and is constructed from a dream and whatever message it sent him."
JD stared at it. "What's it for?"
Vin hesitated for a moment. "Well, the guy I visited today already made and blessed the actual skin shield, then durin' my visit he dressed it with items designed to protect you. Then he blessed it again before handin' it to me."
JD looked alarmed. "Protect me from what?"
Tanner draped an arm around the younger man's shoulders and guided him out of the room. "I'll explain, but best if I do so for everyone, yeah?"
Vin was hungry, and after managing to scoff down almost a plateful of food, he prepared to tell the waiting group what he'd learned from Silver Bear.
"Legend says that leading up to a hard winter, a Kiowa native returned from a long and difficult hunt with his fellow Braves to find their village had been attacked by four men. With only women and old men left behind, and the cowboys heavily armed, almost all in the village were killed. Several women were raped before bein' murdered, the native's wife was one of them. One elder barely alive told the huntin' party what happened before also passin'.
"Winter set in and the ravaged tribe hunkered down, but the native, whose name was Ahote, burned with the need for revenge and vowed to seek them out. One mornin', the tribesmen awoke to find him gone."
"Did Ahote ever find them, Vin?" Josiah asked.
"He was never seen or heard from again, however, there were reports of huntin' parties found shot with arrows and then scalped, some while still alive..." Vin noted JD's face turn pale and figured he'd best drop the details and get to the point. "Sorry, Kid, wasn't thinkin'."
"Let me guess, there were four dudes to each party," Buck put in.
Vin nodded. "Every time. There were a few occasions when one man survived long enough to report they were woken by strange noises in the night. Someone would leave the cabin to go look, and that person died first from an arrow shot by a single Indian Brave. It's believed Ahote lured the men to their deaths by imitatin' a noise they couldn't ignore."
While Vin had talked, Chris's gaze never left JD. It didn't take exceptional skills to see the boy was trying to connect where his nightmare fitted into this. "That was all a long time ago, right?"
Vin grabbed a fortune cookie and nodded. "And any other time I would've never considered this..."
"But?" Ezra pushed.
"Can I borrow your iPad, Kid?"
JD nodded, took it from between the side of his leg and the arm of the sofa and handed it to Vin. "I don't understand, why am I dreaming about something I've never even heard of?"
"Good question," Nathan agreed.
From his seat, Josiah bent over the coffee table to take a spring roll. "Life has a strange way of handing us a mystery to solve. Somewhere in your subconscious, John, you may well have heard or read of this..."
"Pretty sure I haven't," JD insisted.
"Here we go."
Vin turned the tablet around and showed them a headline about a hunting party of four who had seen an Indian Brave dressed in hide trousers and moccasin style boots and holding a bow and arrow outside their cabin one night. The incident occurred around Halloween two years ago. Once the group had seen it, he turned the iPad, touched the screen a few times, and then handed it around to show a similar story from last year, and around the same time.
"Totally different location though," Chris noted.
"Did Silver Bear have any thoughts on these stories?" Ezra asked.
"Only that he feared the Brave never got the closure he needed after all. Apparently, Ahote means 'Restless One'. Silver Bear said that his given name would decree he roams the Physical and Spiritual Plains for eternity, or until a shaman or medicine man can heal his troubled soul."
More confused than ever, JD excused himself and walked dazedly into the hallway. A minute later the front door slammed closed. Buck stood.
"'Scuse me, boys."
The brunet glanced at Chris. "Not this time, Pard. I've been right here when he's been screaming for his life. To us, it's a nightmare; to JD, even though he knows it makes no sense, this is very real. I'm going after him."
Buck smiled at the squeaking of the swings in the playground next to the hoops court a block from their apartment. He found JD sitting on a swing seat. His feet were on the ground moving him gently back and forth as he sat there staring into space. Without a word, Buck squeezed his butt into the seat next to him and clung to the chains as he wobbled.
"Man, I can barely fit into this thing." He grinned at the soft laugh from the side of him.
"They are only meant for kids, not big-assed Feds," JD replied.
"Where does that leave you then, Squirt?"
JD sighed and leaned his head against one of the chains. "That's just what I was wondering." He felt a comforting hand on the back of his neck.
"Did Vin's tale help at all?"
JD shrugged. "Kinda, but I just don't see why it's affected me."
"Maybe you did see one of the articles, you just can't remember it." Buck felt JD nod.
"Sure, it's always a possibility." He straightened and turned to meet Buck's concerned gaze. "Aah, screw it. I've let this rule my life, and put you guys on edge long enough. Going fishing's just what we need. The seven of us are gonna have a great time." He pushed off the ground and started swinging.
Buck's hand was still on JD's neck and the movement unbalanced him. "Waaaahh!" His thighs slid backwards and the seat tipped him up and off.
"Ooff!" He lay on his back with his knees still hooked over the seat. Hearing laughter, Buck turned toward JD.
"Quit laughing, boy, and get me up." Seeing JD happier made Buck grin. Soon both of them were laughing. JD's efforts to get Buck untangled and off the ground were hampered by their building hilarity. One good pull from JD almost did it, but Buck lost his footing and fell backwards bringing JD down on top of him. The kid rolled off to one side and the pair lay there doubled over with laughter until they were spent.
Finally returning to the CDC, JD glanced at his best friend. "Thanks Buck, I needed that."
The brunet draped an arm around JD's shoulders and pulled him close. "Me too, Kid, and the timing's perfect. We're gonna have a great vacation."
When Chris, Vin, Buck, and JD arrived at the lakeside cabin JD momentarily hesitated. It wasn't particularly like the cabin in his dreams, but the woods around it were eerily familiar. Inside there were three bedrooms, with a pullout stowed in one of them. Chris and Vin took one bedroom, and JD and Buck another. Theirs was the largest room due to JD agreeing to give up his bed and use the pullout when all seven men were together, leaving Ezra, Nathan and Josiah the options of who to share with.
The first day of fishing was unseasonably warm, relaxing and fun. All four caught fish, and while Buck and Chris cleaned and cooked them on the outside brick-built grill, Vin and JD braved the cold water and went for a swim. Needless to say they didn't stay in the water long, and by the time they had both showered, supper was ready.
The front of the wrap-around veranda faced the lake, while the back and sides looked toward the woods. The four sat eating and drinking in the light from the porch and looked out across the moonlit lake. For a moment, JD glanced at the side view. The moonlight was just starting to filter through the trees, and he wondered how clearly it could be seen from that angle. Shrugging off the thought, he relaxed into the familiarity of the friendship embracing him, not to mention the effects of a few beers, until the four decided to head for bed.
Aware of a presence near his face, JD blinked awake.
"C'mon, slowpoke, it's a beautiful, crisp morning, and you're wasting it."
Pushing up to sit against the headboard, JD took the offered mug of coffee from Buck. "What time is it?" he rasped.
"6:45 in the A.M. boy. Up and at 'em."
JD stared around the room, and then grinned. "Hey, I slept all night."
"Snored all night, too."
JD slapped at a chuckling Buck's arm. "More like you could hear yourself, you mean." He yawned. "Man, I feel great. I haven't slept like that for weeks."
"Seemed a shame to wake you, but I figured you'd want to go fishing, so..."
Taking a sniff and then a sip of the hot, aromatic coffee, JD nodded. "Hell yeah." He looked hard at the mug. "Damn that's good. Chris make this?"
Buck feigned hurt. "Oh, I see; the coffee's good so Chris had to have made it, huh?"
JD raised an eyebrow and Buck grinned. "Yeah, he made it." He slapped JD's covered knee. "Hurry up, Vin's already been out walking this morning."
JD didn't look surprised. "Sure. Soon as you get out of here, I'll shower and get dressed."
"All the hot water's used up for now."
"Ah well, a wash and a shave it is."
Buck walked through the opened door and peeked his head back around. "You really gonna shave just those two chin whiskers?" He ducked back as a pillow smacked into the door. JD grinned at the sound of Buck's chuckle fading into the distance.
Time flew by as the four enjoyed another day on the lake. Just after dinner, and a generous amount of bottled beer, Chris saw JD and Vin standing at the lakeside skimming stones. He approached the pair.
As he turned unsteadily, JD grinned at him. "Hey Chris. We both got up to six skips. Wanna give it a try?"
The blond shook his head. "Nah, I'm good. Just came to tell you I had a call from Nathan and Josiah." He noted concern from Vin, and dejection from JD.
"Aww, man. Can't they make it?" the youth asked.
"Any problem?" Vin checked.
"They're fine, but have to put back their trip until Sunday. Josiah called Ezra, and all three are going to head out together from Denver at 6am. Seeing as they'll arrive around 8:30 for 9:00, I said we'd wait on them before taking out the boat. Sound okay?"
There was a pause. "And Ezra agreed to that?" Vin asked.
JD and Chris chuckled. "I doubt if the word 'agree' is one I'd use. `Coerced', maybe?" the latter suggested.
"Ah well, I guess on the plus side, I get the bed for another night," JD said, but neither man was fooled, and knew he would have preferred sleeping on the pullout than not have their brothers join them.
To console themselves, they decided to have a few more beers. With a long day behind them, full bellies and a large quantity of alcohol consumed, there would hopefully be no trouble for JD in sleeping tonight, either.
Around 3am JD woke up needing the bathroom and a long, cold drink. He eased himself out of bed and shivered as his feet hit the cold, wooden floor. He shuffled sleepily to the bathroom, and then on to the kitchen to grab a bottle of water before returning to bed; but after tossing and turning for almost two hours JD found he couldn't sleep. Figuring he'd get a head start on the others, he dressed and crept out of the bedroom.
He looked in the fridge for supplies and decided that in an hour he'd start cooking bacon and sausages for everyone. Vin's voice suddenly sounded next to him and JD jolted, almost trapping his head in the fridge door.
"Shoot, Vin, if I hadn't just been to the bathroom I would've peed myself."
Tanner chuckled. "Nice image. Can't sleep?"
JD straightened and closed the fridge door. "Had all the sleep I need, I guess. You?"
"Felt like goin' for a run. Wanna come?"
"It's still dark out there. `Sides, I thought I'd cook us some breakfast."
"Neat." Vin gestured toward the bathroom and headed that way.
A little later as he watched Vin take off into the moonlit woods, JD suddenly felt tired. Within minutes, he'd crashed out on the sofa, but something woke him and he stared blearily around the room to get his bearings. Seconds later he heard hooting and grinned. "Still up, Mister Owl?" He checked his watch.
Man, it felt like he'd been asleep for ages, when it had actually only been ten minutes. The owl hooted again, and just as JD groggily debated the question as to how late owls usually stayed out hunting, he heard a new sound - like a baby crying. JD's heart skipped a beat while his dream flashed through his mind. A thought occurred to him and he walked toward the door, opened it and stepped out onto the porch.
"Vin, if that's you, you're gonna pay for it, dude." JD's eyes were drawn toward the woods. Pale, almost white mist rolled along the ground and snaked through the trees, concealing its leafy floor. He stepped forward and glanced around.
"Vin, you out here?" JD shook his head. 'Get a grip. Vin wouldn't do something like that.' Having one last look around before closing the door, JD was shocked to see a red moon peeking through the trees. A moment later he was there - the Indian - staring at him.
JD decided he must still be asleep on the couch. He looked again to where the Indian had stood and relaxed to see he was gone.
"See? Just dreaming you idiot."
He moved to walk indoors, but couldn't resist a quick look back to check. He barely registered the Indian armed with a bow and balancing on one knee before a rush of air sounded and something sharp hit him heavily in the chest.
JD stumbled back inside, his focus on the embedded arrow sticking out of the flesh just below his shoulder. He staggered a few steps before falling forward and just managed to twist his body before hitting the wooden floor. Laying on his back, breathless, hurting, and bleeding, JD tried to call for help but couldn't. As he felt himself starting to float away footsteps sounded on the wooden porch. His last conscious thought was that the Indian was coming in to finish the job.
"Dear Lord, people who choose to be up at this ungodly hour need psychiatric assistance."
Outside Ezra's home, Nathan's electric window went down and he stared at the southerner from inside his truck. "Shut up and get in, Ezra."
"And I get to ride in the back of your delightful Ford Explorer. My crack of dawn rousing is complete."
"'Morning, Ezra," Josiah chuckled as Standish finally climbed in.
"Good morning, Josiah. Actually, allow me to rephrase that. There is barely any light, ergo, it cannot be considered morning."
Josiah's cell rang and he smiled as he answered it. "Good morning, Christopher...what?" He looked at the others in alarm. "We're on our way."
"What?" Nathan asked.
"We need to head for St. Angelo Hospital."
Ezra's Smartphone was out and he was instantly Googling. "I have it." He dictated the Zip code to Nathan who tapped it into his GPS.
"What's happened?" the EMT asked.
Josiah shook his head. "Not sure. All I know is that it's JD."
Buck thought he heard voices. He'd tried turning over and going back to sleep, but his bladder had other ideas. Sliding his legs over the edge of the bed, Buck noticed JD's bed was empty. With a stretch, a scratch to his belly, and a yawn, he got up and walked to the bathroom; and hoped he wouldn't find JD in there. Now he was up, he r- e-a-l-l-y needed to pee.
Vin slowed to a jog as he approached the track to their cabin. The moon was still bright, though the gray of dawn was just emerging. Knowing how dark it could be away from the city lights Vin carried a flashlight to save him turning an ankle. However, the moonlight illuminated his way for the whole run.
Stepping up onto the porch, he bent over and rested his hands on his knees to catch his breath. About to straighten and take a gulp of water from his bottle, dark spots on the wooden boards drew his attention. The dots seemed to have formed a trail, so Vin walked closer. He squatted down and touched his fingers to the marks. Examining the tacky substance, he instantly recognized it.
His eyes tracked the line of droplets to the door. A moment later, Vin was on his feet and bursting into the cabin.
After using the bathroom and entering the kitchen in search of a drink, it occurred to Buck he'd yet to bump into JD. Seeing as the cabin wasn't all that big, he doubted now that the kid was actually inside. He scanned the dining room and lounge area, and frowned at a dark shadow on the floor a short distance from the door. As it was partially hidden by a sofa, and with poor light hampering the identification, Buck walked toward it.
Chris woke up thirsty but that wasn't what stirred him. Something was wrong, he didn't know what, or why, just that it was. Regretting the sudden move that caused his head to pound, he got out of bed and quickly pulled on his jeans. A wail from the living room had him out of his door in three strides.
Buck rounded the sofa to investigate the dark stain. His eyes widened and he felt as if the blood in his veins shot straight to his feet.
Dropping onto his knees Buck's hands momentarily hovered over JD's prone figure. He could see an entry wound to the pale skin, but no weapon, yet blood was flowing as if JD had taken a bullet. The puddle around the boy was frighteningly large, and with no way of helping JD save for halting the flow, Buck pulled his tee over his head and stuffed it against the point where the blood was surging. He then lifted JD to cradle him in his arms.
"JD, talk to me. What's happened, Kid? JD please."
Buck was so caught up in events he never saw or heard Chris approach, scan the scene and then run back to grab his cell. However he did look up when Tanner burst in through the door.
"VIN! JD the kid he "
Never taking his eyes from the pair, Vin thumbed behind him. "Whatever happened started outside. You hear a shot?"
Buck's chin was resting on JD's head. "It's not a bullet. I I don't know what it is. Maybe a knife. We gotta get him to a "
Buck eased JD back a little. Ignoring the frighteningly pale skin and colorless lips, both men smiled weakly at the hazel eyes trying to focus on them. Seeing JD's hand searching, and with Buck's hands full, Vin took it.
JD could see the pair but his vision was failing. He knew he only had one chance. With no strength, he mouthed one word. "A-ho- te "
Buck frowned, Vin paled. "We gotta go, Buck."
"What did he say?"
Tanner opened his mouth to speak but JD went totally limp in Buck's arms.
"Oh, Jesus, no "
As if from nowhere, Chris appeared armed with a blanket, towels, keys, and each of their guns. He touched the pulse point on JD's cold, clammy neck. "We still got him, Pard so let's move it. St. Angelo is expecting us. I've told the guys to meet us there."
He and Vin helped Buck stand and bring JD up with him. Tanner held open the door while Chris jogged out to unlock the Ram. Vin watched JD hang limply as Buck hurriedly carried the youth past him to the truck. The Texan secured the cabin before helping Buck get in. He replaced Buck's saturated tee to stem the blood flow with a fresh towel and then wrapped the blanket around the self-confessed surrogate brothers to keep them warm and hopefully protect JD from shock. Seeing everyone settled, Chris floored the Ram triggering a rear wheelspin on the gravel trail before the truck roared off toward civilization.
By the time Josiah, Nathan and Ezra arrived at the hospital there was still no news. They were shocked to see Buck's sweats soaked in blood as he sat there, so Nathan went in search of fresh scrubs. The police came, but no one knew what had happened, and the cops confirmed that as yet they could find no evidence of any other fresh footprints at the cabin except theirs.
Five men stood when a doctor walked quietly into the waiting room. "Guys." His demeanor said it all.
"He's still ?" Buck rasped out.
Doctor Johnson nodded. "Yes. Mr. Dunne's still with us, but he's critical. He's received four units of blood so far, and we've stopped the bleeding, but both an x-ray and a deep tissue scan showed nothing embedded beyond the external wound."
"Internal bleeding?" Nathan asked.
"Thankfully, no. Quite frankly, at the moment we're at a loss as to what caused this."
"Bottom line," Chris prompted.
The Doctor scanned the worried faces, and could tell these men were not ones for half-truths or dumbed-down accounts. "I'm sorry. We'll keep giving him blood should he need more, but he's very weak and "
"No!" Buck bellowed. "No fucking way is that kid giving up on us, so don't you give up on him!"
"I can assure you, we have no intention of `giving up' on him, however, he lost a lot of blood before he got here." The doctor softened his tone. "Despite his frailty, he is fighting, but it's putting a terrible strain on Mr. Dunne's heart. The injury was pretty deep, and ragged around the edges, but now it's been cleaned and stitched, and we're pumping antibiotics into him; but it's not looking promising. We are considering life support "
The doctor's name was paged and he reached for a wall phone. "Excuse me. Yes; this is Doctor Johnson. Thank you." He dialed a number, unaware of the unease building in the room.
"Jeff? Thanks. Good work." He turned to the others. "Mister Dunne's fluids have stabilized. So there appears to be no need for more blood at this juncture."
"So, he's gonna be okay?" Vin asked.
"I'm afraid it's in Mister
"JD," Buck interrupted impatiently. "He goes by JD."
The doctor smiled politely. "It's up to JD now. As I said, if he deteriorates further, we'll consider putting him on life support."
"Why not now?" Josiah asked.
"We're attempting to find a balance. JD's fighting, and while it's a great effort for him, as long as he's stable and breathing on his own it's a positive sign. If he worsens or struggles even a little, we'll act." He offered a sympathetic smile.
"Here at Saint Angelo we encourage family to be with the patient, even when in ICU, which is why each patient has their own room. Can I leave you to get hold of JD's family?"
"We are it," Ezra replied. "And eager to see him."
All but Vin and Chris followed the doctor to ICU. Chris looked at his wavering friend. "Vin?"
"I need to make a call."
Larabee nodded. "See you in there."
Tanner stepped outside and dialed. "Silver Bear, I need to talk to you. No, it has to be here and now. What? A dream?" Vin smiled. "Well, if you're already on your way, and not followin' a hawk here, I'd best give you directions."
On the way to meet up with the others, Ezra had procured several hotel rooms close to the hospital. The three travelers figured they might be there for some time and would need somewhere closer than the cabin to crash.
Now however, the five friends were settled in chairs around JD's bed and fully focused on their injured brother. To quote Ezra, JD looked `ghastly', and no one disagreed. After a few minutes Buck sighed and leaned forward on his bedside seat to caress JD's slack hand in his.
"As if this isn't bad enough, what makes it worse is we have no idea what caused the injury." Buck rubbed a hand over his face. "So much blood "
"Come on, Pard, positive thoughts, huh?" Chris urged. "JD needs a little faith." He glanced around. "We all do."
Four men looked when Vin came in, and watched as he walked toward the head of the bed. Chris moved back to let Vin close to JD's head, and the Texan bent down to whisper.
"I know what you were tryin' to say back at the cabin. Silver Bear is comin' out here. He has an idea to help both you and Ahote. Hang in there, Kid."
When he straightened, Vin's blue eyes were looking directly into Buck's.
"What's going on, Vin?"
Glancing at Josiah, the one guy who likely wouldn't think him crazy, Vin explained. "You remember JD talkin' about his nightmare, and then I visited Silver Bear to ask him about it?"
Buck nodded, slowly.
"And you recall JD tryin' to tell us somethin' at the cabin before he passed out?"
Buck's shoulders drooped at the memory, and the fact he couldn't catch what JD was saying. "Yeah."
`Here goes nothin',' Vin thought. "I know what he said."
The others looked on curiously. Buck's eyes narrowed. "What?"
Vin scanned his friends' faces. Chris stood and closed in behind him. "He said `Ahote', so I called Silver Bear and he's comin' down here."
Still holding JD's hand, Buck slowly rose to his full height. "Let me understand this our kid's lying here close to death and...you're fixing to mess around with a bunch of hooey?"
Vin's features darkened. "I'm tryin' to help JD, and it's not hooey."
"Buck, there are some things that simply can't be explained," Josiah soothed. "You just have to have faith."
Buck brushed off the comment. "I know you think you're helping, Vin, but this is the twenty-first century. JD needs medicine and technology, not potions and hocus pocus."
Sensing the Texan's rising frustration, Chris held Vin's arm. Vin gave the blond a slight nod of understanding.
"Technology ain't workin', Buck. We all want JD to get through this. I'm willin' to try anythin' reasonable to help make that happen." He offered a tight smile. "And I believe the Buck Wilmin'ton I know will, too."
Buck's features crumpled and his large hand covered his face as anxiety overcame him. Nathan was there in seconds and insisted Buck sit down, and each one of the others came close to offer support.
Vin walked around the bed to squat down next to Buck. He put one hand on Buck's arm, and his other on JD's covered leg. Tanner's troubled blue gaze locked with Buck's dark, anxious stare.
"Sorry, Vin. I I feel so helpless. I just don't understand what's fucking happening here." He stared at JD. "I can't even tell if he knows we're with him."
Vin smiled before turning to JD and squeezing the boy's knee. "Already forgotten, Pard, and while I reckon he can hear us, no matter where JD's mind's at right now, we'll bring him back. We're gonna put this right." Vin was convinced, but wouldn't have been as confident if he knew that right then, in his state of unconsciousness, JD was visiting a whole different era.
Even with a fire burning in the crumbling hearth, the little cabin in the woods felt cold and damp. Vin had been keeping them occupied with Indian tales, but now the group were settling down for the night.
JD pulled his blanket around him for warmth. "Hey, Vin. How come you know so much about Indian legend, anyway?"
Laying a horse blanket over his bedroll on the earthen floor of the abandoned shack, the tracker offered a lopsided grin at the boy sitting cross-legged on his own makeshift cot. "You're gonna have to accept there's just some things I can't tell you, Kid."
Preparing their own bedrolls, Chris and Buck glanced at each other and stifled grins.
"Why's that, Vin?" If there was anything the young sheriff hated it was an unsolved mystery, or secrets.
Tanner played his part perfectly. He glanced furtively around. "The answer's two-fold. For one, if I give away my source, it might lay a man open to revenge; a bloody, violent death for the poor soul I done told. That'd be you, JD."
JD swallowed nervously, but he couldn't help but ask the next question. "And the second fold?"
Vin glanced quickly when Buck's snort almost destroyed the climax. Thankfully, the fact that Buck and Chris's shoulders were shaking with laughter and their hats were pulled down to almost cover their faces, had escaped JD. Vin leaned in conspiratorially.
"Iffen I told you, and you survived the night " He dropped his voice to a raspy whisper. "Then I'd have to kill you m'self."
JD's eyes went wide and his jaw dropped on hearing Vin's words, but only a few seconds later his expression changed and his eyes narrowed. "Aww, Vin, you're funnin' with me."
No sooner were the words out, Buck's rumbling laughter echoed around the room. "Ahh, Kid, you shoulda seen your face."
JD spotted Chris laughing too. "I wasn't fooled. I was just leading you all on."
"Sure you were, JD," Chris replied lightheartedly. He nudged the arm of a grinning Vin. "You trying to give the kid nightmares, Tanner?"
"Hey!" JD snatched up his blanket and made a big display of settling in for the night. "Take more than a bunch of hooey ghost stories to scare me."
Also lying down, Buck laughed. "`Hooey'? Ha, so you do listen to me when you got a mind to."
"You keep telling yourself that, Buck." JD huffed and turned his back on his three companions.
Still smiling, the three gunslingers settled down, and Chris blew out the lantern. Laughter rang out again when a minute or so later, a young voice squeaked out through the darkness. "Do we have to have the lamp out?"
With a background noise of hushed talking, and the bleeping monitors attached to JD, Buck stared at the boy in the hospital bed and squeezed JD's hand tighter. "Where's your head at, Kid? I'm talking myself hoarse here and not so much as a twitch from you."
"You feel that, son? Squeeze back if you can. Come on, Kid, squeeze ole Buck's hand." It occurred to Buck that the room was quieter. He looked up to see five men smiling at him sympathetically. Buck shrugged and returned his own coy smile.
"Probably asking too much. Kid never listens to me anyhow."
"While there's a degree of satisfaction in taunting you occasionally, Buck, in this instance I could not be more sincere when I tell you that young man hangs off your every word." Ezra noted Buck raise an eyebrow. The southerner gave a dimpled smile.
"JD just enjoys your reaction to the possibility that he has you thinking the opposite." Ezra's heart clenched to see Buck's eyes fill. "Though I myself, believe you have never been fooled for one moment."
Buck couldn't resist allowing the backs of two of his fingers to stroke JD's pale cheek. "Not just my words, either," he whispered before looking at first Ezra, then each of the others. His gaze rested on Chris. "I'd give up women to have the kid look at me with the same hero-worship he looks at you."
"Careful what you swear to, Pard," Chris warned. "You don't see what we see." The others smiled and nodded. Chris raised an eyebrow and looked at each of them. "Or any of you for that matter." He leaned over the bed from his chair and rested a hand on JD's leg.
"Accepting that kind of responsibility was kinda daunting, at first, but understanding that JD wants nothing more than to be like us has given me, and I reckon the rest of you, a whole new perspective on things."
Subconsciously, six men straightened. "We're far from perfect," Vin said, softly.
Josiah's deep voice penetrated the near-silence. "JD loves us individually, and collectively, as brothers. Only family can ignore imperfections and love regardless of them."
While pondering Josiah's words, there was a knock before the door to the room opened. "Há:chó."
Vin stood and shook the hand of the man entering. "Há:chó." He then turned to the others. "Guys, this is Adam Silver Bear."
Within minutes the area around JD's bed was cleared. Six men stood, three to each side, while Silver Bear remained at the foot of JD's bed and facing the boy. On his wrists he wore black cloth ties and the bones of a small animal; the adornments of a medicine man. Around his neck was a string on which hung a gray tail and several feathers. He finished his preparations by using two fingers to smear red paint on his forehead and cheeks, and then draping the hide of a wolf around his shoulders. Noting the looks, Silver Bear smiled.
"The wolf skin and tail has been in my family for generations. No wolf was recently harmed in preparing for this ceremony." He was pleased to see the somber men softly laugh and he shrugged. "Even medicine men have a sense of humor."
His demeanor instantly changed when his focus turned to Vin. "I knew you would call, Guipago. In my dream, six wolves were running fast, and carrying a seventh. Above them flew a hawk, and an owl. The hawk was guiding them, the owl, hampering them." He touched his apparel as he addressed the other five.
"Each item I wear is a symbol of that dream. The wolf tail and skin; owl and hawk feathers." He glanced at Vin and pointed to the ceiling. "You may want to disconnect the smoke alarm, or we won't be getting very far."
One thing the medical staff was certain of was that at least six of the men in the room would let nothing happen to their patient; not to mention that JD was hooked up to a coding alarm; but although the not-too-keen hospital staff were asked to respect a need for a private gathering in ICU, and agreed to keep their distance, to a point; they wondered what was going on behind the drawn curtain at the lower part of the bed.
Inside the room coals were glowing in a clay bowl. Onto them, Silver Bear crumbled leaves of sage and cedar, and a root he referred to as `medicine fat'. Using a large feather he fanned it through the fragrant, rising smoke to send it around the room.
Putting down the bowl he took a skin pouch and uncorked it. Silver Bear took a drink of the water within, and then passed it around the room for each man to drink. When it was returned, he sprinkled the water on the feather, walked to JD's side and softly glided it all over the boy's body, including the injury area, ending at JD's feet. He once again wafted the smoke around with the feather before using the water left in the flask to douse the glowing coals.
He glanced at six faces, five of which were desperately trying not to look a mixture of alarmed and confused. "Now we pray to set two troubled souls to rest."
Buck was alarmed. "Now wait just a Goddamned minute there, pal."
Vin encouraged the men to link hands. "Easy, Bucklin. You gotta trust him." He could understand Buck's fear because, despite his faith in Silver Bear, Vin was scared, too. He feared JD's mind was trapped in a dark place, and wanted Silver Bear to drag him from there. It never occurred to him that JD was visiting the nightmare that started all this.
Sheriff JD Dunne awoke to the sound of an owl hooting. He glanced across the earthen floor at his sleeping partners and shook his head. "Very funny, Tanner."
JD turned over on his bedroll, pulled up his blanket, and dozed back off but was soon woken by the sound of a baby crying. He was about to get up to check if Vin was actually in his bedroll when he heard the cry again.
Scrambling to his feet JD walked to the door and opened it. He winced at the creaking of the wood and then huffed. Serve `em right if it did wake `em up, for playing a hoax on him. He peered outside, but there were only the still, moonlit woods. He yawned moments before a feeling as if he'd had this happen before, before washed over him.
About to go back inside, the crying sounded again. JD stepped outside the shack and waited for the prankster to show himself. A grunt from the cabin caused JD to look in. He could see his three companions clearly, and all sleeping.
Turning back to the woodland he stood quietly and shivered. Now he was confused. There really must be a baby out there but where? And why?
A noise from somewhere in front of him caused JD to peer harder into the gloom. "Hey. Who's there? Show yourself." His gaze shifted to the moon.
It was red.
A moment later, his focus moved to what appeared to be a shadowy figure on the edge of the woods. JD staggered back when something sharp slammed heavily into his chest. Standing in a rolling ground mist, an Indian Brave holding a bow and arrow stared back at the shocked boy. JD managed to get back inside and close the door. He stood with his back against the rough planks and looked down to see an arrow protruding from just below his shoulder.
All at once the pain hit him; so intense it stole his breath. He took two unsteady steps forward before falling, barely managing to twist before his back hit the floor. In agony and his breathing labored, JD looked across at his still sleeping friends.
`Surely someone heard all that?'
A snore confirmed they were still asleep, but JD couldn't understand how three seasoned gunslingers slept through him opening the door, let alone getting hit by an arrow. Unable to find the strength to utter a cry for help all JD could do was lie there. He could smell, even taste the coppery blood pooling around him, could sense the life seeping from his body. In a final, desperate attempt to stay alive, JD's fumbling fingers found his Colt. He was barely able to lift the gun, but he did. His thumb jerked back the hammer and he fired.
Moments later Buck was holding him. It was tough to understand his words, but JD's misty eyes could see the man was upset. Vin and Chris were there, too, and one of their hands was pressing a cloth to his chest, but he couldn't feel it. JD couldn't feel anything. His mind told his hand to rise, and he was surprised when it did. Bloody fingers touched the face of the man who had cared for him from the moment they set eyes on each other. With one final effort, JD mouthed the words `thank you' to Buck before his body went limp, and his eyes stared ahead.
"JD! J-D!" Buck cried. "Come on now JD, don't do this, don't do this, son. JD!"
Chris's bloody hand left the cloth and touched fingers to the cold neck. Liquid eyes met the anxious gazes of his companions and a hoarse voice Chris didn't recognize as his own, spoke. "He's gone."
Vin bowed his head and curled the fingers of his one hand around JD's slack wrist, while his other hand fisted Chris's shirtsleeve.
The ladies' man held JD tightly, looked up to the cabin's splintered roof and howled.
Tears spilled over as Buck looked down into the pale, slack face of his little brother. "No " he whimpered.
Inside the hospital noise filled the ICU room as the heart monitor attached to JD began to behave erratically. Silver Bear looked to the six alarmed men. "It is time." Using the feather to make the sign of the cross over JD, he bowed his head and spoke first in his native Kiowa tongue, and then English.
"Dawkee, day own day ghat kawlay taine tso aum may.
Gaht tahn' aum,
Táàumè fábì shan,
Tàlí saw-ohm-hah-p'ah máusáu cûiyàul.
:Fâl máun páu.
Khoiye jo-goo-dawa kxai jai daw,
Oh day haw p'iye gaw kxai-khoam-baw.
Aim koe bah naw p'ah-be ow bah hah.
Má déhémà Khoiye khee khoat,
Ahm tá: qálé.
"God, it is good you have gathered us together.
Help our little brother,
The boy bleeds and six wolves cry.
Now this must stop.
Kiowa young men are outstanding warriors,
But it is time to end the fight with mankind.
Go now my brother for it is done.
Sleep Kiowa Brave,
Your wife waits
There was a pause, followed by the shrill and incessant alarm of the heart monitor as it flatlined.
Three distraught gunslingers mourned their loss silently inside the old shack. Suddenly the cabin door slammed open, inviting in a swirling wind. Still crouching, Vin and Chris drew their guns and twisted to look. Buck was clinging to JD, but slowly turned to face the threat. There in the doorway stood a Brave. His sorrowful eyes scanned the three men before looking at the dead boy. Standing with his legs slightly apart, and his arms stretched out from his sides, he threw back his head and opened his mouth.
Red light flooded the cabin and the earlier wind once again whirled around them. There was a heady scent of burning coals, cedar and sage in the air. Chris and Vin squatted there, mesmerized, while Buck buried his face against JD's head.
All at once the air stilled, the light became as bright as sunup, and the Brave slumped, exhausted. Before either of the men could ponder the spectacle, JD's body stiffened in Buck's arms and he gasped in air. Buck's head shot back in surprise. He watched as eyelids flickered open and confused hazel eyes stared up at him.
"Buck?" JD rasped. He grimaced. "Aaahh, my shoulder."
Unmoving, Buck and Chris stared incredulously at JD. Tears pooled in Vin's eyes as a look of recognition crossed his features. Moments later he got to his feet and went to help the tired Brave. The Indian touched the tracker's hand as tears rolled down both men's faces.
"Thank you," Vin whispered. His voice was raw with emotion; his face reflected respect.
The Brave straightened. "Ahote make good. Go home now." He took one last look at JD then walked out of the cabin and toward the early blush of the rising sun.
Vin stepped outside and watched, screwing up his eyes at the bright light rising in front of the departing Brave. Moments later, the Texan realized that Ahote was gone.
Tears spilled from Buck's eyes. He held JD tight against him fearing that, should he let go, it would all be a dream. The boy winced and cried out softly.
"Oww. Easy there, Buck, my shoulder's killing me."
Glancing at a smiling Larabee, Buck turned back to JD and shook his head. "It's not anymore, Little Brother, it's not anymore."
A room of Saint Angelo Hospital's intensive care unit, was bathed in a red glow. The heart monitor attached to JD had set off a code blue alarm, and outside the door a crash team was trying to get inside, but with no luck. Aware there was staff banging on the windows and door, the seven men in the room remained focused on the task in hand. Suddenly as a swirling wind whipped around those inside the room, Silver Bear spread his arms and legs, threw back his head and released a blood-curdling cry.
Spent, Silver Bear slumped forward and clung to the rail at the bottom of the bed for support. The wind stopped, and the light in the room returned to normal. All at once several medical staff spilled in through the open door and pushed through the circle of men.
"Why did you lock this door?" one doctor bellowed angrily as he threw back the bed curtain and hurried toward JD and the small army of staff attending to him.
A nurse in line with the physician shook her head. "The door doesn't lock, Doctor. And I could see the area in front of the door and windows; no one was stood blocking them."
"Wh what's going on?"
The voice was raspy and hushed, but the six men of Team Seven and Silver Bear instinctively knew who spoke.
Buck rushed forward and squeezed through the milling medical staff. He snatched up JD's free hand and composed himself.
"'Bout time you woke up. You've had Chris and the guys worried sick." He was so happy, but the confusion in JD's eyes stopped Buck from releasing the laughter bubbling to the surface.
Doctor Johnson walked into the room to join them. He smiled to see his patient awake.
"Well, this is very good. Very good indeed." He glanced at his frustrated colleague and squeezed the man's shoulder. The doctor then turned to the six celebrating men and one very ragged-looking, oddly attired stranger. "Would you give us a few minutes to examine our patient?"
Buck touched his head to JD's and whispered. "Be right back, Kid."
Out in the waiting room the men unashamedly embraced each other. A weary Silver Bear looked up from the seat Vin guided him to and smiled approvingly. He nodded when Chris joined him.
"I don't know how you did that, but thank you."
Adam Silver Bear's smile broadened. "Only the Spirits can take credit for such a deed."
Buck was suddenly there shaking Silver Bear's hand. "Well when you see those Spirits, you thank `em for us would you?" The sincerity in his voice and eyes gave Silver Bear no doubt who Buck was really thanking.
The medicine man nodded. He stood. "I must rest, now."
Chris stepped forward. "We have rooms at a nearby hotel. Vin will take you there once you and we have seen JD "
Silver Bear waved a hand. "No, it is not the right time for me, but I will visit with the boy soon. I am grateful for your offer of a room. Once you have visited with JD I'll gladly take you up on it." His gaze locked with Vin's and he set a hand on the younger man's shoulder.
"Lone Wolf; I recently considered a new name for you - `Gûitén', which means `Wolf with heart'. However, the name Guipago, in spite of its meaning, was also for a great chief of the Kiowa. It would be my wish and a tribal honor for you to keep it."
Tanner nodded. "To be named for a great chief is indeed an honor, and one I'll always value. Thank you."
Attention turned to Doctor Johnson as he exited JD's room. "I don't know what you guys talked to JD about, but he's improved already; quite remarkable, I've never seen anything like it. He's passing urine, his temperature has dropped to normal, and his heartbeat is strong, and steady. His body should easily make up the blood loss on its own now, but I'll give you a diet sheet to help with that for when he goes home. I've kept the oxcimeter on his finger for the time being, though his oxygen saturation is rising rapidly, so it won't be there for long, I'm sure.
"I would expect JD to be pretty frail for a week or so, but if he continues to recover at this rate, he could be going home as soon as two to three days." The doctor turned to leave. "I'll need to take another head scan and run a few other tests. Other than that, if JD has a good night; tomorrow we'll move him to a room on the surgical floor."
While Silver Bear waited, the six friends went back into ICU, JD was propped up a little. He looked washed out, with dark scoops under his eyes, but he was awake, and a mix of confused, but relaxed.
Buck closed in first and stood next to the bed. He rested his arms on the bedrail. "Hey. You gave us quite a scare, you know."
"I did?" He watched the others take a position. "How did I get here?"
"What do you remember?" Nathan asked.
JD pondered the question. "The cabin, the lake. Catching fish." His gaze moved to Ezra, Josiah and Nathan. "You guys were gonna be late." His eyes widened. "I had a strange dream though I can't recall what it was about, now."
Not understanding why, JD found himself trembling. He closed his eyes and tried to make sense of the jumble of images fighting for dominance. There was a memory teasing his consciousness, but the more he reached for it, the further it withdrew. He didn't know that he was freaking out and scaring his friends half to death; never heard Buck and Chris's anxious pleas to calm down; and had no idea his doctor sedated him.
Twelve hours later JD woke up and found himself in a different room. His head felt like a lump of lead. He could barely lift it, so instead he slowly rolled along the pillow to his right. Chris was there, sitting in a chair with paperwork and a pen in his hands. The team leader put down the papers and smiled.
Even before JD answered, he knew his throat was too dry to speak. Apparently, so did Chris, and he slipped a straw onto JD's lower lip and the young agent sipped gratefully. JD nodded his fill and pushed the straw out with his tongue.
"Thanks." He glanced around. "Hospital?"
Larabee nodded. "Do you remember why?" He knew it was risky to push, but Chris figured it was better for JD to get any buried issues out now than when he had no medical help to hand.
"Tired " With the sedative still coursing through him, JD closed his eyes and fell back to sleep.
Chris sighed and wondered if JD had really been too tired to talk, or simply too afraid to go there. He looked up when Buck, Vin and Ezra came in with coffee.
"Josiah and Nathan are scarin' up some food," Vin explained, but became more interested in the expression on Chris's face as he looked toward Buck.
"Y'alright, Stud?" Buck asked. He'd noticed too.
"JD woke up."
Buck looked disappointed that he'd missed it. "Aw, what?" He brightened. "Is he okay? Did he speak? Remember anything from yesterday?"
Chris shook his head. "No. He's still pretty spaced out; just took a small drink and fell back to sleep."
Subconsciously each man glanced at the heart monitor which was still attached to JD as a precaution. It was looking good.
"About those hotel rooms," Buck said as he took up a seat next to the bed and held JD's wrist. "I'm not sure JD's ready to be left alone just yet."
Chris nodded. "I agree." He switched his attention to Vin. "Is Silver Bear okay?"
"Yeah. Like JD, he spent most of yesterday sleepin'. He did say one thing, though." He noted everyone waiting for him to continue. "Said he wants to talk to all of us about why he was dream-guided to here." He glanced toward the bed. "JD too, if he's up to it."
"I must confess, I am rather curious to learn what all this has been about," Ezra put in.
"No arguments, there," Chris consented.
"Vin. Do you think JD's up to talking about it?" Buck asked worriedly.
"I know it's gonna be kinda hard to explain what happened. Hell, not even sure I understand much of it myself; but the earlier JD gets a chance to talk about it, hopefully the quicker he'll start healin'," Vin stated.
"Even after him freaking out yesterday?" Buck pushed.
"I'm thinking especially after yesterday," Chris pointed out. He cast a concerned look at JD "Not sure a reaction like he suffered yesterday is encouraging. Seemed to me as if he was trying to make sense of something, and failed."
"I trust Silver Bear to help the Kid. I reckon we should do it soon maybe tomorrow."
No one disagreed with Vin. They were curious to learn more, while determined to help JD put this shocking experience behind him.
And hopefully themselves, also.
The next day saw JD much more alert. The less traumatic events of the past few days were explained to him, and now he was eager to meet Adam Silver Bear. After lunch, and with the blessing of Doctor Johnson, JD was helped into a wheelchair, wrapped up warmly, and taken outside into the hospital's attractive grounds. Silver Bear was already there waiting for them, seated on a wooden bench. He stood and smiled on seeing the group approach.
"JD, it is good to meet you." He extended his hand. JD reached out to take it and was visibly moved when the man clasped his forearm instead of his hand. JD had seen Chris and Vin do that, and knew it meant something special.
"I, uh I understand I have you to thank for me feeling better." He didn't elaborate on the fact he couldn't recall as to why he was sick enough to be in the hospital, just that the guys told him he'd been hurt.
Sitting next to JD's chair and watching the other men bring a couple of benches close and also sit, Silver Bear grinned. "I think your doctor may disagree as to the success of my involvement, but I thank you for the recognition." He took in a breath and released it slowly.
"I have much to say, are you strong enough to listen?"
JD nodded. "You bet. May I ask a question?"
"Of course. You may ask me whatever you desire so I can help you understand and be reconciled with what you have experienced."
"That's just it. What did I experience? And how did you become involved?"
Silver Bear took a moment to compose himself, and then he began. "I will attempt to help you. Firstly, the `why me'. When I was ten, I fasted for the first time as is tradition in my family. To prevent temptation, my father and grandfather set up a tent in the garden well away from food, and where I remained for the full ten days. I had been told about the hallucinations I would experience, and that at some point, I should meet the animal and bird that would guide my destiny.
"Halfway into the fast, a hawk did indeed come to me in a dream. It took me from my tent and guided me into a large forest. There I met a silver-backed bear, who walked with me through the forest while the hawk flew overhead. When our talk was over, the bear blessed me, and the hawk took me back to my tent.
"As were their ancestors before them, my grandfather and father are medicine men. Both were happy I met with the bear. It is a rare honor to be singled out by one, for it was a sign of my following in their footsteps. From that day, I was called `Silver Bear', and the hawk became my guide."
He smiled and paused when Buck pulled the blanket covering JD's knees up a little and took off his own coat to carefully drape it around the boy's shoulders.
"You wouldn't be fussing me, would you, Buck?" JD asked with a hint of a smile.
"Huh? No! I it's not real warm I thought you'd "
JD full on grinned and nudged him side on. "Thanks."
Buck glowered at his snickering friends before turning back to JD and smiling. He so wanted to feign annoyance, but was just too darned happy to see JD in good spirits to go through with it. "You had me going there, Squirt."
Smiling, Silver Bear shook his head at the pair and then continued. "To round up and clarify my potted life history, along with becoming a medicine man, I was granted a gift to interpret dreams, and my guides were in place to ensure I fulfill my destiny."
"So," Josiah said. "Were you already aware of JD's situation or did Vin's visit to you get you involved?"
"A little of both," Silver Bear replied. "In a dream, my hawk told me I would be visited by a lone wolf. It was also disclosed that the wolf had six brothers awaiting his return. When Guipago Vin - came to me, I realized the dream was for him, and also for his new brothers. When I was informed as to the purpose of his visit, I expected the situation to escalate before the truth revealed itself to us. Sure enough, the night JD was injured, a dream I had that night foretold it. I was already heading for Vin's home when he called, and directed me here." He took a long breath and didn't fail to notice JD glancing at his bandages and frowning.
"Ahote is a legendary figure in our culture, but while we celebrate his commitment, we weep for his restless soul. Many shaman, and medicine men have tried to heal his heart and send him on his way to the Lands of our Ancestors for eternal rest, but none have succeeded in connecting with his spirit until now."
"What changed?" Vin asked.
"Ahote reached out to us." He stared at JD. "Through your dreams."
JD's frown deepened. `So - I've been having dreams'. "Why choose me?" JD stammered. He looked up when Vin made a noise, stood and walked over to stand behind him. Vin rested a hand on JD's good shoulder.
"Was Ahote tryin' to reach me?" Vin asked.
Silver Bear nodded. "I have pondered this, and yes, I believe so. Ahote's desire for revenge lost him his family and his way in life, and death. His quest to find peace ordained he seek out kindred spirits. In his connection with me, he learned of another link; a bond to his and my soul who had found a brotherhood, and therefore, inner harmony.
"His selection made; Ahote chose his messenger to be the open spirit of the group. A life-force who shares his thoughts honestly, and evokes protectiveness in others. A soul that, if troubled, a Kiowa brother would willingly seek help for."
"What you're saying " Chris suggested. " Is that Ahote found a way to get your attention, and then Vin's, too."
"Yes." Silver Bear glanced up at Vin. "I first shared this tale with Lone Wolf during the time he lived with my family. It was my ancestor that belonged to Ahote's tribe and was on the hunting party the day of the massacre. The tribe had been hunting and stockpiling in preparation for winter since the appearance of the Hunter's Moon, or Harvest Moon as you refer to it. The last days of October, was their final hunt. They returned triumphant, only to be faced with the slaughter of their people.
"While Ahote sought revenge for his loss, my ancestor became the next medicine man for those of the tribe left alive. As well as the difficulties he and the peoples faced to rebuild and recover, he always considered it his personal failing for not aiding his stricken brother and returning him to the fold."
"You're saying that the legend was passed down through your family, perhaps along with a pledge to one day end Ahote's desolation?" Josiah asked.
Silver Bear nodded. "Precisely so, my wise friend. Across the Spiritual Plains, Ahote was drawn to a settled brother; a soul connected to mine, and his, and who was no longer alone as he once had been. Ahote sought this inner healing, and crafted a way to reach us both. The timing of all these things is of no coincidence."
`Halloween,' Vin thought to himself. `Got it.'
"And he considered me the weakest?" JD was clearly shaken by these revelations. He felt Vin squeeze his shoulder, and shake his head `no' to JD's question as the Texan moved to retake his seat.
"Let's see if I'm reading this right, Kid," Buck said. "Ahote chose the one he had the most faith in to deliver his message. The one of us prepared to share something that bothered him, and reasonably quickly." He looked to a nodding Silver Bear, and puffed out his chest a little that he'd worked it out correctly but then, hey, he was a detective. "What I can't figure out is why he needed to fire the arrow."
JD's head snapped around and he stared at Buck. "Arrow? What arrow?"
Silver Bear again took over and held JD's wrists in his hands. "You have an open, honest heart, and a questioning, yet receptive mind, JD. Ahote used those qualities, and your brotherhood and its Kiowa connection to ensure his message was received." He turned to Buck. "There was no arrow."
"But, there was blood, and a lot of it," Chris reminded.
"Who was bleeding?" JD asked again, though he was starting to get an odd feeling about this. "Me?"
"JD's injury was symbolically linked to Ahote and the white men's blood he spilled during his quest for revenge. Did the doctor not say JD was recovering at an unexpectedly rapid pace?"
"Yeah," Nathan replied for them all. "I wondered how that was possible."
"The ceremony I performed healed the one, and the whole, while linking both the past and the present." Silver Bear stated.
"So, why were the faces of the folk from the past of people JD knew from here and now?" Nathan asked.
JD stared at Nathan before glancing around at Chris, Buck, and Vin. Something in that question seemed eerily familiar. "Have I dreamed of people I know, but in a different time?"
All eyes turned to JD.
"I was injured, and bleeding? Is that why I'm in the hospital?" He looked at Buck. "What are you not telling me?"
Silver Bear looked strangely pleased by JD's questions. He squeezed the youth's wrists in his hands. "You understand I performed a ceremony to assist your healing?"
JD nodded, and then his eyes grew wide. "You mean this link thing wasn't about this Ahote guy screwing with my head but " he looked down at his shoulder. " Him causing a physical injury?"
"In a way. Ahote wanted to end his mission, but with his soul lost, his only recourse was to reproduce an environment to bring him full circle; to bond the deeds of his past with the present, and set off the chain of events essential to achieve his objective. The strength and compassion of your brotherhood was the key to his success. Ahote wished neither you nor your companions of the heart harm, which is why you find yourself almost healed in body and mind."
"Well, as pointed out, he certainly ensured he got our attention." Ezra rounded. "Painful to imagine how, for over one hundred and fifty years Ahote roamed the Plains initially in search of justice, and then contrition, and peace of mind."
They all nodded.
Silver Bear stood, their time together was over. He bent forward and placed a hand on JD's arm. "The era in your dream was of Ahote's time on the earth. As to why the images of you and those known to you were chosen, is one part of the puzzle I have yet to solve." He straightened and shrugged at the looks his words received. "Guys, while blessed with many gifts, I am still only human, you know."
To the background of laughter, and after a round of goodbyes, Vin offered to walk Silver Bear to his truck. As they walked, Silver Bear talked.
"I fear JD now has more questions than answers."
"I hate to say this, but you seemed to duck out of the more painful answers back there. Why?"
"Did you not see, Guipago? The healing has overtaken the events. During the ceremony I touched each part of JD with a sanctified hawk feather. Now, JD's mind and body is being purged of his pain. He cannot even recall his dreams clearly, so the gory details are of no consequence. He need only hear of the tale, not of the anguish.
"Because of JD's, yours, and your brothers' munificence I know that Ahote's body and heart rest in eternal peace, while his spirit roams free in the Land of our Ancestors, and without knowledge of his former life. You see, the healing is not just about absolution, but also of creating a clear pathway to the new life. Ahote can now be reborn."
Reaching the parking lot, and next to Silver Bear's truck, the medicine man smiled. "You are blessed with a wonderful family, Lone Wolf. Cherish them, as they cherish you."
"I will," Vin nodded. "Thank you, Silver Bear. I owe you much more than I can ever repay."
"You owe me nothing, Guipago. JD is your brother; as am I. Family take care of family." He grinned. "When he is recovered, tell JD, that from this day, he will be known to my people as Sógùdàu Sán."
Vin chuckled. "Shógùdàu Shán?" he repeated. "Little Hawk?"
Silver Bear nodded. The pair clasped forearms. "À:hô."
More relaxed than he'd been in almost a week, Vin watched Silver Bear drive away. A second or so later, he smiled and spoke without turning around. "Y'alright there, Cowboy?"
"Buck's right," Chris stated as he came up behind Vin. "You've got Bat radar."
The pair started to walk back to the others. "Well, as long as I don't have to hang upside down and crap in a cave all day, I can live with that analogy."
Following behind Ezra, Josiah, and Nathan, Buck pushed JD and his wheelchair back to the hospital room. "Yeah?"
"Is that how you guys see me?"
"As someone who needs protecting?"
Buck snapped on the wheel brake and moved around to crouch next to the chair. He put one hand on the chair arm to steady himself, and his other on the hand peeking out of the blue sling supporting JD's shoulder. His dark blue eyes bore into his best friend's questioning hazel stare.
"Would you be upset if I said `yes'?" Buck didn't wait for a reply and semi-raised the hand on the chair arm to halt the chance of one. "Let me put this into perspective. You don't feel protective toward any of the six of us?"
JD's jaw dropped before he squared it, resolutely. "You know I do."
"Okay, so should we feel troubled by that? Should it make us feel any less competent to know that you've got our backs?"
JD looked down into his lap and picked at the blanket. "That's not it. You knew what I meant, Buck."
The brunet nodded. "Just like you know that professionally, we consider you every bit as equal as us, just that you bring it in a different way."
JD peeked at Buck from under his bangs. "Different how?"
Just looking at that image of puppy dog-eyed, outward vulnerability made Buck want to point JD at a mirror and yell `This! This is what we see sometimes!' Instead, he shrugged.
"Not really something I can easily put into words. There's a spark about you. You have all those smarts, more grit than a highway grit spreader and an unwavering sense of right and wrong; a walking, talking dynamo that can find trouble in an empty room." He sighed. "Told you it was hard to explain."
JD grinned affectionately. "Thanks, Buck."
Buck stood. "What for? Can't see how I helped."
"You didn't poke fun at me." His grin broadened. "That had to be hard."
"You have n-o-o idea," Buck chuckled. He snapped off the brake and continued pushing JD on inside.
JD was discharged on the Friday after Halloween. He wanted to go back to his and Buck's apartment, but Chris suggested the roommates and Vin stay with him for the weekend, with the other guys having the option whether to do the same or work it to suit themselves. JD was indeed getting stronger hourly, but there was no doubt his body and mind had taken a pounding. Chris hoped that being together; they could talk over how to watch out for JD, while spending some quality time in an attempt to put a fascinating, yet tough experience behind them. JD wanted to hear more about what happened, and Chris was determined that, no matter how painful, he would. No one had disagreed.
With a plan on Saturday for a belated, but low-key Halloween party to chill everyone out, Vin, Buck, and JD decided to stay over on Friday, with plans for Josiah, Ezra, and Nathan to join them for the rest of the weekend. No one commented on the feeling of déjà vu that accompanied their plans.
That weekend would also see them celebrate when Adam Silver Bear called to tell Vin that his daughter-in-law was pregnant, and that he was sure it would be - a son.
Due to such a rough and exhausting week, by 11pm those at the ranch were settled down for the night, while across town, also at exactly 11pm, Silver Bear had put down his journal and pen and retired to bed, as had, in their own homes, Josiah, Ezra, and Nathan.
Once sound asleep, all eight men dreamed.
A cloudless, blue sky greeted four gunslingers, and a warm, autumn sun evaporated what was left of the morning dew. Vin Tanner secured the last of four saddle girths, though it was unlikely the little bay that this saddle was on would be ridden today. Chris Larabee brought out the bedrolls and saddlebags and grinned at his brother of the heart on hearing Buck Wilmington's frustrated tone from inside the rundown cabin.
"Quit yammering and get your puny li'l butt moving. We're already a day overdue."
JD Dunne glared at his surrogate `big brother' as the man attempted to take his arm and help him outside. "I'm painfully aware of why we're late, Buck, thanks for the reminder." He slapped at Buck's hand as it took his elbow. "What are you doing? I hurt my shoulder, not my leg, I can walk!"
Buck folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against the wall. "Fine, go right ahead!"
Head held high, JD straightened and took a step. It was only Buck's quick reflexes that saved JD from hitting the cabin floor. Buck couldn't hide his misty gaze from the kid that, almost two days ago he'd watched die in his arms, and then breathe again.
"Y'all done fighting with me, now?"
JD's eyes welled and he turned his face away from Buck's. "Sorry, I just wanted to "
The tall man gently helped the weakened boy out to the horses. "Ain't no one judging you, Kid. You done took an arrow to the chest, lost a lot of blood, and survived. We just wanna get you home safely is all."
He'd only walked five steps and JD was already wiped. "So you say, and even though my shoulder hurts, I don't recall a darned thing," JD admitted. His brows knitted together as they stepped further outside.
"Hey wait! Where you going? My horse is there " JD dug in his heels, not that it helped. "I'm not riding double, Buck."
Continuing on against the feeble struggles, Buck smiled. "Yeah y'are. We ain't got time to keep pushing you upright every few minutes." He handed JD over to Vin and mounted up. Buck then leaned forward to receive his reluctant passenger.
"Buck! Aww, come on Vin, tell him."
Tanner whispered into JD's ear. "Don't make me put you out."
JD stared hesitantly at the Tracker, but couldn't read whether the Texan was serious or not.
The boy turned to Chris who was bending forward and offering his linked fingers as a step up.
"C'mon, son, we're burning daylight."
JD nodded, and as Chris gave him a boost up, Vin pushed a shoulder under JD's butt. Buck held onto JD's unstrapped arm, before twining his own arm around the boy's waist to settle the kid in front of himself.
"There, that didn't hurt none, did it?" Buck cackled at JD's return glance.
Chris mounted up while Vin walked back into the cabin to check they had everything. He stared at the dark stain on the earthen floor and shuddered at the memory of seeing JD lying there, dying. Vin never wanted to set foot in this place again.
A strange feeling washed over him and he found himself facing a semi-transparent image of someone who looked just like him crossing through the cabin. This fella wore clothes very different to his, even the jeans and boots looked odd; but his hair was the same, long and golden brown. The other man's startling blue gaze met his, and he smiled. Vin smiled back, but before could consider the situation further, the image faded, leaving the tracker alone in the old, rundown shack.
He snapped out of his daze on hearing Chris's shrill whistle and hurried outside, closing the door behind him. Chris stared in concern at his friend's pale features.
"You alright? You look like you seen a ghost."
Tanner mounted up. "You're gettin' as bad as Bucklin, Cowboy."
Before Buck could offer a retort, he heard someone approaching and stiffened, causing JD to grunt with the movement. Chris and Vin drew their weapons and closed in around Buck's gray to protect him and JD. They all relaxed when the three familiar faces of their fellow regulators Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson, and Ezra Standish drew close.
"How in hell did you find us?" Chris asked as he holstered his gun.
"Well, you can be assured it was not an easy undertaking," Ezra verified.
"Quit bellyaching, Ezra," Nathan put in. "We only searched one whole day."
Josiah bridged the gap between the two statements to Chris. "We tried to track you down yesterday, but had no luck. Back in town, a few folk recalled tales about a cabin hereabouts, so earlier we set off to look for it."
Neither Josiah, nor Ezra and Nathan had missed JD's pallid features, or that his arm was strapped against his chest. The fact that he was also riding double with Buck had all three looking at the pair sharing the big gray. Chris gestured with his head to move out, a promise in his gaze to share the tale with them later.
The seven had barely started along the trail when a vicious wind swirled around them, whipping dust, twigs and leaves into their faces. Each rider turned his horse to avoid the sting of the churning foliage, but moments later, the wind stopped as quickly as it began.
The seven found themselves staring at a large group of Indians positioned beyond the cabin and looking back at them. Stood at the head of the group were Ahote and a beautiful Indian woman. He nodded at the men, raised one hand from his side, touched two fingers to his lips, and motioned the hand palm down, and with the two fingers extended, toward the Seven.
Vin nodded, and then repeated the action back to Ahote and his kinsmen. "Go with God, my friend." Seconds later, the tribe was gone.
His brows furrowed, JD looked at Vin. "Where'd they go, Vin?"
The Texan looked at each of his brothers of the heart, smiled, and extending one hand to squeeze JD's good arm, he replied
Present-day, and Chris, Vin, Buck, JD, Ezra, Josiah, Nathan, and Silver Bear all woke at the same instant. Each man sat up in his bed and smiled at finally understanding JD's dream's link between the past and present. Ahote's remarkable choice of identities - the final piece of the puzzle - was solved.
Along with a faint and distant Texan drawl echoing in each of their minds; the eight simultaneously spoke one word aloud before going back to sleep.
Thanks for Riding Along
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