Disclaimer: Don't own them, just borrowing them.
Warnings: No...just a few owies. <eg>
Notes/Comments: Just a huge THANKS to Maggs for telling me I had great ideas and should put them down and write a fic...so I did. So if anyone gets tired of reading something that I wrote, blame her...she created a monster, and hopefully...I just created. Thanks again, Maggs!!
Feedback greatly appreciated at:
JD Dunne lay in bed. The way yesterday had gone, he seriously doubted the wisdom of venturing out into the street of Four Corners. There had been a few situations involving some of the men JD rode with. He wasn't worried about his well being, mind you, his concern was for the others.
THE DAY BEFORE
Josiah and Nathan were the unlucky members of the group, nothing major, though. JD didn't see them behind the pews as he brought a plank in to sand it smooth; so when he yelled to Josiah to ask where he wanted it Josiah had jumped him by peeking up behind the pew to answer. JD swung around and caught Josiah in the head. Josiah let out a yell, which of course alarmed Nathan. When Nathan began to ask what was wrong, the startled boy still holding the board, swung around again, catching Nathan in the side. JD dropped the board with a loud bang.
Chris and Buck heard the commotion and the loud bang, "What the hell?" Chris said, as he readied his gun with Buck right behind him.
"Sounds like there's something going on," whispered Buck. I hope the kid's okay, he thought privately.
They approached the door to the church quietly, Chris put his hand on the handle, glanced over at Buck who nodded, and with one swift motion he opened the door and they entered the church with guns at the ready.
JD turned to see two men burst through the door, guns drawn, and turned pale. His hazel eyes were huge with surprise, shock, and fright. "B-Buck, C-C-Chris?? What's the problem??"
The two men did a quick survey and saw Josiah holding his head and Nathan holding his side, both with a look of anger on their face.
"You guys all right?"
" Yeah, Chris I'm okay but I think Josiah might be needin' a few stitches." Nathan sent an ungrateful look towards the cause of the painful, but minor, injuries.
"I'm sorry guys, I didn't know where you were. I didn't mean nothing bad to happen", JD hung his head apologetically.
Josiah opened his mouth to speak, but couldn't think of anything to say. Nathan took his arm and led him out the door to the clinic to check his cut, JD offered Josiah a cloth for his head, Josiah raised his free hand and waved it off in response, "You've done more than enough," he said flatly. Josiah thought that it came out a little harsher than he'd meant, but didn't say anything to ease the look on the boy's face.
"Hell, kid, I thought ya said ya wanted to be a gunslinger? Who knew a stupid board could be a weapon?" Buck scowled at JD."How many times I gotta tell ya to be careful? Ya run outta ways to get yourself into trouble so know your findin' ways to cause it?" Buck's tone was not at all pleasant.
"I don't wanna hear it, JD."
"But Buck..I di..."
"I said I don't wanna hear it!!"
"Take it easy Buck. It was an accident," Chris said evenly, almost feeling bad for JD. He had the worst luck of anyone he'd ever met. If there was trouble was within 100 yards, it would find its way to the kid.
"Take it easy?! Take it EASY!!! He nearly knocked off Josiah's head!!! And then hit Nathan with the blasted thing, so you go ahead and feel bad for him. It weren't no accident..he weren't paying attention, probably day dreamin' about somethin' he read in one of those stupid novels he's always got his nose in."
Chris happened to take a look in JD's direction. He could see the hurt on JD's face at what Buck was saying. Buck did let into the kid pretty bad at times, but it this was different. Not that Buck hadn't said that stuff before, he had, just never sounded that mean. And the kid never seemed to take it very seriously, but he heard the words and it showed.
"I was just tryin' to help," he said, sounding defeated.
"That's why they call em 'accidents', kid, don't worry about it," Chris said with little emotion in his voice. He then sent a harsh look to Buck to let him know he was not too happy with him.
"Why am I getting a look?? I didn't screw anythin' up! Ah hell.. I got better things to than stand around here and hear a bunch of graveling' fro the kid." Talking like the kid ain't even here, Chris thought.
The older gunslinger watched as Buck left the room, wondering if he should talk to the kid.
Damn it! When did this happen? Chris wondered. He tried to find the exact moment when the kid seemed to matter to him. Of all the man he rode with, this is the one that had gotten under his skin. He didn't know how, but he had. Maybe it was the fact that he didn't look like a man, just a boy who wanted to be a man so soon. No one really knew how old he was, they just figured he was nineteen, give or take a couple years. Anyway you look at it, he was just a kid.
He took a few steps toward the kid. "Don't bother," the tone told Chris he didn't want to look at the kid's face.
He's right. I wasn't paying no mind."
"It was an accident. Buck didn't have no right to come down on ya like that."
A sad laugh came out of JD, "Ain't nothing' changed. Thought things might be different, but....," came the small voice. JD stood up to leave, when a strong hand touched his shoulder, he shrugged it off and turned to face the man he idolized. "Don't," was all JD said, and he left the church.
Chris let out a sigh as the door closed, something' was eaten' at the kid. Something more than what Buck had said. Or, maybe what Buck had said had brought back a bad memory. That couldn't be it. How bad could his childhood have been? Whenever he talked about his mother he always had this smile that spread from ear to ear.
Something' on your mind, cowboy?"
Chris was shaken out of his thoughts by Vin's voice, "Huh?"
"I asked," he repeated, slightly concerned, "Something' on your mind?"
"Got anything to do with Buck or JD?"
"What makes you say that?"
"Well, just left Buck at the saloon madder then a wet hen, and I seen snakes walk taller than JD."
"Mr. Wilmington was carryin on about an incident involving Mr. Sanchez's head, our surrogate doctor's side, and a piece of wood. I'm assuming our youngest has first hand knowledge of this particular event," Ezra offered.
"It was an accident, Buck came down pretty hard on him."
"I trust the two victims are in favorable condition?"
"They're fine. Josiah needs a few stitches and Nathan's a little bruised. They took JD by surprise while he was moving a board."
"So what's eaten' at the kid?" Vin asked, he'd seen the look as JD walked to the sheriff's office.
"I am assuming what's 'eating' at Mr. Dunne is Mr. Wilmington's comments?" Ezra asked more than stated to Chris.
"I guess..ain't nothing' he ain't said before, though. Maybe the kid's just heard it too many times." Chris wondered out loud.
"He looked pretty low. Maybe I should go talk to him," Vin offered.
"How much you know about JD's childhood?" Chris asked suddenly.
Ezra and Vin looked at each other then at Chris. "What's that got to do with anythin'?" the bounty hunter wondered.
"Maybe nothing', just something' he said stuck in my head. I don't think his life was as easy as we mighta thought."
"Losing a loved one at any age isn't easy, Mr. Larabee."
"That ain't it. I mean when he was a kid. Has anyone asked him how old he really is?"
"No," Vin and Ezra said at the same time. "You?" Vin added
"'Suppose Buck knows?"
"You plan on askin' him?" Vin hoped not.
Chris cocked his head and said, "Not right now I ain't. There's things I ain't afraid of, but Buck bein' in this kind of mood is one."
Ezra cleared his throat and simply asked, "Have you entertained the idea of inquiring the information you request from a source close to the subject at hand?"
"I told you I ain't gonna ask Buck," Chris said rather aggravated.
"I am not deaf. I was simply wondering why not ask the young man in question."
"You mean JD?" Chris looked puzzled. He hadn't thought of that.
"Ya think he'd tell us?" Vin wondered.
"I think Mr. Dunne is incapable of lying."
With that thought the three headed to the sheriff's office.
Unfortunately Buck had chosen that time to make sure JD hadn't forgotten what he said earlier and decided he needed to let him know he was still mad at him. Vin had seen Buck's slender form making his way towards the sheriff's office and signaled the other two to pick up the pace. They all met on the porch at the same time.
"Leave him alone, Buck," Chris said, his ice blue eyes adding 'you've done enough for one day'.
Buck was pretty riled but not in the mood to try and get by three unmovable objects. Vin and Ezra stood behind Chris with a very similar expression on each of their faces.
"Go ahead protect the kid. I'm trying to teach him something, unlike you I want the kid to see his next birthday!" Before anyone had a chance to say something he stormed off.
The three men hung there heads and sighed. The door to the office opened and JD meekly came out. "I'm all right, I can take care of myself..no need for you guys gettin' Buck all mad at you 'cause of me. He was right. I wasn't pain' no mind to what I was doin'." He looked at the others pleadingly to let it go. They watched him carefully as he crossed the street and finally enter the boarding house where his room was.
The three lawmen looked at each other in silence. "I do believe tomorrow would be a more pertinent time to inquire Mr. Dunne how long he has been on this earth," Ezra said it flatly and looked towards the saloon, tipped his hat and left saying, "Until tomorrow, gentlemen."
Vin and Chris watched Ezra leave. "I need a drink."
Vin replied with a simple, "Yup"
* * * * * * *
JD managed to sit up in bed. Today can't be any worse than they yesterday, it can't go anywhere but up, right? The shimmer of hope went as fast it came with memories of yesterday still flooding his head. With a heavy sigh the young sheriff got out of bed and got dressed. He sluggishly made it to the livery, hoping that brushing down his horse would make him feel better.
Josiah and Nathan came into the livery and apologized to JD for the way they acted. "Can't says I blame ya'. I'd be a little miffed too," JD said softly. "Thanks anyways," he added with a weak, unconvincing smile. He was still feeling pretty low.
What Buck had said repeated itself in his mind most of the day. He was thankful that Buck wasn't around, he and Chris had to go to Sweetwater for something. JD couldn't remember. He hadn't really paid attention to what Buck told him. He expected an apology for gettin' yelled at, Buck never stayed mad at him long, but didn't get one. The young sheriff figured Buck was still a little miffed.
JD was sitting on the porch of the sheriff's office, Vin was leaning on the post next to him. He was thinkin' if he should ask the kid about his age, but he and Chris had decided that they (including Ezra) would do this together. The day had been quiet when they spotted two riders coming in towards town.
"Goin' kinda fast don't ya' think Vin?"
"Yup," Vin replied, pulling out his spy glass to see if he recognized the two riders. "It's Buck and Chris, musta run into trouble."
Vin turned to the kid who had a questioning look on his face, "Want me to round up the others?"
"I don't see nothing' coming behind them, why don't we wait."
As the riders approached the jail Vin and JD could see the tension in the others faces. "Is there a problem?" JD asked.
"Nothing' that you need to worry about," Buck said quickly and sharply.
"Well?" asked Vin to Chris.
"We gotta irate husband that ain't too happy with one of us," Chris spat out, as the two riders dismounted rather quickly.
"I thought I was the one who was causin' trouble. How irate is this guy?" JD asked.
"About eight guys irate," Chris said, giving Buck a glare.
"And here I was thinking the day was gonna end the same way it started, quiet," Vin snapped and looked over to Buck.
"How was I supposed to know!'!"
"You mean you asked if she was married for a change," JD said, dripping with sarcasm. Vin and Chris chuckled quietly to themselves at the jab. Buck just glared.
"These guys are real mean, JD, just stay outta the way and don't try and be a hero."
"I can take care of myself, Buck."
"Whatever, just stay away from me. I have enough bad luck around I don't need yours shadowing mine!" Buck ran for the saloon.
"You stay with me JD," Chris said.
"Here they come," Vin said plainly.
The eight men stopped in front of the jail and looked at the three men standing on the porch. "Which one of you the sheriff?" the man asked to Vin and Chris. At the same time they stepped away from JD and pointed to him.
"That would be him," Chris said regretting his action as soon as he saw the look on the man's face.
"You can't be serious!" the man bellowed with a laugh like he'd just heard the punch line to a good joke. The seven men riding with him joined in with snickers and whispered comments.
Chris glanced at JD and was surprised to find the hard look on his face. The kid stepped forward with his arms crossed in front of his chest showing confidence. "You got a problem with that?" he uncharacteristically hissed. Without showing any emotion on their faces, the older gunslingers were surprised at the tone in the kid's voice.
The chuckles and mumblings stopped suddenly. "We don't want no trouble, just lookin' for someone."
"Who ya lookin' for?" JD said evenly, like he didn't know.
"A real piece of dirt, Wilmington's his name."
"What he do?" Vin asked, knowing to well what the answer was.
"Doesn't concern any of ya', I just wanna teach him a lesson."
"Well, the way I'm seein' it, your in my town so I'd say it does concern me," JD's voice was cold. Chris was silently watching, without showing a change in his expression he thought, kid's doin' all right, where did he get that tone of voice?
"Name's Bennett, Wilmington put a move on my wife."
The black clad gunslinger silently wondered what JD would do or say. Normally the kid wouldn't have said anything, but with what had happened previously had him questioning the safety of his oldest friend.
JD cocked his head and squinted in the sunlight to talk up to Bennett who was still mounted. "Maybe he didn't know she was a married woman, why don't ya just leave it be. 'Sides, he mighta gotten the hint havin' all you guys chasin' him outta town."
"What are you sayin' boy?!" Bennett roared. "That my ole lady was willin'?" his face was red with anger.
"Sounds that way to me, what ya think cowboy?" Vin turned to Chris.
"It would seem that way to me," Chris said confidently as he saw there three fellow lawman approach the group of men. Bennett noticed the group approaching and saw the three men in front of him place their hands on their holstered guns.
"I don't want no trouble, just wanna 'talk' to Wilmington," the large man said nervously.
"Well, then, I suggest you just go back home and take your friends with ya."
Bennett couldn't believe he was actually unnerved by the pint sized sheriff. Maybe he was a bit bolder with his friends surrounding him, but the looks on the others faces didn't seem taken aback by the bravado the young man was showing, maybe he was someone to be wary of.
If JD had known that he was having that effect, he didn't feel it. Inside he was shaking, getting mad at himself for acting bigger than he was. He was sure that nothing good was gonna come outta this. Why didn't he just let Buck get his ass kicked for a change, maybe it would calm that 'animal magnetism' he was claiming he had. But he couldn't do it, he was his friend and that's what friends do, look out for each other, watch their backs.
Buck sat in the saloon and had a few drinks to calm his nerves, he hated the fact the men were covering his back side...again. With that thought he went out the back door and made his way to the jail.
"I didn't know she was married," Buck stated, everyone was startled at the sound and had fourteen sets of eyes turned on him. The glares had a range of emotions, from hatred to concern to worry.
"You miss the weddin' band?!" Bennett yelled at him.
"She didn't have one on, I checked."
It all happened pretty fast, one of Bennett's "friends" took a shot yelling "LIAR" and all hell broke loose as everyone scattered. The shower of bullets rained on the town for what seemed like hours, and as the gunfire began to subside with Bennett's men falling one at a time, JD looked around to see where Bennett was. He spotted him sneaking up behind Buck who was hunkered down behind a water trough. JD made his way towards his best friend carefully so Bennett wouldn't see him, he was getting closer when he saw Bennett raise his gun towards Buck head. He yelled a warning, "BUCK!!!"
As Buck began to turn Bennett lifted his gun towards the boy sheriff, and Bennett fired. As soon as Bennett fired, JD returned the favor, his aim was perfect, he hit the large man's hand and the gun dropped. Bennett grabbed at his hand with a wince, Damn that kid is good, but I thought I had a good shot!
JD felt the burn in his shoulder and wished he'd listened to that voice in his head that tried to convince him to stay in bed.
Everything became quiet as the seven gathered the leftover men and met again at the jail. The only one missing of there little group was JD. Vin spotted the kid near the store sitting on the porch his head hanging. The buffalo hunter gave Chris a nod in that direction and went to the kid.
"You all right, kid?"
"Yeah, but I'm gonna have to kill Buck for getting me shot," he said it so casually Vin thought he might be kidding, but as the kid turned to look at Vin, he noticed how pale he was.
"NATHAN!" All eyes were turned in Vin's direction, the prisoners were handed over to Josiah and Ezra and the three men ran towards the youngest two of the group. "He got hit in the shoulder," Vin said as they approached, giving Buck a look that could stop a train in its tracks.
Buck pushed past the others to get to the kid's side, "When did you get hit JD? You okay? Are you hurtin' much?" Buck rambled on.
JD answered simply, "Bennett, yeah, no."
"When did Bennett shoot at him?" Buck turned to the group behind him for an answer.
"He was sneakin' up behind ya, I yelled at ya and then he shot at me so I shot at him," the voice was becoming weak. Nathan pushed Buck out of the way and began a quick exam.
"It went right through and the bleedin's slowin' down. Let's get ya cleaned an' sewn up." Nathan helped JD stand.
"I'm fine, I think I can manage to get to the clinic," JD said cynically as he shrugged off Buck's hand from his arm. Buck stood in silence for a few minutes, then got mad at the kid.
He grabbed the kid by his good arm and turned him to face him. The force made JD wince and gasp involuntarily. "Thought I told you to stay outta trouble."
"Thought I'd save your ass!" JD spat out.
"You don't know when to stop do ya'? Don't play hero I say, stay outta trouble, but do ya listen? No! You get all worked up and try an get yourself killed!"
The words hit JD like a knife in his heart. He hung his head submissively, just like yesterday, Chris noticed. Nathan stepped between Buck and JD, giving the mustached man a look that said to back off. Chris and Vin stood beside Nathan to let Buck know to leave the kid alone. No one noticed that JD had walked off, holding his shoulder, to the livery.
"Move outta my way, Chris, that was a stupid thing the kid did!"
"Saving your ass was a stupid thing? Maybe if you did most of your thinking with your head he wouldn'ta gotten shot!" Chris was mad, real mad. Buck had gotten himself in a situation, and brought it back with him. All the kid did was prevent the guy from gettin' killed. With all the words Buck had said to the kid yesterday, he still stood up for him. He realized how much he had become to admire the kid. Chris turned to help JD to the clinic and found him gone.
The others turned to where the youngest member was supposed to be. As they looked at each other they heard the fast and heavy sound of a horse heading out of town, fast.
"Damn him..what the hell is he doin' now?" Buck said as he stormed off back to the jail to retrieve his horse. He was stopped by Chris's strong hand on his arm.
"The last thing he needs is to see you," the words came out like daggers.
"Damn it, Chris, he's hurt and runnin' off. I'm gonna go get him and knock some sense into that thick skull of his!"
"You don't get it do you? That's the last thing he needs, and he sure as hell doesn't need you. 'THIS' is all your fault! If ya hadn't said what ya did yesterday and then let into him after he saved your ASS he wouldn't be ridin' outta here into who knows what!!" Vin normally didn't talk that much, he said more than he had said in a week, but he was beyond mad.
He liked the kid, a lot. Vin felt close to the kid, not just because they were the youngest of the group, or they had lost people they cared about. He admired how he always thought with his heart, not always the smartest move he knew, but it was one of the things he liked the best about JD. That and how he always seemed to have a zest for life, he brought that out in the others, even Chris. JD had Chris wrapped around his little finger, Vin saw it and he was pretty sure everyone else knew it, even Chris. The only one who didn't know it was JD. His innocent looks was his best asset as far as a gunslinger went. He was not taken seriously or people usually underestimated his skills. Truth be told, besides himself, JD was a very accurate shot and quick.
Vin walked away from the others, Josiah and Ezra had joined them by then. "May I inquire as to where our Mr. Tanner is going?"
"I'm gonna go after JD."
" You want company cowboy?" Chris asked, knowing he didn't, but afraid of what he might do if he had to stay in town with Buck.
"If you want," Vin said, not needing the help but understanding the look in his eyes.
Buck turned abruptly and stormed off to the saloon. "Brother Nate? Have we lost the youngest of the flock?"
"I guess you could say that, Buck lit into JD again and he snuck off and rode outta town. He's gonna start bleeding again. Better get the clinic ready for him when he gets back. I gotta feelin' he ain't gonna be all that healthy when he gets back." The words were thick with emotion, knowing all to well that the young man wasn't gonna be in the best condition when he returned.
Josiah was also concerned about the battle that lay ahead of JD, physically and emotionally. Josiah grabbed at his cross and said a silent prayer, "Keep and eye on him, and let our lost sheep find their way back to our flock, Amen." Josiah felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see the gambler with his eyes shut and head bowed.
"Amen," was all he said and crossed the street to the clinic to see if he could be of any help to Nathan.
* * * * * * *
JD rode hard for about thirty minutes before he realized that was one of the dumbest things he'd ever done. He pulled his mount up and slowed her down. His head was beginning to throb and his shoulder really hurt, despite what he told Buck. He didn't know how long he'd been riding, all he knew was no one was yellin at him.
He stopped his horse near the edge of the woods where it was shaded. The sun was beating down on him, making his head hurt. He dismounted slowly, trying hard not to use the arm where his injury was. He steadied himself by leaning against his horse, then found a place to sit under a shade tree.
He took stock of his shoulder and noticed it was bleeding again, more than when he'd gotten shot. Nathan's gonna kill me, he thought. Maybe that's what he deserved, he wondered, after all the trouble he'd caused and gotten into the last couple days, they'd be better off without him. And Buck, how did he piss him off so fast? But what else is new, things were goin' too good out here, nothin's changed it was bound to catch up with him...just took a little longer than he thought. JD leaned his head back on the tree and his mind began to wonder back, before he came out west, before his momma died, the estate where he'd worked for long hours and no pay.
Useless, stupid, idiot, dumb kid, little brat, trouble maker...why if you weren't working here for nothing' so your momma had a place to call home and die...How many times had he heard that? At least a million. He hated the man he 'worked' for (although he felt more like a slave at times). Joshua Chamberlain was a bastard, plain and simple. JD had always worked for the man so had his momma. He didn't mind it, though, they had enough money for what they needed and they were both putting away money for JD to go to college. After the rent for the house was paid.
Then his momma got sick, began to not work as many days as she used to. Then stopped all together, she just didn't have the strength. The rent started coming out of the money they saved. JD never really knew how much was there, but he figured he couldn't take much more from it. He had talked to Chamberlain about the situation hoping that he might be sympathetic to his plight that he'd let it go. Ha, what a joke. Chamberlain laughed at him for twenty minutes, and as fast as he started to roar he stopped. What was it that he said again? '..not running a charity. If ya can't pay gotta leave...I don't care if she only has three months or three days..no rent no place to stay'. There was more, but that was the important part.
JD came up with another idea and presented it to Chamberlain. He agreed to it a little too quickly, the kid had thought but didn't care, he would be able to live in the house until his momma passed away and instead of paying rent he would continue working the twelve hours days and work on the weekends too. So what if he didn't get paid. At least his momma would rest knowing that everything was taken care of.
The one thing JD didn't know was that Chamberlain still thought JD owed him. And took what he thought JD owed him out of him physically. The first time JD came home battered and bruised he thought for sure his momma would notice, he had a hundred reasons ready why he looked like he did, horse kick, had a fall, anything but Mr. Chamberlain beat the tar outta me cause he felt like it, but when he walked through the door his mother never asked . She didn't really seem to notice. She was getting worse every day and just didn't seem to have the strength to even move her head or even smile.
His thoughts jumped ahead to the day his momma died. After a particular hard day at work, and Chamberlain decided today was the that the '..boy needed to be reprimanded for his sluggish work method'. He had been up most of the night sufferin' along with his momma, coughing fits and the great deal of pain until she was quiet and then he went to work.
He hurt so bad that he had crawled most of the way home, managing to get on his feet so he could walk in the door. He tried to smile as he walked through the door, he saw her lying so still on the bed, just as pale as always but as he got closer to her he realized she had the most angelic smile spread across her face. He hadn't seen her smile in so long it made his heart ache, and then she looked at him and said 'I 've been waiting for you...I love you..' and died. A sixteen year old man headed out to explore the west hours after burying his only family. He had 'landed' in Four Corners just a few days shy of turning seventeen.
The tears streamed down his face as the memories faded to the back of his mind. He opened his eyes and figured he oughtta get back so Nathan could fix him up, and tell him how stupid it was for him to run off like that and get whatever Buck was gonna give him. He looked around for his horse but couldn't find it.
As he stood he thought she mighta gone into the cool of the woods maybe get a drink, he remembered a stream Vin had shown him when they came up on this spot on a ride. So he began to walk into the woods to find his horse. He made it to the stream and decided to get a drink for himself. As he bent down the pain in his shoulder came back to him. JD decided he should try and clean out what he could reach, he remembered Nathan say it had gone clean through.
* * * * * * *
The tracker and the leader of the seven was following the tracks easily, JD had run his horse pretty hard so they stayed at a casual pace. They both knew JD felt he needed the time to himself..hurt or not. And they knew the kid treated his horse like Buck cared for pretty women, and he would probably allow her to rest, they would catch up with him then.
"You think we should keep this pace?" Chris's way of asking if Vin thought he was okay.
"I know he's hurtin', Chris, he'll stop soon and let her rest. Hell, I bet he's on his way back right now."
"I don't know how to fix this Vin, I haven't got a clue what's gotten into Buck. An I'm worried about the kid..not just his about his health either," There, he'd finally said what was really botherin' him.
"I've been thinkin' 'bout that."
"Come up with anythin'?"
"How many times you suppose he's been shot since he's been here? Six, seven?"
"Yeah, I'd say that'd be about right, along with gettin stabbed.."
"How many times you look at his face when he's been hurt?"
"Dunno, what ya gettin' at, pard?"
"He always looks scared, but he never looked like he 'hurts'," it was more like Vin stated.
Chris thought for a minute and realized Vin was right, his eyes would be as big as plates but he never seemed to give into the hurt. Chris was wondering what his friend was saying. "You have a theory on that?"
Vin was gonna answer when they saw a familiar, riderless, horse walking towards them. The two riders dismounted and went to the horse, they saw the blood covering the side of the horse and saddle. Vin touched it and hung his head, "Fresh, he's either gotten himself into a situation or he's bleeding again."
"Can you follow where she came from?"
"I have a pretty good idea where he's at. There's a wooded place just beyond those rocks, came out here once, he thought it was real nice and peaceful..a good place to think." The bounty hunter smiled as he remembered the awe in the kid's face.
"We're a couple hours outta town, hopefully it won't take long to convince him to come back with us. I don' t wanna wait till he passes out, it takes him twice as long as any of us," it was said with a slight chuckle and the two men upped their pace to find the youngest member of the makeshift family.
* * * * * * *
After getting the clinic ready for the youngest of their "flock", as Josiah would say , the three men crossed the street and headed for the saloon, to look for Buck and see if they could figure out at least this part of the puzzle.
Buck was sitting at a table in the corner, where it was always dark. They joined him without an invitation and Buck shook his head, "I'm sorry about everything, I don't know what I'm doin' ," he said and raised his head to find the men looking at him with concern rather than anger, which surprised him. He could even read Ezra's face which was unusual for the gambler to show any emotion. "They back yet?" he continued quietly.
"Not yet, but I'm sure it won't be long, there lettin' him blow off whatever's got a hold on him. Give em a chance to talk about it," the low deep even sound of the healer eased Buck's mind, like it was intended to.
"May I be so bold as to ask why you have been treating Mr. Dunne without your usual 'kid glove' attitude? Is there something he has done or said to cause you to treat him as you have been."
"No, nothing' he's done really, he don't know nothing' about it."
"About what, Brother Wilmington?"
Buck took out a crumpled piece of paper and threw it on the table at no one in particular. Ezra looked at the others and retrieved it off the table and read it to himself, before looking at the others and addressing Buck, "This can't be..They can't be serious!"
"Do you mind filling us in?"
"Well Mr. Jackson, it would appear that Mr. Dunne is considered a 'Ward of the State'. And a representative of said state will be here on... TODAY? to retrieve so said 'Ward' and take him back to Boston and placed in an 'orphanage'."
"You mean a workhouse" Josiah said dryly.
" It don't make no matter..it's either that or someone will 'adopt' him and make him work for nothing'!" he said with all the anger he felt.
"So why have you been on JD so hard? Why didn't you just tell him?"
"Josiah, I wanted to tell him, but I thought if...hell I don't know what I was thinkin', whatever it was went all wrong." It was the simple truth.
"It would appear that we need to devise a plan, and quickly."
" You got something' in mind, Brother Standish?"
" That I do, Mr. Sanchez, with a little help from the townspeople and any luck that we can escort our young comrade into the clinic unseen I do believe we may not have to worry about anyone retrieving our young friend soon." With a grin that shown his gold tooth and a glint in his eye he divulged to the others his plans to pull off the biggest, the most unselfish, and most important con in his life.