DISCLAIMER: The following is a work of fanfiction based on the CBS television series, The Magnificent Seven. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp., or anyone else who may have legal rights to the characters and settings. I dont own the characters. (Darn it anyway, can't I just have the little one?) This story is strictly for entertainment. No monetary gain will be made from it.
"What's wrong, Buck?" JD Dunne asked his best friend, Buck Wilmington.
"Nothin', kid." Buck answered.
"Buck?" JD persisted.
"I said nothin', JD. Drop it." Buck snapped at the teen.
JD walked off, hurt by Buck's tone, and certain that his friend was keeping something from him.
JD didn't know how right he was.
But how could Buck tell JD what was wrong?
How could Buck tell the kid he was leaving Four Corners?
Buck had told the others of his decision ~ but couldn't bring himself to tell JD ~ at least he hadn't been able to do it yet.
He knew it would either break the kid's heart, or else he'd do something foolish, like try to follow him.
The others had agreed to abide by his decision to leave. They didn't like the decision and didn't agree with the decision, but had acknowledged Buck's right to make it.
But the kid ~ that would be a whole different story.
Buck knew that JD was not going to agree with his decision and the kid had a pretty good track record of being able to influence Buck. JD would use those puppy dog eyes and Buck would usually give in.
But, Buck knew that this time he couldn't give in to the boy. He had someone that needed his help, and to be of any help to them, he would have to leave.
Buck was going to Defiance to go help his brother Tom out of the latest in a long string of situations.
The others had all offered to accompany Buck but he had declined their offers. Buck knew what kind of trouble Tom was in. It was not the kind of trouble where Buck was going to need back-up. It was Tom's usual sort of trouble. He was in jail. Again.
Buck was planning to leave tomorrow. He'd have to tell JD today.
Buck was dreading the thought of looking into those huge hazel eyes and seeing the hurt there ~ knowing that he'd be the one that put it there.
Buck was dreading leaving the kid, too.
The kid had a real knack for getting into trouble. Buck would worry about him, but at the same time, he knew the others would take care of him, or die trying.
* * * * * * *
Later, Buck found JD sitting at the jail, reading one of his dime-store novels.
"Buck." JD greeted his friend with a huge smile.
Sweet kid. He's not going to make this easy for me, is he?
"What'cha say me and you have a little talk?" Buck asked.
"Sure" JD replied hesitantly. "What'd I do wrong?"
"Who said you did anything wrong?" Buck countered.
"Well, usually when you say 'let's me and you have a little talk', it means I've screwed something up." JD explained.
"No, kid. Not you." Buck sighed.
"So? What then?" JD was beginning to fidget.
"I'm leavin', kid." Buck felt relief that the words were finally out.
"What?" JD seemed confused.
"I'm leavin'. I've got to leave town, kid."
"So, when will you be back?" JD asked.
OK. Kid's not understanding this yet. That's why it's going so well.
"WellI'm not sure"
"You're not comin' back!!" JD gasped.
"Now, I didn't say that, JD."
"You don't have to. You're notare you? I know it!! Damn you, Buck!!!!!!"
"Calm down, kid."
"No, Buck. Leave me alone."
"Leave me alone, Buck. You're dumpin' me, ain't 'ya?"
"Dumpin' you? Kid, let me explain...."
"Explain what? That you're tired of me houndin' 'ya. Look, Buck, I'll leave 'ya aloneI won't bother 'ya no more, just don't leave, OK?"
"JD, it's not what 'ya think, kid."
"Buck please don't leave. I'm sorry. Please" JD broke down, huge tears dropping from his long lashes.
"JD, I've gotta go. You don't even know why I'm leaving."
"Sure I do, Buck."
"No, JD, you don't."
"JD, just shut up and listen to me, will 'ya?" Buck yelled, grabbing the teen and shaking him.
"Look, kid, I got word that Tom's in trouble in Defiance. I gotta go help him."
"I'll go with 'ya, Buck."
"No, you won't. I'm not taking you into some situation that I don't know anything about."
"Buck, you know the guys will wanna help."
"They already offered last week."
WHOA!!! Big mistake.
"You told everybody else last week? Everybody except for me? Oh, but I'm just the kid, right?"
"You just think I'm some stupid kid, don't 'ya?"
"JD, it's just that it's taken me a week to work up the nerve to tell 'ya I'm leavin'. This is killin' me, JD. I love 'ya, boy."
"Then why can't I go? I promise I won't slow 'ya down, Buck."
"JD, Tom's in jail. I don't know why or for how long. I don't know how the town feels about him. They may be ready to string him up, for all I know, and maybe anybody that comes to help him, too, for that matter. I just can't risk takin' you into somethin' like that. It's not fair to you."
"But dumpin' me's fair? I could help 'ya, Buck. Honest. I won't pester 'ya or make 'ya mad or slow 'ya down. Just please, Buck, please don't leave me behind."
"It's for your own good, JD."
"That's what people always say right before they dump 'ya," the kid said, his huge hazel eyes ~ red from crying ~ staring a hole into Buck.
The boy walked slowly out of the jail, tears trailing down his red cheeks.
"JD..." Buck called after him.
The youth never looked back ~ never looked back to see the tears trailing down Buck's cheeks.
* * * * * * *
Buck strolled into the saloon and slumped into a chair at a table with Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner.
Buck was completely drained.
"From the looks of 'ya" Chris observed, "I'd say you told the kid."
"Kid's all upset." Buck said.
"You thought he'd be anything else?" Vin wondered out loud.
"I knew he'd be upset. I just... aw, hell, what am I supposed to do?" Buck pleaded.
"Take him with you," Vin offered.
"You think that's smart?" Buck asked.
"Didn't say that. But, it's the only thing's gonna make JD happy." Vin answered.
"Well, I'd rather have the kid alive than happy." Buck snapped.
"Look, Buck," Chris reasoned, "Defiance is not a hell-hole, snake-pit kind of town. Just take the kid with 'ya."
"No, Chris. I ain't takin' him." Buck stood firm.
"Then, accept the consequences." Chris said.
"Meaning?" Buck asked.
"Kid's gonna be upset. Get used to it." Chris answered.
Ezra Standish entered the saloon with an irritated look on his face.
"I do declare. Our young Mr. Dunne has entirely too much energy and too little regard for the safety of others. Why that little fellow nearly ran me over on his way out of town."
"His way out of town? Where was he headed?" Buck panicked.
"West, I do believe. Where would our young friend be going, heading in that direction?" Ezra remarked. "Nothing in that direction for miles, nothing but desolate, barren real estate, mile after mile after proverbial mile."
"Damn, Buck." Chris snapped. "Now you've gone and done it this time. Damn kid's gone and run off. He'll be real safe now, won't he?"
"Shit!!" Vin was not happy. He could see another tracking job facing him. Another one where there was a friend involved. A good friend. A young boy who had come to be even more than just a friend to him and the othersa young boy who had enamored himself as a 'little brother' to them all.
Chris took charge. "Vin, me and you'll go after him and bring him back."
"I'm comin', too." Buck said.
"I don't think you're exactly the person JD wants to see right now, Buck." Chris said.
"I'm comin'" Buck repeated.
"Christ, Buck." Vin argued. "Ain't you done enough damage for one day? Leave the kid to Chris and me."
"Don't you go tellin' me about the kid, Vin." Buck was getting upset about being left behind where the kid was concerned.
"Somebody's got to." Vin snapped. "It's your fault he's gone. You kick him aside like some unwanted pup and then you're surprised that he don't stick around to let you do it again."
Chris stepped between the two arguing men. He knew that Vin cared for the boy almost as much as Buck.
"Buck," Chris reasoned, "you stay here. I just really don't think JD's gonna be in the mood to see you right now. Vin and I will find him, let him cool off for a bit and bring him back here. After that, it's up to the two of you to work things out."
"Alright, Chris. But... tell him... tell him I'm sorry, OK?" Buck said.
"Sure. Don't worry, Buck. I'll take care of him." Chris promised.
Vin and Chris rode out to bring JD back.
After they rode a while, Vin finally felt in control of his emotions enough to blow off some steam.
"Buck can be such a stupid asshole sometimes."
"Now, Vin," Chris smiled, "don't sugar-coat it, tell me how 'ya really feel."
"Well, it's true, Chris. I'm sorry, I know he's your oldest friend and all, but, Christ, he treats the kid like crap and then he can't believe that he's not still the boy's best friend."
"Sad part is, Vin, he probably is still the kid's best friend. I mean, I can't explain it. I know Buck loves the kid to death, but sometimes... well, they always say you 'hurt the ones you love' so maybe that explains why Buck's the way he is."
"Yeah, maybe." Vin was not totally convinced, but was beginning to calm down a little.
"How far ahead is the kid?" Chris asked, hoping to change the subject.
"Probably no more than two to three miles." Vin answered. "He's not pushin' his horse at all... probably just moseyin'.
"And ponderin'?" Chris smiled.
"Yeah." Vin agreed. "Guess the kid's got a lot on his mind. Sowhat'cha gonna tell the kid when we find him?"
"I have no idea." Chris exclaimed.
"Well, 'ya better come up with somethin' quick... we'll be caught up to him pretty soon."
"How do you convince a kid as soft-hearted as JD that he ain't bein' dumped, when you know in your own heart that that's exactly what's happenin' to him?" Chris was at a loss.
"Sugar-coat it?" Vin offered.
"I guess." Chris agreed.
"Well, you better think fast, cowboy, there he is."
* * * * * * *
Christ felt the lump in his throat turn to a knot in his stomach when he saw the scene before him.
Chris looked up to see JD sitting, dejectedly, on the ground ~ his horse standing next to him ~ licking the tears off his cheeks.
"Hey, kid." Vin called.
"What are you guys doin' here?" JD seemed startled ~ and embarrassed. Like he had not even noticed them approach. He hurriedly used his sleeve to dry his eyes.
"Came to get you, kid." Chris said.
"Well, you can just turn around', 'cause I ain't goin' back," JD said as he stood up.
"Look, kid..." Vin started.
"No, you look." JD yelled. "I'm tired of... never mind."
"Tired of what, JD?" Chris asked, concern showing on his face. He could tell the kid was hurting, and really did want to help him. JD was a sweet kid and didn't deserve to feel like he had to run away.
"Tired of bein' the stupid kid all the time, tired of bein' told what to do all the time, tired of bein' picked on all the time, tired of well,,, I'm just tired of all of it, Chris," JD ranted, his eyes filling.
The kid just stood there looking at the two men, waiting, figuring they would tear into him for yelling at them.
But they didn't.
"Sorry, guys." the kid apologized.
"It's OK, kid." Vin smiled. "Don't worry about it. Let's just go back and beat the crap out of Buck, OK?"
"No," JD turned away. "He made it clear he don't want me around."
"Now, JD, you know that ain't true." Chris put his hand on JD's shoulder and squeezed it lightly.
"Yes it is," JD whispered, his words hitching between sobs. "He's leavin' without me. Leave the stupid kid behind. Plain and simple."
JD walked away and sat back down under a shade tree.
Chris walked over and sat down next to the kid.
"I don't wanna talk about it, Chris," JD said.
"Sure, kid. I'm just gonna sit and rest for a bit," Chris told the boy.
"Fine. But I ain't gonna talk about Buck," JD told his hero.
"Fine," Chris said.
"I mean, who does he think he is, anyway? Never mind... I don't wanna talk about it," JD cut himself off.
Chris and Vin exchanged knowing looks.
"He thinks I can't breathe on my own," JD continued. "Damn him, anyway. I don't wanna talk about him."
"Don't blame ya, kid." Vin said.
"He thinks I'm just this stupid kid who can't get by without him. I said, I don't wanna talk about it." JD rose and walked off.
Chris and Vin smiled at each other.
"Glad he don't wanna talk about it." Chris said.
Vin just laughed. "Now what?"
"Kid'll calm down soon," Chris thought out loud. "We'll take him back to mama bear and it'll all be OK. You know those two can't stay mad at each other for more than a couple of hours."
"But what about Buck leavin'?" Vin asked.
"Don't know." Chris said. "I'm hopin' he decides to let JD go with him."
Suddenly, the quiet calm of the afternoon was shattered by the panicked scream of JD Dunne.
* * * * * * *
Chris and Vin ran in the direction of JD's scream.
"Where is he??" Chris panicked.
"I don't see him anywhere!!" Vin said.
"JD!! JD!!" Chris called.
"Where the hell's he at?" Vin yelled. "Damn!!!"
Then they heard it.
A very faint plea.
"Chris... help me!!"
"JD!! Where 'ya at?" Chris yelled.
"He's hurt, Chris," Vin cried. "Where is he????!!!!"
"I can't tell, Vin. JD!! Where are 'ya????"
Chris and Vin finally got a fix on the direction that JD's cries for help were coming from and raced to him.
They found the boy curled up on the ground ~ shaking.
"JD!! What happened son?" Chris asked.
"JD! Come on, kid. He's out cold, Chris."
"What the hell's wrong with him?" Chris cursed, examining the teen for injuries. The boy was trembling and whimpered in pain when Chris lifted his right arm.
"Roll up his sleeve, Chris." Vin said.
Chris did as Vin instructed ~ and then it became apparent to the two what was wrong with the boy.
"Damn!! Snakebite. How the hell could he get bit on his arm?" Chris asked.
"Look here." Vin motioned. "He musta tripped and fell. He's got a bite on his hand, too."
"Christ... two bites." Chris shook his head. One snakebite was enough to make a man deathly ill or even kill him if not treated properly. But two bites on JD's slight frame was definitely not a good situation.
Chris and Vin both took out their knives to cut the bites so they could try to suck out as much of the poison as possible.
The kid let out a panicked cry, without ever really waking up, when they cut him. "Sorry, kid." Vin grimaced. "We gotta do this. We gotta get the poison out."
"I hope it's not too late, Vin. He was layin' there for quite a while before we even found him." Chris said.
"Check him for any more bites, Chris," Vin said, as he took off his shirt and began ripping it into strips they could use to bandage the two wounds.
Chris was unable to find any more bites.
Thank, God. Two's already twice the odds of getting all the poison in time.
"Buck??!!" the kid was coming around.
"You're OK, son. Just stay calm," Chris comforted the boy. He pushed the kid's dark hair out of his eyes. He could tell by the boy's wide-eyed look that he was in shock. He removed his duster and wrapped it around the kid.
"No, JD. It's Chris. You're gonna be fine, son." Chris tried to calm the kid the way Buck always did ~ stroking his hair and speaking in a soft, comforting voice.
JD faded in and out as the two men bandaged the wounds.
"Two bites, Vin. This ain't good." Chris said.
"He'll be fine," Vin countered, not sure if he was saying it for JD's benefit or Chris'.
JD was beginning to panic. "Chris... it's gonna get me, Chris!!"
"The snake's gone, son. Don't worry about that," Chris assured the boy.
"No!! It's here, Chris. It's gonna... gonna get me." JD was on the verge of becoming hysterical, struggling against Chris' grip. He seemed to be seeing the snake coming at him again.
Vin pulled his gun and shot the ground nearby.
Chris and JD both jumped.
"What the hell?" Chris snapped.
"I killed the snake, kid. It can't hurt 'ya no more," Vin promised JD, kneeling down to pat the teen's cheek.
"Thanks, Vin." JD immediately relaxed, reaching out to grab Vin's hand.
Chris shot Vin a thankful look for putting the kid at ease. "When'd you get so smart?"
"Always have been," the tracker smiled. "Just don't like to brag's all. But, I remembered Buck saying one time how the kid was terrified of snakes. I figured that to JD the only good snake was a dead snake."
"We gotta get him to Nathan's," Chris said.
"He can ride double with me," Vin offered.
"NoI'll take him with me," Chris corrected.
"Alright, Buck." Vin sighed.
"I could punch you for that," Chris said, "but I need you to help me get JD on my horse."
Vin went to get the horses ready for the trip back to town. He knew it would not be an easy trip and was not looking forward to it. But, he also knew it needed to be done as quickly, and as gently, as possible, for the kid's sake.
"Come on, son." Chris whispered to JD. "Let's get you home."
"No," JD whined. "Leave me alone."
"Don't fight me, JD." Chris insisted.
"I don't feelgood. My head hurts," JD told Chris.
"I know it does, son. That's from the snakebites, JD. We gotta get 'ya to Nathan's."
"I can't Chris. I can't make it." JD cried.
"You don't have to do a thing, kid. Just let me take care of everything." Chris promised, as he scooped the youth up in his arms.
The kid whimpered.
"Sorry, son." Chris apologized, his eyes filling, as he became aware of the full extent of the pain the boy was in.
Vin brought the horses up and Chris lifted JD onto his horse with little effort. Vin held the boy steady while Chris got on behind him.
"I'll tie JD's horse to mine," Vin said. "If you need me to spell 'ya, let me know."
"We'll be fine," Chris said, as he cradled the kid in his arms.
They made their way back to town ~ moving as quickly and as carefully as possible.
"God, Chris." JD whispered. "My head... it hurts."
"It's gonna be OK, kid. Did you hit your head when you fell?" Chris asked.
"No,I don't... I don't... think-nk-nk so, Ch-ch-chris," JD said, his teeth chattering.
Shit!! Kid's gettin' chills, now.
JD was fading in and out ~ Chris could feel heat radiating off him.
"How's he doin'?" Vin asked, riding up next to the two.
"He's gettin' a bad fever. He's burnin' up," Chris said.
"Shit!!" Vin cursed.
"He said his head's really hurtin' him." Chris added.
"Chris??" JD pleaded.
"Chris... I..." and JD suddenly went limp in Chris' arms.
"He's passed out, Vin. We better hurry."
The trio arrived back in town about a half-hour later.
"Nathan!! Nathan!! JD's hurt!!" Vin shouted as he saw the healer leaving the saloon.
Buck heard those words from inside the saloon where he was sitting and panicked.
Hurt? Kid's hurt? Damn!! They said they'd take care of him!!!
Buck raced out of the saloon and froze when he saw the boy ~ pale and drenched with sweat.
He ran up to Chris to help get JD down off the horse.
"Give 'im to me," Buck growled.
"Easy..." Chris instructed. "Watch his arm."
"What the hell happened to him??" Buck demanded.
"Snakebites. Two of 'em," Vin advised.
"Glad you took such good care of him," Buck seethed, as he looked Chris in the eye.
"Buck??!!" the kid whispered.
"Yeah, kid. I'm here. Everything's gonna be OK. You just relax," he soothed, as he carried the boy up to Nathan's.
"Buck, I'm sorry," Chris called after his oldest friend.
"It's not your fault," Vin insisted.
"I told Buck I'd take care of the kid," Chris said. "I promised."
"Don't do this, Chris," Vin pleaded.
"I didn't take very good care of him, did I?" Chris said, feeling totally drained from the events of the last few hours.
Vin put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Ain't your fault the kid gets bit by a snake."
"I shouldn't have let him walk off by himself, upset like he was," Chris reasoned. "He wasn't payin' attention to where he was going or what he was doing."
"Chris, don't beat yourself up over this. It ain't your fault. Buck's just blowin' off steam." Vin assured him.
"Yeah, I guess," Chris said, but not very convincingly.
Vin and Chris walked into Nathan's to find Josiah and Ezra already there. And there was Buck, of course, sitting in a chair ~ his head hanging ~ tears rolling down his cheeks.
"What'd Nathan say?" Vin asked.
"We have heard no diagnosis as of yet, Mr Tanner. Mr. Jackson is still taking care of our young friend," Ezra explained.
"Glad someone can," Chris whispered.
"Chris" Buck began. "I'm sorry about that this ain't your fault. This whole mess lays on my doorstep, not yours. My fault the squirt ran off in the first place."
"Poor boy just can't seem to stay out of harm's way," Josiah observed.
Nathan came out to let everyone know the status of their youngest friend.
"He's pretty sick, and in a lot of pain, but he should be OK in a few days. Got a bad fever, but that's to be expected with snakebite."
"Can I see him, Nathan?" Buck asked.
"Sure, Buck. He's gonna be pretty drowsy, I gave him somethin' to help him rest, and for the pain. But, it'd probably be good for him to hear your voice," Nathan stated.
Chris stepped between Buck and the door to the back room. "Can I go in first, Buck?"
"Why?" Buck asked.
"I need to talk to the kid," Chris explained.
Buck searched Chris' eyes and saw nothing but
guilt there. "Chris, I told 'ya..."
Chris opened the door slowly and disappeared inside.
"It appears our young lamb is not the only one in pain here," Josiah stated after Chris' departure.
"He's just got to work through this, that's all," Vin said.
"He ain't got no guilt over this, or at least, he shouldn't," Buck said.
"Well, don't bet on it, Buck," Vin started. "Besides, if'n he ain't got no guilt, then why'd you say what you did out there before?"
"Oh, hell, Vin. Just my mouth getting' ahead of my brain, again, like always."
"Well, Buck, you need to get them together, 'cause that's two people you hurt today," Vin said angrily as he walked over and sat down. "You know Chris would die protectin' that boy. He didn't deserve that kinda bull comin' from you. He beat himself up over this all the way back. Liked to killed him seein' the kid hurtin' like that."
* * * * * * *
Chris walked over to the bed where JD was sleeping peacefully. He was glad that Nathan had given the kid something to help him sleep and ease the pain. He didn't think he could stand to hear the kid cry anymore.
Sleeping like an angel Chris thought as he stood looking at the boy. Kid was way too young to have been through some of the stuff that had happened to him since coming to be one of the seven.
Chris sat in the chair next to the bed for quite a while ~ his head hanging, thinking of what he should have done differently to spare the boy this misery. "Sorry about this, son. I shoulda took better care of 'ya."
Chris reached down and gently wiped off the tears on the kid's face. Poor kid. "Nathan said you were in a lot of pain, kid. I'm sorry."
"Chris??" the kid looked up.
"Hey, son. You've had a pretty rough day, huh?" Chris asked softly.
"Yea," came the faint reply.
"Well," Chris started. "I'm sorry about what happened. I was supposed to take care of 'ya."
"Not your fault Chris," JD said, his teeth clenching with pain.
"I shoulda..." Chris began.
"Not your fault!" the boy said louder.
"Kid's right, Chris. This ain't your fault."
Chris stood up and turned to see that Buck had walked in.
"Buck! Where 'ya been?" the kid was ecstatic to see his best friend. They had parted on not-the-best-of-terms, and the boy was glad to see him.
"I been right here, sleepy head. Waitin' for you to wake up. Sleepin' in the middle of the day... I tell 'ya!" Buck smiled at the kid as he sat down in the chair by the bed. He grabbed the boy's hand and held it tightly in his. He put his other hand to the kid's forehead and was relieved to feel that it was slightly cooler than before.
"Sorry," the kid whispered.
"Oh, I'm just teasin' 'ya, kid." Buck said.
"No, I mean... I mean about before." The kid was fighting to stay awake, but had to make things right with Buck before he gave in to Nathan's medicine. "I'm sorry I got mad at 'ya."
"That was my fault, JD," Buck confessed.
"No. It's your business if you want to leave, I guess. I don't blame 'ya for wantin' to dump me." The kid was almost asleep.
"I ain't dumpin' 'ya, kid. I just didn't want you to get hurt, was all. That sure backfired, didn't it?" Buck asked guiltily.
"Not... not your fault, either, Buck." JD couldn't understand why everything that happened to him had to be someone's fault.
"But, kid, I want 'ya to know that I ain't dumpin' 'ya. OK?" Buck insisted.
"Whatever," JD said quietly.
"JD..." Buck began.
"Don't, Buck. Just don't, OK?" JD rolled over, curled up and pulled the blankets up over his face ~ shutting out Buck and Chris. He didn't want to hear anymore lies about Buck not wanting to leave him behind. He knew that Buck could take him with him, if he really wanted to.
Buck and Chris waited until the boy drifted off before stepping out of the room.
Buck walked over to a chair and plopped himself down, visibly shaken by the fact that the kid was ignoring him. "He still thinks I'm dumpin' him. Where does he get these fool notions of his? I would never dump that boy."
"Buck," Chris began. "I know you're tryin' to protect him, but I gotta tell 'ya, this is hurtin' the kid more than anything that you're worried about happenin' to him."
"I know, Chris," Buck agreed.
"So, when 'ya leavin'?" Chris asked.
"I guess whenever the kid's up to travelin'." Buck smiled.
"Glad to hear it, Buck, glad to hear it," Chris said, slapping Buck on the back. "You'll see a change in the kid, I'm sure."
Buck pulled his long frame up from the chair, stretching his aching muscles. "I guess I better get back in there. I'll tell him as soon as he wakes up."
* * * * * * *
Buck sat in the chair next to the bed, waiting for the kid to wake up so he could tell him that he had decided to take him with him when he left town.
Kid sure looks young when he's asleep. Young and innocent. Kid's got a face like an angel... what a misleading sight, Buck laughed.
"Buck?? What are you doin' here?" the kid asked, groggily. "I... I thought you'd be gone by now. Ain't... ain't Tom waitin' on 'ya?"
"Well, we can't be leavin' until Nathan says you're able to travel," Buck explained.
"What??" the kid's eyes opened wider, and the expression on his face was one of disbelief.
"I need 'ya to go with me, kid."
"You don't need me, Buck," the kid sighed.
"OK. You're right. I don't need you to go with me," Buck said, the words crushing the boy ~ causing his eyes to shift down to the covers.
"But I want 'ya to come with me," Buck added.
"You mean that, Buck?" the kid grinned.
"Yeah, kid. I'm just a sucker, I guess, but I do mean it." Buck smiled at the boy.
"Thanks, Buck. I won't slow 'ya down," JD promised.
"Don't worry, kid."
Seeing a smile again on the kid's face made Buck's day.
"Now,you rest. I'm gonna go see if Miss Irene's come to her senses yet," Buck grinned, pulling the blanket up tighter around the kid.
"OK," JD said, getting settled in under the covers.
Buck sat back and got comfortable in the chair, watching the kid.
"I thought you were leavin'?" JD asked.
"I will, I will... you just get to sleepin', kid." Buck wanted to wait till the boy was asleep before he left him.
JD was asleep almost immediately, but Buck sat for a good half-hour just watching the boy. Trying to pinpoint the time when the kid had become such a big part his life. God knows a ladies man like him didn't need a kid tagging along all the time. But, he also knew that he didn't feel whole if the boy wasn't right there with him all the time.
Might as well take him with me. Only way I'll have any peace. If he's not with me, I'd just spend all my time worrying about him, anyway.
Buck got up to leave
"Buck??" the kid gasped.
"Hey, kid. I thought you were asleep," Buck said.
"So you were gonna sneak out?" the kid asked.
"Just goin' to the saloon, remember? Gonna check up on Miss Irene." Buck smiled.
"You're leavin' me. Dumpin' me." JD was getting agitated.
"JD, we talked about this, remember? I'm just goin' to the saloon, that's all, like I told 'ya," Buck said.
"No!!! You're dumpin' me like..."
"JD, you're goin' with me. I told 'ya." Buck was beginning to worry about the boy. They had already discussed all this.
"You said I couldn't go!!!" JD was getting really upset.
"Calm down, JD," Buck put his hand on the boy's shoulder and realized he was burning up with fever again.
"Leave me... leave me alone, Buck," JD cried.
Nathan and Chris came running into the room.
"Nathan. He's burning upand he's kinda confused about things," Buck told the healer, his eyes filling as he looked down at the boy in his arms.
"I was hopin' we'd get by easy. His fever was goin' down before," Nathan observed. He felt the boy's forehead. "Oh... it's worse than before."
Chris brought over a pan of cool water and wash cloths.
Buck still held the boy in his arms, afraid if he let him go he'd become upset again.
Nathan applied the cool cloths to JD forehead. "OK, JD, now you just relax son. You're gonna be fine. You're just runnin' a fever's all."
"Nathan??" JD croaked.
"I feel real bad," the boy said weakly.
"I'm sure you do," Nathan acknowledged. "You just rest."
"'Kay..." and the boy was out.
"What brought this on?" Chris asked.
"Fever just spiked up. We just gotta try to keep him cool and calm," Nathan said, looking to Buck.
Buck knew exactly what Nathan meant. He'd hold the boy in his arms all night, if that was what it would take to keep him calm.
"Nathan?" Chris was almost afraid to ask, but continued. "Do you think Vin and I got all the poison? Is that why he's so sick? Did we do something wrong?"
"No, Chris." Nathan said. "You and Vin did fine... more than fine, really. JD'd be dead by now if he had too much poison in his system. Fever's just a side effect of snakebite, that's all. He's just got a real bad fever is all."
"Buck??" the kid was reaching for his friend.
"I'm right here, kid. I gotcha." Buck said, giving the kid a little squeeze so he'd know that his friend had him and wouldn't let anything happen to him.
"Buck, don't don't leave me, please," the kid pleaded.
"I ain't goin' nowhere, kid."
"Promise?" JD whispered.
"I promise, kid."
* * * * * * *
Buck sat holding the kid ~ all night.
The kid had a fevered, fitful night, but had remained calm all nightin the arms of his best friend.
Poor kid's so sick.
Buck held JD's hand tight when the boy would cry out, dreaming of snakes coming after him.
God, he's so scared of snakes. Wouldn't you just know that one'd bite him?
Come morning, the kid woke up.
"Buck??" JD turned to see Buck was holding him.
"Hey, kid." Buck smiled, looking down at the boy. "How 'ya feelin', kid?"
"Better, I think," JD said.
Buck put his hand to the boy's cheek, relieved to feel he was cool to the touch.
"I think your fever's finally broke, kid," Buck said, unable to hide the relief in his voice.
"Good," JD said tiredly. "I'm sorry I slowed 'ya down, Buck. I... I promised I wouldn't."
"No problem, kid. Just give Tom a little more time to cool his heels, is all," Buck smiled.
"Are 'ya gonna leave without me now?" JD asked.
"Nah. I can wait a couple more days. You just get well, then when Nathan says it's OK, we'll go together, OK?" Buck answered.
"Thanks, Buck. You're the best friend a guy could have."
"Well, kid, I'm glad you feel that way, but, I'd say that title goes to you, squirt. Now you get some rest." Buck said, settling the boy back in the bed.
The kid curled up under the covers and fell asleep with a smile on his face, knowing that ~ no matter what ~ he wasn't going to be left behind.
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