The stage rolled into town and deposited it's passengers, the judge walked to the jail house porch where six men stood waiting.
"Judge," Chris greeted.
"Let's go inside," the Judge said in an urgent manner.
"You mind tellin' us what this is all about?" Chris stated, he was a patient man, but he was beginning to loose his, he didn't like not knowing if a situation was brewing.
"Still in the clinic, he's doin' better," Nathan said.
"Good." The judge's statement brought puzzled looks from the men.
"This got somethin to do with him?" Buck asked with concern.
"He's a ward of the state back East, did you know he's still a minor?" the judge accused.
No one answered, giving the judge reason to believe they knew he wasn't considered a 'legal adult'.
"He's barely seventeen, were you aware of that?" The judge sighed again as there was still silence, and men hung their heads.
"I was sent a telegram with orders to send him back East," the judge let out.
"What? You can't do that judge!" Buck broke the silence.
"I have no choice, it's the law..he hasn't a legal gaurdian..I haven't any choice, I'm sorry." The judge knew how these men felt about the youngest member, he also knew he wasn't innocent in all of this. He'd appointed him sheriff, knowing he was young..he also knew that he'd come from Boston after his mother died, most likely 'escaping', what, he didn't know.
"Well, what if one of us says they'll be his legal guardian?" Chris asked, "What would happen then?"
"Well, I can sign the papers, but they won't mean anything here..you need to file the petition in Boston, then it'll be legal."
"Guess were goin' to Boston, huh?" Vin asked.
"We can't all go," Nathan stating the obvious, they couldn't leave the town unprotected..
"Judge, you think you can pull in some favors? Cover the town?" Chris asked.
The others stood there, mouths open. Chris was actually considering going to Boston? "I think I can arrange that. I got to warn you, someone wants him."
"What do ya mean someone wants him?" Buck asked.
"That's why I got the telegram, someone back in Boston has already filed." the judge finally letting the ball drop, and it dropped hard.
"So what's that mean?"
"It means someone has filed a motion stating their interest in our young sheriff, and if there isn't any other motions filed, the good Judge here has to take Mr. Dunne back East and deposit him amongst strangers that no doubt know nothing of the boy and see him only as a possession to do some sort of manual labor that they themselves aren't inclined to do!" Ezra's charm beginning to slip, as the thought angered him.
"He ain't goin' nowhere," Buck stood firm.
"Not unless you have papers for guardianship," the judge stressed.
"We'll have them, when can you draw them up?"
"I can, but I have to tell you, whoever filed knows JD, said he was a friend of the boy's mother."
"JD never mentioned nothin'," Vin said, the men all knew JD and Vin talked.
"You know who filed? Is there a name?" Chris wondered.
"No, got the message from whoever is representing the man," the judge said.
"Representing? This guy's got lawyers, Chris," Buck began to worry.
"We got Ezra," Chris shot back, knowing the con man could probably baffle not only the lawyers but just about everyone he'd ever met.
"Mr. Larabee,. your confidence in my abilities is welcomed, but we will have to appear in front of a judge."
"Larabee, all you need is to prove that you are what's best for JD, nothing more. All you need is for someone to file for guardianship."
"I don't think I gotta chance," Nathan laughed out.
"Who's gonna be the guardian?" the judge eyed the men, he stopped on Chris and he lifted his head.
"I will," said the man standing next to Chris.
"You sure about this, Buck?" Chris asked, the man he looked at had never made a commitment in his life to anyone.
"I'm sure, sides..it's just a piece of paper, right?" Buck asked.
"Well, pretty much, but if there is someone else petitioning if you get custody, they could come and check on things, if the petitioner pushes it."
"What do you mean, they come back here and if they think things aren't right.."
"They have the power to remove him."
"Well... guess we'd better wake the boy up and tell him what's goin' on," Buck said.
"Wait a minute, Buck, let's think this out before we go and get his hopes up," Chris said wisely.
"Not tellin' him is what got him in that mess in the first place, and what's there to think about?" Buck questioned.
"Judge, we got any chance?" Chris asked, his suspicious nature coming out.
"Don't know to be honest. That judge finds out what he's doin'..this is dangerous work here, can't say that I'd leave him here," the judge said honestly.
"You have the power to do that now, Judge, why don't you?" Josiah noted.
"Things are different out here, nothing's organized. It's like another whole world. I know what he does and how he does it, he's not a typical seventeen year old. I'm afraid a judge back East won't understand finding out that he's a hired gun.. I don't know, I just don't know," the Judge said remorsefully.
"What happens if they find out he's sheriff?" Chris asked, wondering if going to Boston was such a good idea.
"It's a dangerous job, Chris, he's been hurt before, I wish I could tell you it looked good."
"Thanks Judge," Chris said, the Judge tipped his hat and left the jail.
"Well, what do you think, Chris? We gotta tell him, Buck said.
"I think we have to go, if we don't they're gonna come after him and take him."
"Yeah, and if we go, he ain't gonna come back with us!" Vin stating his position.
"We stay and what, Vin?" Chris looked to his friend.
"I'm with Vin, Chris. Ain't no judge gonna give me custody of him..not a hired gunmen, if we have to we can leave..." Buck started.
"And we do what then, Mr. Wilmington? Wander the territory, go our separate ways? You as well as the rest of us here know what that young man has here."
"We're gonna loose him no matter what," Chris said flatly.
"What do you mean?" Nathan wondered.
"We tell him what's going on, he's gonna run."
"Chris, I don't think he'll go nowhere, not if'n he knows we're goin' with him," Nathan said.
"Yeah, he will, Chris is right," Buck said knowingly.
"I know you know him better than us, Buck, but I have to agree with Nathan, he'll stay if he knows we're here for him," Josiah backed up his friend.
"He won't go back," Vin said with conviction.
"From the way this conversation if proceeding, am I to assume you have information on this subject that we were not privy too?" Ezra suspected.
"You could say that," Chris said
"Or you could just say we know somethin' you don't," Buck added as a form of translation.
"Care to share that with the rest of us?" the gambler inquired hopefully.
"Not our place to say guys, sorry," Chris apologized, not willing to break a trust.
"Well, then, obviously Mr. Dunne has divulged a piece of history to you all, and you feel he will contemplate 'running off', then I have to accept that you are correct. So we don't tell him of the situation regarding his .....legitimacy as an adult."
"We gotta tell him," Buck said knowingly.
"We just watch him, we can't leave him alone," Chris ordered.
"When do we leave?" Vin asked.
"Nathan?" Buck looked to the healer.
"If'n he does what he's told, in another month if he's riding, we can leave whenever if we take the wagon."
"Let's get this over with," Chris stated as he made his way out the jail, six men following him.
+ + + + + + +
The men entered the sick room, JD was in a fitful sleep. His head was turning sporadically from left to right and his right arm would come up, a if blocking a punch.
"Damn," Buck said quietly as he and Nathan approached the bed, the others stood back; JD hadn't had a fever in a long time, to think this was a fevered dream, some grew a bit worried. Chris and Vin knew what was going on, as did Nathan to an extent.
Nathan had witnessed JD's nightmares, as had Chris and Vin. The only thing the healer didn't know was what the nightmares were about, the other three knew. Chamberlain.
"JD, hey come on, JD..it's okay," Buck soothed quietly, getting his hand behind the kid's neck, lifting slightly, as his head tossed.
"Careful of the right," Nathan referred to JD's right hand, he had caught it in the face once trying to wake him.
"Hey..kid..come..on..you're safe..Ole Buck's here, we gotta talk. Come on," the gunslinger pleaded after nodding at Nathan's warning.
JD let out a sudden gasp, and his eyes shot open. He swallowed hard as he caught his breath, turning his head to Buck, he saw the others behind Buck and shame and embarrassment swept over him.
"You're okay," Buck soothed.
JD nodded to the statement, he hated the fact that the men he rode with had to see him in a nightmare or a bad dream. To him, it was just another way of showing how young he was..these men didn't have nightmares or fears, maybe that was the difference..they were men, he was still just a kid.
"We need to talk, JD," Chris said.
"Did I do.."
"Nothin' ya did, son. The judge paid us a visit this morning," Chris started, trying to take all the burden from Buck.
"Trouble?" JD asked.
"Yeah, but not here," Chris still doing the talking.
"You know those people I told ya about?" Buck stepped in.
"Miss Ballard and the Delaney guy?"
"They're here?! Buck..you have to get me outta town," JD panicked as the covers flew off.
"Whoa..whoa..hold on..they ain't here kid, will ya sit back and listen?" Buck ordered, pushing the kid back into the bed.
"Okay..what about them then?" Still not convinced, they must be coming back.
"Well, Judge got a telegram sayin' you're still a ward and what not.. We, all of us..wanna go back and get it straightened out," Buck said cautiously.
"What do ya mean get straightened out?"
"You need someone to be your legal guardian," Chris said, again in a even, calm way.
"Why? I can just stay here and do whatever I have to, I'm not going back there," JD said stubbornly. There was an eerie silence that made JD uncomfortable to no end. Buck hung his head, not able to think that JD was going to be leaving. Chris made his way to JD, realizing Buck couldn't tell him. So he did.
"Son, someone else has filed for your custody."
"In Boston? Who?" JD had gone pale.
"We don't know, Judge says he got the telegram from a law firm," Chris continued.
"So..that's it huh? You never wanted me here anyways..guess you're gettin' rid of me..just like you wanted," he said, trying to control his anger and hurt, but the eyes deceived him.
"No..no, no, that ain't what we're sayin'..we gotta go back there to get custody of ya..we can't do it here is all..Judge is drawin' up the papers so as we can do this right, but we gotta file them in Boston," Buck said quickly, trying to diffuse the kid's panic.
"Can't ya go back without me?" JD asked hopeful, there wasn't anything or anyone he wanted to see ever again, except maybe his mother, and he couldn't see her.
"No, as soon as Buck signs the papers we're gonna leave."
"You get the short straw again?"
"No, I want to do this, JD," a high pitch to his voice, geez why did JD feel like everything that involved him was because someone had lost a bet. How could anyone not want to do for the kid.. Hell, look what he'd done to a group of six hardened gunslingers considered to be some of the most dangerous lawmen men around, in just under a year.
"We're going with you, JD, you ain't gonna do this yourself," Vin said, trying to give the kid some courage.
"What if.. What if we see him?" JD asked. Nathan Josiah and Ezra looked to each other silently asking 'who?', the reason for JD not wanting to go back was becoming a little clearer.
"He won't get anywhere near you, we won't let him," Vin stood firm.
"Tomorrow, huh?" JD asked, still not sure, but feeling safe.
"Yeah," Buck smiled.
"You sure? I mean..about doin' this ..the custody thing?"
"More sure than I ever been," the mustached gunman smiled honestly.
"Guess I don't have any choice," the kid let out defeatedly.
"It'll be all right," Buck promised.
"Okay," JD smiled, as he lay back down in bed and turned to the wall. The others took this as a hint that he wanted to be alone, and left him to his thoughts, but not 'unguarded'. Vin went to keep an eye on the back door, while Chris and Buck stayed out front.
JD sat in up in bed as he heard the door shut. He knew there wasn't anyway he was going to slip out and...and..what? The thought of going back East....God he didn't want to do that. Who wanted him? Why did they want him?
Then he thought of the guys. Guess he'd been wrong about them too. He always thought he wasn't important, he was just a kid; they had told him that more than enough times. Yet here they were, willing to go all the way back to Boston for him, all of them, not just Buck..or a couple of the others all of them.
Buck wanted him, Buck wanted to be his legal guardian. To JD that meant he 'wanted' to be his family. More than a brother, but not quite a father. Buck was choosing him. JD couldn't help but smile at the thought. To be born into a family is one thing, you haven't a choice of who your relatives are, but in this case Buck was choosing and that meant more than anything.
He had a family, one that didn't choose each other but were brought together by circumstances, Josiah called it Fate, what ever the reason they had chosen to remain, making a family. A chosen family, something everyone wanted but just didn't know it. And now they were going to Boston to make sure the family stayed together.
JD looked down at his leg, he'd had the cast on for close to three weeks now, there wasn't anyway he could ride with it on. He looked to the table where Nathan held all his tools, he got out of bed and hopped, like he had done so many times to look out the window, over to the table and searched for what he wanted.
He found what he was looking for and hopped back to the bed and sat down, he put the casted leg up on the bed, leaving the good one on the floor, and began to cut away the hard bandages. Besides the fact it weighed so much, it had begun to itch...real bad.
In two hours he had fought with the cast and the knife he had retrieved from the table, only cutting himself twice, but not badly. He made the last cut and he began to pry the cast off his leg.
He dropped the hard bandages on the floor and began to unwrap the bandage that covered the scars from the trap. He smiled in satisfaction as he dropped the bandage on the floor with the cast.
JD brought his other leg up to the bed so he could lay down, the effort it had taken to remove everything had worn him out, and he wanted to sleep before supper. He began to panic as he saw the difference in his legs. It was so pale and small compared to his other one. He moved his toes to make sure it was still working, then touched them to see if he could still feel them, his panic faded and he remembered Nathan saying something about muscles and stuff, he decided that everything was good and fell asleep.
Two hours had passed when Vin and Buck were alerted to JD's fitful sleep with a terrifying scream, both men went up the stairs at break neck speed, taking the stairs two and three at a time. Vin was first to reach the door with Buck not far behind.
Vin walked to the boy thrashing in the bed, Buck going to the other side. Buck brought his head up from JD and to Vin. The tracker didn't miss the concerned look on the older man's worried face, their attention going back as JD screamed again.
"He ain't never had one this bad," Buck thought out loud.
"All that talk of goin back probably," Vin guessed.
"Yeah, guess. Hey..JD..come on.. You're safe, come on..wake up, JD," Buck began in the soft tones he had used earlier, again putting his hand under the kid's neck. Vin touched the kid's forehead, and pushed back the hair that tried to cover his face.
"NO!!" JD yelled at the touch and reacted, catching Vin under his left eye and sending him to the floor.
"You okay, Vin?" Buck said softly.
"Yeah, he's got hell of a right hook," he half smiled, he'd have to think twice before making him mad enough to get in a fight.
"JD..It's Vin, come on kid, time to wake up..we're here..no one's gonna hurt you," the tracker began, he'd been here before as well, he just was never this bad.
"JD..come on..hey hey hey..easy..easy..JD.. Come on snap out of it, your starting to get Ole Buck worried here..JD?" He seemed so far away, and he was beginning to breath heavy, and the thrashing in the bed had become so bad the men were physically holding him down.
"I'm gonna get Nathan," Vin said, not hiding his concern.
"I can't hold him by myself, 'sides Chris will be here in a few minutes," Buck said, knowing that when Chris came to relieve him he'd notice Buck wasn't there and come up to the room. Almost on cue he heard footsteps coming up the stairs and into the hall.
"Buck, everything oka.." Chris couldn't finish.
"NO!!!!" and JD's eyes flew open, unfortunately he wasn't fully awake. He put his arms around his head and curled into a ball as much as he could, protecting himself from the unknown.
"You're safe, JD, you're at Nathan's," Vin tried.
"No," came the small voice.
"Kid, it's Buck, you remember, we're at Nathan's."
"Yeah kid, Chris, Vin, and me..we're all here, ain't nobody gonna hurt you."
Vin nodded at Buck as he saw one scared hazel eye look at him.
"JD, it's okay, you had another bad dream."
Vin saw the tear filled eye close and heard a heavy, covered up sob. JD opened his eyes again as he turned both eyes on Vin, then turned to Buck, never seeing Chris.
"You're all right, son, it's all over."
"No.....it ain't," JD said quietly.
+ + + + + + +
"Do you think he'll run again?"
"Hard to say."
"You were the one watching him, and the others, didn't you learn anything? What the hell do I pay you for!?"
"Sir, the people he is surrounded by, they are dangerous men, they are the law there."
"I know that, Frank, I am well aware they are the law."
"I'm sorry, Sir."
"Well tell me what you do know, is anyone keen to contest this thing?"
"Yeah, there's some that I can see that might file."
"Well?" he asked impatiently
"Where do you want me to start , Sir?"
"Fine..we'll do this the hard way..the preacher..Sanchez?"
"Josiah, he's a big man, real handy with a gun, he pretty much serves as counselor. Everyone in town ... they got a question about God or anything they go see him. I seen the kid in there more than once. He wouldn't file anything, he lives in this half built church."
"What about Jackson?"
"Jackson's the healer, he closest thing to a Doctor they got there. Kid has been in there more than once..and he weren't always just visiting..was in there with a busted leg when I left."
"Will he file?"
"I think he would..but he'd never get him..he's black."
"Who else? Standish..he's the gambler."
"Yeah, he likes the kid, but I don't think he'd do anything, he's a gambler, not quite a family man."
"Well that's three down, who else?"
"Larabee, Tanner, and Wilmington."
"Which one of them is likely to file?"
"Well, Tanner, he's the one with the bounty on his head. He ain't much older than the kid, and as much as I think he'd like to, it ain't gonna be him.
"Larabee, is a good possibility, he likes the kid enough, he used to have a family of his own, but they were killed in a fire.
"Wilmington, he's your best bet. He watches out for him, the kid's like his shadow and if that kid ain't where he can see him he's gets all worked up."
"You got anything on him?"
"Well, no.. He is a bit of a ladies' man, why he pays room and board I don't know, don't even know if he knows what his bed feels like."
"Well, Frank, I don't see what there is to worry about. I can't believe that the judge would think it a good environment for the kid, compared to what I could give him."
"Can I ask you why? Why have you gone looking for him?"
"Let's just say I owe him, Frank."
"I guess so, chasing him down half way cross the country, he must be something special"
"Here ya go, the other $500 I owe you. Yes, Frank.. He is something special."
"It's been a pleasure working for you, sir, thank you. You have a good day, Mr. Chamberlain."