"When did this start lookin different?" Buck asked as he saw the sun set behind a snow capped mountain.
"Bout two days ago," Vin said, watching the same sunset.
"What's Josiah doin?" Buck asked the other two sitting with him.
"Dunno, writin' somethin I guess," Vin said, stating the obvious.
"Well I know that, I ain't blind. I was just wonderin', that's all," Buck looked back to Vin.
"Maybe he's writin' down bout the ride?" Vin thought aloud.
"I asked him to do a memorial for my mother," JD offered.
"You didn't have a funeral?" Buck asked.
"No, I buried her after she died and headed out. I thought that since we was comin' all this way, maybe Josiah do that for me," JD smiled sadly.
"We gonna be that close on our way?" Buck asked, referring to the estate.
"The estate is out of the way, Chris said we could stop..but if you guys don't wanna st..."
"Would ya mind us all being there?" Vin said, showing his support.
"I'd like that, thanks," JD smiled looking back to the disappearing sun.
The sun had set and the darkness took over, the three men made their way from the rock they had been sitting on and joined the others at the campfire. Josiah put a few pieces of the dead wood he had found on the fire, causing sparks to fly up and disappear into the night.
"You think we're far enough away to start following the road, Vin?" Chris asked as he made himself comfortable.
"Well, probably, but if ya don't mind I'd like to stick to what we been doin for a couple more days," Vin answered. They had made it this far, he hated to be so cautious, but it was better that way.
"Okay, how we doin on supplies?"
"Looks good, we'll be needin' a few things next time we come across a town."
JD and Buck were the last to arrive, JD had slowed down considerably since he and Buck had played their game of cat and mouse. Buck sat heavily on the dead log he and Josiah had pulled close to the fire. No one missed it as JD caught his breath when he sat .
"You okay, son?" Chris asked.
"Yeah," JD smiled.
"Let me take a look at that," Nathan said.
"I'm fine, Nate, really just a little sore is all."
"You been gettin worse every time we stop, I ain't asking ya, I'm tellin ya to let me look at it."
"Fine," JD said, aggravated as he rolled his eyes.
Nathan went to JD, he got the boot off with some effort and noticed JD wince every time he pulled. The boot finally removed, he took off the sock.
"Dang it, JD!" Nathan said rather disgraced.
"Nathan..." JD tried.
"What don't ya understand about take it easy?"
"Problem, Nate?" Buck asked, always concerned.
"His leg's all swollen, looks like he mighta busted it again."
"It ain't broken, Nathan," JD said giving his analysis.
"How do you know?" Buck shot, none to happy.
"Cause it hurts too much," he smiled out shyly, "when you break somethin it just sorta burns."
"How do you know that?" Nathan asked, he knew this was the first thing the kid had broken since being with them.
"Had alot of practice," he said matter of factly, still looking at the swollen bruised leg.
"Where you were employed obviously had it's hidden dangers," Ezra said suspiciously, looking in on the situation.
"Obviously," JD remembered sadly, not realizing the thought had been said out loud.
JD lifted his head at the silence, three men hung there heads knowing what he was implying, three looked with questioning faces.
"What?" still not realizing he had been heard.
"What do you mean 'obviously'?" Josiah said, causing the boy to pale a bit; knowing his thought was said aloud.
"Nothin'," JD said, looking down from the men.
Chris signaled the other two not to say anything. He wasn't sure if Ezra, Josiah, or Nathan would push for an explanation or not, as much as he wanted them to know, he wasn't going to push JD to tell them.
"What is it you ain't tellin us?" Nathan asked.
"I said it was nothin'," he bit back, grabbing his sock wincing as he put it on roughly.
"There is something amiss, Mr. Dunne, you appear to be somewhat of an expert on fractured appendages. Why is that?" Ezra asked in an accusing manner.
JD looked to his three friends for help and a way out of this, and was sorely disappointed that he didn't see any of them stepping up. He was trapped.
"Fallen off horses makes things break sometimes," he tried with a forced smile.
"How many horses you fallen off?" Nathan asked.
"A few," JD said, glad that they were buying his explanation, trying to put his boot back on.
"I have seen your equestrian skills, Mr. Dunne, and I have to say that I find it hard to believe that you have fallen from a horse as many times as you want us to believe," Ezra stated, guessing there was more to it than falling off horses.
"You callin' me a liar!" JD stood, dropping the boot to the side. The others alerted as JD stood.
"I'm simply pointing out the facts."
"You don't know the 'facts'."
"I believe I do." Chris had noticed Ezra had watched JD very closely as he reacted to the questions, he knew Ezra had figure it out, he also knew Ezra wouldn't let this go and it would be painful to watch, Chris walked over to Vin and Buck.
"Let this play out," he whispered, the others riveted by the scene.
"Chris.." Buck said.
"No, he's right," Vin whispered back.
"No you don't!" JD said in Ezra's face. And JD started to walk away.
Ezra grabbed JD's arm forcefully and pulled him back, Josiah and Nathan tried to step up to help, but were stopped by the three men who'd walked in front of them. Nathan and Josiah looked at them, not knowing why they would let Ezra treat the kid like this.
"Let go of me!" JD said.
Ezra said nothing, but squeezed the boy's arm tighter.
"Lemme go! Your hurtin me!" JD yelled again.
Ezra still held on tight, and got into JD's face and glared at the kid, who's expression became one of fright, and growled, "Don't..you..ever..walk..away..from..me!"
"I'm..I..I..I'm ....sorry..please..don't.." the boy's strong voice gone, replaced by a cowering, pleading, scared voice.
"Chris.." Nathan questioned. He got no response.
"How many times?" Ezra growled. His childhood was far from perfect, and he had seen things growing up that he was told to turn away from, which he did so with ease, but when it came to children, an abused one at that, he could barely control his rage.
"Please..no..." came the words he had used so many times, knowing what was coming.
"How many times!" Ezra yelled, tightening his grip and jerking JD towards him.
"I don't know..I don't know!" he screamed out, as he was jerked, JD's head turned away, as he brought his free hand up to protect his face. "Please...please don't..please..please..I'm sorry..I'm sorry..please..please..don't.." JD cried out quietly, falling to his knees and Ezra going with him, loosening his grip but not letting go.
"Dear Lord," Ezra choked out. He cautiously took JD's face in his hands, and hated the man who'd done this to him as he felt JD jerk back at the touch.
"Never again," Ezra said quietly. "The man you worked for, he did this to you?" Talking of the unseen scars that caused the nightmares.
"Yes," JD said hanging his head in shame, only to have it pulled back up by the gentle gambler's hands.
"Never...again," he choked back.
"Never again," JD repeated through the tears, and buried his face on the man's shoulder. The gambler putting a safe hand to the back of JD's neck. The usual unshakable gambler looked to the others. The man who read faces, the man who never allowed his expression to wavier looked at the five men in front of him, the expression on his face told these men one thing. He would kill this man.
The five men walked away from Ezra and JD as the conman said comforting words, asking questions, and shared thoughts.
"What the hell just happened?" Nathan asked. Not fully understanding.
"Chamberlain, his boss happened," Buck shot out, somewhat relieved it was out.
"When JD's mother got sick he made a deal with Chamberlain to stay at the house and he worked for nothin," Vin said.
"Chamberlain thought he still owed him," Chris took a deep breath hoping the guys would understand where he was going, they weren't. "He beat him."
"Made a deal with the devil," Josiah sighed, putting his head back.
"The nightmares," Nathan finally realized, "No wonder he don't want to go back."
"Do you know how close the estate is to his mother's grave," Josiah asked, wondering if it would be wise to stay away.
"He's told me that you can see it from where she's buried," Vin said.
"No, we go to the grave, he wants to do that," Chris justified.
Vin turned to see Ezra coming towards them, his expression as intimidating as any of Chris glares.
"He okay?" Buck asked.
"He's asleep," Ezra stated.
"You okay?" Buck asked again.
"I will be as soon as I find and dispose of the creature who refers to himself as a man," said with conviction.
"Like a piece of him myself," Chris said.
"I hope you will allow me first to pecure some damage to the man first," Ezra looked to Chris.
"I thought I was the only one who got 'Old Testament'," Josiah said.
"Not this time my friend, not this time," the southerner growled.
"I'm gonna make sure he's still sleeping." And Buck made the short walk back to the camp, where JD was curled up, sleeping.
The sound of pots and pans, the smell of smoke and the warm sun on his face woke JD from his sleep. He sat up from the ground and looked around, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he gave his eyes time to focus and looked around.
"Mornin kid," Buck said, squatting in front of him, handing JD a cup of coffee.
"Mornin, thanks," he said taking the hot coffee in his hands.
"Josiah's got breakfast almost ready," he said getting up and walking away.
JD began to make his way to his feet, but a deep authoritative voice stopped him.
"You better not be thinkin' of walkin' over there."
"Mornin to you, too, Nathan. Yeah, I'm kinda hungry, thought I'd get somethin to eat."
"Let me help ya up and over there."
"I can do it myself, Nathan," JD stood firm.
"I suggest you adhere to our surrogate doctor's orders, Mr. Dunne." JD became submissive as he saw Ezra, he didn't know why, but knew why he needed to listen to what he said.
"Okay," he said, giving up all the fight.
Ezra was concerned of the effect he seemed to have on JD, and went to the one person he thought would help.
"I am in need of some council, I'm afraid."
"Yes, it seems the events of last night have had an adverse effect on our young friend."
"What's had an adverse effect?" Chris asked, getting more coffee.
"I think something's wrong with JD," Ezra shared.
"He slept all night, Ezra, I can't see how that can be a bad thing," Chris offered.
"You can judge that for yourselves as we eat." The men shrugged at each other and followed the gambler to where the others sat.
"You gotta eat more than that damn biscuit, JD," Buck said at the kid's usual breakfast.
"I don't want anything more, Buck, I'm fine," JD answered as he always did.
"I think ya need something else," Buck said again.
"I eat the same thing every mornin, Buck!" JD smiled out.
"I think it would be wise to do as Mr. Wilmington has instructed, and eat a more substantial meal," Ezra drawled out.
JD looked at Ezra, and did as he was told, adding a scoopful of the eggs Josiah had cooked.
"JD? You okay?" Chris asked.
"I'm fine," he said, never lifting his head from his plate.
"JD," Ezra said gently.
JD looked at Ezra.
"You are making me feel rather uncomfortable, I didn't mean to add to your anguish by causing you to be frightened by me," Ezra said softly.
JD hung his head, not wanting to look at any of the men, much less Ezra.
"JD, please, forgive me for being so...harsh, I am truly sorry." Ezra's own distress showing on his face, the last thing he wanted was to hurt JD more. JD didn't say anything, Ezra took this as a bad sign, sighed heavily and walked away from the camp.
"He didn't mean to hurt you, son." Chris never thought in a million years he would be defending the man who had once deserted them.
JD said nothing, never bringing his head up.
"He made me nervous too, don't mean I'm afraid of him," Josiah said.
The men all had the same idea as they saw JD snap his head up, that was it, he was afraid of Ezra, as Josiah had suspected.
"You don't have to be afraid of Ezra, kid," Buck spoke up.
"He was so mad at me, you saw what I saw, Buck, how can you say that when he..he..." he said, with a hint of anger.
"Hit ya'?" Vin finished. "Ezra wouldn't do somethin like that, not in a thousand years."
"He didn't?" JD questioned, he knew he did, he hadn't felt it, but it was just like before, the tone, the anger.
The other men looked to each other for an answer, Josiah got up and made his way to the direction Ezra had gone.
"You don't remember if he did or not?" Chris wondered.
"He was so mad at me."
"What do you remember?" Buck asked.
"He grabbed me, and yelled at me..he wouldn't stop yellin'...." JD hung his head, "Then I guess I fell asleep, then wakin up this mornin," JD said.
"Don't remember talking?" Chris asked.
"No, I told ya. He was real mad at me and he was gonna.." JD tried.
"He wasn't mad at you, he was trying to get you to tell us what happened when you were a kid," Nathan told JD.
"He didn't hit you," Chris eased.
"So you all know now?" JD let out, almost mad.
"Yeah, we know," Nathan answered JD, in his talks of slavery trying to enlighten this kid, he'd never knew he could identify with him. As bad as Nathan felt about his childhood, he felt worse for the young man, he walked into that situation, he dealt with what was being done to him, the same thing being done to many of Nathan's people. Nathan had escaped that life early, JD hadn't.
"I need to apologize to Ezra, I guess," JD said as he stood, feeling more than one weight leave him.
"No, there isn't any need. I didn't want you to be afraid of me, I thought I was helping, I was wrong." Once again Ezra mentally praised this young man for teaching him how to be humble.
"You helped, I don't remember wakin up last night," JD shyly smiled.
"Thank you," Ezra smiled back.
"Can I ask you somethin?" JD said, as he began to walk away from the camp.
"Of course," Ezra said, following
"How'd ya know?" was the last thing the men could hear as they saw Ezra walk next to JD, limping like he had the day the cast had come off.
"Why'd he think Ezra hit him, why don't he remember?" Buck asked not looking to anyone for an answer.
"Wish I knew," Vin stated his concern.
"They hide," Nathan said, feeling all the eyes on him he continued, "I remember, when I was a kid, when someone been whipped. I remember asking why it didn't hurt. I was told that when bad things happen, like the whippin, you could block it out. You just didn't think about it."
"Guess he figured Ezra was gonna hit him and just did what he always did," Chris said. "Hate the fact he even knows how to do that," he added and after a long silence, everyone digesting what they all knew and the new information, he stood, as he saw the missing members coming back into camp.
"You two ready to get going?" Chris asked.
"Yeah, we're ready," JD answered, smiling shyly, everyone noticing that there had been information shared between these two, no one asking what as the men mounted their horses and once again where headed for their destination.