The mules were hitched and horses saddled, everyone was in their proper spaces but two. Nathan and JD stood at the healer's wagon, Nathan with his hand on his hip, JD holding the reins to his horse. The men seemed to be at a stand still.
"You just about froze to death yesterday, there ain't no way you're gonna ride!" Nathan yelled.
"I'm fine, Nathan, I'm gonna ride!"
The men couldn't help but laugh at the familiar banter, no one wanted to break up this moment. Ellen and her children were a bit alarmed as they saw five men watch as Nathan and JD squared off, both in each others faces, standing their ground.
"Mr. Larabee," Ellen turned to the man mounted next to her. "Aren't you going to stop them?"
"Nope. They'll work it out, they always do," he said, Ellen heard that sadness she had heard as everyone of the men talked to her earlier.
"You told me you'd ride in the wagon yesterday!" Nathan shot out, grabbing the reins and tying them to the back of the wagon.
"I..I..I musta been delirious or somethin'!" JD shot back.
"You're," Nathan lifted JD, "in..the..wagon!" Nathan said victoriously, as he put him in the back with all the supplies, got seated himself and snapped the reins.
"Dang it, Nathan!!"
"See ma'am, all under control," Buck smiled.
"Ahem, gentlemen?" Ezra said, opening his pocket watch, "Just the time," he added.
Ellen looked confused as Ezra brought a piece of paper and a pencil out of his pocket.
"Two minutes," Buck said.
"Already done," Josiah said.
"One," Vin said
"Three," Ezra said.
"Two and a half," Chris said, spurring his horse on. The men never taking there eyes off from the wagon that had pulled away.
"Come on..that's it..little bit more," JD whispered, "I heard ya the first time, Nathan," JD said loudly, whispering again, "Come on, kay, stay right there," louder, "I know Nathan!."
The group following the wagon watched as JD carefully untied his horse, led her to the side of the wagon as she got to a steady trot and mounted her from the wagon.
"Did you see that Ma!" Justin yelled, causing the men to laugh.
"Yes, I..I did," the stunned woman stammered.
"Ah..Mr. Larabee, congratulations," Ezra smiled, "Your choice was 'on the nose', as Mr. Wilmington would have expressed."
"You knew he'd do that?" Justin asked Ezra, who rode next to him.
"It is customary when those particular subjects have a face off that one, usually Mr. Jackson, thinks he has won the battle, so to speak; resulting in young Mr. Dunne's actions of getting what he wants," Ezra smiled.
"What?" Justin asked, totally confused at what the gambler had said.
"What he's saying is JD usually gets what he wants, and if he don't, he does somethin' like that," Vin smiled.
"He gets on his horse like that all the time?" Justin asked again.
"No, last time he thought he'd untie her and just jump off," Chris added to the ways of JD Dunne.
"He jumped, but the landin' was a little rough, popped his shoulder out of socket," Buck smiled as he remembered.
"So he had to ride on the wagon anyways?"
"Nope. He just stood up and hopped on, no one knew it was dislocated till we got back to Four Corners and he nearly fell off his horse," Vin finished with a chuckle, as the subject of discussion came to them.
"Better than jumping off?" Chris asked.
"Oh yeah!" he said smiling widely.
"Guess he figured out I wasn't there," JD smiled at Nathan's loud deep voice.
"You think?" Buck joked.
The men rode on to where Nathan had stopped, Chris and Vin riding ahead as the others covered both wagons with Josiah bringing up the back.
They backtracked to where the wagon train had passed them earlier the day before and opted to keep going instead of stopping for a break to eat. Vin decided that they would catch up to the wagon train in about three hours, when the attempt at an ambush happened. Unfortunately for the five men they had met earlier that day the seven were more than prepared.
"I suggest you all get down in the wagon, I'm going to drive us through this," Josiah instructed. They did as they were told.
"Mister, I thought we told you this morning you didn't want this fight," Chris glared from his horse.
"And I told you this weren't over," and the shots began.
As the shooting started Nathan and Josiah urged the mules on and managed to drive through the mele, they stopped when they thought it safe.
"You folks all right?"
"Yes, yes, we're fine."
"Best if ya stay down, ma'am," Nathan said.
The gunfire seemed to stop as soon as it had started, Josiah and Nathan unholstered and readied their guns as they heard the approaching horses.
"Nathan!!" came the all to familiar tone.
"Shit..sorry ma'am," he apologized as he left to go to his wagon.
"Josiah?" Justin asked.
"Someone got hurt, son." Josiah explained.
Vin was the first one there leading the all to familiar riderless horse.
"That's JD's horse isn't it, Josiah?"
Vin went past the wagon, Justin looked at the horse and saw blood on its neck and on the saddle. The realization of all the things Josiah and JD had said to him came back and flooded his mind. Ain't no fun gettin shot at. Justin had to agree, he thought it was right down scary.
Ain't fun gettin shot, even hero's hurt. Justin almost felt ashamed for thinking that being a hired gun would be exciting and fun. All he'd seen so far was that it was dangerous and far from fun.
The youth made his way out of the wagon and followed the horse as it passed.
"Damn it!" Nathan said, seeing the horse.
"He's with Buck, took one in the leg, she got gazed."
"How bad is he?"
"He's leakin' pretty bad, but I gotta tell ya, he's madder than a rattle snake with his tail caught in a trap."
"Can I do something to help?" Justin asked sincerely.
"Yeah, give me a hand with her," Nathan smiled.
Justin did as he was asked, he couldn't ignore the amount of blood on the saddle and he grew pale, Leaking pretty bad? There couldn't possibly be any blood left to leak out, he thought.
"Ain't as bad as it looks, kid," Vin said.
"Grab her bridle and rub her nose, calms her down," Nathan instructed. Again he did as he was told.
"Why is JD mad? I mean he's hurt, isn't he?"
"He thinks alot of his horse kid, and he hates it when someone shoots his horse," Vin stated the fact they all knew.
"He got shot though, he's bleeding all over the place, I just figure he'd..well..he.."
"Be hurtin'? He is..just don't show it is all."
"You okay, girl?" JD said pushing his way to his horse.
"She okay, Nathan?" he asked
"Yeah, just a graze," he answered.
"Come on, kid, let's get ya sittin' down," Buck said
"Let go of me, Buck, I'm fine," JD said harshly.
"You got a bullet in your leg or did ya forget that?!" Buck said harsher then he'd wanted to.
"I said I'm FINE!!" JD yelled limping his way to Nathan's wagon.
"He's worried about her, you know how he is," Chris said quietly.
"Mr. Standish? Do they always fight like that?"
"No, Mrs. Murphy. Usually they fight before the injury, this turn of events however has been quite 'refreshing' in a sense," Ezra said with a smile, he dismounted and lead his horse to the small gathering.
"Justin, can you come up here, I need you to get me some towels outta that box right there."
"This one?" Justin asked.
"Yeah, put them right here. Take this one and hold it on his leg when I tell ya, okay?"
Justin did as he was told, and as he held the cloth on JD's leg he looked at his face. He was pale and sweaty, but he looked so..distant.
"Okay, Justin." The youth backed away and watched JD face wince as Nathan tried to find how deep the bullet was.
Nathan looked up to see Vin and Buck standing beside JD, he nodded and began to remove the bullet. JD laid his head back on the side of the wagon, he clenched his jaw and his breathing became rapid. Then just as sudden as it all started it stopped.
"He's out, Nate," Buck sighed.
"You suppose Ezra took bets on that, too?" he smiled, bringing the bullet out from the wound.
+ + + + + + +
JD began to stir and he felt himself moving, he opened his eyes and saw the sky. He looked back and forth a little and realized he was in the wagon. He tried to sit up, but unfamiliar hands and a familiar voice stopped him.
"Hey, kid, glad you're awake," Buck said with a smile.
"How ya feeling, JD?" JD turned his head and saw Justin.
"Fine, just let me sit up a bit."
"Nathan said you shou.." Justin said as JD pulled himself to a sitting position.
"Where's my horse?" he asked not seeing her tied to the back of the wagon,
"She's tied to our wagon, you gotta lay back do.."
"I said I'm fine!" he spat out, pushing himself back so he could lean on the seat.
"Hey, Justin..can you ride?" Buck asked.
"Yeah, not very good though."
"You can ride with me then, grab Buck's reins after," Vin said.
Buck dismounted onto the still moving wagon as Justin got on the back of Vin's. Vin went to the other side and Justin took the reins from Buck, who smiled at the youth.
"No need of ya goin' and snappin' off the kid's head," Buck said, sitting on some boxes.
"Last thing I needed to do was get shot, Buck."
"I know," Buck sympathized.
"I mean, I can't expect whoever it is that wants me is gonna when they see what shape I'm in."
"Well, maybe that could be a good thing, we're gonna be late and if they don't want ya, we still got a chance," Buck said.
"Judge sees me with my leg all wrapped up, he's gonna ask me how many times I gotten shot.. Buck..he's gonna put me in some workhouse or somethin'!" JD's eyes filled with the thought.
"Don't think that, you won't go to no workhouse. These people, the ones that want ya, they'll take care if ya, they'll understand." Buck wanted to add if they really cared.
"I guess. It's gone all wrong, Buck...it wasn't suppose to be like this...I should have just run like I wanted to do," he said, not able to fight the tears from coming.
Buck did as he always did and the big brother sat next to him, put his big brother arm around him and let him cry his worries and fright into his shoulder, taking the other hand and stroked the comforting hand on the boy's head.
+ + + + + + +
"You okay, Justin," Vin asked, the kid had just gotten yelled at by his 'hero', JD would laugh if he only knew Justin looked up to him as much as JD had looked up to Chris when he first met him.
"Yes, what did I do wrong?"
"Nothin ya did."
"He always get like that? I mean does he get mad when he gets shot?"
"No, he was worried about his horse," Vin stated the fact, not letting on what else he was upset about.
"She only got grazed, he knew that when he yelled at me," Justin pointed out.
"Lotta things goin' on that you don't know, I'm sure thats weighing on his mind alot."
"Ma said she heard he wasn't comin' back with you, is that true?"
Damn, Vin sighed. "Yeah, most likely"
"Why? Doesn't he like riding with you guys?"
"Yeah, it ain't his choice to leave," Vin let out more than he'd wanted.
"You guys? You're his friends, right? Why don't you want him riding with you anymore? Doesn't seem fair. I mean..." Justin asked, so much like JD, without giving Vin a chance to answer any of them so he interrupted.
"We aren't friends, we're family. It ain't our choice to have him leave. It's the law and you're right, it ain't fair," Vin answered, knowing that the whole story was about to come out. And that stopping to help these people was causing some of JD's distress.
"I don't understand? He break the law?" Justin asked, not believing that JD could or would do something wrong.
"Nope. He's only seventeen, Justin, he's still a minor and minors need a guardian."
"He's got six of them," Justin pointed out, bringing a smile to the tracker's face.
"He's from Boston, and someone in Boston wants to be his guardian," Vin continued to explain.
"Why can't one of you.."
"We have. Buck's got papers to give to the judge sayin he wants custody of JD."
"So, then you go to the judge in Boston and he gets custody."
"Won't happen," Vin stated sadly.
"Cause by the time we get there the hearing will be over."
"Cause of us?" Justin said regretfully.
"Ain't your fault, or your Ma's."
"You should have just kept going, you shouldn't have stopped," Justin getting the full impact at what these men had given up.
"Stoppin' wasn't the problem, it was fishin' JD and your sister outta the river," Vin laughed out.
"How'd you.. He still would've made the hearing if you weren't doin' this?"
"Yeah," Vin nodded.
"How come you're here...you guys took away his chance!" the youth said, a little more accusingly than he'd meant to.
"JD's choice, he wouldn't have gone to Boston knowin you were out here by yourself."
"He gave up his chance ...for us?"
"I thought he was a hero for what he did, now I know he is. He really is a hero, isn't he?"
"Yeah, he is. The best kinda hero," Vin said, looking straight ahead, not even holding back the tear that fell.
+ + + + + + +
"Please, Josiah, ma'am," the preacher smiled.
"Josiah, I need to know. I have a feeling this trip of yours was not one of pleasure," Ellen said, I have spent more time than good with Mr. Standish, she thought at how the question had come out.
"No, it's not," Josiah said, the heaviness in his heart coming through his words.
"Why are you here, I heard JD talking with Mr. Larabee; he said he knew he wasn't coming back. The way Mr. Wilmington is with him... what am I missing? What is it that you haven't told me..why is JD not coming back?" she finally got to the point.
"Someone in Boston has filed for custody," he let out.
"Has someone, one of you filed as well?"
"Yes, Buck has."
"If that's true, then why are you so glum."
"We're going to miss the hearing," the mountain of a man said like a mouse.
"Because of this? My gosh, you need to get him to that hearing! How late are you going to be?"
"If we ride the rest of the way with short stops, two maybe three days."
"This was his choice to make sure we got to the caravan safely, wasn't it?"
"Don't think anything less of us, ma'am, but yes JD talked us into it," Josiah said honestly, and with a bit of pride.
"He thinks with his heart to much, Josiah," Ellen pointed out something all the men knew.
"He wouldn't be JD if he didn't," Josiah said, still full of pride.
The rest of the ride went on in silence, no one speaking, the men's hearts and minds heavy and Ellen Murphy full of guilt. Justin no longer had the notion to grow up fast, he had seen in two days what his parents had tried to dwell into his head for years.
Meeting these men, 'The Magnificent Seven', the book called them, had been more than amazing. They weren't anything like Justin thought they would be. They weren't anything special, just a group of men who happened to meet, fate, he recalled Josiah saying. They were just seven men. Just men, Justin thought again.
He had pictured in his mind what the seven would look like and act. Confident and dangerous men, gunslingers, lawmen. What he saw and who he met didn't resemble the seven in his mind, these were men doing a job, doing what was right...even if it meant loosing one of them.
Were the seven heroes? Definitely, Justin thought. He'd learned so much in such a short time from these men. A hero isn't about shooting your guns, or how many people you've shot or killed. A hero does what's right, no matter what the cost. No matter how many bullets have hit, or what the sacrifice. A man's freedom, one wise beyond his years, was a small price to pay for the safety of a lost family. That's what a hero, what a real hero is, like JD.
+ + + + + + +
"I suggest you take a count before you head out again," Chris said to the front man in the wagon.
"Yes, sir, I'll make sure I do that. Thank you for helping them out," the man said, shaking Chris' hand firmly. Chris nodded, turned his horse into slow gallop, passing the thirty or so wagons to the group of men.
"Well, you should be all set, Mrs. Murphy," Buck said with a smile.
"Thank you," she said, the sadness and guilt not hiding in her voice.
"Ma'am?" JD said as he carefully hopped off the wagon and limped his way to her, hearing the tone of her voice.
"I know why you were coming out this way," she answered the unasked question of 'why'.
JD hung his head, he could sense her guilt but didn't know how much she knew.
"I..I know..that you have missed the hearing, she answered again before the question was asked.
"This ain't your fault, ma'am." JD stated what he felt, the truth.
"If you hadn't have stopped...."
"I wouldn't be able to live with myself," he said in a serious tone, letting her know it was the truth.
"All the way back here.. This you didn't ha..."
"Yes, I did. Mrs. Murphy, it wouldn't have been right to let you find your way back by yourself. I know what I done, I know what I've given up, but at least I will be able to sleep at night and still look at myself the next day," he smiled.
"JD, I' m gonna take your advice, I think I'll stick with what I know," Justin offered.
"Glad to hear it," JD smiled again.
"Bye, Jess, don't stay too close to the back of the wagon," he smiled, holding back the tears that wanted to come.
"I'm fine," she smiled, causing the men to laugh a bit at the two most hated words that JD had a tendency to say when things weren't fine.
"Good thing we can't stick around, she spends anymore time with JD he'll have her telling three legged dog jokes!" Buck said, easing the tension and causing everyone to laugh.
"We better get going," Chris said, raining on the moment.
"Yeah, I guess," JD smiled a half hearted smile and limped his way to his horse.
"Wagon, JD!" Nathan tried, knowing he'd be unsuccessful.
"I'll be ..."
"Fine," the six men finished.
"I was gonna say 'okay'," JD said mischievously.
"Have a good trip, Mrs. Murphy, keep an eye on your Ma and Jess, Justin."
"Yes sir, I will," Justin said to the man that was older than him by a year, showing JD the respect he thought he deserved. JD nodded, as he hung his head, the rest of the men smiled at the show of honor.
Justin, Jessica, and Ellen Murphy watched as the men rode out of sight, and out of their lives.
The group back tracked the rest of the day, past the place of the ambush and back to the place they had come from. They stopped at the 'old' camp and rested.
"Chris," JD said quietly.
"We ain't stayin' are we?"
"No, just resting the horses, we got some time to make up for," he forced a smile.
JD nodded his head, "One more thing."
"What is it?" Chris looked concerned all of a sudden, Don't you dare run off on me, he thought to himself.
"I mighta pulled some stitches ridin'," JD said in a slightly panicked voice.
"Okay, mind if I get Vin?" Chris understood what JD wanted. Nathan wouldn't let him ride if he knew he was bleeding again, and Buck would come unhinged.
"Yeah, okay," he said, knowing that Vin would also understand and not say anything.
"Something wrong, Brother Larabee?"
"Kid's bleeding again, you mind trying to keep those two busy?"
"I'm sure we could entertain them into a game of cards while we wait," Ezra smiled.
Chris nodded. The two men approached the healer and the ladies' man and began a game of intense poker. Vin snuck into the wagon, grabbing a few supplies as Chris stood watch. Vin tucked the bandages and other items into his jacket.
"Boys wanna play?" Buck asked.
"No, not in the mood for it," Chris said evenly, giving the men the impression that he was in a 'mood'.
"Naw, gonna just sit."
No one suspected a thing, both men were not acting out of the ordinary.
"You see JD?" Buck asked
"By the river," Vin answered
"Sleeping," Chris said at the same time.
"Which one is it?" Buck asked, wondering if they were hiding something.
"He's by the river," Vin said again.
"And he fell asleep," Chris restated.
"Make sure he stays warm," Nathan said, never looking up from his cards, he was pleased with his hand.
The two men nodded and turned to walk away. "Little close don't ya think?" Vin whispered.
"You figure they'd catch on after awhile," Chris said, noting the fact this was not the first time they had done this for the kid.
After a two hour break, the men remounted and were headed again. The moon wasn't as bright as they would have liked it to be when they had to travel at night, but if they waited and went only during the day they would be even later than just a few days.
They stopped a few times during the night. As the way got easier to see, the men upped the pace to a gallop, trying to make up as much time as they could. All the men knew that today at 9:00 in the morning they would have been meeting with a judge, stating their reasons why JD should be allowed to remain with them and in Buck's custody.
"I know where we are, we're only gonna be late a day," JD said, with a bit of hope. Maybe the judge would give them a chance if they were only a day late.
"How much farther to your mother?" Chris asked, wondering if JD had remembered.
"We still stoppin'? I thought since we.."
"I promised we would, didn't I, unless you don't want to," Chris said, leaving the decision his.
"Yeah, thanks," he smiled.