"They'll ride straight through, I think."

"How far behind are they?"

"At least a day's ride, Mr. Chamberlain, there ain't no way they'll be here today."

"Good, any of them get hurt?"

"Yeah, Lenny here shot your kid in the leg."

"He's still alive isn't he, he won't be any good to me if he's dead!"

"Yeah boss, he's fine. He looks like he's an ornry little runt."

"He is."

"The hearings going to start, Mr. Chamberlain."

"Thank you, Miss Ballard."

Judge Waters banged the gavel and called court in session.

"I think we've given them ample opportunity to get her, it is now ..well past 11:00. I can assume they are not coming, thank you for being patient, Joshua."

"Not to worry, Judge, my only concern is that they may not be coming, what if they've kidnapped the boy, or influenced him to run?" Chamberlain said, his voice full of concern.

"The judge from Four Corners assured me of their arrival, they will be here. Unfortunately I have to proceed without them. Mr. Chamberlain, this is going to be a very unorthodox hearing, I'm afraid. I know your reputation and status in this town, I'm also aware of what you are willing to do for this young man. I have heard testimony from both Miss Ballard and Warrant Officer Delaney in regards to their visit to Four Corners. I have also read the Four Corners judge's letter of character. I'll not allow this hearing to continue waiting for the young man in question. It is obvious to me, although the petitioner, in regards to JD Dunne, is a peacekeeper; Mr. Wilmington, along with his companions, are setting a bad example for this young man with this apparent total disregard for these proceedings. I therefore will sign this petition for custody of JD Dunne to Mr. Joshua Chamberlain. Joshua, congratulations." The gavel hit again, sealing the fate of JD.

+ + + + + + +

"It's right over there," JD said softly. He never thought in a million years he would see the same tree, the same land the same view.

They had left the Murphy's at the caravan of wagons two days earlier, they had less than a days ride to go from where they were, they would have to wait till the next morning to speak to the judge, two days late.

"You ready, JD?" Chris asked.

JD nodded and urged his horse to the tree where his mother was buried. The men all felt a black cloud hanging over them as they got closer to the tree.

The men followed the youngest to the edge of the hill that looked out over the spread that used to be the place he worked at.

"This it?" Buck asked.

"Yeah, that's Four Oaks," JD said, remembering his life growing up, none of the memories were able to bring a smile.

"Those are the stables," JD said pointing to the left of the estate.

"And, that's where I grew up," JD pointing to the left of the stables. The men didn't think JD's face was capable of a frown, much less the expression on his face.

A frown would be a step up, Chris thought to himself, for some reason he found his his arm resting on the boy's shoulders.

"Josiah? You ready?" JD asked, all the life that the men had grown accustomed to seeing in the young man was completely gone from JD. His eyes were dull, his voice sounded like he hadn't slept in weeks and his posture showed nothing close to his usual bounce.

JD knelt down at the tree, removed some of the overgrown grass and weeds, exposing the wildflowers struggling to grow around the makeshift cross he had put there.

Vin took something from his jacket, and approached JD. He lay a hand on JD's shoulder. The tear filled hazel eyes looked up to Vin, who bent his knees to be eye level with the young man.

"We didn't know if you'd made a cross for her, so we made this one for her." Vin handed JD the cross made from sticks the others had gathered on the way.

Each had added something special, which they had given to Vin to add to the cross. Josiah had written down his favorite Bible passage, Chris had ripped out a page in a book of poetry that had a poem which he had written on, Buck donated a small frilly handkerchief that his mother had given him, Ezra gave Vin the ace of spades from a favorite deck, Nathan had stitched the Bible verse and poem together leaving the needle in the pages, and Vin had tied the cross together with several of the leather fringes from his jacket.

"It''s.." he couldn't say anything else, he was so overcome with emotion. What made it worse was the looks on the other men's faces. The sentimental gesture, a way of not only showing this boy's mother how they felt about him, but also showing JD how much they cared for him.

"Momma, these are the guys I told ya about," he said barely above a whisper after composing himself.

"I know Josiah don't know you all that well, but he's the preacher back ho..back in Four Corners, I know I didn't give you a funeral and I'm sorry. I asked Josiah to say a few things, hope ya don't mind." JD stood and stepped back, as two arms found their way to the familiar shoulders, JD didn't need to look to know it was Buck and Chris.

"I apologize, Ms. Dunne, I can't say I've ever done something like this, but I'm honored that your son asked me. It was a long road back here and it gave me time to find what I would say. I asked God for guidance and he finally showed me the direction to take. I could quote Bible versus, but I fear they wouldn't be enough. Instead, I've chosen to read a poem that someone in our small group has given me permission to use. JD has talked of you so often that I feel that this poem is pretty much what you would have said if you'd only had the time to." Josiah opened his battered Bible to where a piece of paper stuck out.

"Fill not your heart with pain and sorrow, but remember me in every tomorrow. Remember the joy, the laughter, the smiles, I've only gone to rest a little while. Although my leaving causes pain and grief, my going has eased my hurt and given me relief. So dry your eyes and remember me, not as I am now, but as I used to be. Because, I will remember you and look on with a smile. Understand, in your heart, I've only gone to rest a little while. As long as I have the love of you, I can live my life in the heart of you," Josiah finished, never taking his eyes off JD, Josiah had read it so often he had learned it word for word.

JD was no longer standing, but being supported by Buck and Chris. JD never felt he could feel so much grief ever. He didn't have time to grieve when he buried her, and now he not only had time, he had a family that grieved with him, for someone they didn't even know.

Josiah knelt down to the new cross, "I just wanted to tell you, not that you don't know for yourself, what kind of man you raised. You'd be awfully proud of who he is and who he's become," Josiah lifted his head to JD, "He thinks we've taught him alot of things, but I've learned a lot as well. I fear our journey together is done, but I'll never forget what he's done for me and I've been blessed to have known him."

Josiah stood and walked over to JD, he lifted his trembling chin in his huge tender hand, "I'm proud to have known you, son," and he hugged him, seeming to give him strength to stand.

Nathan was the next to mimic Josiah, "I'm the healer, Ms Dunne, I've had to patch up that boy of yours more times than I care to remember. He's stubborn and hard headed, but if he wasn't those things he wouldn't be JD. I hate to think about how slow it's gonna be with out him fallin' off his horse cause of some trick he had to show us, or gettin' shot cause their was a girl in the way, or gettin half froze cause a little girl he didn't even know fell into the river. That boy of yours gotta heart of gold."

"I guess you'd refer to me as the gambler. It's true that I have shown your son a few 'tricks of the trade' but fear not, he'll never use them. The boy speaks with his eyes and face almost as much as he does his mouth. I questioned how you raised the boy more than once, the morals he has and I see now that I should never have questioned them, but admire them. Thank you, Miss Dunne, for letting me have the pleasure of knowing such a wonderful young man," Ezra looked to JD, "and thank you for your lessons in life as well."

"JD's talked about you so much I feel I know you, I hope you liked the poem. He's a good kid, makes ya proud to know him, makes me proud to call him brother, he's held us together, makin us into somethin' most of us didn't know we wanted anymore..he made us into a family. He sure does ask alot of questions, I don't always have the answers, but I try. You did a fine job with the time ya had, and I hope that someday I can say the same..that I did fine with the time I had," Vin looked to JD.

"This here's my boy. I know I been hard on him sometimes, but like Josiah's always sayin, havin kids ain't easy, is it. I done my share of yellin' at him, trying to keep him in one piece, hope ya understand that. I also done my share of worrin' about him, like now. He's was a good boy when I first met him, he's a good man now that I gotta..let.." he couldn't finish, he stood and embraced the sobbing young man.

"Buck's right, he's a good man. He's got a big heart, sometimes gets him in trouble but his intentions are always good. He's worked his way into this old stone cold heart and warmed it up. You done a fine job, hope we done you justice. I can't tell you how proud and honored I am to have been able to ride with him. He's got this whole group wrapped around his baby finger, with one look he gets us, these dangerous men, to do what ever it is he wants; the best part, he doesn't even know it," he whispered, no one was able to hear a word he said.

"I messed up momma, really bad. I shoulda gone to school, but ..I didn't. I didn't think I'd ever have to come back here.. I miss you momma, I wish you were still here...the guys have taught me alot..but that's gonna be all gone ..and I'm gonna be alone again... I made a lot of mistakes momma..he was right momma.. I can't do nothin right..I'm sorry I disappointed you," he cried out sitting back on his heels.

Six hardened gunslingers, with turmoils of their own, loss of their own, heartache of there own, reached out to the only member who had to face it all again. The innocent member, the big hearted kid had to face his past and look again to a future of uncertainty. The six grown men surrounded the kid trying to ease his grief, his sorrow, his apprehension, and the overwhelming sadness of loss. To protect him from the world.

+ + + + + + +

"We don't need to do this, Chris, let's just head back," the tall lean man whispered, taking the leader way from the group walking to their horses.

"Buck, we can't," the leader reasoned softly as well.

"I don't give a damn about the law!" Buck pointed out in a whispered yell.

"You won't go for that. As much as I'd like to take him home right now and forget this ever happened I can't. He won't allow it," Chris said, pointing out an obvious fact.

"I can't stand this..we're gonna go in there, on our knees beggin' the judge to give us a chance to explain why were late just to loose the kid," he said, checking the cinch on his saddle.

"I'm glad we did this," Chris said changing the subject quickly, nodding his head towards the tree, the sadness still in his voice.

"Yeah. Glad we could do one more thing for him," Vin said, coming to his own horse.

"The last thing we could do," Buck resigned slowly.

"He knows how much he means to us now," Chris said.

"Yeah. Wished we been smart enough to tell him before, maybe.. "

"What? If he told us how old he was when he got here... there, this might have been different?" Vin accused. A little harsher than he'd meant, but loosing the kid was having an effect on all of the men.

"Yeah. Maybe," Buck lifted his voice, placing his hands on his hips and turning to Vin.

"No one knew, Buck," Vin tried, knowing that Buck was about to blow at the wrong words.

"He tells you everything, did you know?" Buck accused.

"No, I didn't know," Vin shot back the accusation.

"Buck, no one asked him, if we'd asked he would have said something," Chris trying to diffuse the potential explosion.

"I know," Buck sighed out all his anger. "Why didn't I ask? You don't know how many times I was gonna..why didn't I just ask?"

"I shoulda just told ya," JD's raspy quiet voice interrupted the men's self pity.

"I probably would have thrown you on that stage, kid," Chris reasoned, knowing that he probably would have.

"Yeah, but I'd probably would have gotten another one back," JD smiled, knowing his own stubbornness.

Ezra stepped forward, the journey was coming to an end. He never had to say good-bye to anyone that he cared about before, hell, Ezra had never had anyone to care about to say good-bye. He took the initiative to say good-bye now, wanting to avoid a potentially embarrassing and emotional scene in town.

"Mr. Dunne, I must say that it has been a pleasure and an honor, if we had met under any other circumstances you would have never made it to Four Corners."

"Why's that?" he choked out, eyes filling with more tears, knowing this was Ezra's good bye.

"I would have swindled you of all your money in a poker game," he smiled, his gold tooth shinning in the dwindling afternoon sun.

"You sayin' you woulda cheated?" JD smiled as the tears rolled down his cheeks.

"I..I don' ..boy," Ezra said choking back the tears, grabbing JD and bringing him into an embrace, " have ruined this gambler's heart," he whispered as he held him.

"I'm sorry," JD whispered back, mostly because he couldn't breath.

"Don't be," Ezra smiled as he put his hands on the young man's shoulders, pushing him away. "Don't be," he said again, meaning it fully, turned and mounted his horse, facing away from the men, not even bothering to do as his mother always taught him, never show emotion. Go to hell mother, he thought as the tears fell down his face.

"I guess we'd better get going, we can't be any later," JD said somberly after the long silence.

Chris nodded, he walked over to JD and squeezed his shoulder. There were no other words to say, Ezra had spoken for them all. Everyone was changed because of meeting the kid and they were all grateful and better men for it. Chris released the kid's shoulder and smiled, then turned to mount his own horse. All the men mimicked the action of Chris as they mounted their horses, turning their horses to stand back to like Ezra had.

"I can't do this, JD," Buck said, letting his emotions run free.

"Don't have much choice, Buck, you taught me to stand up for what's right," JD remembered.

"THIS ain't right!" Buck yelled. Can't he see that? Buck thought.

"Not to us, but it's the law."

"I don't want to loose you, JD," the tears falling hard from the tall man.

"It's only four years, I ain't gonna stay here forever," tears cascading down the young man's face, the words bringing a small smile to his best friend.

"What am I suppose to do without ya?" Buck couldn't imagine not giving him a hard time at breakfast, or at any meal..or anytime during the day, the cat and mouse games.

"What you always do, get yourself in trouble cause you was thinkin' with somethin' else besides your brain," JD smiled.

"I'm gonna miss ya," he said, giving JD his famous 'bear hug', JD could barely breath but he wasn't going to say anything. This was the last time, he'd never have Buck there to help him, tease him, be there when he was sick, hug him.

"We have to go or else we won't make it before dark," a solemn Chris said from behind the two, his back still turned.

Buck let go, patting him hard on the back, JD wiped his tears away and nodded his head, turned and mounted his horse, for the last time.

"Vin," JD said at the sudden reliazation he wouldn't need a horse.

"Yeah?" Vin turned his body around, following JD as he came up beside him.

"Take care of her for me?" he asked, he knew Vin respected his horse as much as JD had his..

Vin couldn't say a word, he nodded his head saying not only he would, but thanks as well.

"This is it kid, whenever you're ready," Chris said with a smile and a nod.

JD nodded in response, he took a deep breath and took one last look to his mother's grave, smiling at the new cross, then looked at the faces around him. He smiled. Then broke the silence.

"Let's ride," he said Chris' command and spurred his horse. The last time I'd hear those words and Chris let me say them, guess they didn't mind me so much after all, JD thought, a warm sad smile crossed his face.

The moon had beaten down the sun as the men finally approached the 'town' of Boston. Not one man had spoken from the time they had left the grave. The mood of the men was as dark as the sky, Nathan glanced at JD, he had noticed he had nodded his head a few times and wondered if it was because he was tired or if his leg was beginning to bother him, he decided it was a combination of both when the men stopped at a hotel, and he'd practically fallen off and would have if Buck and Vin hadn't been there.

"I'll get us a room," Ezra said strolling into the hotel.

"Set him down, let me look at that leg," Nathan said.

"I'm fine, Nathan, just tired," JD said.

"The fact you been bleeding has nothing to do with it?" Nathan said.

"Maybe a little bit," JD smiled.

"Here we go, gentlemen, I'm afraid we're going to have to 'share space', the accommodations are quite costly."

"How many rooms you get?" Chris asked.


"You and Vin, Josiah and Nathan, and we'll take the other," Chris ordered out.

"He snores too loud, Chris," Vin said.

"Ask for some cotton," Chris smiled.

"Come on, let's get him upstairs," Nathan said, a bit of urgency in his voice.

"Mr. Sanchez, maybe you will assist me with acquiring something close to edible food?"

"Sure, Ezra, we'll bring something back," Josiah said, getting a nod from Chris.

"Put me down, for cryin out loud, I can walk," JD said.

"Now don't start gettin all worked up, kid," Buck said.

"I ain't gettin worked up, I can walk, dang it!" JD said harshly.

"Fine," Buck said, putting JD back on the ground, and they walked into the hotel.

"May I help you gen..." the clerk behind the big mahogany counter asked, bringing his head up and seeing the five men that walked in. "Wh..what you I'll call..the won't make it out of here alive!" the clerk said with his hands raised, gaining confidence as he spoke.

"Settle down mister, we just want a room," Buck said smiling.

"I don't have any left," he said, thinking that it was a strange request for outlaws to ask for a room.

"That's funny, cause our friend just rented three of them," Chris said glaring a little at the clerk.

"Oh.. I'm..sssso sorry, you're Mr. Standish's associates," the clerk sighed.

"Yeah, that's us," JD smiled.

"Are you in need of a doctor, we have several here to choose from," the clerk asked, seeing the young boy was pale, sweaty, and favoring his left leg.

"We brought our own, thanks," Buck said, bringing a smile to Nathan's face.

"I assure you, 'our' doctors are quite skilled," the clerk said with an attitude similar to Ezra's.

"'Ours' is just as skilled," JD shot back, limping his way to the stairs.

They made it to the first room and all five men entered, laying JD on the bed.

"Let's get them off and I can take a look," Nathan ordered.

JD did as he was told and began to remove his pants when he became dizzy. Chris and Buck steadied JD and Vin finished taking his boots and pants off, without argument from the kid. They gently put him back on the bed and Nathan removed the small bandage.

"He's got a fever, don't he," Nathan stated, Chris nodded as he checked the young man's forehead.

"It infected?" Vin asked.

"Yup," Nathan said, going to his bag.

Vin and Chris shared a look, they hadn't noticed any sign of infection when they had restitched the wound.

"Sorry, kid," Vin said quietly.

"You cleaned it good, not your fault, just my dumb luck," he smiled.

"You know the rules, JD, ready?" Nathan asked.

"Yeah, I'm all set," he smiled.

Nathan began to apply the carbolic acid to clean the wound, JD was wore out from the ride and weak from the bleeding wound, and his fight didn't last long, in a matter of minutes he had passed out and Nathan continued the painful procedure of cleaning and restitching the wound.


"I been dressin' myself since I was three years old, Buck, I can do this myself if ya don't mind," the young man said in a quiet way, not hiding his anger at Bucks attempt to get him dressed.

"Fine, don't you go askin for help again," Buck said, throwing JD's pants at him.

"Won't be able to anyway," JD thought, not meaning for it to be heard.

"What you say?" Buck snapped.

"Nothin," said with innocence by the youth.

"Hurry up then, everyone's waitin on ya," Buck said as he walked out and closed the door.

JD hung his head. Was he the only one that knew what today was? Breakfast? Who could eat breakfast? He couldn't. He was leaving today, he might not ever see these men, his family, again. He had a family, how could a judge take them from him, how could a judge look at Buck and tell him 'sorry'? He needed to talk to the judge, tell him why they were late. The judge had to understand that 'he' was the one that said they needed to help. 'He's' the one that made an out of the way trip to see his mother. 'He' was the one that made them all late.

Me, JD thought. My fault, I blew Buck's chance. I should have never have stopped at Four Corners, shoulda kept on going, that way only one person would be hurt, just me. I never meant to hurt them, God. I'm sorry, JD thought as he finished getting dressed.

JD opened the door and stepped through then shut it. He noticed the silence and looked up to see if everyone was still in the hallway waiting, the minute he looked up all the sad faces disappeared, quickly replaced by forced smiles or grins. They know what today is, they're trying to make it easier..thanks guys, JD thought as he saw his six family members.

"Ready, kid?" Chris asked, not only meaning breakfast but other things as well.

"I guess," he said.

"Ezra's buying," Chris said with a lift in his voice. He was trying to make this easier somehow, he just didn't know how to do it.

"He's never bought breakfast," JD said, with a little surprise; but the sorrow he was feeling was keeping his regular enthusiasm in check.

"Consider it a gift," Ezra said with a smile.

JD nodded, a going away gift.

"Come on, kid, let's go eat."

They went down the stairs, and walked to the lobby and to the desk where the clerk was, Chris deposited three keys to the clerk.

"You can take these with you sir, no need to give them back everyday just to pick them up again," the clerk said with the big smile that got him good tips.

"We ain't coming back," Chris said flatly.

"Oh, I see. Was there something wrong with the rooms? Maybe not used to the climate? Maybe something here doesn't agree with you?" the clerk tried to figure, no one ever came to Boston just to spend the night.

"Nothing here at the hotel," Chris said in a tone the clerk understood as not to say anything else.

"Very well, sir," the clerk said. Maybe they are bank robbers, they don't look like that kind, but that man in black can be down right frightening, the clerk thought as the group made their way out of the lobby and into the dining hall at the hotel.

"Excuse me, this is for hotel guest, there is a more 'suitable establishment' down the street," a man, dressed like the clerk, stated.

"Where do you think we slept last night?" Buck said, sarcastically of course.

"Oh, ahem, I see, pardon me for.."

"'Pardon me' my eye, we just want to eat," Buck said again, finding a restraining hand, telling him to take it easy, on his arm. He turned to see that it wasn't Chris as he had thought, but JD.

"Sorry, sir, we've had a pretty long trip, were just hungry is all," JD smiled.

"Seven then?" the man said, more pleasant then before. With a look of curiosity on his face.

"Please," the kid smiled again.

The man escorted the seven men to a table, the dining hall became almost silent as the men walked to their table amongst pointing fingers and whispers. The finely dressed guest of the hotel found it hard to believe that these, obvious 'hoodlums', were going to be allowed to sit and eat in such a fine establishment.

"At least they took their hats off." Buck heard someone say as they were seated.

"I don't think I saw that much artillery in the war for heavens sake." Chris heard another.

The man that escorted the seven to the table lit up as the young member of the group took off his hat.

"I'm sorry..but.."

"What, you gonna ask us to leave now because we don't fit the dress code or somethin?" Nathan let out harshly.

"Speak for yourself, Mr. Jackson," Ezra let out, dusting of his arm.

"No..JD?" the man turned to the young man in question.

"Sam?" JD said. Looking at the man for the first time.

"My God, JD, never thought I'd see you back in these parts," Sam smiled, the men noticed the sadness of the smile.

"Me either," JD relayed.

"I wish I'd been there when you momma died, me and Meg we were awful sorry to hear that she passed."

JD nodded his head, "How is Meg?"

"She died three months ago, she had a fight with influenza, never really got better," Sam said.

"Sorry to hear that, Sam."

"Thanks, so what brings you back?"

"I guess I'm stayin' for awhile."

"Where? You're not going back to the estate are you?" Sam seemed concerned, making the guys feel better, maybe he had someone looking after him before.

"Not that I know of. Someone's filed some papers, cause of my age, they're here and well.. I don't know," JD said. The men noticed the ease in which JD talked to this man, maybe he knew what had gone on with Chamberlain.

"Can I ask who your friends are?" Sam asked pleasantly.

"Oh, sorry, Sam, this is Nathan, Josiah, Ezra, Vin , Chris and this here's Buck," JD said, pointing to each man, in return they all shook Sam's hand.

"Guys, this is Sam, he used to work in the big house with my momma," JD smiled.

"So where were you? What were you doing?" Sam asked, looking around. He was sure he would be yelled at for not being the 'Host' properly, but it had been too long since he'd seen this boy.

"Went out west and hooked up with these guys," JD said fondly.

"What did you do for work JD?" Sam asked, hoping that the kid had stayed true to himself.

"Well, Sam, your looking at the ex-sheriff of Four Corners," Buck said proudly, like it was his idea.

"Sheriff?" Sam questioned with raised eyebrows.

"Pretty foolish, huh," JD smiled shyly.

"No..not at all..were you a good sheriff?"

"The best," Vin said. Causing JD to turn red.

"Your momma would have been right down proud of you, JD," Sam said.

"Thanks, Sam," JD said.

"So what exactly did you all do, deputies or.." Sam asked.

"Hired guns," Chris said, in his steely unsettling way.

"We help protect Four Corners, we all got hired together, JD took the sheriff's job," Buck said, hoping to take the sting out of what Chris had said.

"I'm sorry to interrupt this 'reunion' of sorts, but if I don not get some sort of nourishment in the near future I'm afraid I may fade into oblivion, and we do have a schedule to attend to," Ezra drawled out slightly aggravated.

"Excuse me?" Sam said, "What in the world did he just say?"

"Ezra said he's hungry, and we do have to be somewhere," JD translated.

"I'm sorry, so you'll be in the area? If so, you'll need to stop by more often, have a lot of catching up," Sam said honestly.

"If I am I'm sure I'll stop by," JD smiled.

Sam then left to leave the men to order and eat. He stood at his post at the entrance to the dining hall unable to keep his attention away from the seven men sitting at a table eating breakfast. As he watched them he noticed a lot of things that warmed his heart.

He had heard, from others that he had worked at the estate with, that the boy had been subject to severe treatment at the hands of Chamberlain. He was pleased at these men's obvious concern for this young man. He's got them just like he had everyone at the estate, Sam thought, Glad to see he hooked up with some great men, he's grown up so much, doesn't look any different, but he acts different. Sam noticed that when the men where done eating the man that was dressed appropriately paid for the meal and left a generous tip. The men stood and began to leave, he noticed that Buck had given the boy a hand standing as Sam saw him wince. He was set back a bit when he noticed the limp as they approached.

"It was a great meal, Sam, give our regards to the cook," Josiah said warmly.

"You okay, JD?" Sam said concerned, looking to the leg.

"Yeah, Sam, I'm fine," JD said smiling.

"JD took a bullet on the way out here," Chris offered.

"Do you need a Doctor? There's plenty here to choose from.."

"Nathan already took care of it Sam, thanks."

And they made their way out of the hotel and headed for the Judge's office.