The judge had returned with the sheriff just as Buck and his two 'escorts' cleared the cabin. The judge and sheriff took a look to the tree, finding Chamberlain still tied to it and they both dismounted and headed for the three men, Buck was visibly shaken.
"Josiah?" the judge asked, knowing the boy must have died.
"OH GOD!!!" the muffled cry was heard, answering the judges question.
"Jesus," the sheriff said, hearing the scream.
"Jamison's here to take Josh," the judge said, trying to distract the men's attention.
Buck heard the judge and stood, "We got unfinished business." And Buck bolted for Chamberlain, Ezra and Josiah caught up to him right before he got there.
"Let go of me, damn it!!" Buck yelled.
"Buck, this isn't going to help anyone," Josiah said calmly, knowing that when JD was ready he would need Buck.
"I should kill you! You hear me! Can you hear what you've done?!!" Buck yelled as Josiah kept his firm grip pulling him away.
"Beautiful isn't it," the man boasted.
The man lost it, and before anyone could react he was on him, hitting the man's face and torso, every punch for the young man who lay in a bed suffering from what this 'man' had done to him. He hit the man to near unconsciousness and his knuckles were scraped and raw, he hit till he had no more strength. Then he leaned over the man, so close that their faces were almost one.
"That was for JD!" and he staggered to his feet and turned to the Sheriff.
"Now... you..may take..this ... 'thing'..to the..jail."
"Judge?" the sheriff looked at the judge.
"Yes, Sheriff Jamison?" Waters asked.
"He ..he just assaulted.." The judge held up his hand.
"I didn't see a thing," Waters said.
"Come here son, you need to see something," the judge said walking away, leading the sheriff to the cabin. Stopping at his horse and grabbing the sheets and other things Nathan had asked him to pick up.
The judge knocked gently on the cabin door, it was opened by Chris who nodded letting the two men in.
"I picked up what I could, Nathan," the judge said walking to the healer. His heart broke as he saw the pale sweat ridden boy laying against the buckskinned tracker he only knew as Vin.
"You remember the judge, kid?" Vin asked, feeling the kid's head turn at the sound of the man.
"I think so," JD let out tiredly.
"How ya feelin, JD?"
"I'm fine," JD gave the man a tired smiled.
+ + + + + + +
"He do all that to him?" Jamison asked the men, one who was shredding the sheets the judge had brought into strips, while the other put wood in the fire.
"Everything," Nathan began, stopping as he began another strip, "but the bullet hole."
"Who shot him? Happen here?"
"Don't know, happened on the way out here."
"Judge said he was a sheriff? Mind me asking how old he is?"
"Yup, he took the job in Four Corners, how old does he look to you?" Chris said standing from the stove.
"Honestly? About thirteen."
"Add another four years," Nathan smiled.
"What was all that ruckus out there?" Nathan began to ask the sheriff, but the door opening cut him off.
"Hey kid," Buck said as he came in the door, happy to see the kid was awake and made his way to him.
"You might want to look at his hands, his fists kept fallin' in that guy's face," the sheriff said.
"Josiah?" Chris asked the preacher, as Nathan went to the man and began checking the man's knuckles.
"I tried, I'm sorry, brother Chris," Josiah apologized.
"Well? Anything broken?" Chris asked Nathan.
"No, but you ain't gonna be shuffling cards for a bit, Ezra," Nathan almost scolded.
"It was well worth the consequences, Mr. Jackson, well worth it," the gambler smiled, like he had just won the whole town by bluffing his way through a bad hand.
+ + + + + + +
"You look like you need some rest son," the judge said as he stood.
"I'm fine..thanks," JD said, his eyes growing heavy.
"I think the judge is right," Buck said, standing next to Judge Waters.
"Kay," he said, and his eyes closed, not able to fight off the sleep any longer.
"He's a good kid," Buck said, walking to the sheriff and the others.
"I can see that," Waters said. now, he thought.
"How's the hands, Ezra?" Buck asked as Nathan wrapped.
"A mite uncomfortable, but tolerable," Ezra grinned.
"What?" the sheriff asked.
"Says he's fine," Josiah smiled.
"JD fall asleep?" Nathan asked as he wrapped the gambler's knuckles.
"Yeah, just did," Buck turned back, "so'd Vin," he smiled, the tracker's cheek laid on the boy's head, sound asleep.
"Let him sleep, I'm gonna wrap up them ribs next time he wakes up, see if we can get him to eat somethin."
"Gentlemen, I do believe we have a prisoner to take to the jail," the judge said, "Or is it two sheriff?" the sheriff looked at the judge, then back to the bed where JD slept comfortably against a man.
"Suppose people would object to him being dragged behind my horse?" the sheriff said, letting the men know he hated what this man had done.
"Yes, I think they would," Waters said, not sure if Jamison was kidding or not.
"If it eases your mind, Sheriff, I would only object if he died instantly instead of right in town," Ezra said in a even tone.
"You scare me, really ..you do," the sheriff replied as he walked past the gambler and out the door, hearing the door shut Ezra broke into a smile.
"You're bad Ezra," Nathan smiled at seeing the sheriff go pale.
Nathan quickly finished wrapping Ezra's cuts and followed the others out the cabin door. They watched as the sheriff placed hand and leg irons on Chamberlain before untying him, he hobbled to the extra horse they had brought and stopped.
"How the hell am I supposed to ride with my legs bound together?" Chamberlain asked harshly.
"Figure it out. I doubt you gave the kid you beat the hell out of many choices," Jamison sneered, the picture of the kid in his head coming back to him, bending down and removing one of the leg irons as he and Waters helped him on to the horse. The judge pulled his gun and put his aim right to the man in front of him, making sure Chamberlain understood that one move against the sheriff and he was a dead man. The sheriff reached under the horse grabbing at the loose iron and brought it to Chamberlain's foot and secured it.
"My aren't they proficient," Ezra admired, "We will have to remember this little tid bit when we escort our prisoners from town to town," he smiled.
"Yeah, wonder why I never thought of that?" Chris said scratching the side of his head watching the men leave.
"If ya did that, we wouldn't have any excuse to shoot anyone," Buck smiled widely.
"What would Brother Nate do then?" Josiah asked, smiling as well.
"Sleep more?" Nathan answered.
"BUCK!" they heard Vin yell, causing all the men to loose the smiles as they ran to the cabin, Buck barely had the door opened before they all entered.
"BU..ck," Vin began to yell, but stopped as the door opened and the men came running in.
"Vin?" Buck asked all out of breath.
"JD was wondering where you were, you lost the bet kid," Vin said with a smile.
"You only...yelled once," JD smiled, a far cry from his normal smile.
"You scared the hell outta us!" Buck said a little harsher than he'd meant, and regretted it instantly, as the kid's smile disappeared.
"I'm...sor...ry," JD said between breaths, that were starting to get faster.
"No, no, I'm sorry I shouldn't have yelled," Buck said getting closer, his tone changing softer.
"I..I...tried...but....it..." JD's eyes squeezed shut tight, as his ribs began hurting again due to his rapid breathing.
Chris moved quickly, knowing Buck was trying to calm himself a bit so he could calm JD down. Josiah followed Nathan who pointed to the strips he'd made as he grabbed the bottle the judge had brought.
"JD, easy..you gotta take short breaths, kid," Vin soothed, placing his hand on JD's forehead, not that he needed to, he could feel the heat coming from him.
Nathan looked at the bounty hunter, "Worse?" he asked knowingly.
"Yeah, but just started when he started breathing hard," Vin answered the next question before it was asked, Nathan nodded.
"JD, ya need to slow down, you're gettin yourself all worked up. Take short breaths like Vin's tellin ya," Nathan said, his deep soothing tone easing the look on JD's face, but Nathan could tell he was still upset.
"Hurts..Oh God..." he cried out and if at all possible, he went from panic to a silent hysteria, he couldn't catch his breath.
"Stop..it's okay, JD, you're all right. Easy..short breaths just like Vin told you," Chris tried.
"You gotta listen kid, easy...JD easy.." Buck tried.
"Make....it ...stop..sick...oh..God...sick.." he cried, he wanted to do nothing more than curl into a ball and make it all go away.
"He's gonna throw up, Nate," Vin said urgently.
Chris turned to find an old spitton and grabbed it, just in time. Nathan had gone back to the things the judge had brought and returned with another bottle and a needle this time.
"Nate?" Chris asked, causing Buck to turn his head to the healer.
"But.." Vin began, knowing Nathan didn't like to give morphine for a pain killer if that person was being sick.
"I don't have a choice," Nathan answered the protest.
"It's gonna get better real soon, son," Chris said quietly.
JD nodded his head, he was so out of breath he couldn't even get out parts of the words he wanted to say.
The medication took effect quickly, JD's whole body relaxed all at once, but JD's eyes were still open.
"Sick," JD said quietly, even his speech was slow.
"He's gonna be sick again," Vin said, just as JD was. Vin would have held his head, but his hands were full supporting JD. Buck held JD's head still as another round of nausea began.
"He ain't eatin in three days, how the hell can he be throwin' up like this?" Buck asked Nathan, and anyone else who might have an idea.
"It's the fever, Buck, it'll be over soon," Nathan assured. As if on cue the exhausted subject spoke.
"Tired," JD said through the tears that just wouldn't stop.
"Vin?" Chris asked, he didn't hear the kid say anything but saw the lips move.
"He's tired, Nate, can we wait to wrap him?" Vin asked.
"I know he's tired, let's do this now, it won't hurt as much and I really don't want to have to give him any more of that."
"Nate says he's gonna take care of your ribs now."
"It'ssssss gonna hurrrrrt," JD slurred the words.
"It's gonna hurt more if he waits, kid," Buck said, putting his hand back on JD forehead and pushing the hair from his face.
"Kay," he said quietly.
Vin supported JD's shoulders and Chris and Buck lifted him off Vin, who took the opportunity to stand for awhile. JD never made a sound as Nathan wrapped the kid's ribs as tight as he dared, when he was done he nodded to Vin who went back to where he had been and they lowered JD back onto him.
"Tired," JD said again.
"Get some sleep kid, you did good real good," Buck said as he grabbed JD's hand.
"Kay," and did so.
+ + + + + + +
"Leg looks good, JD. Fever ain't as bad," Nathan told his patient, who was wanting to get out of the bed and eat with the rest of the men.
"That don't answer my question, Nate," JD pointed out, sporting the look that usually got him everything he wanted.
"Might as well give up when he does that, Nathan," Chris said seriously, knowing he was just, if not more, vulnerable when the kid put on his puppy dog eye look.
"All right, but you let me and Chris help you get dressed, and you're not going to walk out there," Nathan said sternly.
"Okay okay..wait..how am I gonna get out if I don't walk?" JD pointed out the small glitch.
"I'll carry you out," Chris said.
"Uh-uh..no way.. I can walk fine, Nathan."
"You want to go out there or not?" Chris asked, telling JD there was only one way he was going to get out there.
"Yeah..but..oh, all right," JD began to protest, but the look on Chris' face, and the fact that he had been sitting up in bed for only ten minutes and he was getting tired, changed his mind.
Chris and Nathan slowly helped JD get his pants, socks, and boots on. The two men did most of the work and found it nice that for once JD didn't do much complaining about it at all.
"Hey guys?" JD said in almost a chuckle.
"You all right? You need to sit down?" Nathan worried.
"No, but.. Where's my shirt?" JD asked.
"Let me check an see if Vin's gotta extra one," Nathan smiled, and left the cabin.
"Where's mine at?" JD asked.
Chris suddenly felt trapped and didn't know what to say. He never had lied to JD and didn't plan on starting now. JD hadn't said two words about the beating or even asked about Chamberlain the two days they had been at the cabin.
"You didn't have one when we got here," he said simply, hoping it was enough but not too much.
"Oh," JD said, suddenly growing quiet. Chris could tell by the change in the kid's face and eyes, he knew what he meant.
"It'll be little big..but it's the best you're going to do," Nathan smiled, handing the shirt to JD.
They helped him put the shirt on then he turned and buttoned it up as he sat in the bed, he was almost done, and both Chris and Nathan had seen the look of concentration on the kid's face. Nathan was worried, he didn't know if JD was trying to remember how to button a shirt or if he was thinking about something else. He didn't have to wait long.
"I think he ripped it off," JD said, "Yeah, he did."
"We didn't find anything, he must have burned it," Chris said, in a normal tone. Like they were talking about the weather.
"Why is it all my best white shirts get ruined?" he smiled the question.
"Just your luck," Chris smiled back.
JD stood and the men grabbed the suspenders and began to put them over JD's shoulders, as the suspenders gently laid on the kid's back and chest he flinched.
"Ow...ow.." and the two quickly took the suspenders off and let them hang to the side.
He sat down on the bed and looked at the shirt that went almost to his knees, and the sleeves that were so long that they covered his hands he sighed heavily and his shoulders slumped.
"You okay?" Chris asked, Nathan had taken some blankets outside so JD would be warm.
"Is he out there?" JD asked for the first time. He hadn't asked where Chamberlain was, what had happened to him or if he was still alive or if had was even there when they had found him.
"No, Sheriff took him to jail," Chris said, putting his hand on JD's shoulder, he could feel him relax as he told him.
"Can't even see my hands," JD changed the subject like he hadn't even asked about Chamberlain.
"We can fix that," Chris smiled, and unbuttoned the sleeves rolled them up and rebuttoned them.
"There. Better?" Chris asked smiling.
"Yeah, thanks," JD smiled.
"You ready to get something to eat?" Chris wondered, he could tell the kid was tired.
"Not really hungry, but I wanna go out. You think Nathan'll be mad if I don't eat?" he asked, almost apologetic at making Chris do all this, just so he could sit outside.
"I'm sure you can manage a little to eat to keep him happy. Ready?"
Chris put his arm under JD's legs and one behind him, JD brought his arm around Chris's neck and the gunslinger lifted the weightless young man off the bed with ease. JD gasped as the movement tugged at his ribs.
"You okay?" Chris asked, knowing that JD would most likely say he was.....
"Fine," JD said.
"I bet you'd still say that you were 'fine' if you were split in half," Chris smiled, making his way to the door.
"I don't think I'd be sayin much ifn I was spilt in two," JD smiled back.
"You all right?" Chris asked again, he felt JD tense as he'd stepped out of the door.
"Yeah," he said, Chris could feel JD breathe heavier as they approached the other five.
"You're fine, remember?" Chris said quietly into the kid's ear.
"Yeah," he said, not so sure.
"We can go back inside if you want," Chris offered.
"No, it's okay," JD smiled, Chris could feel the kid relax again.
Chris continued to the group, Vin and Ezra not missing the look on Chris's concerned face. Chris carefully put JD in the chair Nathan had covered with blankets, Nathan covered him with another blanket.
"Don't have any biscuits, son, sorry," Josiah smiled at the usual breakfast the kid ate.
"That's okay, I'll just have some eggs. Unless ya cooked somethin else," JD asked.
"Figured you'd go for the eggs," Josiah smiled, handing him a plate with the eggs piled on it.
"Thanks," JD said, sitting the plate on his lap. He looked back up at the group and noticed no one was moving.
"You take bets on how much I was gonna eat or how long it would take me to start?" he inquired, no one was sure if he was kidding. Ezra broke the silence.
"Both as a matter of fact," Ezra smiled widely, eyebrows raised. The silence was broken by the sound of laughter, JD trying not to laugh too much and the men ate.
+ + + + + + +
After an hour, breakfast over, the men started to clean up the dishes and pans they had used, JD had fallen asleep after three bites of the eggs, Buck finished his coffee and stood up and went to pick JD up to take him back inside. Buck touched the sleeping young man causing the boy to gasp at the pain as he jumped at the touch. Wide eyes turned to Buck, eyes that told Buck he was scared to death.
"Didn't mean to scare you, JD."
JD didn't answer, he just stared, the scared look on his face frozen and he started to shake.
"Nathan?" Buck looked to the healer.
"JD? Buck hurt you?" Nathan asked as easily as he could.
JD just shook, still scared, his eyes filled and the tears rolled down his face.
Ezra pushed past the others who stood dumbfounded, and pushed Bucks hand away before he touched JD.
"Ezr.." Buck began, but Vin's hand stopped him.
"Come on, over here." And the whole group stepped back not able to take their eyes off JD and Ezra.
"You're safe, JD," the southerners tones easy and simple.
JD's head turned in Ezra's direction, still shaking, silent, and scared.
"No one here's gonna hurt you," Ezra said, the others noted he used the tone that he had before, the one he would use when talking to a child, the words were reaching JD.
He still shook, still was quiet and he still stared with wide tear filled scared eyes.
"You're safe, we're here, no one is going to hurt you," Ezra continued in the soft manner, reaching out and holding JD's face in his bandaged hands.
JD closed his eyes, squeezing them together tightly, and swallowed hard. He opened his eyes again and looked right at the gambler, the scared eyes replaced by ones that held the horror of what had happened to him.
"Oh God.." JD sobbed out leaning into the gambler's shoulder, Ezra placed his hand on the back of the boy's head, the other embraced the boy. He stayed that way till JD stopped shaking.
"Let's get you inside," Ezra said, JD nodded, never letting go of Ezra.
Ezra looked to the healer, who understood to follow him and did so. The four men stood watching as the three others went in the cabin.
"What the hell just happened?" Buck asked, visibly shaken by what had happened.
"It's like he was rememberin' somethin," Vin offered, not really sure himself.
The cabin door opened and the gambler walked to the men.
"I think young Mr. Dunne would appreciate a friendly face when he wakes from his slumber," Ezra smiled, like nothing had happened.
"I think Brother Standish is right, shall we?" Josiah asked, something about the way the gambler spoke told him, he'd seen this before.
"I'll be there in a bit," Vin said to others, then turned to Ezra, "You mind?"
"Certainly not," Ezra said, he knew someone would ask, Chris or Vin, he wasn't sure which but some one would ask, and he motioned his hand to sit.
"I seen alot in my life, Ezra, but this; not just the beatin'..he ain't actin right. He was like some..some.." Vin tried.
"Scared little boy? At that moment he was."
"And now, he knows," Vin referring to the way JD reacted to what had happened.
"He knows something's happened, he just doesn't know what, but he will. Mr. Tanner, the visible wounds are not as dangerous as the ones we can't see; you can't put a bandage on them, they are permanent they'll never go away," Ezra said softly, looking towards the cabin.
"Ezra, how..how do.."
"I know from seeing it first hand, and being powerless to stop it, Mr. Tanner..and sadly, we will be able to do nothing, but watch and listen," Ezra added.
"You..you had this...happen to you?" Vin asked, this was the most he'd ever heard the gambler divulge about his past, he knew it wasn't a pleasant up bringing, but to be hit, abused..he couldn't imagine it.
"Me, no. Maude was far from maternal, but she'd never...my cousin's family, yes, not to me but their own.. I had a cousin, he must have been a few years younger than JD, his father hit him every day. He tried to run, but the authorities were powerless do anything about it, so he did the only other thing he could do to get away, and hung himself."
"Jesus, Ezra.. I..I'm sorry ... That's how you figured it out, when you grabbed his arm..does JD know about your cousin?" Vin asked, still trying to digest what Ezra had said.
"Yes, that's one of the things we talked about."
"That's why he listened to ya just then, ya know how he's feelin'," Vin said, nodding his head.. It all made sense.
"I assure you I have no idea how he is feeling. There is more going on then what you can see. I have reason to believe that the monster who inflicted the boy's suffering has planted many doubts in our boy's head."
"He's too smart to believe him," Vin defended.
"Is he? If some one tells you you're ugly or deformed, and you hear it more and more.. How long will it be before you stop to see if they are right? And how long will it take you to start seeing what they are telling you they see?"
"You think he believed what he was tellin' him?" Vin asked, understanding completely what Ezra was saying.
"Yes I do, and I'm sure he's going to be questioning our loyalties to him."
"What do ya mean?" Vin asked. "He knows how we feel about him, we told him before.." he added
"..Before we left him on the doorstep of hell. I'm sure Chamberlain used the fact that we weren't there to 'save' our young friend from his grasp, the fact that he had the control while JD had none," Ezra explained.
"He told the kid we just left," Vin stated, a lump forming in his throat.
"I'm sure. Mr. Tanner, the reasoning for a man, albeit not an excuse but more in explanation, to do what that man did to that boy years ago and here again is all because of power; better the lack of it."
"You heard the judge, he said Chamberlain was powerful and respected what would he be lackin' in?" Vin questioned, he knew there were demons who walked among men, but he'd never met one in all his bounty hunting days, much less experience it.
"It's the power of the mind," Ezra stated pointing to his head with his index finger, "To him JD escaped that power, he wanted that feeling back, the feeling of someone being at his total mercy. Begging and pleading for his life."
"Willing to give up his freedom for his life," Vin began to follow.
"Exactly," Ezra answered.
"He will also be questioning his own self worth," Ezra continued, pausing to let Vin digest what he'd been saying. "He most likely told him he was worthless, useless, trouble; hell for all I know he told him we thought the same, do you understand what I'm saying?"
"He tried to break his spirit, break him down," Vin said, nodding his hanging head.
"It's going to take alot to get him through this, we may never see the young JD Dunne we all knew before this....tragedy. In all essence, what happens and how he and we deal with certain matters will all determine how JD will fair. The irony of all this is the one who feels the least in control has it all."
+ + + + + + +
The morning sun assaulted the cabin, waking it's occupants. It had been two days since JD's incident at breakfast with no other occurrences. JD seemed to be handling things well and there were discussions of when they would leave. The men ate breakfast, cleaned up the dishes. JD was allowed to walk on his own, which he was happy about.
"You think I'll ever stop limping, Nathan?" JD asked as he started for the cabin, he was a little tired and wanted a 'short nap'.
"Yeah, if you could do what you were told for once," Nathan smiled, putting his hand on JD's back.
"Well. I'm thinking we can leave tomorrow," Chris said, hoping to bring a smile to the kid, which it didn't.
"Long as 'someone' does as he's told and rides in the wagon," Buck smiled a joking smile.
"You forget about the judge?" JD asked, putting a damper on everyone's spirits.
"No, why?" Buck asked.
"Well, I'm still seventeen, unless I been asleep for four years and no one else got older.." JD said sarcastically.
"Ezra went to see the judge this morning," Chris said, he noticed the concerned look on JD's face.
"When? I didn't see him leave, how long he been gone." Chris knew that JD knew Chamberlain was in jail in town, and was concerned for his safety.
"After breakfast, you were sleepin'," Buck explained. The sound of approaching horses caused the men to draw their weapons, and stepped protectively in front of JD.
"Gentlemen, is that anyway to welcome our guest?" Ezra smiled as he got closer and dismounted, the judge following the action.
"Judge," Chris greeted.
"Mr. Larabee. Ezra here told me you would be leaving tomorrow and I just wanted to wish you a safe trip."
"Thank you, judge," Chris said.
"JD, it's good to see you up and around. I'm glad you're here, all of you. JD, we need to talk about the matter that brought you out here in the first place," the judge said seriously.
"I figured we would," JD let out defeatedly.
"I need to apologize, for the ways things turned out, I had no idea how Cham.." he apologized.
"Just get to the point if ya don't mind judge," JD asked, not wanting to hear the man's name or talk about what happened.
"It seems that there was a small fire in my office, miraculously everything was saved except for two sets of custody papers that had been filed and a file containing a birth record," the judge paused. "Since there are no records telling me your exact age and there are no petitions for custody..." the judge stopped, reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a paper and handed it to JD.
JD opened the paper and read it silently, then raised his head and looked awestruck at the judge, not believing what he just read.
"What's it say, kid?" Buck asked impatiently. JD couldn't answer, so Ezra did.
"It simply states that you can no longer refer to the young man as 'kid', he has been declared a legal adult by the judge." Ezra beamed.
"What!?" Buck shouted his happiness.
"Mr. Dunne is an exceptional seventeen year old ..young 'man' as I have been told many times, you are far from typical, JD, and I believe that you are able to make your own choices, and be responsible for the choices you make. Have a safe trip back home," the judge said, turning as he mounted his horse.
JD limped his way to the judge, extended his hand, the judge taking it, surprised by the young man's grip.
"Thank you, sir," JD said honestly, his eyes filling.
"No, thank you. I should have listened to what my heart said the minute I saw you all together, I'm so sorry, this could all have been avoided," the judge finally apologized.
"You were just obeyin' the law, not your fault," JD forgave, "It's his," the youth placed the blame.
"Yes, and he will pay."
"It don't matter. He didn't win," JD smiled, and stepped back, and the judge turned and was out of sight.
+ + + + + + +
The cabin was active as the men were gathering their things, packing things into their bedrolls before rolling them up, outside saddling horses, loading Nathan's wagon with pots and pans and various other things, leaving a space in the back for the youngest member to ride in when he got tired on their way home.
Vin had finished with his horse and was leading JD's over to tie to the wagon when he saw JD. He finished tying the horse, and looked around and found Ezra. He walked over to him.
"Look," Vin pointed to where he'd seen JD.
"Go and talk to him," Ezra said.
"But.." Vin didn't feel confident, Ezra knew what to do, that's why he came to him.
"Just listen, be there. He needs to know he can trust not just me. I can't help all alone. You'll be fine," he encouraged, Vin nodded and walked to where JD sat on a tree stump, in front of the big maple tree, holding the end of a frayed, bloodstained rope.
"Hey," Vin said making sure he walked loudly and spoke before he got there as not to scare JD.
"Hey," JD returned, never breaking his gaze from the rope.
Vin squat down next to JD, and looked back to Ezra, who stood behind the wagon, watching. Just listen, Ezra thought, as the words repeated in Vin's head.
"JD..I.." Vin sighed heavily, bringing his head down into the hands that were supported by elbows on bent knees. "I don't know how to make this right, JD," he blurted out as he lifted his head. JD understood and turned to look at Vin, and caught the tracker off guard with a smile.
"You can't," JD said, returning his eyes back to the rope. "I know he tied me up, and I know this is my blood, what I don't know is how it got there," JD said out of the blue, catching Vin off guard again. He moved closer to JD, and sat down and leaned over to look at the rope.
Just listen, Ezra thought again, a half smile on his face as he turned to help break camp and pack before they left.
"I got away twice, but .." JD began out of nowhere.
"Yeah, I thought I was further than I was. I was runnin' so hard, after I crossed the rock wall but he caught up to me."
Vin was silent. He didn't know exactly what JD was talking about, but he did what Ezra's voice told him to do, he just listened.
"He wasn't as smart as he was before, he tied my hands in front," JD smiled again, "then he left, he had me tied to the bed post, with my hands in front. I untied myself from the post and smashed somethin' and cut the ropes. He was talkin' and I walked him in that circle thing you showed me once and made it to door and on his horse. He shot at me, signaled the horse and I went over his head, then I think he stepped on me," JD relayed as he gazed at the rope, he still wasn't making much sense to Vin, but he guessed that really didn't matter. That's what Ezra had meant by just listen.
"Sounds to me like someone got alot smarter, you didn't let him get away with much, JD," Vin said, placing his hand on the boy's back, and taking the end of the rope from JD's hand.
"Not smart enough," JD hung his head.
"You're on your way home and he's in jail, I call that smart enough," Vin said, and meant it and JD heard it.
"There's..stuff.." JD started, not really sure if he wanted to go there with him, but it felt right. He had told Ezra some of the things that Chamberlain had done to him before. JD paused waiting. Vin never asked, he didn't push. He could tell him, Vin would listen. He loved Buck to pieces, but he also knew Buck would just say 'everything would be fine, it's all right' and he didn't need that right now, he didn't want it.
"I don't remember alot of things. I don't know if I want to."
"When your ready you will, and I'll be here," Vin offered.
"You talked to Ezra," JD said, a wry smile on his healing bruised face.
"Yeah, is that cheatin'?" Vin smiled
"Ezra don't 'cheat', you forget that?" JD laughed, stopping short as his ribs reminded him it wasn't a good idea to do that.
"Ezra be right down proud of us, looks like their all packed and ready and we avoided the whole thing. You ready?" Vin asked.
"Yeah," JD said, getting up from the stump and limping beside Vin as they headed to the group of men waiting.
"We ready?" Chris asked.
"Not quite," Ezra said handing JD a package.
"What's this?" JD asked.
"Well, we figured you couldn't go home lookin' like an orphan we picked up on the way," Buck smiled. As JD opened the package.
"Ezra pick this out?" JD asked.
"I'm hurt. You don't know how difficult it was to pick up a shirt of that texture and actually pay money for it my dear boy."
"It's blue," JD said.
"Didn't think you'd want to risk loosing another white one," Chris smiled.
"Thanks, um..can one of ya help me?" JD asked, knowing he still couldn't get his arms in and out of a shirt without it hurting .
"Sure, come on," Buck said.
The two men were gone for a short time and returned.
"Fits a little bit better," Josiah said.
"Yup, and the color matches my face," he said, still tucking it in.
The faces were still. Ezra and Vin hung their heads sporting smiles.
JD lifted his head at the silence. "What? I was kiddin' guys!" JD smiled. "Geez, you have no sense of humor."
"Come on, get up in there," Nathan said, trying to sound aggravated.
The men mounted their horses, pulling beside the wagon. Chris looked over to the kid that was brought here because someone wanted to give him a home as they prepared to take him to the only home the kid belonged at. Four Corners.
"Let's go home boys," Chris said. "Let's go home," he added quietly, thinking of JD.