As the days passed, JD was able to walk more, still sporting a strong limp. The men noticed his appetite had gotten better and everyday he got stronger. Nathan kept a close eye on the young man, knowing that the others would too, but also aid him in doing things he wasn't suppose to be doing.
JD had decided three days in town was enough and he wanted new scenery, so he decided to go for a short and easy ride. He went to the stall and groomed his horse, put on the bridle, and finally saddled her. He was about to get on when he heard a voice from behind him.
"Nathan, say you could do that?" Buck asked.
JD turned to see Ezra, Buck, Vin, and Chris giving him disapproving looks. He mounted, on the wrong side, with ease and the horse totally accepting it.
"No, I did," he looked at the men evenly.
"We'll be outside waitin'," Buck said , with a smile.
"I know how to ride ya know, I don't need a babysitter for cryin' out loud," JD said, not liking the idea of someone coming to watch him. If he had wanted company, he would have asked, pretty sure that the person would have come with him. That's why he loosened the cinches to the others horses before he went to the stable.
"Mr. Dunne, I think it would be in your best interest if you would accept the offer of companionship," Ezra said, in a way that JD was sure showing Ezra's disapproval of going alone.
"I don't need no 'companionship'. I can do this alone just fine thank you," JD let out harshly, causing Chris to step forward a bit, the others doing the same.
"Just hold on now. We ain't sayin' you can't go for a ride, it would be a good idea if someone went with you, that's all," Chris said sternly, but in a kind way.
"I don't want company, no one goes out with Vin, or you or you, or any of ya when ya wanna be alone!" and he kicked his horse, sending her into a run pass the men.
"JD!" Vin yelled.
"Come, on," Chris sounded aggravated and worried. JD had never done anything like this. He and the others knew the kid had been fighting depression in the last few weeks.
"Thought you said he was gettin' better, Vin?" Buck questioned.
"I thought he was," Vin spat back.
"Hey, can we just go find him before you kill each other."
The men got to there horses, Ezra and Buck began to mount, and as the weight went to the saddle, it flipped upside down. Both men stood there mouths falling open, the others trying not to laugh.
"That little son of a bi.." Buck began loudly.
"Hey, that's my brother your talkin' about." Buck cast a glare at Vin.
Vin and Chris mounted then, finding the same thing happened.
"That little shit!" Vin yelled.
"Hey, that's your little brother your talking about," Buck said sarcastically.
"Thats why I can say it!" Vin yelled back, tightening his cinch backup. The others did the same, and in a matter of minutes they were heading out of town.
The distraction worked for JD, no one saw him turn left instead of straight out from town. They all headed out of town thinking he had gone straight, no one looking for a sign anywhere that would indicate other wise. The four men rode for a half an hour, knowing JD wouldn't push his horse hard, and they still hadn't caught him.
"He didn't come this way," Vin stated the obvious.
"No kidding," Buck started, hiding his worry.
"Gentlemen, carrying on in such a manner is, by no means, a productive course of action in retrieving our young friend and your younger sibling," Ezra said in a harsh tone.
"Ezra's right, we'll go back to town and get Nathan and Josiah, we can spilt up that way," Chris stated, turning his horse back.
"You're gonna tell Nathan," Vin accused.
"Yup," Chris answered shortly. To any other man that was a signal of 'not now', but to Vin it was just an answer that needed more questions.
"He's already all over him, this ain't gonna help JD."
"You sayin' this is Nathan's fault?" Chris could never imagine his friend accusing anyone of anything.
"No, but he wasn't helpin'," Vin stated his feelings quietly.
"He was doing what he thought best."
"If I may interject here for a moment."
"What Ezra?" Chris had come to depend on Ezra as of late, sometimes being the voice of reason. He'd seen him in a different way, especially when JD broke his leg.
"We are all well aware of Mr. Dunne's.. 'state of mind' if you will..."
"Get on with it, Ezra," Buck giving his two cents worth.
"I am trying to 'get on with it'," he snapped a look to Buck.
"As I was saying, maybe leaving the boy alone would be the best course of action."
"You lost your mind?" Vin said.
"I assure you my faculties are very much in order, I am merely suggesting we leave Mr. Dunne to his ride, set a time limit, and if he has not returned to us by that pre-determined time, we then set out to retrieve our young friend."
Vin and Buck looked at each other, not believing that Ezra could think of such a thing, Chris would never agree to it.
"Sounds like a good idea, we get back to town, tell Nathan and Josiah, and after an hour, we go find him if we have to," Chris laid out the plan.
"WHAT?" Vin and Buck asked stunned.
"Look, he went through all this trouble," referring to loosening the cinches, "we all know that if he wanted someone to go with him he would have asked, Ezra's right, he just wants to be alone, do somethin' for himself., Chris said looking straight ahead.
"How'd ya' come to that by what Ezra said?" Vin trying to remember where Ezra had said he wanted to do something for himself.
"It ain't what he said, it's what he didn't say," Chris smiled, as they came back into Four Corners
+ + + + + + +
JD rode hard. He really hadn't paid much attention to where he was going. The only thing he had planned was loosening the cinches, and turning left instead of straight out. That was as far as he had planned. He didn't know where he was going or how far he was going, he would know when he got there or felt the time was right.
The time was right after about an hours worth when his horse eased up and finally stopped. JD urged her into a walk, he stopped her as she took two steps, she had come up lame. He dismounted as he would always do, but was reminded of his incapacity as his feet hit the ground, and a sharp gasp came out.
"Well that was stupid," he said to his horse and he limped his way to the right side of his horse. He stroked her neck and with gentle hands ran them over the horse leg. He leaned his shoulder into her.
"Up," he said and she lifted her hoof. After a bit of inspection he found she had picked up a rather large pebble that had caught under her shoe, he removed the source of discomfort and her foot went back to the ground.
He stood back, "Walk," and she did so, still lame, "okay," he said in a calming way, and she stopped. JD limped his way to the horse and rubbed her nose as he looked around, trying to find his bearings.
"Don't suppose you know where we are," he asked his companion.
"Well, unless you were payin' attention when we left, I guess we go back this way," and started to limp back in the direction they had come, the horse gingerly walking behind him.
"Guess we should have planned this a little bit better," he was rewarded by a nudge to his arm, he looked back at his horse, "okay, okay, I should have planned better."
He had no idea how long he'd been riding, but he had been walking only fifteen minutes and the pain in his leg became more painful every time he put it down, causing the limp to be more exaggerated. His head turned to the horse that now walked beside him, reins still on the saddle, like she knew he was hurting and wanted to offer comfort.
"Ain't we a sight, both of us limping around hopin' were goin the right way. Ya see anything familiar?" he chuckled.
The horse's limp was getting better, she had just bruised herself, and anyone else would have ridden her. JD wasn't anyone else, he took care of his horse like Ezra played cards...very well. The two walked for another ten minutes before JD couldn't stand the burning pain in his leg anymore and he began hopping, that lasting only five minutes and then he stopped.
He grabbed the saddle horn and signaled his horse to go on, pulling himself up whenever his bad leg would hit the ground, they continued on with JD 'hopping' at his horse's side, using his horse as a giant crutch.
"I doubt you thought to bring any water with ya?" he paused, like he expected the horse to answer.
"Figures," he grunted out as he brought himself up, his arms now beginning to burn with the effort of lifting, but continued on for another fifteen minutes, before he saw familiar horses coming his way, then urged the horse on again.
"You forget how to ride that thing, little brother?" Vin laughed out.
"No, she picked up a rock," being very short.
Chris dismounted and made his way over to the horse to inspect the hoof. He hadn't noticed the horse limping, but he knew how the kid treated his horse and if he thought she was lame, even in the slightest bit he wouldn't ride her.
"Leg hurtin', huh?" Vin asked in understanding, as he made his way to JD.
"Yeah," suddenly feeling tired and ashamed.
"You wanna ride with me?" Vin asked, realizing that JD needed to have a sense of control.
"Yeah, um..I need some help," he said sheepishly.
"Here, lean on me," Chris offered and they made their way to where Vin's horse was.
"Anytime," Chris smiled as they got JD up on the horse.
+ + + + + + +
Buck and Nathan entered the saloon, making their way to where Josiah and Ezra sat.
"Anything?" Josiah asked, not really needing to from the look on the two men's faces.
"Nothin', I hope Chris and Vin find him."
"I have every confidence they will find our young sheriff," Ezra said.
"This is all my fault, I shouldn't of told him he had to stay in for so long."
"Brother Nate, the boy has had a rough few months, maybe he just needed to deal with them in a proper way," Josiah thought out loud.
"I knew he weren't happy, keepin' to himself more..I.. I just didn't want him to get hurt again..he's been through alot already..and.."
"Nathan, Josiah's right, this ain't your fault."
"Mr. Jackson, young Mr. Dunne's luck, as previously stated, has not been favorable, and there for has not been able to be as independent as he was accustomed to. Riding out of town and sabotaging our attempt to pursue him, only proves the point," the southern gambler said evenly.
"And your point bein'?" Nathan finally asked.
"He wanted to be alone," putting it simply.
"Then why didn't ya just say that Ezra?" Buck asked exasperated.
"He's Ezra, Buck," Josiah answered, there was no other explanation.
"Am I to take that as a derogatory statement against my character?" Ezra raised an eyebrow.
"No, Ezra..everyone's just wound up about the kid," Buck explained.
The three had ridden for a little while in silence. JD sat behind Vin and looking at the ground. Both men knew something wasn't right, Chris noticed JD had that distant look, like he was thinking or questioning something.
They rode into town the way they had started, in silence. The distant look still there.
The sound of horses broke the men in the saloon from their conversation and brought there attention to the three men heading down the street. Chris halted at the saloon and Vin continued on with JD to the boarding house, JD's horse following them.
"He okay, Chris?" Nathan asked
"He ain't hurt," Chris said.
"I'll go check on him," Nathan began.
"Nothin' you can fix, Nate, he's worn out," Chris let out tiredly.
"Do you think his spirit is broken?" Josiah asked knowing all to well that JD was close.
"Spirit? Josiah, he's been a bit down, but his spirit broke? He's got more spirit in his little finger than all of us put together!" Buck almost laughed out, almost. The look on his oldest friend's face told him Josiah wasn't too far off.
"We need to find out."
+ + + + + + +
The five men crossed the street to the boarding house. The door to JD's room was opened by Vin, who's face shown his worry and he was a bit scared. The men walked in to find the young man standing next to the window, arms crossed in front of him, leaning against the sill and staring at the street.
"He ain't said nothin'," Vin said quietly.
"You all right, JD?" Chris finally broke the silence.
JD turned his head to face Chris and the others.
"Yes. I'm fine, why does everyone gotta ask me that?" JD asked, and then answered, "I know, I know, just worried about me. Right, Chris?" not hiding his displeasure at all.
The men were speechless at the youth's tone, JD had never talked in that tone to anyone, much less Chris. Didn't JD realize that talking to Chris Larabee like that usually got men killed.?
"You wanna tell me what the hells gotten into you?" Chris said harshly, meaning it. He knew JD was in a bad place, he'd been there himself. He didn't know why he was there, but Buck had gotten Chris out of it by getting him mad. Buck did the best thing he could do, but he also took the brunt of that anger, and he was prepared for the brunt of JD's.
As the words and tone hit Vin's ears he began to move towards his brother, wanting to protect him from what Chris was doing, not understanding, but was stopped by Buck's hand on his arm. Buck shook his head, and leaned into Vin.
"He knows what he's doin'." Vin still being new at this attachment thing, figured Buck wouldn't let any harm come to him, and stepped back, finding Buck's hand on his shoulder.
"Nothin'," JD stated in a hard manner.
"Look, I ain't mad at you, JD, yeah, I'm worried about you we all are, and I'm sorry that it bothers you. Just tell us why?" Chris's concern was all over his face, and was unsettled that JD appeared to be..angry.
"And what? You can fix it? Make it all go away?" JD spat out. He stepped away from the window and limped his way to stand in front of Chris, face to face.
"No one said we could. JD, this ain't like you, what the hell is this all about?" Chris said, his voice even, but still harsh.
JD feelings we all mixed, all at the same time, he was angry and mad, tired and sore, and doubted his worth and place among these men. He didn't know which emotion to give into.
"I should never had stayed here..you," pointing a finger at Chris, " you.. shoulda threw me back on the stage..I been nothin' but trouble since I got here! Every time I turn around, someone's taking care of me ..cause I..I..I done somethin stupid..or ..or I messed somethin up.! I'm supposed to be sheriff..and ..hell..I can't even do that cause I'm stuck up in a bed somewhere! Everyone knows what's right for me..nobody's asking me what I want!" he yelled and paced awkwardly in front of Chris, all the others could do was watch the kid go off, his angry tears adding to the men's distress.
"Hell...I don't know what I was thinkin' comin' out here, I ain't no gun fighter like the rest of ya, I'm just a stupid stable boy from back East!" his angry tone changed as his strength began to go, giving into all the frustration he'd felt in the past few months, he went on, "I'm just....just tired...Guys...tired of being the one that needs taken ...care of...I'm tired of not bein able to do stuff...and ..I'm just tired of ...of...hurtin all the time.." saying the last part quietly, sitting hard into the corner, bringing his legs to his chest, and hung his head and gave into the sobs.
"JD," Buck said, approaching JD and putting his familiar hand to the boys head, as two tear filled confused hazel eyes looked at him, for comfort or answers he wasn't sure.
"I..I..I just..wanna feel better..Buck, I just wanna fell good again, I don't wanna hurt no more," he sobbed out.
"I know ya do, I know," Buck said trying to choke back his emotions as he sat next to the young man, putting a protective arm around JD.
The five men stood, taking in the sight. Nathan , Ezra, and Vin didn't realize how close to the edge he was. Josiah, Buck, and Chris understood all to well, and were hopeful they were able to reach JD before he went over.
"Son, you are not alone here," the preacher said softly.
"There's just too much.. Josiah, I don't ..I ca.." JD didn't even know what he wanted to say, he was just so overwhelmed.
"You are so strong, in here," Josiah gently lay his hand on JD's chest, "you will win, just as David did."
"With Goliath," JD said soberly.
Chris let out a heavy sigh, and couldn't hide his smile from Vin, the kid was listening, his spirit wasn't broken.
"We worry about ya' cause we care, JD. We get a little carried away sometimes, and I know I speak for everyone when I tell ya we're sorry, well... I know ya gettin sick of hearin' it, but its the truth. It ain't always gonna be you, JD," Nathan smiled as he placed his hand on the boy's head, ever the healer, checking to see if he had a fever.
"I ain't sick, Nate, just..just..don.."
"I know," Nathan smiled as he made his way back to Josiah.
"You are far more than a simple 'stable boy'. I find it very difficult to believe that even as you were employed as such, you were far from simple. You have undone years of 'mother's teachings', and I for one will be eternally grateful," Ezra said honestly, touching the boy's cheek.
"Why didn't you put me back on the stage, Chris?"
"Don't really know, you were pretty stubborn, guess you just reminded me...of Adam," Chris had said the word out loud, and still held the slight smile.
"You see kid, ya done a lot of good. Where do ya think we'd be if'n' you weren't here? This, all of us here, was supposed to happen," Buck added.
"JD, you bring out the good in us. I never counted on no one, ever, I didn't need anyone, but.. Bein here.." Vin got down sitting next to him, moving his head forward to look JD in the eyes, "you got every single one of us usin' words we never thought we'd need...Home and Family..this is Home..and we're family..and I got the best word of all.. I got somethin' that no one else has."
"Me?" JD questioned honestly.
"Yeah, you..my brother."
JD hung his head and smiled, a mere fraction of the life loving smile so full of mischief, but it was a start.
He turned his worried filled eyes on the men in front of him, and attempted to stand. The emotional flood had taken its toll on him physically and he just couldn't find the strength.
"Need a hand?" Chris offered, and JD took it, rewarding the man with another small smile as he stood, and hung his head, the frustration and shame coming back at the fact he still needed help.
Chris put his hand under the boy's chin, bringing his eyes to meet his. "Ya got nothin to be ashamed about son. You've just run yourself down is all, keep your mind strong and before you know it the rest will follow," Chris smiled warmly at the young man in front of him
JD smiled back shyly, he felt his hole body give into the fatigue and with wide eyes looked to Chris, "Help," he said quietly and collapsed into the waiting fatherly arms, that scooped him up.
"JD!" Vin was at Chris's side, where Nathan was already looking after him.
"He's just wore out, Vin, he's okay," Nathan said, not hiding the smile.
"Let's get him to bed," Chris said as he turned to the bed that Josiah and Ezra were already at.
He laid the boy gently in the bed, reminding him again of how many times he done this for Adam, again bringing a smile to the hardened gunslinger.
"Josiah and I will get us all something to eat," the gambler stated, he had lost his charm again.
"Thanks, Ezra, get some broth too, please," Nathan smiled again at the gambler, he nodded and the two left the building.
"Not hungry, just tired," came a very weak and quiet voice, minus the defeated tone.
"I know, it's for when ya wake up, don't need ya spending another week in bed," Nathan soothed.
"Thanks," came the small voice of the young man, too tired to open his eyes.
"Get some sleep little brother," the familiar voice bringing a much needed full smile to the kid's face.
"Okay," and did so.
+ + + + + + +
He was sitting on the porch outside of the saloon tipped in a chair sipping his coffee as he kept his eyes scanning up and down the streets of Four Corners. Vin caught a figure across the street exiting the boarding house and stood from the chair and leaned against the post and raised his cup. The young man waved, and the two simultaneously stepped off the boardwalk, meeting each other in the middle of the street.
"How's your leg?" Vin asked.
"Not bad, this walking stick helps alot, don't hurt so much at night," JD smiled
"You hungry little brother?"Vin asked, knowing his appetite, although not great, was coming back; he asked as they entered the cafe where the rest of the men were.
"A little bit, Josiah, you gonna let me do somethin'?" he asked the preacher, knowing it was Sunday and the church had not been worked on since the day he broke his leg.
The preacher nodded his head, "Thought I'd let you smooth some pews for me," Josiah smiled.
The men all laughed, knowing that that's what had started the chain of events.
"Guess I'll pass," JD smiled.
All the men smiled again, everything was coming back to normal, or as normal as possible for the Seven men.
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