Disclaimer: I own no rights to Magnificent Seven and its characters; I did not create this AU. I receive no financial reward for writing this.
Summary: Little Britches OW. JD follows Vin out early one morning to practice shooting his slingshot. The two boys get far more than they expected.
Warning: Includes animal violence toward a child.
Note: Previously published in the Hoosier Gathering 2007 fanzine.
Dedicated to Joy K., our amazing AU keeper, for the plot bunny! The story came from an article she found about a similar attack that took place in Indiana! Ft. Wayne, in fact.
"Sheesh! JD, would ya hurry up?" Vin Tanner did his best to imitate his adopted father's glare. The recipient of that look only stuck out his tongue by way of reply. The two boys, orphans who had found a home with five very different men, were tromping through the fields behind the little homestead they now called home. Vin, his longer legs carrying him over the hard earth more quickly, had lost his patience with the smaller boy.
The sun was only now lighting the sky. Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington would be up soon but, as the two men had spent most of the night tending a sick colt, the boys would be on their own for a while.
Vin's hands were full; in one he carried his slingshot, and in the other he carried an empty whiskey bottle. He had managed to tuck it away yesterday when they were in town. He had found it on top of a rubbish bin behind the saloon, a tiny crack deeming it useless by the adults. He had the perfect use or it, though. He was going to use it to practice his sharp shooting! David Potter had bet him two pennies that he could out shoot him. Vin's stubborn pride wouldn't allow him to say no, and he had quickly accepted the bet. It made little difference to him that he didn't even have one penny to his name.
"Slow down!" JD whined as his chubby, short little legs protested the pace. They were getting near the hills, the terrain beginning to climb and their way now often blocked by boulders. At times the thought of being left alone when it was still nearly dark brought a sense of fear to the child.
The eight-year-old started, whipping around at the sound of his name being screamed. And the fact that it was followed by more screams, and accompanied by a different sound, sent his heart racing. The other sound was wild, the scream of a cougar.
First to meet his terrified gaze was the sight of a large, muscular, tawny body. As he watched, the animal leapt on JD, the little brunet frozen to the spot in abject terror.
Skinny legs were already pumping hard before young Tanner's mind recognized that he was in flight, heading directly toward the danger. Once in action, that keen young mind began to form a plan, discarding and revising in the blink of an eye.
No time to find rocks to arm it.
Nothing close by to produce a heavy enough one.
The cat would get him, too, and JD wouldn't have anyone to fend off the attack.
Dropping the slingshot he raised the bottle above his head with both hands. Silently he attacked, the animal too intent on JD to even recognize the danger.
The bottle began its downward arc.
JD was screaming louder as the strong jaws closed over the top of his head.
The cougar growled deep in its throat.
The animal let go of the younger boy and stumbled away a few steps. Before it could recover, Vin stabbed at it with the jagged end of the bottle, still held in his trembling hands. Gouging at one of the cat's eyes with it, he cried out, "YEA! GIT! GIT OUTTA HERE!"
To the child's relief and amazement the injured creature staggered off, trailing blood behind it. Taking a few seconds to calm himself down, Vin turned to JD. He was shocked to find the other boy slumped down on the ground, trembling, but not saying a word. Blood was coursing down his head, in his eyes and dripping on his shirt. In a shaking voice, Vin said, "J-J D?"
Tiny Dunne blinked, looking toward him, but it didn't seem like he was really seeing or hearing his friend.
"C'mon, we gotta get outta here. We gotta get home so Pa and Buck can fix ya up and git that darn cat." Vin tugged at the trembling child until he managed to get JD to his feet. That accomplished, he pulled one of JD's arms across his shoulders and wrapped one of his arms around his friend like he'd seen Nathan do when he had to help someone up to his clinic.
The trip home seemed to take forever. JD stumbled and tripped every few feet, sometimes pulling both of them to the ground. Then Vin would have to get them both on their feet and start pulling the blood-soaked child after him. At the same time he kept watching out for the cougar. He knew that the animal could return at any moment and, hurt, he would be meaner than usual.
"C'mon, JD, we gotta keep goin'. We need ta git home, so Pa and Buck can fix ya up."
"I want my Papa!" It was the first thing the little burnet had said since being attacked.
"I know, JD, but we gotta git home. Him and Pa don't know where we are, so we gotta git to 'em. C'mon now, keep up!"
"I want my Papa!"
As if the big brunet had heard the son of his heart's cry, Buck Wilmington was suddenly before them, sitting astride his horse. Beside him was Vin's adopted father; Chris Larabee looked like a storm cloud topping the rise, his black duster flapping and billowing in the wind.
"Papa! Papa! I got eated by a cooder!"
Little Tanner heard his father cry out, the rest of his words obliterated by shock as, eyes wide in horror, Vin saw both Buck and Chris pull their rifles, aiming toward them. Crying out, the older child pulled the younger down, curling over his injured little friend just as he heard a pair of rifle blasts. They sounded like claps of thunder and he couldn't help but cry out as the twin sounds echoed away. Before he could manage to move, a pair of strong hands lifted him up, and he managed to open his eyes. "Pa!"
Larabee crushed the tiny body against him, trying unsuccessfully to stop his own trembling as he did his best to calm the child he held. "Sh, it's okay, Cowboy. It's okay."
"We need to get JD home, quick!" Both blonds looked to see that Buck was cradling a bloody child to him.
Without another word, both men climbed back on their horses, their sons safe in their arms. Vin had just a second to glimpse the dead body of the cougar, splayed out just yards from where he and JD had been. With a gasp, he turned, hiding his face in his father's shirtfront.
They made it back to the homestead in record time, Buck dismounting and dropping the reins to ground tie his horse. Nearby, Chris took only a split second to decide that it would be far easier to just take Vin with him, than to try and untangle the little boy from his clothing and convince him to stay with Buck.
"I'll be back soon as I can with Nathan!" He waited only long enough to get an agreeing nod from his old friend before coaxing his black back to a run, heading toward town.
"He'll be okay, long as there's no infection." Nathan announced as he finished wrapping boiled cloth around the unconscious little boy's head.
Vin managed one look, but whimpered at the sight of most of JD's head covered in white cloth. Leaning back in against the broad chest of his father, he asked in a quivering voice, "Is he g-gonna die, Uncle Nathan?"
Wiping his hands off on a cloth before he came closer, Jackson leaned down until he was at eye level with the eight-year-old. "No, he's not gonna die, Vin. He's gonna hurt for a time, and he's gonna have to be careful 'til I take those stitches out, but he'll be fine."
"I promise." Secretly the healer hoped that he wouldn't have to eat those words but he was being honest. Unless the unforeseeable happened, JD Dunne would be fine very soon.
"When's he gonna wake up?"
"Probably not until tomorrow. I gave him some medicine to make him go to sleep. That way I could fix his hurts without him feeling it."
Gently stroking the long, blond locks, Chris asked softly, "Now, young man, I want to know what you boys were doing out there all by yourselves so early in the morning."
"We... well..." Vin began to play with a stray thread on his adopted father's shirt sleeve.
"Vin." The big man's voice didn't change, but there was an unmistakable warning in his tone.
"I wanted ta go practice usin' my slingshot 'cause me an' David is gonna have a shootin' contest and JD wanted ta go with me so I took him with me and he wouldn't keep up with me and then he hollered and I turned around and there was that big ol' cat tryin' ta eat 'im and I hit it with the bottle I was gonna practice on and so the cat taked off and me and JD came home." The little boy finally stopped his headlong tumble of words to take a breath.
The three men barely hid chuckles at the uncharacteristically long speech from the normally taciturn child. Finally Chris managed to say, "I don't suppose you're going to be doing anything like that again."
"Good. Now then, I do think that you should do JD's chores for the next week, don't you?"
Vin sighed. Even though he had more chores than JD, he didn't look forward to adding more chores to his day. Besides, JD had begged him to come along; it was his own fault that he almost got eaten by that darn cougar...
That thought stopped the little blond cold, as he realized just how close his younger friend came to being dead. In a tiny squeak, he said, "Yes, sir."
Hugging the boy close, trying hard to banish the visions of what could have happened, Chris leaned his cheek against the top of the tousled blond head. "Good. Now, how about we go take care of the horses?"
Buck watched as his old friend and their oldest ward left the little house. He caught his breath as he, too, suddenly envisioned what could have been. Turning toward his adopted son, he reached out and touched one cool little cheek. "Son," he whispered, "you're gonna make me old before my time."
Nathan had stood quietly to the side while the two men dealt with the near tragedy in their own ways. Now he came forward, reaching out to squeeze one of Wilmington's broad but slumped shoulders. "He's gonna be fine, Buck. Little ones are pretty resilient. I'd imagine that you're gonna have your hands full in a couple days, when he starts feeling better."
Managing a trembling smile, Buck said, "I hope you're right, Nathan. I don't think -" he broke off, his voice cracking as the barely restrained emotions welled up inside him.
"Now you listen to me, Buck Wilmington. That boy of yours is darn lucky. Those bite marks weren't nearly as bad as they could have been and, when they heal, you'll hardly notice a scar. He's gonna be fine; you need to believe that. Don't go borrowin' trouble, you hear?"
Nodding absently, his attention on the child still lying atop a sheet covered table. "It okay to move him?"
"Yeah, but you'll need to warn Vin to be careful. The last thing JD needs right now is a lot of jostlin' around."
"Not gonna have to worry about that." Buck scooped the bandaged child up gently and carried him from the little kitchen.
Behind him, Nathan watched with a knowing smile, as the big man carried his precious burden into his own bedroom. He could picture the little boy safely tucked up against his adopted father for the next few nights. Shaking his head, he moved to clean up and put away his instruments.
Chris and Buck looked at one another and shook their heads as the irritated sounds came from outside the barn. With a shrug, Buck went to the door to see what the problem was.
"Papa!" JD cried out, the call more angry than fearful. "Make Vin give me a turn!"
The tall brunet looked to see their older charge dashing around the corner of the barn. "Vin, what are you up to?"
"Nothin'," came the muffled voice. This was followed by a squeal, and Vin Tanner suddenly reappeared, dangling from one perspiration soaked, dark-sleeved arm. Chris carried the boy around, setting him on the ground beside their younger ward.
"Now, what are you up to, young man?"
Vin mumbled something, his little chin on his chest, staring at the ground as he scuffed at the dry earth.
"Come again?" When the inaudible mumble was repeated, he said, sternly, "Try it again, and this time I want to hear what you say."
With a sigh, Vin managed to look up into his father's frowning face. "I said I was practicin' with my slingshot."
"Yeah, and he wouldn't let me take a turn!" JD grumbled, attempting a glare. Most of the boiled cloth had been removed, but he still wore a wide swath around his forehead. "I wanna practice, too!"
"Nu-uh, you just wanna do it 'cause I'm practicin'!" Vin glared back.
Drawing the subject of their argument from the older boy's hands, Chris said, "I don't think either of you boys need to be practicing. There's not going to be any slingshot competition, either. Hear me?"
The two boys sighed in unison, heads dropping as they muttered agreement.
"Now, both of you, go wash up, and get ready. We're going in to see Nathan so he can check JD's head."
While Vin scurried off to comply, JD tarried, calling over his shoulder as he headed toward the house. "I'm gonna show Casey my s'itches, and David and Katie, and Joey and..."
His voice faded away as he neared the house. Behind him the two adults looked at one another, shaking their heads. Nathan was right. Children are resilient.
June 2, 2007