Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em...damnit!
Ratings/Warnings: Some violence
Betad by Phyllis, thank you, honey!
This was inspired by a fabulous vid on You Tube by Sheepglomper http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=J3cz0SIs0hw which, for me, showcases beautifully the wonderful relationship in the show between JD and Buck.
JD Dunne sat in the saloon, looking down as he was trying to combat the boredom of a quiet trip out of town. Allowing his thoughts to stray, JD thought of home, his friends, riding, being anywhere but here. The notion of a trip to Carson City had seemed appealing, but now...it had become a drudge. He sighed and looked up as Buck joined him, a smile on the man's handsome face.
"There won't be another stage through here till Wednesday."
"Wednesday?" the Easterner groaned, "We should have stayed in Carson, I can't believe we got stranded in this...this..."
Words failed him as he looked around the dreary backwater town of Tyler's Creek. Their connecting stage was overdue and JD wished they had traveled on horseback, now.
Buck put his arm around JD's shoulders. "Boy...think of this as an... opportunity. Fine ladies, a warm saloon, good..." he paused. "...uh, food...we just have to wire Chris...hey, where we goin'?"
JD was pulling his friend out of the saloon and toward the livery. "I ain't stayin' here, Buck. Chris said no gettin' into trouble...we can get into a whole lot of trouble in two days."
"Aww, come on, kid," Buck stopped the younger man in his tracks, grinning as he pulled him back.
"Me an' you'll be just fine. Way I see it...you can't keep trouble from visitin', but you don't have to offer it a chair."
That evening, Buck was true to his word, flirting a little with the ladies, but generally sticking with JD and drinking in moderation. Now JD was feeling guilty as well as despondent. As much as he wanted them to stay out of trouble, he didn't want his friend to not have a good time. Making a decision, he picked up his hat from the table and rose from his chair. Buck held his arm.
"Where ya goin'?"
"Thought I'd go to bed," JD answered, "See you later?"
Buck frowned. "Why now? Hey, wait up, I'll come back with you."
The youth sat back down, struggling to find the right words. "Just didn't wanna spoil your evening."
Buck laughed, and looked at him fondly. "You'll surely spoil it if you leave."
The two friends grinned at each other and ordered another drink.
While the two were sitting and talking in the saloon, JD relaxed. Maybe just this once they actually could have a trouble-free stay. Buck was virtually ignoring the saloon girls; Dunne smiled, realizing it was for his benefit and felt privileged his friend would give a damn about his feelings. Buck simply seemed content to just eat, drink and think about heading for bed...his own. That was until *she* arrived.
Buck was clearly interested in the attractive female that was now sitting in his lap and nuzzling his earlobe. A quick glance from the ladies' man to the easterner was all JD needed to realize Buck would not be taking to his own bed tonight. With a nod, the younger man got up and headed out.
Locked in a passionate kiss, Buck was unaware of two men lurking in the gloom of the saloon, watching him. After a whisper to one another, they skulked off. Minutes later, the brunet was being led to a back room for what he hoped would be an interesting night with a woman that had completely captivated him.
Pain registered instantly as JD was hauled from his bed. Sleepily, he looked at his attackers, but the dark room made it impossible to see details. He barely had time to register the knife, when he felt it under his chin.
"Where is he?"
JD winced as the blade dug into the flesh in his neck.
"Wh...where's who?" He gasped as he felt a sharp pain and something warm trickling down the outside of his throat.
"Wrong answer. Where did your friend take my girl? I know he's with her, he was seen."
"I...I don't know...aaaahh." JD wondered if this man was about to slit his throat as he applied pressure. "I swear, I went to bed before him." He relaxed slightly as he felt the knife move away, only to collapse onto the bed as his lungs screamed for air, after being gut- punched. His attacker pulled JD's head up by his hair as the youth tried desperately to work out whether the punch had been accompanied by the knife.
"Be grateful I believe you." With those words, the man slammed JD's head into the nightstand next to him and threw the now limp form back onto the bed, the boy bouncing on his stomach before laying splayed out, unconscious, one arm and leg dangling over the edge of the bed.
Buck couldn't help whistling to himself, the gray of morning just breaking through as he strode across the street. He positively bounced up the stairs to his and JD's room, opening the door quietly and chuckling at his best friend's relaxed position on his bed. Buck sat on the edge of his own cot, pulling off each boot while hoping he could get in a few more hours sleep, when he saw it...a small bloodstain on the bedspread, just under JD's neck.
Buck dropped to his knees, hissing as he touched the boy's face and realizing he wasn't asleep, but unconscious. Removing his neckerchief, the brunet poured some water from the jug into the basin on the nightstand and, soaking the cloth, he wiped his friend's face, relieved on hearing a soft moan. He pushed damp hair from the boy's face.
"JD...JD, kid...can you hear me?"
"Attaboy, come on, look at Buck."
"Buck..." The word was a mere whisper, but Wilmington was heartened by it. A few minutes later JD was propped up against the headboard, desperately trying to focus on his friend's face as he held a cloth to his neck. Wilmington was furious.
"Who did this?"
JD swallowed. "No idea"
"Well...what did they want?"
JD turned away to avoid eye contact, unwilling to admit to anything. Buck guessed.
"Me? Damnit. Would you recognize them again?"
"No, it was dark."
Wilmington helped his friend down in the bed. "Okay, rest easy now. We'll talk later."
In seconds the boy was asleep. Buck looked at the bruised face, his expression feral.
"I'm gonna kill 'em."
His head still throbbing, JD pushed his breakfast around his plate. Buck watched him as they sat together later that morning, in the saloon, the bruising on JD's cheek more pronounced, now.
"You okay, kid?"
Resisting the urge to make a fuss, Buck continued scanning the saloon in the hope of pinpointing the man who had attacked his friend during the night. On hearing the voices of two men walking through the batwing doors, JD's head went up and his expression told Buck it was one of them. Buck went to rise, JD gripped his jacket.
"Let it go, Buck, wait until he's outside."
The brunet considered that for all of a second, then made his way over to the table the two men had just sat down at.
"You looking for me?"
The men looked up at him, then back to their drinks. Buck rested his hands on the table and leaned over. "I'll ask again...is one of you ugly-lookin' sissy boys the man who beat up on a kid to git to me?"
Buck's eyes followed one man to his feet, straightening himself as both men reached full height.
"Are you the horny bastard that took up with m' girl last night?"
Buck smirked. "Well, let's see, you say she's yours...which would suggest she came with me against her will, but as I recall, durin' all that screamin' she was doin' last night, the only word I heard her use was 'yes'," Buck grinned wider, "a lot ."
In a fury, the man flung the table between them aside and launched himself at Wilmington.
"Tom," his companion shouted, but to no avail.
JD watched Buck saunter over to the man whose voice he had recognized. Realizing this would not end well, JD began to get to his feet, just in time to see the man attack his friend. In moments, JD was at Buck's side as the two men traded punches. In the meantime, Tom's cohort had slipped out to the sheriff's office and soon the ladies' man was being hauled off to jail by the sheriff and one of his deputies and, despite JD only having been a bystander while trying to pull Buck away from Tom, he was dragged off with him. As the cell doors slammed closed, JD clung to the bars and shouted to the deputy. "Can I send a telegram? Mister, I need to send a telegram." Having ignored JD twice, eventually the deputy gave in and jotted down the easterner's message, his final words, to confirm to who and where it was going. JD sighed with relief as his instructions were repeated. . "Yeah, his name's Larabee, Four Corners, thanks." JD turned from the now retreating deputy and glared at Buck as he sat on the cot in the jail.
"We ain't gonna git into any kinda trouble," JD mimicked. He rested his aching head against the cool bars. "Chris is gonna be real mad with us, Buck."
Buck sat back against the wall, dabbing at his bleeding nose with his hand. "Well, he can only kill us once."
JD snorted as he sat next to his friend. "I wouldn't bet on that."
The pair looked at each other. Buck grinned and nudged JD and the two laughed.
Larabee glared at his smirking companions. "Ain't funny."
"Surely, Mister Larabee, you must see some humor in this. You sent them by stagecoach to help avoid confrontation, only to find that is precisely what they found."
The gunslinger looked at Ezra, "Well, when you put it like that..." he tilted his head, "Nope still ain't funny."
"So we gonna go get 'em?" Vin asked as he slouched down in his chair, his legs crossed at the ankles.
Larabee took a shot of whiskey and rested back in his own chair. "Nope."
"Now, Chris...you surely don't mean that?"
"Oh, I do, preacher. They made their jail bed, they can damn well enjoy lying in it."
Nathan puffed on his cigar as he surveyed the faces around him. Despite the casualness of their positions, it was obvious each man was bristling with curiosity and maybe a little concern.
All eyes turned to Vin. Chris sat bolt upright.
"Damnit, don't play that card, Tanner, it's likely JD got them into this."
Josiah flashed a hard stare at the blond, his voice flat and accusing. "You can't mean that."
Larabee sighed and shifted slightly in his chair. He scrubbed at his hair as he looked at the faces around the table.
"No...no, I don't. He's settled down nicely, learned not to jump inta things too quickly...he didn't deserve that." He stood, smiling as they all stood with him. "I'll wire the Judge, tell 'im we'll be gone a coupla days. Figure we may all be needed, seein' as they're both in jail."
With a nod, the five men set off to prepare for their journey.
Horrified, JD hollered out, fighting the men holding him in an attempt to get to Buck, but he was seized firmly, just inside the open jail cell, while events unfolded in the front office. He felt sickened as he watched punch after punch land on his best friend's face and body, while two men, one being the second deputy, held him while Tom laid into him.
Tom turned and taking several steps forward, backhanded JD hard, twice, satisfied to see the youth wilt in his captors' arms.
"He's right," Buck rasped out, licking the blood from his lip, "you *are* a coward; he's just a kid and had no part in this."
Tom smiled, moving back toward Wilmington. "He's with you and that's enough for me and by the time we've finished with you two...you'll wish this is all we were doing." He looked at the deputy, then to his men.
"Get 'em outta here, tie 'em up and throw 'em in the wagon." He walked over and fisted Buck's shirt. "We're goin' on a little ride. You're gonna regret the day you came to this town and messed with us."
The five peacekeepers were half way to their destination when Chris had an overwhelming urge to go faster, pushing his horse on with determination. Without question, the other four followed suit, trusting their leader's instincts while feeling more than a little apprehensive. They would hopefully make it by nightfall.
Shackled to the frame of the moving wagon, Buck looked at JD, his heart heavy. What in blue blazes had he gotten them into? He watched the young easterner sitting quietly in the wagon bed, hazel eyes never moving from the man he trusted with his life.
JD hated to admit he was afraid, but he was...not for himself, but for Buck. These men were mightily pissed at the big guy and JD feared they intended to kill him. His wrists burned from the bonds, a stark reminder he was powerless to help if he remained like this.
Coming up on a stand of trees, the wagon jerked to a halt, causing Buck and JD to slide awkwardly. The two men driving the wagon jumped into the back and untied the ropes attached to the frame, roughly handing Buck and JD over to the two that had followed on horseback and were now at the tailgate waiting to take the two friends. They both struggled against their captors, each receiving a punch to their ribs for their trouble while throwing each other concerned looks as Buck was dragged to the left and JD to the right.
"On your knees."
Buck was pushed to the ground by the third man, his eyes never leaving the form of his little brother. Wilmington obeyed, fear building in his heart as he watched the other two men take off JD's jacket and hat and re-tie his hands. Buck's heart leapt to his throat as another rope was looped through JD's bonds and handed to the fourth man, who was now back on his horse. Aware of a presence before him, Buck looked up, squinting as the sun caught his eyes until Tom's features blocked it out. He snatched the hat from Buck's head.
"You think it's funny to take what ain't yours? Well this should really make you laugh. But, maybe we could do a deal. How about you beg? Beg for your friend's life...and if I like what I hear...I'll spare 'im."
Buck looked over at JD's wide eyes, the boy's dark bangs swinging with the vigorous shaking of his head.
"Buck...no...NO!" JD was horrified; there was no way he could allow this man to beg for his life.
Wilmington swallowed, but answered instantly. "Please...I'm begging... don't hurt him."
Tom smiled, a cold humorless smirk as he looked at the man on his knees, arms outstretched, pleading before him.
"Not convincing enough." He turned and nodded to the man on the horse.
Buck's howl was ignored as the rider spurred his horse on and JD was yanked forward by his bonds, maintaining his balance for a few moments as the horse built up speed, to finally trip and fall, and be dragged along, mercilessly, behind.
JD tried desperately to breathe through the clouds of flying dust while his body bounced and twisted painfully across the ground at speed.
Buck pleaded. "Stop...STOP...you' ll kill him...what do you want from me? I'm on my knees begging here...STOP!"
Tom made a signal and the rider slowed to eventually stop.
There was no time to think as JD was suddenly propelled forward, his arms outstretched before him, the rope's slack disappearing when the horse moved forward. For a few seconds his feet kept up the pace, but then he suddenly caught his foot and he dropped, face down into the dust and shale that covered the ground. Focusing on trying to breath, JD barely registered the sharp stones penetrating his clothes to bite into tender flesh, battered and bruised as he coughed and gulped in clearer air when the horse stopped. He moaned, softly.
Eyes filling, Buck choked back emotion as he saw the bloody mess that was his closest friend. His heart ached and was unable to hide the fury as he growled at Tom.
"Stop this now, you bastard...it's me you're pissed at...leave him alone."
Their tormentor shook his head. "I reckon you still haven't learned anythin' have ya?"
Buck went for the man, but the third captor moved and smacked the butt of his rifle into Wilmington's back. Trying to breathe through the pain, alarm set in as a signal once again set the horse in motion, JD dragging along behind it, riding out his torture at first, then, to Buck's horror, going limp, to eventually stop just feet from the ladies' man.
He had only just resumed a rhythm with his breathing, when the easterner was moving again. Every bump registering this time and he did everything he could think of to soften the impacts...the only thing finally effective was the bounce that caused him to land head first and send him into welcoming darkness.
Buck was in hell. His heart was wanting to rip these men's heads off, while his head told him to stay quiet. If JD was still alive, he wouldn't survive another ride like that and Wilmington knew, if he talked out of turn, this bastard would do it. He watched Tom walk over to JD's prone body and toe it, laughing as he did so. Buck felt a flutter of hope as Dunne's eyelashes flickered and pain-filled eyes looked toward him.
Tom turned to Wilmington. "Well. I reckon we're about done, here. You needed ta understand what it feels like to have somethin' taken from you. Be glad I didn't treat him the same way you treated my girl."
He started to walk away, then turned. Drawing his gun from its holster Tom fired and watched in satisfaction as Buck collapsed. "Let's get outta here."
Turning the wagon, the four rode away, not even looking back.
Eyes wide with alarm, JD saw Buck collapse to the sound of a gunshot. Despite the panic in his heart, and a desperate call to the man, pain and exhaustion overtook him and he once again fell unconscious.
Hearing JD call out, Buck lay there for a few moments as the four rode away, to eventually pass out, his last thoughts being for the welfare of the boy just feet away from him.
Larabee was not happy. This God-forsaken little town had taken longer to get to than they had anticipated, causing them to camp out for a second night. One of the two deputies, Zeke Mull, looked out of the jailhouse window to see five men ride quietly into town. He turned to the other deputy who was sat with his feet on the desk.
"Why d'ya say Tom turned them two fellas loose?"
"Said he couldn't be bothered with it," the man lied. "We got company?"
Zeke nodded. "I wonder if it's that Larabee fella I wired."
The other man jumped to his feet. "You wired someone?"
Mull nodded. "Yup, the kid asked me ta wire a Larabee of Four Corners. I reckon this could be him, kid said he'd be pissed at havin' ta come out here, and man, does that guy in black look pissed, mind you, so do the other four with him." He looked around, surprised, as his partner snatched up his hat and ran out of the door, leaving him wondering if he was going for the sheriff to tell him they had visitors.
While Josiah and Nathan took care of the horses, Chris, Vin and Ezra strode purposefully toward the jailhouse, Larabee pushing open the door firmly, to scan the interior, his eyes finally resting on Zeke.
"Where are my men?"
Mull stood to offer his hand, withdrawing it awkwardly as the men in front of him ignored it.
"Was it you that wired me?" Chris threw back.
Mull nodded, "Yessir, but I reckon you came out here for nothin', they left already."
"When did they leave?" Vin removed his hat and drew his fingers through his sweat-dampened hair as he spoke, his calm demeanor disguising the bad feeling creeping over him. He walked over to the cells, scrutinizing the area.
"Don't rightly know," the deputy answered honestly. "I left th'other deputy on duty...sheriff was outta town for the day, I came back to do my shift an' Pokey said Tom had dropped the charges an' let 'em go."
"May I inquire as to whom 'Pokey' and 'Tom' are?" Ezra asked.
"Pokey's th'other deputy an' Tom's the guy whose girl the big guy messed with an' caused 'em ta brawl in a public place."
Larabee and Standish exchanged knowing glances.
"What about the kid?" Chris pushed.
"Aww, he was just in the middle of it all, standin' next to..." Zeke paused for thought. "They brothers or sump'n?"
Chris smirked. Ezra spoke.
"Some would say so, yes. Where might we find this 'Pokey', or 'Tom' that you speak of?"
"Blood here...an' here." They all turned to see the tracker squatting down and pointing to a few places on the floor. "It's perty fresh." He stood and joined the others.
Mull turned away from Vin and shrugged at Chris, answering Ezra's question. "Dunno. Pokey took off when I said you were here..." He watched, surprised as the three men hurried out through the door.
Outside, they met Josiah and Nathan. Chris's face was stern.
"Did you see anyone lookin' like he would rather be someplace else?"
Realizing this would not be a good time to rib, Josiah nodded.
"Four fellas just made a hasty entrance into the livery, seemed a mite skittish on seeing us. Why?"
The four men did so. As Larabee stepped into the livery, he called over to four men saddling their horses.
The man turned, instantly baulking at the five men standing there, turning even paler when they drew their guns. While the other three men were covered, Chris stepped forward and slammed Tom against a support post, pushing the barrel of his gun into the side of the man's nose.
"I wanna know where my friends are..." he growled as he cocked the hammer, "...now."
"What makes you think...?"
"I don't think...I know." Chris lifted the man's fist and held it up, exposing scraped knuckles. He pulled Tom forward to once again slam him back.
"Now...for the last time..." Chris clenched his teeth, hissing out his words. "...where are they?"
Someone was moaning, he could hear it clearly. Then Buck realized it was him. He tried to move off the ground, but the pain was unbearable, only just turning onto his side before he threw up. Shaking like a new-born foal, his eyes opened and he looked around, a pained cry emanating from dry lips and throat on seeing JD lying in the dust. Determination winning out over pain, Buck slowly dragged himself over to the prone form, resting for a moment upon reaching his prize.
Realizing JD was unconscious, Buck looked beyond him to the trees.
"C'mon, son...gotta get outta this heat." Latching onto JD's tattered vest, Buck crawled over to the welcoming shade, awkwardly dragging JD along with him. On reaching the trees, the brunet sat back against one, crying out in pain as he pulled JD onto his thighs to rest across them. He barely had time to place his hand on the boy's head before he passed out.
Five men, the sheriff and Deputy Mull rode out from the town at breakneck speed; the town's blacksmith bringing up the rear with a wagon...Larabee was taking no chances. Tom had made it clear...his two friends were not in good condition. Now languishing in jail, Tom and his cohorts couldn't be specific, but the peacekeepers had a direction and some landmarks, all they could hope for was that their two friends had not only survived their injuries, but the extreme temperatures the hot day and cold night had exposed them to.
Buck shivered in the early morning air, vaguely aware of something very warm under his hand. Cracking open one eye, he looked down to see it was resting on JD's bloody back, wincing with the realization his friend was burning up. Hell...now that he had to think on it, he wasn't doing much better himself. Buck lifted his hand to gently card his fingers through the damp dark hair, grimacing again on feeling something sticky, lifting his hand to see blood on his fingers from a knot on JD's head.
"Aww son...I'm so sorry...please wake up, JD, c'mon boy...you with me?"
Now he noticed how JD was breathing, shallow raspy breaths...'poor kid', he thought, 'probably hurt some ribs'. He felt the tiniest of movements and he continued stroking through JD's hair in an effort to ground him.
"Attaboy, c'mon now...stay with me."
His chest hurt, felt heavy, like...like several people sitting on him all at once, and his arm...his back...his legs...his head. Jeez, what the hell had he been doing? He felt a solid presence beneath his ear, a warmth...maybe too warm...soft movements through his hair. He should open his eyes...well, one eye...the other one didn't seem to be working. 'I hear ya, Buck...I'm coming...'
"Uuuhhh." That was so not the sound he wanted to let out.
"Easy, kid...don't try movin'...just relax."
"I know, JD," Buck kept his hand on the youth's head. "They're comin'... I just know it, hang on for me, okay?"
"'K." Something tugged at JD's mind, making him restless , driving him to move to see Buck, crying out at the pain it caused.
"NO...no, kid, keep still now, ya hear?"
Dunne's breathing became erratic as he fought the pain his movements had stirred up, slowly he gained control.
Buck had to smile...the kid actually remembered that, after all he'd been through. "Yeah...it's nuthin', I can hold on if you can. Can ya do that for me, son?" He saddened as he realized JD was out of it again and went back to stroking through JD's hair.
"Chris is coming...the boys are coming, JD. Hang on for me, I need you, ya hear? I need you, don't leave."
Buck could take no more, His heart was heavy from the guilt he was carrying and knowing the pain JD must be in. And his own body was broken. His shoulder burned and refused to move and felt wet so he must still be bleeding. Neither man had taken fluids for almost a day... bad enough under normal circumstances, but they were both bleeding. Intertwining his fingers in JD's hair, Buck sighed, closed his eyes, and welcomed the beckoning darkness.
Tanner leapt back on his horse, pointing. "That way."
Larabee nodded and they pushed on. A half hour later, the stand of trees was in sight and Chris' heart clenched at the sight of the distant huddled forms, urging his horse into a breakneck speed. In less than a minute, the peacekeepers and their group were with them.
Before his horse had stopped, Chris was off and at Buck and JD's side. He dropped to his knees, his hands hovering over JD, unsure of where to touch him due to the ripped clothing, ragged patches of exposed skin and smears of blood which had spread and converged to become a blanket of color across the young man's torso. Instead, he touched Buck's face, relieved to hear a soft moan.
"Buck...Buck, it's Chris...come on, big guy...open those eyes." He hissed on seeing the injury, as his fingers pulled back the brunet's bloody shirt, grateful to see Nathan approaching.
"Right here, Buck." Larabee moved slightly so Josiah, Vin and Ezra could move JD.
"N...NO!" Buck's hand blindly sought out the younger man. Chris held it.
"Easy...easy now, we have to move JD to treat him...and you...okay?"
Wilmington opened his eyes a little. "Hurt...h...he's hurt..."
Chris swallowed. "We know...and so are you. Just rest easy...let Nathan take care of you." He was shocked as Buck started panicking.
"No...no...JD...help him...I...I'm fi..." Before he could finish, he passed out. Chris looked at Nathan for iformation.
"Bullet went straight through. We need to git him back to the clinic, but I don't reckon either of them can travel that far," the healer informed.
The blond nodded and looked over to JD who was being held by Vin as Ezra attempted to get water into the youth and Josiah tried to remove the sodden shirt. The tracker met his gaze, the sadness in his eyes evident. Chris made a decision.
"Let's get out of here."
The journey back to town had been agonizingly slow. Buck had drifted in and out of consciousness, his shoulder bandaged, but with his jacket draped over it. JD hadn't stirred once. Nathan had positioned them in the wagon next to each other; JD propped up slightly to ease his breathing, his head and upper body heavily bandaged to cover his wounds. As Nathan traveled in the back with Buck and JD, the Blacksmith steered, the four men escorting the wagon looking in occasionally to see how their friends were doing. The sheriff and his deputy had traveled ahead to arrange accommodation for the men.
Vin sighing heavily as JD's jacket and hat rested just in front of him on his saddle horn, glancing occasionally at his two injured friends and the black healer doing everything he could to ease their suffering.
Josiah's eyes were full. He cared deeply for his friends and it about broke his heart to see two of them in such pain. He thanked God JD was out of it, and that Buck was none too aware, either. As they traveled, he whispered prayers for his friends, for those who were injured, and for those who were hurting because of it.
Ezra was tired of acting as if he didn't care...he did and he could live with it. He felt bad that his friends were hurt...and that he was in no position to aid them physically. All he could do was escort them to a safe place and watch over them. He smiled, then glanced over at the two men...and that's exactly what he would do, watch over them.
Nathan was afraid. Buck was injured badly, but he felt confident it was an injury the big man could survive. He didn't, however, feel confident about Buck's mental well-being over JD's injuries. As for JD, Nathan was far more concerned than he had let on. The boy's fever was raging and it was this, more so than the injuries, he feared may take the youth from them.
Chris was angry and wanted nothing more than to take Vin or Josiah's hunting knife and gut the sons of bitches that had done this. Hanging was too good for them...he wanted them to suffer. Despite the pain it caused to do so, he kept glancing toward the wagon, silently willing his friends to hang on.
Once in town, they found the sheriff had arranged the town's largest hotel room for the two men to stay in while Nathan took care of them, the others taking the surrounding rooms. Chris wired the Judge who responded by stating he would be there in two days. Larabee called the other four together in the make-shift sick-room.
"Two of us need to go back." He looked at Vin; the tracker nodded.
"I'll go, too," Josiah offered.
Chris gave a tight smile and nodded. "We'll return as soon as we can, but I'm gonna wait on the judge, so it may be a while."
The two men said their goodbyes. Chris and Vin clasped arms, the Texan glancing back at his injured friends. Chris smiled.
"We'll be back, Vin...all of us."
Blue eyes met green and Vin nodded. "It's just that...JD..."
Nathan cut in. "He's restin', Vin, lost blood, needed water...banged his head, cracked a few ribs an' is fightin' a nasty ol' infection too, but he's fightin', just like Buck is."
"He ain't woke up, yet." Vin reminded.
Nathan nodded. "He will."
Satisfied with Nathan's word, Vin signaled his acceptance and he and Josiah left.
The features were blurry, but it was definitely a blond. Buck grinned. "Damn, I hoped the next blonde I woke up to would have softer curves than yours."
Larabee smirked. "Not likely with the women you take up with."
Buck huffed out a soft laugh. He looked down at the hand on his arm.
"How are you?"
The brunet nodded. "Doin' good, stud." He closed his eyes, only to open them suddenly. "JD?"
Chris sobered. "Still with us. Let me guess...got dragged by a horse?"
Swallowing hard, prompting Chris to offer him a drink, Buck's eyes filled. "It was all my fault, Chris. The kid had nothin' to do with it and they...they did *that*."
Pursing his lips, Larabee leaned in. "And they're gonna pay. Judge is comin' in tomorrow."
Buck nodded. "Did JD wake up, yet?"
Chris shook his head. "But I reckon he's close...been twitchin' an' such, Nathan's hopeful it'll be today."
Wilmington sighed deeply. "What am I doin', Chris? I ain't no role model for a kid. I damn-near got him killed because of the way I live. Even if he was awake, I ain't sure I could look him in the eye right now. I can't do this any more."
Chris offered the man another drink, leaning in to whisper. "Yeah, you can...and so can I."
Trying to ignore the pain was the easy bit; focusing on the voices took all his concentration. JD could hear Buck...and Chris, and he fought to open his eyes, to see that his hero and his mentor were both okay, especially Buck. He knew Buck was hurt...just couldn't piece it all together, yet. He listened to the voice...kept it in his mind.
*What am I doin', Chris. I ain't no role model for a kid. I damn- near got him killed because of the way I live...I can't do this any more.*
With an ache in his heart, JD let go...he'd try again later...maybe.
While Chris was visiting with Judge Travis and Nathan was taking a meal break, Ezra sat with Buck and JD. He tilted his head slightly as he looked at the young man lying on his side.
"Well...good to see you awake, Mister Dunne."
JD just blinked, unsure if talking would hurt or not; besides, he didn't want to wake Buck, didn't want to speak to him just now.
"Let me get you a drink." Mindful of his bandage, Ezra held JD's head as he helped him take a drink. The youth nodded, keeping his eyes lowered to avoid Ezra's gaze.
"Thank you," he whispered.
Standish grinned. "You are very welcome. How are you?"
Blinking slowly, JD took a shallow breath.
Ezra frowned. "I am sure you are. Are you hungry?"
Dunne shook his head, wincing at the movement.
"Hey, kid...you're awake, thank God."
Glancing quickly at Buck, JD nodded, his face devoid of emotion. He felt betrayed. The man he had looked on as a brother had made it very clear...he didn't want to do it any more. Sighing, he went back to sleep. Buck turned to Ezra.
"That was good, right?"
The southerner nodded. "Very good, my friend, very good indeed."
Chris was up at the crack of dawn. Three days on and the Judge had gone after sentence had been passed on Tom and his cohorts for life imprisonment. Chris felt things were under control and had made noises to the others about returning home. Both Buck and JD were moving around, had even gone down for a meal that day, but Larabee was concerned. JD had barely eaten, or spoken, while Buck had talked as if he hadn't spoken for a week. Something was off, but he couldn't quite figure it.
~ The hotel's back stairs creaked as JD made his way quietly down them. Despite his pain, and lack of a shirt under his jacket, he made his way to the livery, saddled Nathan's horse hoping he'd forgive him and made his way slowly out of town in the opposite direction to home. The wispy smoke of a black cheroot drifted up into the crisp morning air, closely followed by a man in black moving out of the shadows, watching his youngest peacekeeper leaving.
"What the hell is goin' on, JD?"
A sleepy Buck looked up as Chris roused him.
"Damn, stud...you're keen to get home, ain't ya?"
Chris looked at Buck. "We need to get after JD."
The brunet glanced across at the empty bed, frowning. "He's up?"
"Up and outta here," Larabee informed the trio as Ezra and Nathan had just joined them, Nathan carrying fresh shirts for the two injured men.
"What ya talkin' about, Chris?" Nathan asked, "He ain't in no condition ta ride."
The blond nodded. "Figured, but he left anyway, and he took your horse."
Buck touched his arm, a little alarmed now. "What's goin' on?"
Chris shrugged. "Not sure, but he's been kinda quiet of late."
They all nodded. Buck's eyes darted left and right as his mind sought out the answer. He was at a loss. "Let's go get him."
Larabee tossed Buck his clothes. "That was my intention."
Despite protests from Nathan that Buck was in no condition to ride either, they saddled up, Nathan borrowing a horse and saddle from the blacksmith, and headed out.
He had only been riding for an hour, but he was already in trouble. JD shivered as he hunched over his horse's neck, one hand clinging to the saddle horn to keep him upright while the other rested against the bandages wrapped around his body. The ground seemed to be rising and falling, but looking up, he soon realized the distortion was there no matter where he looked.
"Can't pass out..."
He recalled Buck's words and they spurred him on.
It didn't take long for the four peacekeepers to spot the lone rider in the distance. Buck scowled.
"Look at the state of him. What's he playing at?"
Chris spurred his horse on. "Guess we're about to find out."
JD could hear riders approaching, but in fumbling for his guns, he toppled out of the saddle to land with a thump on the hard dusty ground.
Chris and Ezra jumped down to help him.
"Mister Dunne...JD...what were you thinking?" Ezra asked as he crouched down.
"JD, what the hell are you doin' out here, alone?" Chris tried not to sound angry, but he couldn't help feeling a little irritated.
All JD could do was groan, but once he saw Buck coming toward him, he struggled to his feet, pushed away from Ezra and Chris and tried to re-mount.
"Go away, Buck!"
The brunet grabbed the boy's arm, wincing as JD yelped and inhaled sharply.
"Damn...sorry. Kid...what's goin' on?"
JD glared at him through his one good eye. "Nothin' for you to be concerned with. Now...let go of me."
"Like hell I will...what did I do?"
Cursing his filling eyes, JD swallowed. "More like what you said. Don't you worry none...I got the message, loud and clear. Now let go."
Buck ached to see the pain in his friend's eyes. He looked at Chris for help.
"JD...did you hear me an' Buck talkin' the other day?" Chris asked.
His face told them all they needed to know. JD wrenched his arm free and again tried to re-mount, failing miserably.
Ezra and Nathan looked at Chris, puzzled, receiving the look that told them he would explain later.
Buck grabbed the youth's shoulder with his good arm and spun him around. "Now lookee here...whatever it is you think you heard was horseshit, an' you know it."
"Really...REALLY? Then why say it? I didn't ask you to look out for me, Buck...but you did anyway, an' I ain't gonna lie...I like it, I like having someone in my life that gives a damn. But you made a mistake...I understand, so I'm giving you a break, I'm going away...so you won't have to think about that mistake every time you look at me. I won't be responsible for your misery."
Buck grabbed the youth by the back of his neck. "Now you listen here. Okay...I said those words..." he held tight as JD struggled."...but I was talkin' out my ass as usual. I was hurtin', JD, for me and for you. I felt responsible for your pain and I realized what a bad role model I am, what a lousy big brother."
JD gulped. "That's not true, you're a good big brother...the best I could ever have wished for. None of this was your fault, Buck."
Buck smiled. "Good that you think that, because I was wrong. Maybe I ain't a good role model, but I do know one thing...I need you. I need you in my life, JD. I don't want to lose you...you believe me, right, kid?"
They stared at each other for a long few moments. JD blushed, speaking softly. "I...I need you too, Buck."
Laughing, Buck pulled JD in close. "Well...that's alright then." He sighed. "Let's go home, boy."
Vin grinned, stepping off the boardwalk to greet the three men and the wagon pulling in just outside the livery, turning to see Josiah trotting to catch up with him. The Texan looked up at Larabee.
"Good to see ya'll." He nodded to the others and they returned the gesture.
"Where's Buck and JD?" Josiah wondered.
Nathan grinned as he tied off the reins around the wagon's brake, gesturing behind him with his head. "Take a look."
Moving to the back of the wagon, Vin arched backward as he laughed, Josiah chuckling too, at the pair, seemingly fast asleep, leaning heavily against each other.
"Aww...sweet," Vin cackled.
Buck opened one eye. "I heard that, Tanner!"
Chris grinned and looked around as he dismounted. It was good to be all together again...and home.