Disclaimer: Not mine not making any money.
Authors Note: This fic was originally written for Meg, and I am grateful to her for letting me post it now. My thanks as ever to the wonderful Helen for proof reading this.
JD watched as a young boy in warn canvas pants and an over large red shirt walked down the sidewalk beside a heavily pregnant woman with dark brown hair. As he watched, Nettie Wells wagon rolled into town with both Nettie and Casey on board. Even before the wagon had stopped Casey jumped down and ran to the boy. As a rather startled JD watched, the two embraced and hugged a little too enthusiastically for JD's liking. He was about to get up and go and see who this apparent rival was when the boys hat fell off and long brown hair cascaded down 'his' back. He was clearly a she, and all JD's jealousy died instantly. As he watched Nettie walked into the Potters store while the two girls, clearly close friends, walked arm in arm along the street, the pregnant lady waddling in their wake. Since Casey had never mentioned a girlfriend he guessed they hadn't see each other for a while. As the trio made its slow progress it became clear they were headed for Nathan's clinic. Which considering that in JD eyes, the older woman looked like she was about to have her baby right then and there, he wasn't a bit surprised.
JD was still sitting and watching the world go by, it was too hot to do much else, when the three women came out of the clinic and with Nathan helping the pregnant lady, made their way downstairs. To his enormous surprise they then headed in his direction, in the direction of the saloon!
"Hi JD," Casey greeted cheerfully.
"Mornin' Casey," he replied.
"Like you to meet Mrs Dixon." She turned to them and using her arm indicated JD. "This is Sheriff JD Dunne."
"A pleasure to meet you Sheriff I've heard so much about you and the other gentlemen and the fine work you do." Mrs Dixon said, smiling and extending her hand.
Manners on automatic, he extended his own hand and they shook.
"Thank you ma'am."
"And," Casey continued, "This is my friend Angie Dixon."
JD turned his smile on the girl, who looked to his untutored eye to be a little younger than Casey. She had long thick brown hair and eyes to match, despite the boys clothing he noted she had a more womanly figure than Casey.
"Hello JD, Casey has told me all about you," she admitted with an amused look on her face that JD found faintly uncomfortable.
Nathan had been watching all this with interest. Now he led Casey and the Dixons into the saloon. Curious, JD followed and to his amazement they walked over the Chris. There was a brief conversation. JD couldn't hear it and he didn't want to be seen to eavesdrop, but as he watched Chris looked at first incredulous, then annoyed and finally there came a look of exasperated resignation. The weather couldnt have helped; it was close and sticky as well as hot. This was a double-edged sword. It had kept the local population of ner-do-wells quiet but it had also made everyone edgy and short-tempered. Vin had given up on town life and disappeared in to the wilderness. Ezra was staying up even later than usual and sleeping on the roof, Josiah had taken to spending even more time at the Seminole village, as did Nathan when he could. JD spent his days on the veranda outside either the Saloon, like this morning, or the jail, depending on where the sun was. And Chris had retreated to the back of the saloon. Only Buck was missing and this was the reason he and Chris were heading out at first light in the morning.
Ten days ago Buck had headed out of town on his way to Porters Town, which lay some two days ride beyond Ridge City. The sheriff had gunned down and killed a man during a bank robbery and believed him to be the man responsible for robbing a stage just outside Four Corners three months before. Buck had been the only one to get a good look at the bandit, so had set out to see if he could identify the man. He had ridden hard. The prospect of having to identify a three and a half-day-old body in the height, not just of summer, but in a heat wave no less, was not appealing, and he had completed his journey in just under two days. Violent thunderstorms had greeted his arrival in Porters Town, and he had been forced to hole up for a day until the flash floods had gone down. He had wired from there on the fourth day that he was setting out, the next they heard of him was three days later when the sheriff of Ridge City wired to say he had bee taken ill and was in the care of a Doctor Finley. Nathan had wired the doctor for more information - Buck it seemed was one of the first victims of an outbreak of food poisoning that was now raging in Porters Town. He was confined to bed, but the doctor did not want anyone to come to see him, as it appeared to be highly contagious. That morning Nathan had received a wire saying Buck would be well enough to ride home, but not alone, in two days. To this end JD and Chris were headed to Ridge City the next morning to collect him.
+ + + + + + +
Chris fumed at life's complications. What Nathan was suggesting was logical and sensible but he didn't have to like it.
"JD!" he yelled as he stormed past.
"Yeah Chris." A distinctly nervous JD followed in the black wake.
Without stopping and striding toward the livery, Chris explained.
"We're 'escorting' young Angie Dixon to Ridge City tomorrow, you make sure we have extra supplies of everything and you make sure she is on time, got that?" With that he disappeared into the dark barn to find his horse and 'get the hell out of town'.
JD stood dumb struck, then he turned to the saloon to see Nathan and the women coming out, looking happy if a touch conspiratorial. Striding over he demanded to know what was going on.
"Ya see JD, young Angie's gotta have a couple of teeth out. Now I ain't no dentist, lessn I has to be, but they gotta real good fella over at Ridge City so I suggested she go with you two when you pick up Buck. Her mamma can't go so close to her time." Nathan explained patiently.
"I'm gonna lend her m' pony 'cause Mrs Dixon needs the team to get home," Casey explained.
JD knew there were precious few people Casey loaned Ben to, so Angie must not only be a very good friend but also a good rider.
"So how come you've never mentioned Angie to me before?" he asked.
"You never asked about my friends, 'sides Angie lives all the way over past the Farnham's place, I don't see her much. Hey!" Casey exclaimed suddenly changing the subject. "You gotta see Angie's team, theyre amazing, come on!" She was already headed toward the side ally beside the livery.
"You go Angie dear, I'm gonna go talk with Nettie a while," Mrs Dixon assured.
Just then Chris Larabee, looking as black as the thunder clouds that had so recently gathered over the town charged out of the livery and galloped down the street as if the devil himself was after him.
"Is he really as mean as they say?" Angie asked with some trepidation.
"Chris? Nah, he's a pussy cat really," JD assured.
Casey glared at him but said nothing. The Dixons wagon was parked under a tree giving the horses some shade. JD took in their size, conformation, and the generous feathers around their feet and especially their colouring, which was strawberry roan, with white bellies and splashes of white on the front of the rear legs.
"Clydesdales," he breathed. "Pure-bred?"
"Gosh, I haven't seen pure-bred since I left New York. They are magnificent!"
Casey beamed. "Told ya he'd appreciate them," she stated with pride.
Angie introduced JD to her 'babies' as she called them, Bobby and Joe. She lovingly described their different personalities, little quirks and foibles, bad habits and favourite treats. As she described each one she stood in front of him, stroking his neck or rubbing the little hollow behind his cheek bones. In response each huge horse dropped his head and nuzzled her cheek before resting his head on her shoulder and closing his eyes.
The next morning well before dawn, JD and Angie, now mounted on Caseys beloved Ben, waited outside the livery for Chris. Despite the time it was still warm and JD feared more storms were brewing. Chris arrived with the first paling of the sky.
Without a word he just rode past them and out of town, JD glanced at Angie, gave an apologetic shrug and followed, Angie took a deep nervous breath and followed him. She had been very brave about having to have two teeth out, for her mothers benefit, but inside she was a knot of fear and nerves. Now to add to that she had to ride with the scary Mr. Larabee all the way there. Oh well she told herself; the quicker we get there the quicker I get this over with.
As soon as it was light enough Chris upped the pace to a gentle canter, he knew JD could keep up, if he was honest the lad was a better rider than he would ever be, if the girl couldnt well too bad. He told himself this, all the while knowing if she couldnt he would slow for her. They stopped briefly to water the horses mid morning and then for longer just after mid-day. Chris resolve to push on was waning under the oppressive heat and humidity and he decided they would all, human and horses, have to take a break under some shade until the sun was a little lower.
JD stretched out under the tree they had found and tilted his hat over his eyes. Chris did likewise. Angie watched JD. Casey had confessed to her she was sweet on JD. He was nearly three years older then her but that didnt seem to matter, but she needed to know how he felt about her. Casey had explained that he had always been nice to her, he even gave her a frog gigger once, but she didnt want him to just be a friend.
It was Angies job to find out how he felt. Unfortunately she couldnt do this with Mr Larabee around, so for now she too stretched out to sleep. When they set out again it was noticeably closer, dark clouds had begun to gather over the distant mountains. The sun disappeared behind these clouds and that at least brought some respite from the heat. It was getting on for evening when they heard the first rumbles of distant thunder. Chris looked around to orient himself, they were going to need cover, and need it soon.
"Come on, we have to move," he commanded.
Instantly all three were in a flat-out gallop following Chris. He knew of an old line shack and if they could get there, if it was still standing, that would offer some shelter. There was a wide shallow gulch between them and the shack. If they weren't quick it would turn into a raging torrent. The first heavy raindrops hit Angie in the face as they began to descend toward the gulch, quickly it became more than a few drops, in just a blink it was heavy rain and then all of a sudden the heavens opened. The gulch was in sight.
"Go, go!" Chris shouted urging them on.
The two youngsters were significantly lighter than Chris and their horses pulled ahead. There was water in the gulch but it was no more than knee high, both horses ploughed in confidently line abreast. As they charged on they threw up huge plumes of spray. The bank on the other side was steeper and the two horses all but scrambled up on their knees. Instantly JD turned back to look for Chris. Larabee had followed them in but before he had even got a quarter of the way across Pony began to play up. He reared and shied; Chris had to fight him to stay on. But Pony was insistent on turning back and despite Chris' efforts he had his way. Just as he made it, there was an unholy roar and a wall of water, mud and debris charged down the shallow channel filling it and sweeping all before it! Pony was now calm. Chris just stared, then he bent down to lay a gentle hand on the blacks neck.
"Thanks old friend," he whispered.
"Chris!" JD yelled. "Ya alright?"
Chris waved to show he was.
"What we gonna do?"
"Go to the shack, just keep on the trail, I'll see you at sun up back here!" Just then a thunder crack so loud all the horses shied, ripped across the air. Once their mounts were calm again, JD looked back.
"Chris are ya sure? What will you do?" he shouted against the storm and the raging torrent.
"Go JD, just look after Angie I'll be fine." And without waiting for a reply he turned and rode away from them.
If felt wrong to JD to leave Chris with no obvious cover in the storm with night coming on, but what could he do? He had to look after Angie - it was his duty. Buck would never forgive him if he didn't. He had missed Buck. He hadn't admitted it but the eleven days the big gunslinger had been away had dragged. When the word of Buck's illness had come he had felt an instant knot of panic in his gut, but he had hid it, not wanting the others to see how dependent on Buck he had become. Whether he was fooling anyone was debatable.
"Come on lets go," he shouted at Angie.
"We're just gonna leave him?" she asked still staring across at the far bank.
"We can't help him, so we have to help ourselves, come on!"
As instructed they pounded down the trail and as promised a shack appeared out of the driving rain. There was a corral and the shack and that was all, there wasn't even a porch. Dismounting quickly they put the horses in the corral and pulling their saddles off they ran into the shack. Once inside they pulled up and stood panting, the water soaked into their clothing already making clouds of steam as they stood in the semi-darkness.
"Well, we better get sorted before it's too dark to see, don't guess there's any dry wood around here?" Angie asked.
She put down her saddle and made a quick circuit of the one room shack, which was all of eight feet square. There was a stove, it was somewhat rusty and there was some ash in the firebox but no wood. There was a cot, but it was rotten and broken, too rotten to burn, and that was it. The only window had no glass and was shuttered, the floor was just mud.
"Well looks like we will be dry if not warm, not that we need a fire it's still so damn hot!" she commented bending over to retrieve her saddlebag.
JD had said nothing. He wasn't sure what to do. His mother had raised him to believe if he spent the night alone with a girl he would have to marry her! Whether that applied to girls as young as Angie he wasn't sure. He didn't know how old she was. Now she was cursing, all this was new territory for JD.
"Well don't just stand there JD, get outside."
"Huh?" JD hadn't been listening.
"Go out side JD," she said very slowly.
"Why? Its' pouring, I'll get soaked!" he protested.
"Youre already soaked and I ain't changing in front of you,"
JD watched as she pulled relatively dry clothes from her saddlebag.
"Oh! Oh yes right I'll wait outside I'll just be outside outside the door," he stammered, stepping into the rain and closing the door so fast the whole structure shook.
"Men!" she sighed, shaking her head.
Angie stripped off quickly and changed, then she hung her wet clothes over the old stove and rolled out her bed roll, and placed the saddle at the head after she removed the saddle bags. Then she went to the door and opened it. JD was standing huddled against the door with his back to it and almost fell in to the room.
"Sorry!" he exclaimed.
"Not your fault, come on it's safe to come in now."
JD stood huddled just inside the door not knowing what to do.
"Don't you have some dry clothes?" she asked.
"Well put them on."
"I'm waiting for you to go outside."
"I'll get wet!"
"I had to!"
"But I'm dry now."
"Oh yes, um er."
"Look, I'll turn my back," she offered.
JD didn't move, he looked very worried.
"Oh for heavens sake!" she fumed. Then she lay down on her bedroll and pulled the blanket over her head. "Happy now?" Came the muffled question.
JD didn't respond, he just retreated into the darkest corner and changed as quickly as he could, never taking his eyes off her as she lay on her side, back to him, blanket over her head.
"You done yet? It's hot under here!"
"In a minute, in a minute! Don't move, you just stay there."
"I ain't moving, don't worry."
She could hear some muffled curses as he struggled to change quickly.
"You can come out now."
The two of them then sat on their bedrolls as the storm raged outside. Angie pulled her saddlebag to her.
"I got jerky, biscuits, cheese and oatmeal cookies, what about you?" she announced.
"Er I have biscuits as well, some pie and dried apple rings." He also had coffee, bacon, and beans but they weren't much use to them.
They shared some of the food keeping some back for the morning. Angie noticed that JD didn't touch the jerky. Once the meal was over they then found they had nothing to do, since it wasn't even dark yet.
"Has Mr Wilmington been very ill?" she asked by way of starting a conversation.
"Not sure, ill enough to keep him in bed and Buck hates that so I guess it was pretty bad," JD admitted.
"Casey told me all about him,"
JD could just imagine what she had said, people only saw the Buck Wilmington he wanted to show them, and there was so much more to his friend then the front he put up.
"Oh yeah? What did she say?"
"That he's a good man, a good friend, brave, honourable and that he's very gentle and caring."
JD was pleasantly surprised to find Casey had taken the trouble to really get to know his friend.
"Yup thats about right, what did she say about me?"
She would have to be careful, but JD had given her the chance to find out what he felt about Casey.
"She said you're brave, that you hold your own with the others, she reckons you're smarter than you let on," she admitted.
What she didn't say was, she also thinks you are very cute and she likes you a lot.
"Oh well thats nice," he said quietly. She thinks I'm brave and smart! He thought, his heart soaring.
"Casey's smart too, don't you reckon?"
"I guess, she rides pretty good too."
Great! Thats all you can say? She fumed inwardly. "Yeah I know," she said.
"Reckon you ride good too and them horses of yours are amazing," he said finding Casey a difficult subject and needing a diversion.
They talked horses until it was quite dark; they both lay down on their bedrolls and continued to talk. Eventually Angie decided to tackle the topic of Casey a different way.
"You ever reckon you'll get married JD?" she asked.
"I s'pose, some day," he admitted.
"What kinda girl you gonna marry?"
"I don't know, smart, not silly like some girls, someone who can look after herself. Someone who knows about horses an' can ride, bit like you," he admitted. Someone just like Casey in fact, he thought. "Angie?"
"How old are you?"
"Oh no reason, you don't look or act like fourteen." But fourteen is too young for me to have to marry you 'cause we spent the night alone, he thought with some relief.
"How do fourteen year olds usually act?" she asked, a small flutter of alarm in her stomach.
"You know silly, giggly, you can't hardly talk to them, not like you, talking to you is more like talking to a friend." Just like talking to Casey, he thought.
"Suppose a girl really liked you, she thought you were brave and decent and honest and kinda fun to be with but she kept saying the wrong thing around you 'cause she was kinda sassy and she didn't dress like other girls, could you like a girl like that?"
Oh Lord she's got a crush on me! JD suddenly thought.
"Well yes, I s'pose I could, but you know I'm a man I could not be attracted to a girl, however pretty and smart she was."
Oh no, he thinks Casey is too young! she thought with alarm.
"So how old would she have to be?"
"I reckon it's more how she acts than how old she was, I mean so long as it's you know legal and such, but I don't think it's good to marry too young, for the right girl I could wait no matter how long it took." For Casey I'll wait forever!
Oh dear Casey's nearly seventeen my mom was married by then, I think he thinks I'm talking about me! Why do men have to be so so ? Oh rats! she silently ranted.
+ + + + + + +
Chris had turned from the torrent and ridden hard back the way they had come, he remembered seeing a small bluff and was hoping there would be a cave or at least an overhang. But the time he found what he was looking for - an overhang big enough to accommodate him and Pony - he too was soaked to the bone. Unlike the youngsters he was lucky enough to find some dry wood at the back of his refuge. Not much, but it was such a hot night he didn't need the fire for heat just light and cooking. Since he was alone he simply stripped off the wet clothing and hung it on a couple of rock outcrops but didn't bother with the dry clothes in his saddlebags. He brewed some coffee, ate some of the bread, cheese and ham he had brought and stretched out on the top of his bed roll to listen to the storm and enjoy the sensations of the warm moist air blowing gently over his naked form, as the small fire crackled and eventually died. This is the life Chris Larabee, he told himself. A night alone, warm, safe, free, just you and mother nature, no wonder Vin likes to take off it to the middle of nowhere all the time.
+ + + + + + + Angie needed to change the subject. "JD, you ever been to a dentist?" she asked.
"No!" he replied too quickly his voice unnaturally high. He coughed and continued in a deeper voice. "No I never needed to, don't aim to neither, not that you shouldn't go if'n ya gotta but me? No, never needed to, no never."
There was long silence.
"So why are ya going to the dentist?" JD finally asked.
"I got too many teeth at the front. Mr Jackson says my baby teeth is so strong they haven't fallen out yet so my adult teeth had no place to go but behind, he thinks if the dentist pulls the baby teeth the adult teeth will move into place on their own. Sure hope so."
For the first time JD noted fear in her voice. A fear he could quite understand.
"But why now? With your mom so near her time, couldn't it have waited 'till she could come with you?"
"My gum started to bleed, Mr Jackson said that he thinks the new teeth are getting damaged so I need to get the old ones out quick," she explained.
"Does it hurt?"
"Some," she admitted. "Mr Jackson said it will be better after, and since they are only baby teeth it wont hurt too much to have them out. Hope he's right."
"Nathan's knows all about that kinda stuff, if he says it won't be so bad you can trust him," JD assured.
After that they didn't talk again and eventually both fell asleep.
+ + + + + + +
Come the morning both parties met again, this time Pony forded the water with no protest. It was still running high and fast but not like before. They set out again; Chris picked up the pace to make up the time they lost the day before and managed to make Ridge City in the early afternoon. Their first call was Dr. Finleys's. The doctor's office was a sturdy two-story building, the doctor a middle-aged man with a narrow face and kind eyes.
"Good morning gentlemen and lady, how can I help you today?" he asked looking up from his desk.
"We're friends of Buck Wilmington, we're hear to pick him up, I'm "
"Chris Larabee," the doctor exclaimed and stood extending a hand. "Good to meet you sir, and you must be JD?" he turned to JD after shaking Chris' hand.
"Um yes, how do you do?" JD responded.
"Oh fine, fine don't you know." His accent was strange but at the same time familiar.
"I don't believe we've ever met but you seem to know us," Chris pointed out.
"Well Buck told me all about you and the others, Vin and Ezra, Josiah and Nathan, I'd have know you anywhere. But this young lady I don't recognise, she can't be Casey because her hair is too long."
"I'm Angela Dixon, glad to meet you Doctor."
"Well now that everyone knows everyone else, we need to find the dentist for Miss Dixon, pick up Buck and be on our way," Chris announced.
"Not today you won't. Buck is most likely asleep and if he's not he soon will be, but I can direct you to my good friend Mr Nixon."
"Asleep? It's only two thirty," Chris said incredulously.
The doctor turned to Angie. "Miss Dixon would you excuse us for just a short time?"
The doctor lead JD and Chris out of his office past an examining room and up a wide staircase to a broad well lit landing. There he stopped.
"I don't think you two gentlemen understand how ill your friend has been. I am in contact with Porters Town, as well as Buck twenty-three other people have been effected by this illness. The first six cases all ate the same meal in the hotel, of those six only Buck is still alive, the remaining seventeen all had contact with those six, fourteen of them are dead including the town doctor. We nearly lost him twice in those first three days." Just then a door opened quietly and a rotund short black woman moved surprisingly quietly out into the landing.
"Janet, is he asleep?" the doctor asked.
"Yes sir I finally got him to relax, but he is awful excited about his friends coming here, and that walk he took this morning plum tuckered him out," she explained.
Suddenly she seemed to notice the two other men with the doctor.
"Is you my Buck's friends?" she asked.
"Your Buck?" JD asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes my Buck, didn't I nurse him through all the sickness and the fever and the nightmares? And ain't he just the perfect gentleman no matter how sick he is?"
"JD Dunne, Chris Larabee meet Janet, my housekeeper, nurse and all around mom to the whole house."
Janet turned to them. "Well I am mighty proud to meet you, I's hear so much about you and the others, especially you young JD," she beamed at JD, who just rolled his eyes; he could imagine all too well what Buck would say about him.
"I'll just check on him," Finley announced, "you two can watch from the door if you want?"
Without waiting for a reply he eased the door open and let himself in. JD looked into the room. The large room was dominated by a big brass bed, the two windows were open, sunlight streaming in past muslin drapes. Buck lay mostly on him stomach, partly curled around a long bolster, the sheet that Janet had just covered him with was already kicked off, he was wearing only a pair of white cotton pants, such as Mexican peons wear, too short, they finished some where just below his knees. All the bed linen was white. If it weren't for the partly hidden moustache and the shock of unruly dark hair he would almost have melted into the bed he was so pale. Even in twelve days JD could see he had lost weight, his ribs were clearly visible even from the door. JD gasped quietly and his hand came up to cover his mouth instinctively as he watched the doctor gently lie the back of his hand on the Buck's forehead, then with just as much care not to wake his patient he took his pulse. Shaking his head gently he pulled the sheet back up, in the stifling heat of the afternoon it was all that was needed, and made his way back to the door, easing it shut gently behind himself as he exited.
"Is he alright?" Chris asked.
"Oh yes, he overdid it a bit this morning, his temperature is up a little I think but it's nothing to fret about, it will most likely be down when he wakes again."
He led them downstairs again.
"Is Buck really ready to ride home?" Chris asked.
"Well not strictly speaking, but if I didn't let him go with you he would have gone on his own. I'm sure you know he is not the most patient patient, for all his charm and good humour."
Both Chris and JD knew this to be true. They nodded as the doctor continued.
"Take it slow, only half a day at a time, he'll most likely sleep all afternoon anyway. He still doesnt have much of an appetite so it's important to eat together and encourage him to eat regularly and drink constantly. Most importantly all the food must be plain and the water clean."
Angie had been watching and listening. "Don't worry doctor I'll look after the cooking and such," she volunteered.
"Well I'm sure you will little lady," And with that he patted her on the head, like some little kid.
JD wanted to stay and be there when Buck woke up, Chris reluctantly agreed to go with Angie to the dentist.
"Oh, I can not believe he did that!" she fumed as she got out side the door.
"I'm sure you will little lady." She did a fairly good impression of the doctor's accent. "Oooh I hate that! I'm not a kid any more!" she fumed.
"Of course not, you are a very attractive young lady and very capable and responsible," Chris affirmed, desperately hoping this was what she wanted to hear. In truth from what he had seen it was also true.
They followed the doctor's directions to the first floor office of Mr Nixon. He was a slightly round looking man with out being fat in any way. His accent was that of one the northern states such as Wisconsin or Minnesota. He had a patient with him so they had to wait. The muffled sounds of the drill and the sound of grunts and splutters were off-putting. Angie was beginning to feel less and less brave. She visibly paled as the dentist approached.
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