Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven and its characters are the property of MGM, Trilogy Entertainment, and the Mirisch Corporation.
Summary: Sometimes you have to leave home to find home
Enough is enough, JD thought as he stormed out of his room. Buck had been promising to take him hunting for weeks. But as JD was packing their supplies Buck informed him he didn't want to leave his new lady love just yet.
JD headed for the saloon, thinking he would find a sympathetic ear in Ezra. The unlikely pair had struck up an alliance that was becoming a friendship. Today, however, Ezra was more interested in sizing up a new mark and in so many words had told JD to run along and play.
Josiah was busy patching the church roof against the coming rain while Nathan was busy patching Chris and Vin from their latest escapade. No one was quite sure on the details, but apparently it involved Chris' cabin, some whiskey and Vin thinking it would come in handy to teach his pony to climb stairs.
Feeling ignored and in need of a change, JD headed for work. It struck him that even as sheriff he was unappreciated. His brilliant ideas were dismissed only to be implemented later when someone else - someone older - suggested them. So when the telegram came requesting a deputy to ride shotgun on the Butterfield Overland stage, JD jumped at the offer. The owner of Holladay Stage, not happy that Butterfield's new route was competing with his previous monopoly, had brought in some hired guns. Disguised as Indians, these men attacked the Butterfield stages, setting the coaches on fire and robbing the passengers.
JD was to accompany the Butterfield driver along the first part of his route to San Francisco, hopefully ensuring the safety of the passengers and the company's future. "You sure you're up to this, JD?" Chris asked him after reading the telegram. He only wanted JD to think for once before he acted; he hadn't meant to cause the hurt that flashed in the boy's eyes.
That afternoon JD climbed aboard the stage with his "yellow boy" Winchester. "See ya in a few days, kid," Buck called as he passed by, his new girl on his arm. JD stared after him, still hurt and angry.
The passengers included an English gentleman, a banker headed for a new position in San Francisco and a matron on her way to Greeley to visit her daughter and new grandchild.
As Four Corners disappeared beyond the horizon JD's anger faded at the prospect of a new adventure. His growing enthusiasm annoyed Jed, the taciturn driver who enjoyed his peace and quiet. He glared at the talkative boy, a look that managed to silence most of his other riders. He couldn't know that JD, as sometime recipient of the Larabee stare, was inured to anything less. Jed finally threatened to banish the boy to the dusty coach interior, shotgun or no. Shoot, JD thought, apparently he would have to get a lot further away from Four Corners to be appreciated.
+ + + + + + +
Buck plunked himself down beside Chris. "So what'd you do to chase him away this time?"
Chris stared at his oblivious friend. "If anyone chased him away, Buck, it was you."
"Me? That boy worships the ground you walk on. If he left it musta been 'cause he wanted to prove somethin' to you."
"Or maybe he just got tired of waiting around for you to leave off chasing pretty girls long enough to take him hunting."
Buck's mouth twitched in a smile, "Now, Chris, Nancy's a whole lot prettier than JD. I'll make it up to the boy when he gets back."
"Uh huh," Chris mumbled. "You know, Buck, it might do him good to get away from here. Maybe he'll decide to go back to school, make something of himself."
Buck frowned. "You tell him that?"
As Chris shook his head, Buck continued, "That boy's coming into his own out here. He's stopped bein' a smart-mouthed brat; well, most of the time leastways. He's turning into a boy - a man - any of us would be proud to call friend."
"Or brother?" Chris smiled.
Buck's expression softened and he nodded. "Or brother."
+ + + + + + +
In spite of himself, JD found he missed his friends. It wasn't so bad during the day keeping a lookout for marauders; but when they stopped for the night there was no one to talk to about all the things he'd seen or thought of along the trail. To his chagrin JD found he even missed having someone worry over him. But every time he thought about going home he would remember Buck's preoccupation, Ezra's dismissive comments or Chris' measuring gaze. Maybe he'd just stay on all the way to San Francisco; see how they liked that. JD spent the rest of the evening inventing one poignant scene after another as the others learned he wasn't coming back. He imagined six heartfelt letters of regret begging him to come home.
+ + + + + + +
Buck paced nervously outside the Butterfield office. JD was only supposed to ride along as far as Greeley; he should have been back on today's stage. But when the vehicle pulled up some stranger was riding shotgun. JD wasn't among the disembarking passengers, either. Stepping up to the window for the third time in an hour Buck asked, "Harlan, haven't you had any word yet?"
"I'm tellin' ya, Buck," the balding man was interrupted by the clacking of the telegraph. Grabbing a pencil, he said, "Hold on, maybe this is somethin' now."
Buck waited, focusing on the device as if he could will it to tell him JD was on his way home. He felt himself aging as Harmon painstakingly translated the message. Finally, the clacking stopped and Harmon looked up at the tower of impatience.
"What is it?" Buck jumped at the man.
"It's from the Greeley office."
"And?" Buck snatched the telegram out of the poor man's hand. 'Dunne signed on to complete San Francisco run.'
Buck hunched his shoulders against the cold wind as he looked to the western horizon.
+ + + + + + +
JD was torn. Instead of returning to Four Corners he decided to continue to San Francisco with Jed. While he was excited to finally be going to the Barbary Coast he was sorry that he had not had the chance to say goodbye to his friends. Once he got to San Francisco he intended to become a lawman there. Who knew if he would ever see any of the six again?
They were about an hour out of Greeley when JD noticed a cloud of dust though no wind stirred the air. "Riders comin'in," he told Jed, pointing. Jed thumped on the roof of the coach with his whip. Was he warning the passengers, JD wondered even as he took aim. The dust had cleared enough that he could spot the small band of riders coming up fast. When they were close enough that JD could see the war paint smudged on their faces he fired at the lead rider. By the time he fired again they were shooting back. JD counted six riders; he didn't think he could get them all before they reached the stage. He concentrated on the front riders; hoping to stop them before they got close enough to stop the stage. He never saw the rear rider take aim at him. The bullet creased his arm and he nearly dropped his rifle. Suddenly, a shot fired from inside the coach, hitting the rider who had shot JD. The last two riders turned their mounts and fled. Jed reined in the galloping horses. "You alright?" he asked JD, pulling off his neckerchief to bind JD's bleeding arm.
"I'm fine. Wouldn't have been without the help from that other gun."
Cradling his arm, JD jumped down to find out who had come to his rescue.
"I say, young man, that was a fine display of marksmanship," the English gentleman said as he alighted from the interior. Doffing his hat to JD he added, "Alistair Simms, Pinkerton Agency. Are you well enough to help me restrain the brigands?" JD nodded dumbly as he processed the information. A Pinkerton had been aboard the stage? Why hadn't he been told?
Two of the more seriously wounded would-be robbers were shoved inside the coach, much to the dismay of the banker. The other two were able to ride. After Simms and JD had bound their hands and feet and tied their horses to the back of the stage, Simms explained to JD that the Butterfield Line had hired the Pinkertons to help deter the raiders. JD had been the decoy to allow Simms a chance to get a drop on the vandals.
While JD had to admit it was a good plan he was feeling a bit miffed at being the decoy, and an unwitting one at that. Jed, grateful for the outcome and seeing the boy was upset, offered to buy him a beer after they handed over the outlaws in Julestown.
+ + + + + + +
JD thanked Jed for the drink, then left to see what else the town offered. At the head of an alley between the saloon and a hurdy-gurdy house he was accosted by an old man, "Hey, son, got a nickel for a thirsty old prospector?"
"Sure," JD answered absently, digging in his pocket for the coin. As he handed it over, another man, well-groomed, stepped up to ask for a smoke. "Sorry, I don't have any tobacco," JD smiled, turning to continue on his way. He was gripped from behind and pulled further into the alley. "Hey," he protested just before a pistol butt came crashing against his temple.
JD came to feeling disoriented. Where was he? He saw a crust of bread hanging on the wall at an impossible angle. Eventually he realized the bread was lying on the ground, as was he. What had happened? What time was it? As he tried to get his bearings, JD realized nothing looked familiar. He started to panic. He reached for his guns, but he wasn't wearing his holster. How could that be; he seldom went anywhere without strapping them on. He staggered to the street where he bumped into Jed.
"Whoa, boy, I wondered where you got off to. I'm headed for bed and you best be, too. We head out in a few hours." Jed stumbled as JD collapsed against him. It was then he noticed the blood matting JD's hair and soaking his shirt collar.
+ + + + + + +
Harlan found Buck outside the sheriff's office. "Telegram came for you from the Butterfield driver," he said, handing it over. "Sounds like JD's in trouble."
Buck read the message; Stage moving on. Dunne hit, staying in Julestown.
Buck was heading for the livery even as he tried to interpret the terse message.
Hit? Was JD shot? Damn the messenger who couldn't spend a few more cents to explain the situation.
Buck caught Nathan upstairs and told him JD might be hurt and needing him. Then he went off to find Chris and let him know where they were going.
Buck spent most of the ride alternating between fretting over JD and railing at him for pulling another stupid stunt. He got so worked up Nathan was afraid he would have two patients by the time they got to Julestown.
On their arrival Buck immediately went to the sheriff's office, figuring the man would know where JD was. Buck was angered to find JD in one of the cells. The sheriff told him JD had been robbed and, with no money, neither the hotels nor boarding houses would take him.
"This boy saves the stage, the passengers, and that damn company leaves him on the street?" Buck raged.
"Well, he was paid," the sheriff tried to placate the angry man. "But he was robbed."
Looking at JD's bloody bandaged head and arm did nothing to improve Buck's mood. "Look after him, Nathan, while I get us a room."
"I'm sorry," the sheriff said.
Buck blew out his breath. "Not your fault, sheriff, I know that. I thank you for at least giving the boy a place to lay his head."
"Least I could do," the sheriff hesitated. "I'm afraid I'm gonna have to ask for your guns while you're in town."
"Did it ever occur to you, sheriff, maybe the boy wouldn't have been mugged if he'd been allowed to keep his guns?" Buck asked, handing his pistol over to the man and noting that they were placed with JD's Colts and rifle. He didn't feel compelled to hand over the knife hidden beneath his coat.
JD seemed unusually quiet while Nathan checked his wounds. The boy was sullen, almost surly. "How you feelin', JD?"
"How do you think I feel, Nathan? I find out I'm nothin' but a decoy, then they tell me I was robbed, and now you and Buck come ridin' in here like I'm some kid can't take care of myself. You make me feel worthless."
Nathan was taken aback by the rebuke. But something else JD said disturbed him. "They told you about being robbed? You don't remember?"
"The last thing I remember is coming into town."
Buck returned for Nathan and JD.
"How's he doin', Nathan? Gonna take more than a whack on that hard head to do any serious damage, right, kid? They got a stew over at the hotel smells real good. Or would you rather go straight to the room?"
"I'd rather you just head back to Four Corners and let me be."
Buck threw Nathan a puzzled look.
"His arm's gonna be fine, Buck, but he's got a nasty bump on his head."
"If you're gonna talk like I ain't here why don't you just leave?"
"JD, what's wrong with you?"
His voice rising, JD continued, "Nothin's wrong with me except for bein' surrounded by people who won't listen. I asked you to leave."
"JD, we came to take you home."
"I don't have a home," the boy sulked. "Nobody asked you to come after me."
Buck frowned. "You don't have to ask, JD. We had to make sure you were alright."
How many times had they laughed at that reply? Now it was spat out with such disdain it angered Buck. "JD, I came to fetch you home and that's where we're going."
JD remained sullen during dinner. Buck spent a sleepless night watching over him. When morning came he and Nathan left JD sleeping and went down to breakfast.
"This ain't like JD, Nathan. What's wrong with him?"
"I don't rightly know, Buck; maybe that bump on his head. During the war I saw a man take a piece of shrapnel to the forehead; he was like a different man afterward. He just turned mean."
"But JD won't stay like this, will he?"
"I don't know, Buck. We just have to wait and see."
+ + + + + + +
JD was depressed and angry. He slept for hours on end; he developed blinding headaches that nothing Nathan gave him relieved. He pulled away from his friends. When they tried to talk to him he lashed out with a vehemence that reminded Buck of the bad times with Chris. I'm getting too old for this, he thought as he hauled JD out of another brawl.
"Goddamit, Buck, get your hands off me."
Chris couldn't listen to another tirade. He grabbed JD and turned the boy to face him. "We've all had a bellyful of that mouth of yours, JD. Knock it off if you don't want me to take a strap to you."
"Just try it, Larabee."
Clenching his fists to keep from striking the boy, Chris turned away. "Get him out of here, Buck."
"What's the matter with you, JD?"
"Nothin'. I just wish you'd all leave me the hell alone."
"Fine, if that's what you want. I'm getting' real tired of ridin' herd on you and Chris sure don't need you turnin' on him when he's tryin' to help you."
"Help me?" JD snorted in derision. "I don't need that kind of help. Guess it would have been better if I'd gotten killed back there."
Buck grabbed JD. "Don't you ever say that," he ground out in a harsh whisper.
JD wrenched free of Buck's grip and stalked away.
Chris ached for his old friend. When Buck returned to the saloon, he grabbed a bottle and two glasses and sat beside the distraught man. Watching Buck throw back a shot Chris reminded him, "You said you'd take JD hunting when he got back. I'm thinkin' this would be a good time."
"Hell, Chris, he wouldn't go anywhere with me."
"I didn't say you should ask him," Chris answered with a sinister smile.
Buck forced a grin, "Well, why don't you take him? You two have a lot in common these days."
"Nah, we'd just end up shooting each other."
"Yeah, well, there's that," Buck sighed. "Fine, I'll hogtie him and head out first thing in the morning."
Riding beside the withdrawn boy Buck wondered if he'd ever again see JD smile.
"Chris tell you to get me out of town?"
"I was going to take you hunting, JD, you know that. I just didn't figure you'd wanna come anywhere with me right now."
"Like I had a choice."
"Just leave it, Buck. Soon as I can I'll be leaving. None of you will have to put up with me anymore."
+ + + + + + +
Buck woke to a beautiful dawn. JD was still sleeping. Buck made coffee and let his mind drift back to happier times, softly laughing at the memory of JD drawing Inez into a scheme to fool him over some Chinese love potion. Would he ever get that mischievous little brother back? Sick at heart, Buck moved further downstream to fish for breakfast.
With three trout on his line Buck was getting ready to head back to camp when he saw JD jump from the steep shore into the cold water. He waited but he didn't see JD surface. The fear that had been at the back of his mind sprang forward; God, JD was going to drown himself. Buck ran towards the spot where he'd seen the boy disappear. "JD!" He was ready to plunge in when his boot caught on a fallen branch and he fell face first into the mud at the shoreline.
+ + + + + + +
JD woke to the sun warming his face. It felt so good. He breathed in the crisp autumn air and could smell coffee. Had it ever smelt that good before? He lay looking at the leaves; they were turning to gold and brown and red. They were so beautiful. With a sense of relief JD realized he felt...happy. He had forgotten that he used to feel like this all the time. He lay in his bedroll, thinking over the past few days and all he'd been through. His newfound happiness shattered as he remembered things he'd said to his friends, men he admired. Wishing the ground would open and swallow him, JD became aware of the sun glinting off the nearby pond.
+ + + + + + +
The man jerked up at the voice by his side.
"JD! You're alright!"
"'Course I'm alright. I thought I'd go for a swim but the water was freezing; it took my breath away. Then when I came up I saw you lying on the shore with a faceful of mud. Geez, Buck, what happened?"
"I saw you jump in...I thought...well, you been so angry at all of us. I thought you were tryin' to..."
Comprehension dawned on JD. "You...thought I...you were jumping in to save me?" JD couldn't help it, he felt a bubble of laughter rising. "And you fell in the mud? My hero." He laughed so hard it brought tears to his eyes while Buck lay in the mud, his worried expression changing to puzzlement and then joy at the sound. His arm snaked out, pulling JD down into the mud with him.
JD was trying to apologize, but every time he opened his mouth to speak, he would start laughing. It was beginning to annoy his would-be rescuer. "Hell, JD, it ain't that funny."
"S-s-sorry, Buck," JD finally sputtered, pulling a handful of leaves from the dark wavy hair.
"Sure, kid, maybe you should say that again when you can keep a straight face."
"You're right," JD said, sobering. He helped Buck up. "But you know," JD continued, unable to keep from laughing again, "that might not be for a long time." Buck's well-placed kick caught him square on the rump.
Buck and JD rode back into town by way of Chris' cabin. "Buck," Vin greeted him. Then more guardedly, "JD."
"Thought we'd take a chance on Chris bein' out here before we headed back into town," Buck said as they dismounted.
An uneasy JD stood by his horse as Chris came over to join them. He finally lifted his head to look at the two men. "I'm real sorry for the way I been actin'. Guess I was kinda testy."
"Kinda?" Vin exclaimed. "Kid, you made a grizzly bear look like a pup with his tail waggin'."
JD ducked his head. He was never so relieved as when he heard Chris's soft chuckle. He looked back up at Vin, "You teach that ornery horse of yours to climb stairs yet?"
"No!" chorused the older men.
Vin rode into town and brought back Nathan, Ezra and Josiah for dinner.
Nathan couldn't explain what had happened; he was just grateful that the behavior seemed to have disappeared as JD's injury healed.
Later that evening as they sat over coffee Chris asked, "So, you headin' back to San Francisco, JD?"
"That all depends." An expectant silence fell over the group. "I left 'cause I figured I wasn't needed here."
After a pause Josiah answered, "JD, long before you were born another John Dunne said, 'No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.' You might consider that before you make up your mind." Yes, that was it, Josiah thought as the others puzzled over what he had said; JD was the laughing spring of water that ran through their desert, refreshing them when they were tired.
"Well, I need you to stay here and figure out what Josiah just said," Buck teased.
"Or to haul you out of mud puddles," JD laughed, earning him a smack.
"You know, Josiah," Buck volunteered, "maybe you should stop readin' all them fancy books. JD's got a stash of dime novels I'd be happy to give you."
As everyone gave the poetical preacher a hard time JD felt a sense of gratitude steal over him. The hopelessness that had consumed him was gone; replaced by the simple happiness that he felt at being home.