Legacy: The Return
by Sue M
Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep `em but if I could they'd be on season10 by now!
My grateful thanks, as always to Phyllis, who is so much more to me than my beta, and to Heather for helping me to choose a way forward.
This is The second story in what has now become part of a trilogy. Reading the first story, Legacy, might be useful but it shouldn't spoil this one for you if you haven't.
Things had been quiet around the town for a week. The peacekeepers had kept themselves occupied with patrols, card games, drinking and the occasional drunk to throw in jail.
During the quieter moments, this morning was no exception, JD found himself occasionally reflecting on the time he had spent with Daniel Johnson, the man who had saved his life when he had been attacked by a mountain lion.
What JD was not aware of, was that the man was, in reality, his father, and JD's own friends had been sworn to secrecy to protect the young man. What none of them knew was that Johnson's confession that he was dying was a fabrication, designed to cover the fact that he was a wanted man. While desperately wanting to provide for the young son he had never known, he did not want to expose that same son to his dangerous lifestyle.
With a sigh, and one last look around, JD walked on into the saloon. None of his friends had arrived yet, so he contented himself with a glass of milk and a seat at their usual table.
At the jail, Vin was looking through the newly arrived wanted posters, a job JD usually did diligently, but had ignored today for some reason. He was almost halfway through when he stopped sharply.
"Ah hell," he whispered. Chris looked up, pushing his hat back off his eyes and returning his feet to the ground from the desk.
"Trouble?" Chris asked. Vin passed him the poster.
Chris screwed up his eyes, "Shit!" He scrubbed at his face then looked at Vin.
"Round up the others and tell them to meet me at the saloon, now." With a scrape of his chair he left, Vin following.
Inez looked across to JD, "JD, could you help me with something, por favor?"
Always eager to please, and being fond of the Mexican beauty, the young sheriff jumped to his feet, and approached the bar, returning his empty glass.
"Sure, what would you like me to do?"
Within minutes he was moving empty casks and bottles out to the back of the saloon.
Chris swept in through the batwing doors and approached the bar.
"Whiskey," he ordered, slapping money onto the counter top. Inez poured a shot and went to replace the bottle, but Chris gripped her arm. "Leave it," he breathed, to which she nodded.
Taking the bottle and his glass he took a seat at their table, unaware JD had been sat there only a short time before. Within minutes all five were sitting with him, drinks in hand, Ezra a little disheveled from being dragged from his bed.
Vin handed Buck the poster, and it was passed from man to man, each one making a small comment or hitching a breath.
Buck slammed his hand down on the table, causing the glasses to jump and some liquid to spill.
"Damn that no good lying bastard; he wasn't dying at all, he just lied to protect himself."
"Do we even know this legacy really exists then?" Nathan asked.
Chris nodded, "I have a wallet with a letter in my room. What worries me more is that we agreed to keep it to ourselves, but if JD sees this poster, we'll have to tell him."
"Surely not," Ezra opinioned, "His notoriety is not at issue here, his desire to protect his son was clearly his main concern. Knowing our intrepid Mister Dunne, if the truth had been known, he would have felt an obligation to protect the man, maybe even desire to travel with him. Knowing how that young man attracts trouble, I for one, do not wish to see him follow that path."
Josiah sighed, "The intentions were honorable, however, the position he has placed us in, is not."
"JD ain't gonna like this," Vin drawled.
The blood was pounding in JD's head as he leaned heavily on the wall of the backroom. He had just been about to re-enter the saloon when he heard Buck's angry words, which caused him to pause and hear as each man spoke. By the time Vin had spoken, JD felt nauseous. Daniel Johnson was his father, and a wanted man? But worse still, somehow his friends, his family, the people he cared for and trusted more than anyone else, knew, and had lied to him about it.
Sweating and pale, he decided to confront them.
Inez could hear the men talking, but had only heard JD's name. Concerned the young man might overhear, she attempted to draw their attention, but as they looked to her in curiosity at her actions, JD's distraught face caught their eye.
JD wasn't sure if his shaking was nerves, fear or anger, but despite knowing it would be noticed, he went ahead. He walked toward the table as six stunned men watched his movements, unsure of how much he had heard. The youth slowly picked up the poster and read it quietly to himself, taking in every detail with misty hazel eyes. Holding on to the paper, he finally met the other's eyes, each pair reflecting guilt and concern at JD's showing intense pain, hurt and betrayal. He unsuccessfully blinked back tears, and fearful his voice would betray him, he simply said,
"I thought you at least respected me, how could you do this?"
With that, not waiting for any replies or excuses, he stormed out of the saloon.
Buck went to follow but Chris gripped his arm.
"Give him a minute, and then I'll go." The look Larabee gave left no room for argument.
The six men looked at each other, unsure of what to say or do.
Ezra finally spoke, "This is disastrous."
Within minutes, JD had packed his saddlebags with some clothes, food and a few treasured items, checked that his water canteen was full and was heading for the livery, still clutching the poster, still struggling to control his emotions. While JD was saddling his horse, Chris was climbing the stairs of the boarding house and knocking on JD's door. When no answer was forthcoming, Larabee stepped into the room to find it in disarray. A quick check revealed all the blond needed to know and he picked up the pace as he exited the house. He reached the outside just in time to see the distraught and angry young man ride out.
"Shit!" He stomped purposefully back to the saloon, punching through the batwing doors. Five men stared up at him; Buck was already on his feet.
"Chris..." Buck started, panic in his voice, Chris looked at him, green eyes full of concern,
"Vin can track him, don't worry, we won't let him get far."
Buck looked pale, "This is a mess."
They all nodded. Vin approached Larabee, his face reflecting determination.
"And we're gonna put it right."
Several miles out of town, JD slowed his pace to a trot. Away from the town he had allowed his emotions free rein and was now softly sobbing to himself. In those few words in the saloon, JD's whole world had come tumbling down around him, familiarity no longer a comfort as the six people he would die for had talked of a secret so deeply disturbing he felt he had been violently punched in the gut. Thoughts of his gut suddenly gave way to nausea and JD jumped to the ground just in time to empty his stomach.
Shaking like a new foal, he stood, leaning heavily against his horse for support. Reaching up, the youth removed the canteen and took a long draw of water, spitting some out to relieve the taste of bile in his mouth. He replaced the canteen and walked a few feet to breath in some fresh air. The noise came too late, as he flew backward. He was unconscious before he hit the ground.
The six men were mounted and preparing to leave, when noise alerted them to a fast approaching rider and their hands went to their guns. They relaxed, but were shocked to see none other than Daniel Johnson approach them.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Buck growled.
"I need to see John, is he here?"
Chris dismounted and walked toward the man, who was now also on the ground.
"No he's not, why?"
Johnson scrubbed at his face, "I may have put him in danger, and I have to warn him."
Chris punched the man, hard. Johnson looked up from the ground dazed, and wary of the man in black now towering over him.
"What did you do?" Chris was in no mood for this man and his lifestyle. In seconds, the other five had joined him. Johnson struggled to his feet, working his jaw.
"Just after I left here and I was over the border, I stopped at a little town and got liquored up. I was still upset from leaving my son..."
Buck got in his face, "You don't get to call him that; you ain't earned the right."
"Buck... enough," Larabee insisted, and turned back to Johnson, "Go on."
"I slept with this girl, I was drunk, and jawing on about my son in Four Corners. I didn't think no more about it, until I got back there a few days ago. Some bounty hunters looking for me came across the girl I'd been with, she didn't know who they were at first, so she told `em I might be visiting with my boy and she told `em where. They were two or three days ahead of me; are there any strangers here?"
Chris could feel the tension coursing through his body. "No, none that have stayed, anyway." He turned to the others, focusing on Vin,
"We're out of time, get out there and pick up his tracks, rest of you, mount up, now." He looked at Tanner,
"Be careful, they're bounty hunters, remember," then to Johnson, "Follow us."
Evans kicked at the prone form on the ground.
"Is he dead? We didn't want him dead," his partner, Wallis, stated.
"No, he ain't dead, but if his papa don't come for him soon, he will be." Evans manhandled the unconscious boy over his own horse and climbed up behind him, ignoring the blood covering JD's back and shoulder. Leaving the easterner's horse, but grabbing the blanket from behind the saddle, they made their way back to where they had been camped for a few days while observing and learning about their target and his surroundings. They thought they would have problems, as on a visit to the town by Evans, he had learned of the other six men that rode with the boy. They couldn't believe their luck when he had ventured out from the town alone. These two men didn't care who got in their way, as long as they got their man. And the key to getting that man was now in their hands.
"What if they track the blood?" Wallis asked.
"We're not hiding anymore; we got what we CAME for to catch who we WANT. When they find us, we'll trade; they give us Johnson, and we'll give them the kid."
Wallis nodded. He liked that idea.
Vin picked up JD's trail quickly and within two hours the men had reached the point where JD had been sick. Buck was hovering, concerned, holding the reins of JD's horse. They had picked her up a mile or so back as she was making her way back to town. Vin went over the ground meticulously, eventually speaking, his eyes first meeting Buck's, full of worry.
"He done got sick here, but never got back on the horse." The tracker walked a few feet and crouched down, pointing, "There's blood here and two more horses. I think we're too late."
"Direction?" Buck asked, trying to stay calm as he glanced toward the others.
Vin pointed as he stood, "Yep, a trail o' blood heading that way, they're not even hiding it." Vin's attention was drawn to Johnson as he examined one of his horse's hooves, taking out a pocket knife to remove a stone. Larabee spoke,
"Vin, while Johnson sorts his horse out, you go on, leave us markers, Buck go with him in case we haven't caught up to you when you find them. I don't want to tip their hand too early; they may already be more than prepared for our arrival."
The two men nodded. Buck handed the reins of JD's horse to Josiah and they left.
As Evans and Wallis returned to camp, Evans threw down JD's blanket and instructed Wallis to spread it on the ground. He then climbed off his horse and pulled the unconscious youth down, placing him roughly onto the blanket. He touched the boy's sweaty face to feel for fever, and then looked at the wound. Evans pulled out two shirts from his and Wallis' bags and pressed them against the two bleeding holes in JD's shoulder. Wallis protested.
"Quit complainin', there'll be $400 to spend when we get Johnson... dead or alive."
"What if them there other six come lookin' fer `im?" Wallis asked.
"What we have ta worry about now is Johnson getting here fast...before the kid dies." We know he's heading for the town; this ain't none of their business. They hand over Johnson and they can take the kid and leave."
Evans wrapped the blanket around JD, noticing how labored his breathing sounded.
"Let's go," Larabee ordered, as soon as Johnson had cleared the stone from the horse's shoe. They followed Vin's markers, Chris growing decidedly edgy about how easy the tracks were to follow, and guessed this encounter would most likely be a request for a straight exchange. But what was JD's condition? The man in black found his mood darkening to match his clothing. He looked to Johnson.
"You know what these men are doing, don't you?"
Johnson nodded, his features revealing something he had never experienced before, fear for another life, the life of his son.
"This is why I tried so hard to keep this away from him. I was afraid my situation would endanger his life. God I've only just found him, how can I lose him now?"
Returning from where he'd left Vin, Buck appeared alongside them, just catching the end of Johnson's remarks. He glared at the fugitive.
"Don't you dare say that. We ain't losing no one, y'hear me? NO ONE!"
Chris grasped Buck's trembling arm. "Take it easy, big guy. Let's save our anger for whatever's up ahead. So, Vin found them?"
Buck gave a nod and fell back a little, but not before giving Johnson one last glare.
He shuddered, "I guess he cares a lot for the kid, huh?"
"We all do, but yeah, Buck has kinda gotten attached."
Vin had successfully reached the bounty hunters' camp and had sent Buck back for the others immediately. Moving stealthily closer, it only took him a few seconds to locate Dunne's prone form.
He watched silently as one of the men stoked the fire as a pot boiled above it, and then was suddenly aware of cold steel at his head.
"Howdy. I was wonderin' how long it would take for someone to turn up." Evans gloated. "Now let's have your guns, nice 'n' easy. If you cause any trouble," he gestured toward camp with his head, "my man, there will blow a hole in the kid that can't be repaired. Either way, I ain't bothered."
Vin began removing his guns, "Alright, no trouble, looks like ya did a pretty good job as it is."
Evans shrugged and picked up the weapons, signaling for Tanner to move into camp.
As they arrived, Vin instantly moved toward JD, sitting down beside him. Wallis went to stop him, but Evans shook his head.
"It'll save us a job, just keep a gun on him all the time, I'm guessing he's a tricky bastard."
Vin inspected the wound, hissing through his teeth as he did so. JD moaned, softly.
"Easy, kid, try not to move. It's Vin, I'm right with ya."
Hazel eyes squinted up at the blurred face hovering over him.
"Couple 'a bounty hunters shot ya, JD. They've come for yer pa." He gave Dunne some water.
JD looked at Vin, panicked, "Not...not you?"
"Shh, no, not me. Take it easy; Chris, Buck and the others are right behind me."
He deliberately left out Johnson's name; he figured that was as much as JD could handle without giving anything away. Vin looked at Evans, as the man approached.
"Why did ya have ta shoot him?"
"Just easier, I've seen how this kid is, non-stop jabbering, bouncing all over the place. Didn't need the trouble, is all. 'Sides, I have every right to stop someone who's interferin' with the law."
Tanner issued a look of disgust, "You ain't the law, you're just vermin."
Evans stepped forward and backhanded the tracker hard. Vin started to move but JD moaned. His priorities changed and he sat down, wiping the blood from his mouth.
"Good man. Now shuddup and sit still."
Chris winced as he saw the blow to Tanner, his anger growing as his attention turned to JD. Buck was off his horse as were the others, all now crouched down behind sparse foliage.
"I believe these men ARE expecting someone," Ezra spoke softly. Chris nodded. He turned to Johnson.
"How d'ya want to play this?"
"I should walk straight in, they'll have no reason to keep your man and my boy there, and your doc can get a look at John quicker."
"What suddenly makes him YOUR boy? He's been with us a while now, what gives you the right...."
"Buck," Chris interrupted. "Can we just DO this and worry about the details later?"
Nathan closed in, "I need to see him, Buck, he's losin' blood while we're here arguin'."
Buck nodded, his face grim as he watched Vin tending to the very subject of their conversation. "At least he's not alone," he said quietly. Chris squeezed his arm and gave a sharp nod as their eyes met.
Johnson was on his feet.
"They could just shoot you dead; they have a choice, brother," Josiah reminded.
"That's a chance I'll have to take. Are you gonna cover me, Larabee?"
Chris nodded and watched as the man walked into the camp.
JD was attempting to sit up, but Vin was trying to convince him otherwise.
"Gotta... get away...Vin, I can't be the...reason they take...Daniel away..." He looked at Tanner, his eyes pleading for help, pain etched on his youthful face.
"JD..." the tracker began, but looked up as the bounty hunters stood suddenly.
"Well," Evans smirked, "Nice of you to surrender like this, Johnson."
"Cut the crap, you bastard, I want to see what you did to my boy."
"All in good time; drop your gun belt on the ground."
Daniel did as he was asked, never taking his eyes off JD for a moment. His heart ached to see the young man hurt, more so, because he felt responsible. He started to move forward.
"Stand still!" Evans ordered as Wallis came around from the side to pick up the gun and belt.
With Wallis just to his side and lower than him, Johnson suddenly dropped his elbow, hitting the man hard on his shoulders and successfully dropping him to the ground. With Evans momentarily distracted, Vin was on his feet instantly and had charged the man, himself and the armed bounty hunter landing together hard, on the ground, wrestling for the gun in Evans' hand. Johnson brought his knee into Wallis' face and the man went sprawling across the dry earth.
Shots rang out from the edge of the camp and everyone stopped moving, looking to see what was happening. Taking advantage, Vin snatched at the gun and elbowed Evans in the face, leaving him injured and panting on the ground. Through the dust clouds, Larabee and Wilmington walked toward them, closely followed by the other three peacekeepers.
"VIN!" JD screamed out, terrified for his friend. He relaxed as he saw the gun leave Evans' hand and stay safely in Tanner's. The boy felt a presence at his side and recoiled, only to hear Nathan's deep soothing voice.
"Don't be curling up on me, JD; let me see how bad it is."
With his eyes closed tightly, the youth relaxed as Nathan examined him, opening his eyes again as a hand rested on the hair of his sweat-soaked head. He was surprised to see unfamiliar eyes looking down on him compassionately.
"John, son, I'm so sorry for all this. There is so much we need to talk about, but I need you well first."
Dunne looked up at the man, but his consciousness was fading. He managed a half-smile and a nod before it all went dark.
"Nathan?" Buck and Daniel called together, watching as the black man touched his fingers to JD's neck for several seconds.
"He's still with us, but he's lost a lot of blood. The bullet's gone straight through; I need to get him back to the clinic."
"What are we waiting for?" Chris asked, and they prepared to move out.
As the eight men made their way slowly home, Chris kept glancing across at Buck. The ladies' man was brooding and sullen. A disagreement had erupted as to who would be doubling up with JD, Johnson finally winning out. They had allowed the bounty hunters to leave with a warning to never return to Four Corners. Larabee was quietly confident the two men had understood the message.
Chris couldn't help but fear the next few days would be difficult.
Three faces winced in sympathy on the clinic balcony, as JD screamed with pain while Nathan tended his wound. The door opened, mid-scream, as Daniel stepped out to join them, his face pale, his body shaking.
"Is everything alright, brother?" Josiah asked, approaching the man cautiously.
Johnson looked up at Ezra, Vin and Josiah, then back to the floor of the balcony.
"I...I...it's awful. He's in...so much pain. I can't bear to watch."
Vin and Ezra looked at each other, Josiah sympathized.
"We understand, but he needs you. Are you sure you...?"
"NO, no, I can't, I'm sorry." He moved quickly toward the steps and trotted down to the street and toward the saloon. Josiah shrugged.
"I guess fatherhood doesn't come naturally to everyone!"
"Tell that to Buck," Vin mumbled. They all nodded.
JD was in agony, panting hard as he prayed to pass out to relieve him from the torture Nathan was putting him through. He felt Buck on his good side, stroking his hair and talking soothingly to him as he held on to the boy's good shoulder.
"P...please...st...stop," he begged as he tried to wriggle free. Someone was holding his legs. He managed a quick look to see Chris there. The man in black looked sympathetically at the youth.
"Hang on, son, it's almost over." Chris said softly.
A streak of pain stabbed through JD. He arched his back and screamed, "Oh God!"
Blessed release came as he finally passed out.
Five men had joined Johnson in the saloon, Nathan staying with JD to tend to him. Buck glowered at the man professing to be his little brother's father.
"So this is what you call being a father, huh? The first sign of him sick and you dive into a bottle. You're not fit to lick that boy's boots, let alone call him 'son', he's ten times the man you'll ever be, and he ain't fully grown yet!"
Johnson stood to face Wilmington, "Back off, you know nothing about me, so don't judge me. I care about him more than you'll ever understand. You think you have the right to be the only ones who care? Well think on this, I'm his blood kin, you are not."
Buck got right into Johnson's face, "And you think that's all there is to it? You have one night with a woman and nineteen years later you think you have rights? You walked away, you gave up those rights!"
The men around the two were preparing for the worse; others scurried away from the saloon, eager to escape any trouble.
Johnson pushed Buck in the chest, "How dare you talk about JD's mama like that, you weren't there, you don't know how it was!"
Buck pushed back, "I wasn't talking about his mama, that woman was a saint, I was talking about you, getting what you wanted and leaving. You have NO rights, and you proved how much you care perfectly today!"
Johnson lashed out, but Buck ducked, punching back and catching the man on the side of his face. Just as they were about to strike out again, Chris grabbed for Buck and Josiah held on to Johnson. Larabee yelled at Wilmington,
"C'mon Buck, easy now."
Josiah leaned into Johnson "Calm down, brother, let's try and remember why we're here."
The two men began to relax and their captors released their grip. Buck leaned in,
"Maybe we should just lock you up; after all, you're a wanted man."
Johnson returned the gesture, "Ya gonna lock Tanner up too?"
All the men looked awkwardly at him. Johnson picked up his hat, swigged back his drink and stormed out of the saloon.
Buck sighed, "Sorry, Vin."
"Man's got a point." Vin answered.
Chris took a seat, "Point or not, that's the end of the matter. I need a drink."
"I'm goin' to check on JD," Buck stated, and left. The others joined Chris for a drink.
Outside the saloon, Buck looked toward the clinic to see Johnson climbing the stairs. He did nothing to disguise his disapproval, turned, and walked in the opposite direction.
It was well into the early hours of the morning when JD stirred for the first time. He looked across to see a shadowy outline and smiled to himself.
"Buck?" he whispered, then blinking in surprise as Daniel's face came into view in the muted lantern light.
"No, it's me, John, how are you feeling?"
"Oh, hello, I'm fine, thanks. Where's Buck?"
"He's resting, son. Shall I get him for you?"
No, it's ok, thanks. Is everyone alright?"
Daniel laughed softly, "Yes, John, they are. Would you like some water?"
JD nodded, and gratefully accepted a drink, wincing a little as he took it.
"I need to talk to you son, but you still need some rest. Can we talk tomorrow?"
Dunne nodded, slowly drifting back to sleep. Daniel Johnson sighed and sat back in his chair. He reached out and gently stroked JD's cheek. "Damnit," he breathed.
Nathan was more than a little surprised that JD had taken the broth he'd been offered so easily. In fact, the usually restless youth had been a model patient this morning. Johnson had gone for breakfast, promising to return. The other peacekeepers had all dropped in, all except Buck, despite promises from the others that they would send him over. The healer was convinced JD was suffering the loss of his usually ebullient friend, the man he considered a brother. As he watched the boy sleep, Nathan decided on a plan of action.
He walked into the gloom of the saloon to see Buck sitting alone in a corner, the other regulators close by. He strode up to Wilmington.
"So this is it, huh? I stood here listening to you spouting loyalty and family, and this is what you do? You punish a kid who does nothin' but look up to you? He's hurting, Buck, and not just where he got shot." Nathan was shaking.
Buck toyed with his drink but didn't look up.
"Are you listening to me?"
"I'll see him later, Nathan, back off."
Nathan leaned in and lowered his voice, "That just may be TOO late." Nathan turned and left.
Buck stood, tossing the table and glass sideways and stormed out. Chris looked at the others, shaking his head. He got up and followed his old friend out.
Daniel Johnson sat quietly as he watched JD's chest move gently up and down. He felt oddly at peace, and wondered if this was normal or just a respite from all the running in the last several years. Before he had realized, he was gently stroking JD's hair, taking in every feature of the boy's face as he lay sleeping. God, he looked like his mother. Taking a photograph from his jacket, he looked lovingly at it, the face of an angel. If only he had gone back to New York a little earlier, she would have still been there. He had searched for months, but had been unsuccessful. He had never discovered they had moved to Boston.
He brushed away his tears as he saw the youth moving. His next conversation was going to be the hardest he had ever had.
Chris caught up with Buck as the ladies' man entered the livery. He saw the despair in his friend's eyes.
"What is it, Buck?"
Buck hung his head, "He's gonna leave," he looked at Chris, "Isn't he?"
"JD, he's gonna want to go with him, I can feel it."
Chris came closer, "Would you deny him this opportunity?"
Buck sighed, "Hell no, don't mean I want it though."
"Believe it or not, none of us do," Chris smiled, "You could cut the air in the saloon with a knife, right now."
Buck nodded; he walked over to his and JD's horses and was patting them both.
"Go and see him Buck, he still needs you." Chris turned and left.
Choked with emotion, Buck sighed, "Yeah, well I need HIM, too."
JD brushed away tears as Daniel finished speaking. He had listened as his father had explained how he had met Rachel Dunne and fallen in love, all in a few days. He had not been proud of himself after the night the two had made love, but hadn't regretted it. It had been a truly spiritual experience and he vowed that when he had returned from a trip to his home and family in Texas to visit his sick mother he would come back for her.
Unfortunately, his mother deteriorated, and he stayed home for four months, until his mother died.
Daniel returned to New York to find Rachel had moved on, but no one seemed to know where. He hadn't realized until five years ago, from a letter that eventually found its way to his family home in Texas many years before, but had not been passed on due to his constant traveling, that Rachel was carrying his child. She had been ostracized by all around her when her delicate condition became obvious and she had left for Boston to build a new life.
Daniel held the boy's hands and looked into his eyes, "I can't stay here much longer, son. I'm asking your permission to move on, and when I find a safe place, I'll send for you, and you can decide what you want to do then. Do I have your blessing?"
Slowly, JD nodded. "Yes sir, that's fine."
Daniel Johnson smiled at his son...his son. He liked the sound of that, even if he couldn't take advantage of it. With a smile, he left.
He passed Buck as he started down the stairs of the clinic. He turned to him.
"Buck, I'm sorry about earlier." He walked toward the big man. "May I ask a favor of you?"
Buck nodded, looking at the man now in front of him.
"Look after our boy?"
Wilmington nodded again, but his eyebrows furrowed as he watched Johnson walk away.
Knocking on the clinic door, Buck took a deep breath and entered. He sat quietly down next to JD. After a few minutes, JD spoke.
"Buck, do you ever wish you'd met your father, had a chance to get to know him?"
Buck nodded, "Every day of my life, kid, every day of my life."
JD looked at Buck, his eyes bright with unshed tears. "He's leaving."
"Johnson? When, today?"
"D'ya wanna talk about it?"
JD nodded, "Yes...."
Buck moved the chair closer to the bed and got comfortable. His friend needed him, and this time, he wouldn't let him down.
Four Weeks Later
"Mister Dunne, I loathe to hurry you, but I fear my demise may come before you make your next move."
"Stop rushing me Ezra, you're trying to force my hand, and I'm still thinking."
"Now, kid, you know if you think more than twice in one day, your ears'll likely fall off."
"Shut up, Buck, you're as bad as ..."
The saloon doors opened and the telegraph operator approached the seven men, stopping at JD. He handed him a package and left.
Ezra rolled his eyes in frustration as JD started to open it, ignoring his cards. He pushed the items inside around a bit and then opened a letter addressed to him. Six men looked on, wondering what it could be about. Suddenly, JD rose to his feet, his chair clattering to the ground as he looked from his friends, to the letter, then back to his friends, his face pale, a shocked _expression obvious.
"Oh...God, Oh my God."
Looking as if he was about to be sick, he dropped the letter, and walked backward until he reached the doors then turned, exiting hastily.
The men sat quietly for a minute, unsure of what to do, then Buck picked up the letter, looking to Chris for permission. Chris half- shrugged, half-nodded. Buck read it aloud.
"Dear Mister Dunne,
I hope this letter finds you in good health. It is with regret, however, that I must inform you your father passed away recently. Before his demise, he requested I forward these items and this letter to you. I understand his family has taken him back to Texas for burial.
My sincere condolences,
B.D Barren, Attorney at Law.
"He's dead?" Buck was shocked and could see the others were, also. He looked into the box and found letters for himself and Chris.
Both men read for a few minutes, Buck decided to share.
I fear I am unable to keep my promise to John as my time is at an end. I suppose it was inevitable my demise should come from a bullet, but my only regret is I will never see my son fully turn in to a man.
It is because of this thought, I ask this of you. I know how much you care for my boy, and how you have been kind enough to take him on and teach him how to survive. I simply ask this, would you please continue. I can die a happy man knowing a man such as you will be there when he takes a wife, and holds his child for the first time.
I thank God he found you and the other five good men you ride with.
Wilmington wiped away a tear and looked to Chris. Chris' face was almost unreadable... almost. Buck read his letter.
"Dear Mister Larabee,
By now the reason for this letter will be evident. I just wanted to confirm that all previous bank transactions stand. My legacy to John remains intact and I would be grateful if our personal arrangements remain the same.
I have no problem, under the circumstances, should you wish to share this information with John, in fact, it may be prudent to do so.
Knowing men like yourself and the other five will stand alongside my son is a comfort to me in my final hours. I thank you all for taking a boy and returning a man. A duty I failed to perform.
Ezra exhaled noisily. "Oh dear Lord, and who would have known, judging from this correspondence, he was clearly an educated man."
The six men sat in silent reflection.
The scraping of Buck's chair across the floor broke the silence, as the ladies' man went in search of his friend, his brother.
JD had climbed up to the hayloft in the livery. For a while he was inconsolable, but by the time Buck found him, he was reduced to heavy sobs.
Buck climbed up and sat next to the boy, saying nothing. Eventually JD looked at him.
"Sorry," he whispered.
"Why," Buck asked, "For caring, for grieving for a man you had just gotten to know, for being human? Jump in here any time."
JD started to lean in to his friend, in seconds the big man was comforting him, grateful he was able to do something for him and wondering if this young man, his friend, his family, would have left them to be with his father.
Now they would never know, but he and the others would be there to help JD through.
The pretty Mexican girl snuggled down next to the man she had picked up from the saloon that evening. Usually the men she had favored would toss her out as soon as they were done, but this man was kind, if a little drunk, and for once she had enjoyed her time. He softly kissed her on the top of her head.
"Hey darlin' did I tell you about my family?"
She looked up at him, "No Senor."
The man beamed, "Well I got me a son, a wonderful boy, he's gonna make a fine man." He pulled the girl closer to him.
"He's got my shoulders," he sighed softly, "But my God, he sure looks like his mama..."