A. Sharpshooter (JD, Buck, Chris, Vin)"How does he do it?" JD asked Buck, turning from where he was looking to give his attention to his friend. The two men sat side by side off to one side of roaring campfire.
Buck's eyes roamed to a solitary figure who sat, for the moment, by himself, in an area where the light from the fire's blaze couldn't reach him. Apart from any warmth, human or man-made. Coming to grips. A couple of heartbeat's later, that lone person was joined by another who handed over a hot cup of coffee and stayed near, lending solid strength and companionship.
"Well, like most of us," Buck stated softly, events of the day playing over in his mind, "he does what he has to."
"I know but..."
"JD? Vin does what he has to," the words repeated whisper-like. "If he didn't, Ezra wouldn't be here, nor Josiah, nor would you," a soft, sad smile appeared under the man's mustache. "And that," Buck made sure JD's eyes caught his, "woulda tore my heart apart."
JD nodded, knowing the honest truth in that. "Yeah, I know. It's just that..."
"Remember how you felt when Annie went down?"
"That was an accident. This was, was..."
"Was what saved us. And that doesn't make it any easier. Now, let it go, JD."
"Yeah. Okay," the young man finally agreed, this time watching Nathan tend to Standish and Sanchez, caring for their wounds. Buck was right, if it weren't for Vin Tanner and his sharpshooting skills, their numbers today might have been cut nearly in half. He wondered what Larabee and Vin would say to one another... if anything.
"You alright?" Chris asked, handing Vin a hot cup of coffee laced with some of Ezra's finest. The bottle sat heavy in his pocket, in case more was needed.
A nod and a quiet "yeah," came from the tracker's lips. He sighed heavily, spreading his feet apart, elbows resting on his thighs. "Kid's been watchin' me. Know what he's thinkin'."
"Wouldn't be thinking', if it weren't for you."
Vin warmed his free hand around the coffee cup, glanced at Jackson tending to the injured two men, then drank some of the hot brew. He smiled at the taste, felt some of the tension ease. He sat comfortable and easy for the time being. It'd been a hell of a day, but they'd be alright. He'd be alright. He had all he needed right here.
B. Ladies' Man (JD, Ezra, Buck)"How do you think he does it?"
Standish laid down a red Jack on a black Queen in his game of Solitary before glancing over to where JD's gaze was riveted.
"My mind doesn't even travel in the same circles," he answered, well aware of what the young man was asking.
"Huh?" JD questioned, obviously confused with what he'd heard.
"I haven't a clue," Ezra told him, knowing that was an easy way out, even though he had no desire to know nor cared about how Wilmington "did it".
"He always gets the girl," Dunne's hands went up in a "I don't get it" gesture. He took the gambler's silence as an agreement in opinion. "I mean, she walked in here two minutes ago and already he's got her acting like she's known him all their lives. Just look at them."
Ezra's eyes slid back over to the man in question and the lady friend he was with. He had to admit, with Wilmington's easy laugh and the lady's coy smile, they did look mighty comfortable with each other. But it wasn't something he cared to waste any time thinking on. The two friends were miles apart on their requirements for women.
"I'd sure like to be like that."
"Like what?" Standish tamped down a shudder. The thought of another ladies' man with the antics and story-telling of a Buck Wilmington was nearly enough to asphyxiate him. As much as Ezra hated to find himself in a mentoring situation, he felt the need to turn this tide... and quick.
"And what about your lovely young paramour, Miss Wells?"
"Casey? Well... well," Dunne stuttered. "She's fine. I think... I wish she was as easy to talk to like all the women Buck seems to meet." He shrugged and added, "Half the time Casey and I are together, we spend it arguing. It's like I never know what she's talking about."
"And therein lies part of the difference you need to learn." When JD gave him a questioning look, Ezra added, "The art of listening is nearly more important than talking... to a woman, or young lady, that is. Watch Buck," he couldn't believe he just said that, "and you'll find that he does his fair share of listening to whomever he might be with, at the moment."
"Alright," JD responded, nodding his head. "I'll do that. Thanks, Ezra."
"Yes, well, whatever," Standish said by way of ending the conversation as the young man slapped the table with his hand, then got up to leave. The gambler stole a quick look at Wilmington before turning his concentration back to the card game.
C. Preacher (JD, Nathan, Josiah)"Why do you think he does that?"
"Does what?" Nathan asked, looking at where JD motioned with his head. He saw his friend, Josiah Sanchez, nailing on new plank of wood for one of the church's steps. "Guessin' cause it needed it," he finally replied, not understanding why the young man had asked an obvious question.
"No, I mean, why do you think he keeps working on the church like that? Always fixing, painting, doing something. It's not like he gives a service in there anyway."
"He told me one time that restorin' the church a little at a time was like the Lord restorin' his soul, a little at a time. He figured by the time the church was finally done, his soul would be redone on the inside too. Somethin' like that anyway." Nathan shrugged, "Josiah feels the need for a lot of penance I guess."
"Makes you wonder what he's done that's so bad he feels the need to keep at it," JD thought out loud.
"Ain't too many men that haven't done something that don't need some repentance. Big or little. Josiah's just a step ahead of us all, I reckon."
"Like the men in there," JD pointed with his rifle through the jail house door, meaning the two men that were behind bars. "When they hang, wonder where they'll end up. You think a man who's killed someone can ever go to heaven?"
"Guess that's a good question to ask a man like Josiah." Nathan knew his friend had a lot of experience and bible learning. The ex-preacher had an answer for just about anything, if, that is, you could understand his cryptic messages. Sanchez had a knack for tying a man's thinking in knots at times.
JD nodded in agreement. "I'll do that, soon as these men are taken off our hands."
"Looks like that'll be right quick. Here comes the prison wagon now." The ringing of Josiah's hammer faded away as the two peacekeepers went back into the sheriff's office to get their prisoners.
D. Gambler (JD, Nathan, Buck, Ezra)"How does he do that?" The question from JD's lips was asked in fascination.
"What? Cheat at cards?"
"Comes by it natural, I'd say," Buck answered on the heels of Nathan's comment. The three were relaxing at a table in the saloon, the day a lazy and quiet Sunday afternoon.
"He doesn't always cheat," JD said in defense of the gambler they were all watching; the man who dressed impeccably and who dealt cards as easily as a bartender served drinks.
Buck's eyebrows lifted in a "wanna bet" way. "JD, your peach fuzz is showin' again," he stated, receiving a smirk in reply. "Time to wet my whistle one more time," he added, pushing back from the table and heading to the bar.
Nathan chuckled lightly at the exchange between the two friends. "It's just that people don't like being taken advantage of, that's all, JD. Ezra's good at what he does, so why cheat at it?" he explained, wanting Dunne to understand what it was that made Ezra so unlikable at times.
"Well, doesn't everybody take some advantages to win?" Buck had returned to the table and JD wanted them to see his point. "Gunfighters keep the sun to their back, sharpshooters get up high and well, like you, Nathan, you read all kinds of medical books to know more. I'm just saying, don't we all try to get the upper-hand in some situations?"
"There's a difference between getting the upper-hand and cheatin', JD," Buck answered, taking a sip of his brew.
"Not if the other guy doesn't know it, right?"
"Still a question of right and wrong," Nathan hoped he answered JD's question in a way that would make him think.
Buck tried it this way: "Ezra does it to gain wealth, the others do it to save lives. Big difference. He's being deceptive if he's cheating. Understand?" He knew the young man didn't because he was making that "I'm thinking" face.
"It's his livelihood...his life. Right? So why shouldn't he do what he can to stay alive?"
"That's not stayin' alive, JD. That's livin' above and beyond. That's padding the ol' wallet, nothin' else." Buck rolled his eyes and looked over at Nathan. The kid had a point, and he knew what he was trying to say, but Wilmington didn't want JD thinking that it was okay to take advantage of people. Wouldn't live long that way... unless you were a man like Standish who knew his way around a poker table.
"So I guess you shouldn't use your 'animal magnetism' on unsuspecting women and just be yourself. Right, Buck? Not be deceptive? Not try to outdo anyone else to get the girl?"
Buck squinted his eyes across the table at his friend. "JD? You ask way too many questions. Besides, what I have is a gift." It was a mistake the minute it left his mouth and he knew it.
"I thought so," Dunne got up, grinning. "You don't like to lose any more than Ezra does. You two are a lot alike whether you believe it or not," he finished with, quickly getting out of the way of the big man's swipe at him, laughing all the way out the saloon doors.
"I think I've just been insulted," Buck complained to Nathan, then glanced over at Standish again, watching, thoughtful look on his face. "He is awful smooth though ain't he?"
Nathan just sighed at the comparison.
E. Gunfighter (JD, Vin, Chris)"He sure is somethin'. Would you just look at that?"
Vin, relaxing back in his chair, resting, pried open one eye to glance at his exuberant tablemate. JD was intently watching someone in the saloon, in the direction of the bar it looked like. Taking a deep breath, Tanner swiveled his head to the right. Yeah, he figured as much.
"Just like Moses partin' the Red Sea," JD whispered, making the movement with his hands like someone parting a window curtain. "See how people get out of his way? It's like... like he's got this air about him, and people know it."
Vin slid his eyes back to JD, doubting the 'Moses' comparison. But it was hero worship. Plain and simple. If Chris Larabee, the man being scrutinized, knew, he'd tell the kid to find someone else to look up to. He'd want no part of it.
"Respect," the young man concluded, rapping his knuckles on the table. "He demands respect and people give it to him." Derby hat bobbing, he told Vin, "I'd like to be like that... have people respect me, just like that." He looked to Vin for conformation. The tracker's silence goaded JD into asking, "What do you think?"
Straightening up in his chair but hunching over the table, Tanner's fingers turned his empty beer glass around and around. He needed to choose his words carefully. Didn't want to put Larabee's lifestyle down, but didn't want to encourage JD either. Chris had earned his stripes, and not always the easiest and best way... just like so many of them, himself included. JD was still innocent of a lot of that.
"Every man needs t' make his own way, JD. Cain't be tryin' to live another man's life."
"Yeah, I know, I know," the young man agreed, "I guess I just like the way people listen to him and treat him like he's somebody, you know?"
Chris was 'somebody' alright, Vin thought. A force to be reckoned with... a gunman, with a reputation. The young man sitting before him had no clue what that all entailed and Vin didn't want that for him and neither would Larabee. "Gotta earn respect, it don't come natural-like. And some men never reach it," Vin looked hard at JD. "You'll be fine, kid, just keep doin' what you're doin'. Use your days bein' you, not wastin' 'em on wishin' you was somebody else." Seeing he had JD's full attention, he added, "Never know what tomorrow might bring." Least he hoped the young Bostonian was listening. Vin didn't think it hurt for JD to look up to Larabee, but he didn't need to live his life in another man's shadow either.
The saloon doors slapped open, spewing Buck Wilmington and Ezra Standish into the establishment, voices carrying as they argued over something. Vin took that as a sign to leave, heading to the bar for another beer. He knew the reason Chris didn't look happy and figured he'd go and sit with him awhile. If JD had any more questions, he could riddle Buck and Ezra with them.
F. Healer (JD, Josiah, Nathan)"How can he do that?" JD shuddered after leaving Nathan's clinic, Josiah right behind him, closing the door softly. He swallowed hard, pushing down anything that was thinking of making a return trip up. "Dealing with all that blood... and stuff?" He took his hat off and fanned himself.
"You gonna be alright?" Josiah asked, seeing the young man's face pale somewhat and his Adam's Apple bob up and down in rapid succession. He led Dunne over to the balcony railing, just in case.
"Yeah, I think so. I'm sure glad it's Nathan in there and not me," he told the big man, gulping in the fresh air. "How does he do it?" he repeated as if expecting the ex-preacher to have an answer.
"Oh, I guess one gets used to it after they've seen enough of it."
"How could you ever get used to it... to that?" JD asked, putting his bowler hat back on and pushing a few strands of loose hair underneath it.
"War probably. It teaches you a lot of things. Mostly bad," Josiah said, seemingly lost in another time. "Guessin' our friend in there saw enough hurt and decided to try and do something about it. Not every man can do that kind of thing though. Takes a special kind."
"Yeah, I can believe that. It sure ain't for me," JD punctuated his statements with another shudder.
"Wears on a man though," Josiah continued. "Always seeing what man has wrought on another. Ever since the beginning of time. We are a warring peoples. Always have been, always will be."
"Guess that makes Nathan's job a pretty secure one then, huh?"
"Well, I'm still glad it's him dealing with bullet wounds and broken bones and not me."
"Yep. Me too. But we all have our own brand of healing. It's our job on earth to heal and comfort more than it is to hurt. Try and remember that, son. It's not always possible, but Nathan in there," he jerked his thumb back over his shoulder, "is doin' his best. We ought to do ours."
JD nodded. "I will." And he meant it. Everything he learned from these men, these fellow peacekeepers and friends, he filed away, hopefully to gain in knowledge and wisdom and know how to conduct himself out here in the West.
And a man never learned anything if he didn't ask questions.