JD lifted his foot slightly and placed it down again on the ground, it was nothing more than a shuffle. He took a deep breath and attempted the same maneuver, but felt a familiar hand on his bare arm, and he backed away from it, throwing himself off balance. He was steadied from falling by Josiah, he was pretty sure.
"Dang it, Buck! Why'd ya' grab me?"
"I was just trying to help, JD. I'm sorry. . . I didn't. . . "
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to yell at ya'," he hung his head, feeling ashamed and defeated.
"Let's try this," Vin said standing in front and a bit to the right. "Put your hand on my shoulder." JD lifted his arm a bit and Vin guided his hand to his shoulder. "You ready?" he glanced to JD.
"Follow me." Vin took a short step and felt JD follow in a staggered step. As both men got comfortable the steps got a bit bigger and a bit faster. Chris and Buck stayed with the youngest of their group, just in case, as the rest went to get to get things from their horses and saddles to make a makeshift bed.
The old store was setup with horse blankets for beds, Josiah had spotted an old stove in the room and after some inspection thought it would do to keep the room warm. Another fire burned in the street with a pot heating over it. Three men stood by the fire and saw four men enter town, one sporting a wide smile, two trying to hide a smile and a young black haired boy looking nowhere but very deep in concentration.
"Fire or bed, JD?" Vin asked.
"Fi. . . "
"Bed," Nathan interrupted JD.
"I'm cold, Nathan," the boy pleaded, Nathan couldn't help but notice he still had the puppy dog look.
"Josiah's got a bed set up for ya next to the stove in there. I think you've had enough fresh air to last you awhile."
Vin walked a few more steps and onto the boardwalk. JD's hand slipped and he stopped dead. Buck was on his way to help him, but Chris's stopped him, "Let him do this." Buck nodded, took his hat off, and fiddled with it.
"Sorry, right here. You gotta take a step up." Vin extended his hand and held on to JD. "That's it, I ain't gonna let you fall, if it don't feel right steppin up, you can pull, okay?"
JD nodded and found the edge of the boardwalk and put his foot on it firmly, and pushed off with the other foot and found himself on the boardwalk. With a deep sigh of relief and a smile on his face Vin and JD entered the store.
Buck turned to Chris and sighed a bit and smiled. Chris finally let the smile he'd been hiding show, patted his oldest friend on the back and nodded, "He's gonna be fine Buck, just fine."
The night was uneventful, JD slept soundly and none of the gang had tried to come back. Nathan didn't sleep much making sure JD didn't have a fever or was in any pain. Most of the bruises were healing when they found him. Nathan had checked the stitches in the boy's side almost immediately after finding him, he was pleased to know the boy had held together.
The scrapes and scratches were pretty clean and he didn't think they would get infected. The fact that he had been out the previous night had worried him as well, but that seemed not to be a threat anymore either. Nathan thought the boy looked pretty good, considering what he'd been through and he was remarkably strong without eating or drinking anything. Nathan figured it was due to the fact that he had slept a lot, letting his body heal.
The men would gather there things together in the morning, break camp and head back to Four Corners, back home.
Nathan had secured JD's arm, and joined the men as they moved around the town gathering supplies and their belongings for the ride back to Four Corners. With the new day, reality had hit JD, he was quiet and withdrawn. All the men had noticed how the kid was acting. Buck said he would try and talk to him, but all he wanted to say to the kid was everything was going to be okay. No one knew what to say or what to do. Chris just nodded.
"Keep getting things together, we'll be heading out in half an hour. I'll take him with me." The men understood that Chris had an idea and it would require some time. Chris knew the kid's blindness was bothering him, but there was something else too, he just needed to find out.
"You warm enough?" he asked, far enough to let the kid know he was coming.
"Yeah, thanks for the coat."
"Everything's almost packed up, you gonna be ready?" He stated sitting next to him.
Chris took a deep breath and put his hand on JD's neck, "It's gonna be okay."
"How?" JD choked, holding back the tears that wanted to come out.
"It will because we won't let be any other way." JD's head hung against the chest of the hardened gunslinger, hiding his face, Chris knowing the kid's pride didn't want him to see the tears.
"You gonna send me away?" he let out quietly.
"Send you away? Why would we do that?" Chris's surprise and concern didn't escape his tone.
JD shrugged, "I can't see nothin', Chris, what am I suppose to do? All I know is what I was doin' here, with you guys," the tears flowing as JD stated his fear.
"I don't know, son. No one's going to make you leave. I won't let them." It was a promise he intended to keep. The hardened gunslinger let the boy cry into his shirt. He figured he needed it. He was worried when they found him and he seemed almost cheerful.
"I'm sorry, Chris."
"For this, everything."
Chris took his hand back and took JD's face in his hands as he had done many times to prove a point, Chris looked into the blank hazel eyes and shook his head, "None of this is your fault. You didn't invite this. This Lewis was out for money, that's it. You're paying an awfully big price for his greed and that's wrong."
JD nodded in understanding as a few huge drops ran from down his cheek and stopping at Chris's hands. He patted the kids black hair gently, as JD pulled away, and sat quietly.
He turned his head to the direction of Chris's voice.
"When we found you, you weren't even awake and you looked like. . . hell. We were all pretty shook up. Then Nathan told us, about your eyes, we. . . I. . . ," Chris couldn't find the words, he was at a loss.
"You woke up, and you already knew. You didn't seem to care."
JD thought about what Chris was saying, "I was glad you found me, they were gonna kill me. I wasn't ready to go, blind or not, I didn't want to die."
"So what's changed from yesterday till today?"
"I didn't know it was going to be so hard," he stated in a defeated voice, the one he used when followed by a Buck 'I told you so'.
Chris lifted his head at the five men surrounding them, he shrugged his shoulders. He didn't know what else to say to make the kid feel more secure. Vin decided to put it all out on the table and ask what he was worried about, and was sure some of the others might be, too.
"You thinkin' of changin' your mind?" JD's head snapped up to Vin's direction.
"About dyin'? No!" The men couldn't help but smile their satisfaction in the kid's resolve. Buck squatted in front of JD.
"Good," he said as he placed a hand on the kid's knee, "I wish, I mean. . . This ain't gonna be easy for ya, kid. You, we have a long road ahead of us, and I know your the one dealin' with this, not us, and your gonna have your days, just like right now, but I promise. . . there's not one of us here that's gonna give up on you. . . you understand? Just don't give up on yourself."
Buck's words and tone gave JD a feeling of warmth and strength. He felt the tears explode and run down his face, and didn't care. He always felt like he belonged with these men, his brothers, and he always felt a part of a family. He didn't feel that anymore, now he knew he belonged to a family. He had brothers, a few father figures, and as some had put it, a mother, of sorts. JD nodded and smiled a smile that could have lit the darkest night making it seem day.
"Ready to head home?" Vin asked, swallowing the lump that Buck had put there.
"Yeah, but. . . how am I. . . "
"You're gonna ride with me," Chris stated.
"Well, I guess we better get goin'," the kid smiled.
Vin extended his hand and let the kid pull himself up, he was still having a problem with his balance because of his shoulder. The kid put his hand on Vin's shoulder like he had done the day before and they walked to the horses and stopped next to Chris's horse.
"How we gonna do this?" Vin asked.
"I can get up, just make sure my foot's in the stirrup. . . and if I'm on backwards please tell me." JD could here the quiet laughter behind him.
Buck helped the kid find the stirrup, after, Vin guided his hand to the saddlehorn. They watched with baited breath as the kid began to pull himself up. Vin and Buck stood behind him, just incase he lost his grip, and Chris was on the other side to offer support.
"I need a push, Vin," JD requested as he got half way up, but felt his strength going. Vin gently pushed the boy's bottom up till the kid stood straight, both legs hanging side by side.
"Um. . . guys, I don't want to kick him." Knowing if he did the horse would take that as a signal to go, and JD, although he was an excellent horseman, wasn't quite ready for that.
"Try leaning over him, then sit up," Chris suggested, knowing that doing this for the kid would send him back into a dark mood. JD smiled a bit and nodded. He did as he was told and leaned on his stomach.
"Good, now straddle him and sit up." Four sets of hands were at the ready as the kid straddled the horse and began sitting up. His legs were on both sides of the horse, his hand still on the horn. He tried again to sit up, but his whole body shook.
"JD, we're right here, you ain't gonna fall," Buck reassured.
"Not . . . that. . . .tired," JD gasped out. No one realized he had been holding his breath while he mounted the horse, and they'd forgotten that he had been hurt.
"Hang on, I'm coming up and help ya', okay?" Chris said, trying to give JD the say so and was given a slight nod. Chris mounted with ease and helped JD sit up. "Better?"
"Yeah, can we go home now? I really miss my bed," JD said, putting all his weight on the man behind him.
Chris looked around as the men mounted their horses, and felt JD relax and get heavier. With something short of a smile he said, "Let's get him home." And the Seven, together again, headed out of the ghost town of Springville and back to Four Corners.
The two day ride home had taken a toll on the group. Nathan had begun to worry about JD, who told Vin, and no one else, that his head had started hurting. Of course Vin shared the news and was chastised by JD for tellin' Nathan. Nathan was anxious to get back and take a look at his books and see what he could find out about this type of injury.
JD was asleep most of the two day ride, each man taking their turn with JD, trying to talk him out of his depression, but when he wasn't sleeping he remained quiet and withdrawn. It worried Buck and Vin the most, they would try and get the kid to talk but JD would give them a short answer, or a nod of the head. Buck had talked to Chris about it and Chris figured he might be worried about getting back into town, both resolving to keep their eye on him.
JD was back with Chris as Four Corners came into view. Chris shook JD a bit and he felt the kid jump a bit.
"Easy, son. Just wanted to let ya know we're almost home, we'll be there in twenty minutes."
He felt the kid tense, he had figured right. The kid was worried about being back in town. JD nodded his head, and the black clad gunslinger noticed the kid began to breathe a bit heavier. He stopped his horse and signaled for the others to keep going. Buck and Vin stopped at Chris with 'are you sure' looks on their faces. He just nodded and the two men hurried to catch the rest of the men.
"Why'd we stop?"
"Cause I think we need to talk again."
"I don't want to talk, I just want to go home," he was still quiet.
"Yeah, I know, but you got somethin eatin' at ya', I just want to know what it is. You worried about getting back?" he asked, knowing the answer.
"What makes you say that, I just want to get to my room."
"And stay there?" There was no answer, but Chris felt the boy tense again. He stepped down off his horse to watch JD's face. "JD, this has got to scare the socks off ya. You haven't been feelin' good. You got everyone wound up pretty tight."
"Sorry. I'm just sick of bein' tired. I ain't done nothin' but sleep."
"That's got you worried?" Chris could see the look on the kid's face and knew he wasn't lying. "Nathan say anythin' to you about it?"
"No, you know Nathan, 'to be expected with a head injury'," he mocked, bringing a smile to the gunslinger's face.
"Your shoulder been botherin' you much?" JD shook his head. "Good, you been riding for two days, how about you take us home?" JD turned to Chris's voice and let out a soft laugh.
"I'm serious, ain't no reason you can't," Chris was trying to make a point.
"Did you forget that I can't see?" JD was trying to make a point as well.
"You know left from right don't ya'."
"Yeah," JD was beginning to get Chris's point, and didn't hide the smile.
Chris mounted up behind the kid, handed him the reins and said, "Take us home, JD." The kid had never knew Chris could be. . . . . . .fun. He'd always thought Chris to be so serious he probably been like that as a baby. He'd never seen this part of him, the part that Buck had seen once. JD swore he could feel Chris's smile, he didn't know how right he was.
"Well, look at that," Buck said with the widest smile, he could have fit the whole town in it. The five men didn't hide their pleasure either as the horse and two riders came into town. Chris's hard face giving into the grin, and the shear look of determination on the young man in front, steering the horse up the street.
As the men got closer, Chris became serious again, seeing the busy people and horses near the boarding house. As the tandem riders passed the group, they heard Chris say 'stay a bit to your right' and saw the kid slide the horse in the direction with familiar skill that was easier then eating for the kid.
The group of men followed in back of the horse, in admiration. When the kid put his mind to it, he could be unstoppable. All the time watching as the older man in back spoke and the younger man listened and did as he was told. 'Ease up, women crossing the street', the horse slowed, 'okay', horse moved backup to pace, 'kid's playing off the boardwalk', the horse stopped, 'good', the horse moved on, 'you're home', and the horse was turned to face the boarding house and stopped.
"Hah! We did it!" the kid was elated.
"No, you did it."
"You helped," the boy insisted.
"Yeah, just a bit maybe. . . but you did the hard part."
"Would you believe me if I said I was really tired?"
"Let's get you down from here and into bed."
Chris dismounted and JD followed easily, but it was obvious he was tired. Vin guided JD up the boardwalk and into the boarding house. The townspeople hadn't thought anything wrong when the two hired lawmen had come through town, as JD went through the boarding house door they knew something was wrong. JD changed into a familiar nightshirt and was helped into bed. He was dead tired, and a satisfactory smile blessed his face and he fell asleep instantly. Buck offered to stay with him as the rest made their way back outside
"I don't know about you, but I could use a drink." All the men nodded.
"I'll be over later, I wanna do some checkin'." The men all nodded in understanding and the four men headed to the saloon as Nathan headed to his clinic.
The doors to the saloon opened and Nathan rushed to the table where the four men had been playing a relaxing game of poker.
"Mr. Jackson? May I ask where the proverbial 'fire' that has you entering this establishment at such a pace?"
"I was doin some readin'. And I ain't sayin' it's true, but there's a chance that he ain't gonna stay blind," he let out not holding in his excitement.
"How so, Brother Nate?"
"Says here, that when ya get hit on the temple, like JD did, it swells inside sometimes. You know how that bump on his head ain't as big as it should be." The men nodded, and Nathan continued, "Anyways, says here that the swelling could be affecting his optical nerve. And as the swelling goes down his sight could come back if the nerve ain't damage." Nathan smiled at the somewhat confused faces.
"What you are trying to convey to us, is according to that medical journal, this condition of young Mr. Dunne's may not be permanent?" Ezra tried to understand.
"Yes, that's what I'm sayin'," Nathan still smiled.
"But you ain't sure?" Vin asked.
"No, it's gonna take awhile if it comes back."
"How long's awhile?" Chris didn't even want to be optimistic.
"Week, maybe two. As soon as the swelling starts to go down."
"Do we tell JD?" Vin looked to Chris. No one wanted to get the kid's hopes up, especially if nothing happened.
"Well, there's some signs that tell ya'."
"Well, that headache he told you about yesterday mornin'? He said it only hurt at certain times."
"Whenever the sun was right in his face," Nathan pointed out. "I think he's got a good chance," Nathan said. The men around him knew he wouldn't say it if he didn't think it possible.
"So, do we tell him?" Chris now looked to Nathan.
"If he is getting it back, he should start seein' shadows."
"What about seeing the sun. . . it's pretty bright."
Nathan shook his head, "This says it ain't reliable, they feel the heat on their face and think they see the light."
The men resolved to let Buck know, but not say anything to JD just yet, even with Buck's protest to not keep him from it. Once Chris pointed out that they didn't think it was a good idea to get the kid's hopes up, he gave Buck example after example, with a few to spare, about JD getting his hopes up just to be disappointed. Buck could do nothing to disagree, after all this wasn't a promised ride or fishing trip that was canceled, this was the kid's eyesight, and if things didn't work out, it could send the kid over the edge waiting to wake up one morning and be able to see, only to be crushed. If that happened, there wasn't one person that would be able to reach him, ever.
The days passed without change, Chris, Buck, and Vin forcing the boy outside. The townsfolk were well aware of what had happened and accepted JD, and some even admired him for not hiding in his room. If they only knew how hard it was for these men to get the boy up and out everyday.
Like Chris said, the kid had his days full of self-pity, and they would let the kid be and then snap him out of it with a ride somewhere or getting a meal, cause the men were 'tired of carrying his meals to him'. Once they got him out of that mood, some days harder than others, he was pretty cheerful.
The days got easier for JD as he learned to except his fate. On this day, six days after arriving back home, he felt confident enough to get out of the boarding house himself. He'd been getting dressed by himself for awhile, everyone made sure that he was pretty self-sufficient as he requested. He opened his door, closed it and counted off eight steps to the top of the stairs. As his hand grabbed the railing, he couldn't help but smile. He took the steps slowly at first, but gained confidence with each one. He counted off three steps to the door of the boarding house and stepped out on the boardwalk.
"Hey, I was just coming to see if ya wanted some breakfast," Vin said, walking towards JD, sporting a smile to match the one on the boy's pride filled face.
"I was thinking about it, but I forgot how many steps it takes to get to the other side," he grinned sheepishly.
"I'll help ya, I think it was twenty-nine. . . or twenty-eight. . . well. . . I guess you'd better count again this time."
"Yeah, guess I should." And the two men stepped off the board walk with ease and JD began counting in silence. He got to nineteen, and as a woman passed in front of them, JD stopped suddenly jumping back a bit.
"JD? What's the matter?"
"I. . . I. . . dunno. . . "
Vin thought that maybe JD was starting to see shadows, at least he hoped, JD didn't stop until that woman had walked in front of him.
"It was nothin'."
"No, it was somethin'. . . your head hurtin' again?" Vin played along.
"I thought. . . I mean. . . Vin?"
"Yeah?" Vin urged.
"Did something. . . .walk in front of us?"
Vin didn't even hide the smile. . . but covered his voice, "Why?"
"I jumped. . . I thought I was gonna run it to somethin' Vin? Somethin' wrong?" he asked urgently, as he felt Vin tug him in the direction he knew wasn't the cafe.
"Nope, kid, I think somethin's right, come on." Vin walked off in a hurry, JD did his best to keep up.
"Vin, slow down will ya, I'm gonna fall down and hurt myself, then Nathan's gonna kill me!"
"We're goin' to Nathan's right now."
"Vin! Wait. . . I don't have my arm up. Nathan's gonna be madder than hell at me." Nathan had told JD to keep the sling on for another few weeks, but he didn't see the need.
"Something wrong, pard? JD, you all right?" Chris had seen the two walking the street in a quick pace heading to Nathan's.
"No, yes, Nathan there?"
"Yeah, I'll get him." Vin nodded and slowed his pace down.
"Thanks, Vin, I wasn't up for trying to run," JD said, aggravated.
Vin turned to JD and walked to him slowly, he waved a hand in his face and noticed the slight flinch as his hand got close to his eyes. Vin smiled and turned to the healer and his best friend. "What is it, Vin?"
Vin did the motion again with the same reaction.
"I'll get the others," Chris said evenly, JD thought he heard a tinge of . . . excitement?
"Somebody want to tell me what's goin' on?"
No one said a word, but yanked the boy into the jail and waited for the others to show up. Vin making the boy flinch over and over, just to make sure it wasn't a fluke. He had the expression of a sadistic child pulling the legs off of a spider.
The door to the jail opened and Vin demonstrated his discovery one more time. He turned to the men and found them all smiling.
"Hah!" Buck let out.
"Will someone PLEASE tell me what the hell's goin' on!!??" he let out, tears threatening and more convinced then ever something was wrong. His emotions taking over he cried out, "I. . . I. . . know I got more bad luck than a dozen black cats wal. . . "
"I'm sorry, JD," Vin said, realizing his mistake.
"Nothin's wrong, son. Somethin's right. Real right."
"You saw that lady that stepped in front of us, I mean you didn't see her. . . but you saw her shadow. . . right? She jumped you. And I been puttin' my hand right up close, like this and you jump back," he said as he demonstrated. JD flinched and blinked his eyes in instinct. "Like that. . . you see my hand. . . I mean. . . not my hand. . . but a shadow coming at you."
JD couldn't believe what he was hearing, how did they know? It must be true, Vin never said that much so fast, the kid almost couldn't keep up.
"Son, looks like those black cats won't be bothering you for a long time," Josiah chimed in, you could hear the laughter in his voice.
"How? I mean. . . Nathan? I'm gettin my sight back? Is that what your sayin'?"
"It's gonna take awhile, but yeah, I'm pretty sure you are."
JD couldn't say a word, he was stunned. Was this possible? Nathan said he was pretty sure. He'd seen something, he guessed a 'shadow' would be right. He just thought it was his eye's still adjusting to being blind.
"How. . . long. . . Till we. . . I mean, I find out. . . .for sure?" He wasn't trying to get too excited, just incase. But he had to admit. . . seeing shadows was better than nothing at all.
"If you see the shadows now, could be any where from a week to a month, or maybe longer. I don't really know, JD, but this is a good sign, a real good sign."
"Well, I've waited this long. . . guess I can wait a bit longer. Just don't be doin' that thing anymore, Vin. I can't say it's as fun for me as it is for you," he tried to sound mad, which didn't work. The men all shared a laugh, but were interrupted by the young man sitting in a chair not looking amused at all.
"Does someone want to help me get to the cafe so I can get somethin' to eat. Or do I go on my own and give Nathan somethin' to practice on?" JD said with a grumble, he was starving.
"Oh, yeah sorry," Vin apologized. And the group of Seven headed out the door and to the cafe, stopping whenever someone passed JD too close, jumping him a bit. The men were glad that JD couldn't see the smiles every time it happened, he hated being their source of entertainment, but they were too happy. The kid's bad luck was changing, he had earned it more than once.
Days passed, then weeks with JD's sight changing in subtle ways, he was able to maneuver pretty well about the town, never alone though. His shadows had become blurs and fuzzy images it was like Nathan had said it, was taking time.
The kid's body had healed without complications and life was good. His 'black cats and ladders' luck seemed to have disappeared. He figured he'd have a few close calls with horses, but never did.
Ezra was with JD heading to the saloon for a drink. The men entered the saloon, it not being lit well JD had a hard time seeing, and put his hand on the gambler's shoulder before entering. The regular customers didn't even lift their eyes when the two men entered and made their way to a table occupying five other men.
The men sat and sipped at their whiskey, and milk, talking to themselves about the days happenings. JD said he needed to 'be excused' and did so with Buck leading the way. On their way back in someone bumped into JD spilling his drink, the kid began to apologize and before he could finish the 'sorry' part he was hit hard and was out immediately.
The man was drunk and thought he would take on the rest of the Seven. Normally when a fight started the regulars would join in for the fun of it. Not the case for the poor sap who decided he needed to hit a man he himself had run into, the kid that didn't see the man or the man's fist.
Tonight the regulars joined in the fight as well, but not on the side of the man who'd hit JD and knocked him out cold. Simpson and Waters, ranch hands outside of town, signaled to Nathan that they'd get JD out, Nathan nodded and the men lifted the boy out of the saloon and headed for the clinic.
The struggle in the cafe was over as fast as it started as he was wrestled to the floor, when he stopped fighting and relaxed, Chris yanked him off the floor and before the man could say anything noticed about twenty guns pointing at him.
"Josiah, lock him up. Gentlemen," he looked around the room, and with the 'Larabee look', nodded his thanks and tipped his hat, the guns were reholstered and the men went back to their tables like nothing had happened.
"Simpson and Waters took him to the clinic," Nathan said, passing Chris and the others, the others following him.
The men waited in the hall anxiously, excluding Buck who was in with Nathan. They all had the same worry, had that hit sent the kid back into the dark. They all wanted to know, they all knew what the other was thinking, but no one dared voice their worry. The silence was broken by Vin.
"Damn black cats," he mumbled.
Chris was about to respond, when the door opened and the somber healer looked into the waiting faces.
"He awake?" Vin asked quickly.
"Yeah," he said flatly. And the men's faces dropped. Their worse fear realized without asking.
"May we enter to see our young friend?"
"Yeah," Nathan stepped aside and the men entered with their heads hanging and dark expressions on their faces.
"Why you guys looking so down?" And their heads lifted to see where the voice had come from. They were shocked to see JD Dunne sitting up in bed, showing off his bruised cheek. He broke the silence again.
"I was hopin' that you guys would be smiling the next time I saw ya, not lookin' like your dog died."
The men all turned to Nathan, who couldn't hide his smile, "That hit he took did some good, he's fine. And he can see fine."
The room seem to explode with life as the news sunk in. After a few hours Nathan ordered them all to leave and let the kid sleep. The men said their goodbyes, Chris was stopped.
"I just want to. . . .to say thanks, for not givin' up on me, and showin' me I could do stuff, you know, before."
"I'm glad I could help, that's what family does, isn't it?"
"I was. . . pretty hard. . . to get along with. . . and I'm sorry." Chris sat down and looked into the hazel eyes and saw the life back in them that he'd missed.
"You have nothin' to be sorry for, you did better than any of us would have. By being a family, we have a bond. . . We're each a link in this invisible chain. . . Lewis took you and. . . he thought you were the weak link. . . the way to break us. . . .and you are by far the strongest link in that chain."