The morning sun had not even touched the sky and when seven men were mounted on horseback heading out of town. They were used to being seven, though the number was the same they were not whole, one was missing, replaced by the man who had sent him away. Judge Waters rode next to Vin who rode the horse he'd been asked to take care of. Beside Vin rode Nathan who had Vin's horse. On the other side of Nathan was Josiah, on the other side of the judge was Ezra, then Buck and finally Chris. Not a word was spoken as they headed to the hunting cabin.
They were going to go back to the estate and find the wall that Sam had told them about, but Sam had met with them earlier, before they left and told them he remembered a shorter way to the cabin, it would cut the ride by about fifteen minutes, not much, he knew, but it was something.
"Here's the split Sam talked about," Vin said, the cool morning showing his breath.
"Can't be too much further," Buck almost seemed asked.
"Nope, maybe another few miles," Vin said, not smiling.
Hold on kid we're on our way, Buck thought to himself, knowing his friends were all thinking the same thing.
+ + + + + + +
JD was cold. He opened his eyes and looked directly into the brown eyes momentarily before looking away. He was so cold, but not as cold as he was when he'd been stuck in the river. He felt the small tremors that ran through his body, making his lips quiver.
Chamberlain stepped back and inspected the damage from the night before, the tears had stopped bleeding and seemed to be already healing. JD felt the man tug at him then heard the crack of the lunge whip again. He opened his dry mouth to speak, the words bringing a smile to Chamberlain's demonic face.
"Nnnnooo....mmmorrrre...ppplease," JD begged, closing his eyes and moving his head back.
"You're learning, but you forget who gives the orders and who takes them though," Chamberlain said coldly, striking at JD, causing another wound.
JD ran back to the place in the back of his mind and hid, he never felt the whip, he didn't hear it, he didn't hear when Chamberlain broke the whip and cursed, he didn't feel it when Chamberlain picked up his walking stick and begin to hit him with that, he was numb. Nothing hurt because nothing mattered. He wasn't worried about dying, he had nothing to live for, and he knew the only way he was getting out of this was Chamberlain killing him. JD just hoped that Chamberlain would make a mistake and get it over with.
The seven men made it to the edge of the wooded area that Sam had told them about, they could see a small ribbon of smoke in the middle of the grove of trees seemingly coming from nowhere, Chris and Vin also heard the crack, then a man yelling, but no more cracks.
"Nathan, Ezra, you come with me and Vin. The rest of you stay here."
Chamberlain broke the lunge whip, cutting the limp part off, then stepped to the kid, said something the others couldn't hear, stepped back and swung the 'switch' on JD's back, he brought it back to do the same.
"I wouldn't do that if you were smart," Chris growled.
Chamberlain turned startled and looked at the man in front of him.
"Stay out of this, mister! This has nothing to do with you!" Chamberlain yelled, thinking he only had one man to deal with.
"Please give me and excuse!" Ezra stepped from his spot, putting his gun to the man's temple.
"Who the hell are you?" Chamberlain asked, obviously taken back.
"Your worst nightmare," Vin offered, knowing they had never met Chamberlain and he never met them.
"JD, hey, kid it's Vin," Vin tried.
"The rest give up?" Chamberlain said, understanding who they were.
"Never," Chris said, walking past the man to help Vin and Nathan with JD.
"Vin?" Chris asked, looking at Vin.
"I can't touch him without hurtin him," Vin sighed sadly.
Chris moved to JD. He looked into the hazel eyes that he had missed and his heart broke, there was no spark, JD wasn't 'there', he was somewhere else, maybe in that place in his mind..the one Nathan had told them about.
"JD, we're going to get you down, you're safe now," Chris said softly, lifting his hand to push away the hair that covered his face, JD moved away from the touch, never looking to see who it was.
"Let's get him down," Chris said sadly.
"How can we hold him up?" Vin asked, swallowing back the tears that wanted to come.
"It doesn't matter, he won't feel it," Chris said, giving a hard glare to the man still held at bay by Ezra's gun.
Nathan cut the rope as Vin and Chris were on each side of JD, they lowered him down, arms still over his head and Nathan carefully cut the ropes binding him. He carefully put each arm to JD's side .
"They're stiff but nothing's separated," he smiled a little.
"Let's get him inside, he's freezing, Nate," Vin told information to the healer that he already knew.
"We get him set inside you go and get Buck and the others," Chris ordered, Vin nodded.
They carried JD inside the cabin, Nathan noticed the blankets that Chamberlain had most likely brought for himself and lay them on the dusty mattress.
"Easy guys," Nathan instructed, knowing that laying JD on his back would hurt. He looked at the two men as they laid him down without even a hint of pain on JD's face.
"JD, hey, it's Chris, JD." JD looked away again, pulling back from the touch "He's sick, Nathan."
"Keep talking, Chris, he'll hear you eventually," Nathan encouraged, nodding at what Chris said and seeing the distress in the man's face, JD was so far away.
"I'll be back," Vin said.
"Vin, let him know," Chris said, never taking his eyes off JD as Nathan began to take care of JD's wounds. Vin left the cabin and found Ezra escorting the man to the tree to tie him to. Vin looked to the tracker taking his eyes from Chamberlain, who took advantage and knocked the gun away and took a swing at Ezra who moved back in time to avoid the hit.
Vin lurched to where they were, but found himself grabbing at Ezra as he landed one punch after another to Chamberlain's face and middle.
"Let go of me!!" Ezra yelled as he was pulled off from Chamberlain.
"Later, Ezra, later," Vin said calmly as he looked to Chamberlain's face, noticing the old cuts and bruises. "Sides, Ezra, seems the kid got a few licks in himself, he's stronger than you thought, Chamberlain."
"You're never going to get away with this, I'll tell the judge that you.."
"You'll tell the judge what, Josh?" Waters said, climbing down off his horse.
Chamberlain grew pale. He shook his head and smiled as he recovered. "He's mine, Judge, isn't anything you can do about it."
"Well, Mr. Standish, I think Josh here has forgotten the law, care to fill him in?" the judge said.
"I have him, there's nothing you can do about it!!" Chamberlain yelled.
"Ahh..you are mistaken. You see, Mr. Dunne is the sheriff of Four Corners, and if I recall an assault with the attempt to kill is a federal charge and therefore punishable bye death, which I would be more than happy to arrange for you!" Ezra said, leaning into the much bigger man who now seemed so small.
Chamberlain looked to the judge, who nodded his agreement.
"You can't be serious?" Chamberlain said.
"You better hope he lives, don't think you'll make it out of the here if he doesn't," the judge added.
Two more horses and riders approached. Buck quickly dismounted, dropping the reins of his horse and the others he had gotten in the woods as he dismounted and ran for Chamberlain. He was stopped by Vin.
"Let Ezra deal with him," Vin said, still in the calm voice.
"Where is he?" Buck said.
"He's in the cabin with Chris and Nathan. Easy with him, Buck," Vin said as the two walked quickly into the cabin.
"How bad is it?"
"I don't know. He ain't talking," Vin said, as he opened the cabin door.
"JD, you're safe now, come on kid, look at me it's okay..look at me."
Buck stood back as Nathan raised his hand to hold back, Chris was making progress reaching JD. Vin put a hand on Buck's shoulder just as much for Buck as himself. They listened and watched as Nathan felt for broken bones and tend to cuts that might require stitching and mending.
"JD, you're safe now. Look at me, I've missed you, son," Chris fought back the tears, but the emotion present in his words. The words seemed to hit their mark as JD turned his head and looked right at Chris, JD blinked once.
"Hey, kid," Chris said, as if seeing him for the first time.
JD couldn't say a thing, he looked at the familiar blue eyes of his hero but didn't recognize what he saw in them, as a single tear snuck out of the corner of the leaders eye. JD lifted his hand, pushing the tear from the gunslinger and his own eyes filled as reality began to flood his head.
"Stop," JD said quietly to Nathan.
"He's checking you out, kid."
"No..please.." JD begged as Nathan felt the broken ribs.
"Easy, JD, I gotta see what's broken and what ain't," Nathan said, as JD flinched and tried to move away every time Nathan touched him.
"Buck's here, kid," Chris motioned to Buck, Chris had no idea what to do to make this right for JD.
"Hey kid, can't leave you alone for a minute can I," Buck laughed out, the smile disappeared as JD turned his head away, going back to the place he had been, escaping reality once again. The only sign of life they could see was the steady rise and fall of JD's chest as he breathed.
"I need to check his leg, I think that might be causin' the fever."
Nathan took off JD's boots, then moved to do the same to his pants. He unbuckled his belt and began to carefully pull the pants off, he never expected JD to explode.
"NO!!!!!" JD yelled as he sat up in bed, Buck and Chris were trying to hold him down with out hurting him as JD pushed the arms away and kicked his feet.
"JD, it's okay..Nathan's checking your leg," Chris tried to reach where ever JD was.
"NO!! LEMME GO..LEMME..GO!!" he continued, sounding more like a ten year old.
Vin left the cabin quickly and returned with Ezra. For some reason he thought Ezra might succeed where everyone else was failing, he'd gotten him to admit to the others about Chamberlain's treatment of him, maybe he could get through to him.
Nathan stopped what he was doing, and the others didn't have to hold JD down as he began to relax and go right back to where he was before.
Eara came into the cabin and quickly and very un-Ezra like pushed back the leader and Buck and went to JD's side.
"JD..look at me," Ezra ordered harshly, not asking like Chris had been doing.
JD turned his head to the gambler and the others saw the recognition in the eyes. JD looked at the gambler with question.
"I'm not able to see your face due to your non existent grooming practices. May I?" Ezra asked permission and was rewarded with the shadow of a smile they were used to seeing and he pushed the hair away from the boy's face.
"I know you are not feeling well, my boy, let Mr. Jackson check your leg," he leaned in closer to whisper so the others would not here, "I know you're scared, you can hold my hand if you get too scared," he said smiling, showing his golden tooth.
"Okay," JD said with all the strength he could muster, and it was still unheard by the others.
Ezra turned to Nathan, "Could he have something to drink?" Ezra asked.
"I'd rather wait till I get a look at his leg," Nathan sighed.
"Did you hear Mr. Jackson, JD?" Ezra asked.
JD looked towards the healer and back at Ezra, "No," he answered honestly.
"He said you could have some water after he checks your leg," Ezra said, like he was talking to a child.
"Okay," JD said again, Ezra turned to Nathan and nodded for Nathan to continue.
The healer removed the pants without incident as he threw the pants to the floor and saw that JD had grabbed the gambler's forearm, he also noticed Ezra never stopped looking at JD repeating, "You're doing fine," over and over as the Nathan touched the leg the pain of infection causing him to react with small gasps and shutting his eyes tightly.
Nathan stood up, "Still thirsty, JD?"
"Nathan would like to know if you are still thirsty," Ezra repeated, after waiting for JD to answer the healer's question, which never seemed registered with the young man.
"Can I?" JD asked, looking for permission.
Ezra turned to the healer, "Yes, I think the lad would like a drink."
"I wish I could give him something to get him to sleep while I cleaned this," Nathan sighed, taking the canteen that Vin had given to Nathan, who now passed it to Ezra. "He's gonna need to be sittin'."
"JD, listen to me very carefully. Someone is going to have to lift you up so you can have a small drink. Is there anyone over there that you will let help?" Ezra asked, sitting back to let JD see who was there. Ezra knew JD needed to trust, which he seemed to do easily for Ezra, why he didn't know, but that wasn't important. JD needed to find someone else to trust to help.
"Are you sure?" Ezra asked as JD once again whispered his choice. He knew this would be difficult for two of the men, they were always the ones to comfort, yet they had no idea what to do. They not only had to comfort the visible injuries but allow for the ones they couldn't see.
"Vin, would you like to help JD sit up?" Ezra said, all the time eyes appologizing to Buck, seeing that Chris seemed to understand.
Vin moved to the men and carefully sat behind JD, as he lifted he saw the hand go back to Ezra's arm, but continued as Ezra gave an encouraging nod to Vin. Vin scooted up behind JD as he easily put his wieght against the tracker.
"Take small sips young man, the last thing we need is to make a mess all over yourself." JD did as he was told, and after three small sips couldn't take anymore.
"You need to sleep, Mr. Jackson needs to clean your leg. I'm sure it will be extremely painful, but I promise to be here," Ezra smiled again.
"Kay," he said, the water making his voice not so gravely, Vin and Ezra laid him back down on the bed and he promptly closed his eyes and fell asleep. Nathan began to clean out the infection, never hearing a word from JD.
+ + + + + + +
The men stayed there through out the night, Chamberlain was still tied to the tree, Josiah still watching him, the judge had left to go get the sheriff to escort Chamberlain away, and also get a few things Nathan had asked him to pick up. Nathan, Chris, and Buck all sat around the cabin, never able to take their eyes off the three that were at the bedside of their youngest member.
The sun began to shine through the dusty windows, Nathan stood stiffly and stretched his aching muscles and walked over to where JD lay.
"How's he doin', Nate?" Buck asked, touching the boy's forehead. JD never moved
"He's sleepin' is all, probably needs it more than anythin'," Nathan said.
"You think he'll act better?" Buck asked.
"Hard to tell, Buck, he's been through alot."
"How bad is he hurt, Nate?" Buck asked quietly, remembering all the bruises and marks on the kid's front and back, and just about everywhere else.
"His legs are the only thing that's got me real worried, and I wanna get those ribs wrapped up soon."
Ezra and Vin woke as the sun hit the bed, they carefully moved their heads and arms from the bed trying not to disturb the still sleeping JD.
Vin walked to where the others now stood.
"He slept all night, that good, Nathan?" Vin asked.
"Yeah, he needs it his fever ain't gotten any worse," Nathan said.
"Josiah's been cooking breakfast, I'll stay here while you get something to eat," Chris said.
"I'm stayin' here, pard," Buck said, leaving no room for any discussion, walking to the chair that Ezra had occupied.
"We'll bring ya back somethin'," Vin said with a nod.
"Thanks," Chris said.
The cabin door closed and Chris took up his all to familiar post across from Buck. Chris had to let out a small grin as Buck had quickly fallen asleep, his hand resting on JD's.
When one of the men had gotten hurt, everyone would be worried. But only a few men effected Chris. If Vin was hurt, Chris was almost as bad as Buck was when it came to the kid. If Buck was hurt Chris and the others had double duty, dealing with Buck and the kid, but the kid.
Everyone worried about the kid. Buck was the worse, although Vin had told Chris he ran a close second to him, and Chris had told Vin pretty much the same thing. The fact was there wasn't one person in this unlikely group of friends, no family, that didn't care about the kid; the kid who cared back ten fold, who would do anything for these men. Like come all the way back to Boston because someone had filed for custody, and as much as JD hated to, he came. Not because he wanted to hurt anyone, but because it was the right thing to do, it was the law.
Chris smiled to himself , everything was so black and white to JD at times. It was a simple code he followed. Don't lie, don't cheat, don't steal, don't kill unless you have to..something that they all had learned. If JD could wing someone he would, but if it came down to no choice he would do that as well and had. To JD it was either right or wrong, there was no gray area, although he was learning to see the gray. He was taught not to gamble but here he was, friends with a gambler.
Hell kid you hanging with men I know your momma told you stay away from. Thank God you didn't listen, he thought.
+ + + + + + +
"Buck?" came the all too quiet voice from the bed.
"Right here, kid," Buck said with a smile. Waking up instantly as he heard the kid.
"Hurts.." JD cried out.
"Where?" Chris asked softly.
"Breathing," JD blinked out tears. "Oh God," JD cried out again hoarsely.
"Easy kid, Nathan hasn't wrapped you up yet," Buck said, glad his words were working.
"I'll get Nathan," Chris said as he stood.
"Oh God.. It ..hurts...every...where," JD cried out again.
"I know, JD, I know. Nathan says you're gonna be just fine," Buck said, still holding the hand that was too weak to hold back, and trying to soothe the kid's hurt by the familiar stroking of the kid's hair.
"Hurts...to..move," JD said, his breathing growing faster, making his ribs hurt more causing him to breathe faster.
"Easy, JD, easy.. You're gonna hurt yourself more if'n you don't calm down," Buck said, himself waiting for Chris to come back, he was fighting his own panic.
"Buck?" Nathan asked, entering the cabin, all the others following.
Buck stood and moved back to let Nathan take a look at JD.
"JD, it's Nathan. I know it hurts to breath, you got some broken ribs son, you need to take it real easy till I can get them wrapped, okay?"
"Tryin...to.. Nate..it...just....hurts..too ..much.." he said through fast breaths and tears.
"I know, I know. I'm gonna try somethin, It's gonna hurt a bit at first, but I think you'll be able to breath better okay?"
"Kay," came the pain filled reply.
Nathan looked over to the men and did a quick survey of their conditions, Buck was beside himself, Chris and Vin were tired but would be okay.
"Chris and Vin, I want you to get in the back of him, mind his back, and sit him up a bit. One of you get behind him and let him use you as a pillow, it should take the pressure off the ribs that are broken towards the back." Vin and Chris nodded, Vin looked at Chris letting Chris know he wanted to be behind the kid, the leader's quick smile gave Vin an okay.
"Okay, JD," Nathan began and filled him in on what was going to happen. "Ready?"
"Yeah," he said quickly, he just wanted the hurting to stop.
Chris and Vin did as they were told and carefully began lifting his upper body off the mattress, as they did that Nathan was thankful he hadn't chosen Buck.
"Ow..ow ow ow!" JD chanted through the tears as he was lifted, Nathan figured the kid would have screamed if he'd had the strength.
"Nathan.." Buck pleaded for the kid, and felt two strong hands on his shoulders, and turned towards Ezra and Josiah who led Buck out of the cabin, JD was barely off the bed and he cried out so much, Buck couldn't take it, hearing it was worse.