Josiah sat quietly in the jail, he was behind the desk, feet up, reading.
"They've been gone an awful long time..hope nothing's happened to them," Alexander said, sitting on the cot.
Josiah's only response was to turn the page of the book he was reading.
"That fool kid, the one who grabbed Tanner..he probably got lost..they should've made it back to town before us, all the others are probably lost looking for them," Stan added his thoughts, sitting next to Sweetser on the cot.
Josiah again turned a page; he'd been there all night, listening to the prisoners ramblings, ones that only stopped when they'd been given breakfast, then lunch, courtesy of Molly from the hotel. Josiah had stepped out earlier that morning and saw the large, dark, ominous cloud that hung over the prairie to the west..exactly where the others had headed. Josiah stayed long enough to hear the distant rumble of thunder from the cloud.
He looked to the sky, "You're sense of humor is very annoying at times," he stated. He knew too well that if the men were anywhere near that cloud..JD would be in a panic, if he was able to be, Josiah half hoped he was. The prisoners were right..if something hadn't happened, JD and Vin would have been back already.
Josiah walked back into the jail, glancing at the prisoners he smiled, then returned to the exited chair and resumed his previous activity.
"No sign of them yet preacher?" Morris asked.
"There are many kinds of signs, they don't all have to be physical," Josiah sighed, never lifting his head from the book.
Morris looked to the other, older men behind him on the cot, a look of confusion covered his face; Stan and Alexander weren't of any help as they shrugged their shoulders.
"Didn't anyone teach you to mean what you say and say what you mean?" Morris asked, sharply.. trying to make it sound like an insult.
Josiah lifted his head, a mischievous smile crossed his face. He placed the book on the desk gently, then stood and walked to where Morris was standing, holding the bars in his hands. Josiah leaned a shoulder into the bars, looking down to the man.
"A man has many teachers, for many different reasons; some find teachers in the most unlikliest of forms; like you have with Mr. Sweetser. He's taught you to be a bounty hunter, a good one, with morals..a hard combination to find.
"Like we have taught a young sheriff to be a gunfighter..but like I said before..you find teachers in the some peculiar places. That young sheriff has taught us far more than he's learned. It's like when I was younger..I knew this old monk... he always answered a question in the longest way possible. Hell, you'd ask the man if he'd eaten breakfast and he'd go on about this or that..I remember this one time....." Josiah went on, confusing Morris to no end, after ten minutes of Josiah's story, all three couldn't stand it any longer..all fell asleep and Josiah smiled widely.
"'Bout time," he said, turning from the cell to take up residence at th e desk again.
+ + + + + + +
"Never thought we'd get out from under that damn storm," Buck said, aggravated by the fact that Chris and JD hadn't caught up to them yet.
"Indeed. Mr. Wilmington, I'm sure our esteemed leader made young Mr. Dunne see the light, per say, and escaped the faltering shelter," Ezra tried to assure, seeing Buck look back for what seemed the 100th time.
"I think we need to go back and make sure," Vin said from where he sat behind Ezra.
"Town's just over this here rise Vin, lets get you fixed up and everyone out of the wet clothes. I bet by the time we all got changed Chris and JD'll be riding in...if not sooner," Nathan said, turning in his saddle to face the others, they all nodded somewhat obediently and Nathan turned facing forward.
"Ez. You and me..we can turn back right now..they won't even know we're gone till they get to town," Vin said, whispering as he leaned forward.
"Absolutely not!" Ezra replied, anything but quietly, causing the other two to pull up short and turn, as Ezra reached the two riders.
"What's goin on? Vin you ain't plannin' on doin somethin stupid now are ya'?" Nathan asked, none to happy.
"I was thinkin' bout goin back an' making sure they got out!" he defended himself.
"You ain't in no shape to be doin that.." Nathan started.
"My opinion as well..Mr. Jackson..if you'd be so kind as to allow our over exuberant tracker to ride with you, I feel my horse has had more than his share of the burden," Ezra decided.
With a slight nod, Vin dismounted, steadied himself until Buck was suddenly there to help, and eased up onto Nathan's horse.
Ezra gave a wry smile to Buck, the ladies man smiled his understanding.
"'Fore you try anythin' stupid..I want ya both ridin in front..either that or we tie the horses together.." Nathan said without looking back at the other two.
"Nathan.." Buck tried.
"You an' I both know Chris got JD out in one piece, no more than an hour to go..if they don't reach town in an hour..you two an' Josiah can head back out," Nathan said, suddenly taken the role of leader.
"Aw Hell Nate.." Buck protested.
"He's right Buck, he got JD out..even if he had to knock him out to do it," Vin said quietly, not fond of the picture he was getting in his head of Chris knocking JD out.
"That's what I'm afraid of," Buck stated.
"I'm sure our fearless leader would only use that particular course of persuasion as a last resort," Ezra reasoned.
"JD no doubt made him use it...ya' know he hates those kinda storms," Vin said.
"He ever tell you why?" Buck asked, spurring his horse on, catching up with Nathan as he began to ride to town.
"Nope, never really asked though..just assumed it was them stable fires," Vin shrugged, yawning the last words.
"I believe it to be a bit more traumatic than those stable fires..after all, the lad doesn't seem to mind being inside a building, but extremely hesitant to wander the streets," Ezra voiced his opinion.
+ + + + + + +
Chris rode on, JD lopping back and forth in his tight grip.
What's got you so scared of being out in a storm like this? What is it that bothers you so bad that I had to hit you? Please forgive me for that JD Chris thought.
Chris could hear the fading thunder rumble from behind them as he felt JD's head move against his shoulder. Chris turned his head awkwardly trying to look to see if JD was waking up or getting comfortable, he didn't like the idea that he couldn't tell due to the fact he could only see the black hair, drenched from the rain.
Chris looked up, noticing that the rain seemed to have let up, he sent a menacing glare to whoever might be responsible for the rain in the first place, hoping it would let up more and stop completely. Chris had to smile slightly as it seemed to do just that.
Finally able to hear over the pouring rain, Chris realized that there was a slight groan when JD moved his head.
"Hang in there son, almost home," Chris assured, not sure if JD would hear him or not.
"Chris,"the leader was a bit surprised, and a little relieved, hearing the all too quiet voice from in front of him.
"We alone?" JD asked, his head seeming to move back and forth looking, but not lifting his head from the shoulder it leaned against.
"Yup," Chris said, his voice tired.
"They're dead ain't they.." JD said, his voice choking back emotions.
"JD..where'd you come up with an id.." Chris tried to begin, but he had to stop his horse suddenly as his extra rider lifted his head from its resting place, and jumped off the horse.
"It got them didn't it!" JD yelled, tears beginning to flow, he paced back and forth as if in some invisible cage running his hand through his wet hair.
Chris quickly dismounted, grabbing JD by the shoulders.
"JD, they ain't dead! Nathan and the others took Vin ahead..they're more than likely riding into town right now," Chris tired to ease the very agitated young man.
"No..no, no..NO! You don't go out in storms like this!! You can't..don't you know that!?" JD yelled through the tears, not even knowing that they had ridden out of the storm.
"JD..storms behind us," Chris tired to enlighten, he was looking at JD intensely, he tried to look past the bruises that Vin had inflicted and the one he'd contributed, trying to figure if JD's agitation was causing the pale and slightly shiny appearance or if it was the other way around.
"Patrick said the same thing..but it didn't matter..it still caught up to us!" JD yelled back, talking about past events as if they were in the present. Chris assumed they were past events, he and the others didn't know anyone by the name of Patrick.
Chris was going to go on, try to calm JD down and bring JD back from where ever he was..but JD had taken a deep breath and continued.
"Momma told us not to go out when it was like that..we'd gotten out too far..ran right into it ya know..." JD said, still pacing occasionally running his hand through his hair, "soon as we did we turned around..we run the horses pretty hard...to get out from under it ya know..it came outta no where..he was there on minute..right next to me..." the more JD went on, the more convinced Chris was that JD had no idea where he was or who he was talking to.
"It was awful," JD suddenly became quiet, "I heard it before I even saw it. It went right through him," JD said, he had stopped pacing and dropped to the ground on his knees, as the scene seemed to repeat itself for JD, he sunk even further down, sitting on his heels, he looked up to Chris, "It killed him..just like that..don't know which was worse the smell or the look on his face..his hair smoked form being singed..the horse's tale and mane doin the same..his Pa askin' me where he was when I got back," JD hung his head, "I was right next to him..why'd it get him and not me?" JD asked.
"I don't know JD," Chris answered, he had suspected that 'it' was lightnin', now Chris knew what the others didn't..why was JD scared..no terrified of lightning.
"I was right there.." JD indicated with shaking hands, measuring 2 or 3 feet, "just this far...God Chris," JD said, the tears coming again.
"How long ago did this happen?" Chris found himself asking.
"I was 13, Patrick was 15..he was the Reiley's only child, an I killed him," JD said hanging his head.
Chris knelt in front of JD, he grabbed the back of the young man's head and brought him to his shoulder, the other arm encircled the youths back.
"It was an accident JD, you didn't cause his death," Chris whispered, the voice used by a father when consoling his son.
"I was the one who wanted to go for the ride..Patrick said there was a storm comin'..but I didn't care...Momma was so mad at me for goin out....I killed him..if I'd listened to what I was told...." JD tried, but the sobs interrupted.
"It was an accident..JD. Plain and simple..no one blamed you did they?," Chris asked, still holding JD.
"I do," JD said, his voice sounded absolutely pitiful to Chris.
Chris realized, somewhat suddenly that JD's shirt was still wet, the rain had stopped a while ago and JD was still soaked, Chris knew his clothes were wet as well, but not like JD's. Chris pulled away from JD, the young mans' head hung instantly, either due to the fact he hated the fact he'd broken down or he just lacked the strength to hold it up.
The fatherly instinct took over, as Chris reached to touch JD's forehead. JD shied away from the touch, but couldn't escape it, wincing slightly as the hand was placed partially over a bruise; not that it was avoidable.
"We need to get you home, how long you felt this bad?" Chris asked, his fatherly tone full of concern as he brought back his hand from JD's forehead.
JD shrugged his answer, he'd felt pretty bad since Vin had woken he thought, but wasn't sure..it seemed like forever.
"Come on, lets get back to town. If we don't show up right off Nathan'll have a hell of a time keeping Vin in town," Chris smiled, not letting JD know that the urgency to get home was due to him being sick.
"Okay," JD said, taking the hand that was offered to help, thankful for it as he finally got to his feet, nearly falling over backwards as the world tilted to the left.
Chris helped JD onto the horse, mounting up behind him again, JD's head finding the shoulder to lean against and a father's arm around the waist of the next best thing to a son Chris had. He spurred his horse into a walk then into a gentle trot; feeling the breathes of the young man against his own chest become faster, he urged his horse into a gentle gallop, trying to keep the worry and panic at bay until he could get JD to Nathan. Chris also knew that there would be no panic then either, he'd be to busy trying to calm Vin and Buck and the others then.
Chris would do what he always did when the kid was hurt, he'd go to the livery and brush Pup, or feed her, or just pat her; that was JD's favorite place, his quiet spot.
Chris knew everyone's favorite spot, and when they were hurt, or in trouble he would go to Vin's wagon, talk to Bucks latest lady friend, sit in the last pew at the church, or shuffle through one of Ezra's favorite decks. He honestly didn't know where he'd go if Nathan was ever hurt..Nathan's favorite spot was the clinic..wether he was busy or not.
Chris climbed the ridge, as he came to the top he smiled to see town, another hour and they'd be home; the smile Chris had, left suddenly as he felt a cool breeze reach him and his extra rider, it sent a slight shiver through him, he couldn't imagine what it would do to JD, the slight fever was bad enough..adding the cool breeze was just plain cruel.
Chris sighed and lifted his head, Josiah's always saying you have a sense of humor, but to be honest I don't see anything amusing..ain't you done enough Chris thought. Another cool wind, stronger than the first was the answer.
Chris spurred his horse on, sending his 'look' to the sky, unfortunately it didn't work the way it had with the rain. Thanks Chris thought sarcastically as he moved on.
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