"You stupid little fool! You could've gotten yourself killed, and you don't even care!" Chris shouted as he poked JD hard in the chest.
"I am NOT stupid!" JD shouted as he shoved Chris's finger from his chest. "Would you have rathered I done nothing? Would you have rathered I stood by and watched you get killed? I couldn't do that Chris. I couldn't." JD continued as he calmed a little.
The other five men watched from the porch their eyes darting back and forth between their youngest and their leader. Each was ready to step in though should things get too heated and a fight was to break out.
Chris's nostril's flared with anger as JD shouted back, and grabbed him by the upper arm. He started to drag the younger man to the barn when he heard a noise behind him. He turned and saw the other men heading towards them. He stopped and pointed a finger at each of them. "Do NOT interfere." He turned back and dragged JD into the barn.
JD, being no match for Chris's strength, went struggling inside the barn. When he was released, he rubbed his arm where Chris had gripped it and glared at the other man. "What now Chris? You drag me in here like I'm a child that ain't done what his Pa said. You gonna act like it now and tan me?" JD asked sarcastically.
"Yes. Drop your pants and lean over that empty stall there." Chris said bluntly as he undid his belt and removed the bullets from it. He folded his belt and stared at JD.
JD blinked. Had he heard correctly? "You actually think I'm gonna let you use that on me? You're crazy Chris. I'm leaving so you can cool down and think rationally." JD said nodding towards Chris's shook his head and began to walk pass Chris only to have his arm grabbed tightly.
"JD I said go over there, drop your pants and lean over the empty stall. This is non-negotiable." Chris said crisply as he led JD over to the stalls.
Outside a different conversation was going on. "What should we do? Chris can't force JD to agree…. Can he?" Vin asked the others.
"Vin we talked about this and actually agreed that this was the best thing for JD." Buck told the normally quiet bounty hunter, though he looked towards the barn.
"I believe though that we agreed to discuss this with young Mr. Dunn and I don't believe any of us would agree right now that this is how we would go about imparting the lesson to him, not with such anger and fear high on the surface." This from Ezra, who was shuffling a deck of cards.
"I agree with Ezra, anger and fear should not be teaching the boy a lesson. A firm hand and a gentle temperance should. We'll step in should the lesson be taken too far. Right now, I think we should just wait." Josiah said calmly.
Suddenly the sound of a belt meeting hide penetrated through the barn doors, causing the other men to all wince in varying degrees. No other sound was heard except that. Each stroke could be heard and counted. When the number seemed to be getting higher with no signs of stopping, the men began to look at each other concerned. A small distressed sound was heard then and the men made up their minds quickly.
Chris raised the belt again and was startled when his arm was grabbed stopping him from delivering another stroke. He turned and had to look up a bit into Josiah's eyes. "Didn't I tell you not to interfere?" Chris asked coldly.
"I am not interfering, think of this as a divine intervention on the behalf of JD." Josiah said keeping a hold of Chris as he led him away from JD.
JD was still leaning against the stall his knuckles were white showing how tightly he was gripping the wooden bar. He wasn't aware of what was going on, till he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Hey JD, you ok?" Buck asked, as he shook JD's shoulder lightly.
"Go away. Please." JD said as steadily as he could, though his voice broke slightly. When he heard the barn door shut, JD slowly stood and got himself decent. He hissed slightly at the tenderness of his backside and took a deep shuddering breath. He bent and picked up his hat that had been knocked off during his struggle with Chris, put it on his head, then wiped the traces of tears away as he walked out and headed to the house with a noticeable limp. He ignored any and all words from the rest of the men as he headed into the house and up to the room he called his.
Buck took it upon himself to go talk to JD. He headed up the stairs and heard a small sniff coming from JD's room along with the sound of drawers being open and shut. Buck knocked on the door. "JD, can I come in and talk to you?" When JD didn't answer, Buck cautiously opened the door. What he saw made his eyes widen in shock. "Kid, what are you doin'?" He asked as he watched JD put his clothes in a carpetbag.
JD looked up his eyes still red from crying. "What's it look like I'm doin' Buck. I'm leavin'." JD said as he closed the bag and picked it up. "I'll see ya around town." He said as he passed Buck and paused to give his friend a small grin. JD heard Buck follow him downstairs and out the front door.
When the others saw JD heading for the barn with his bag, they looked at Buck. Buck closed his eyes a minute then looked at the others. "He says he's leaving. That he'd see me around town. We just can't let him leave…can we?" Buck explained, then asked.
Each man opened his mouth to answer, when the barn doors swung open and JD came out leading his horse. He didn't pause, nor stop just kept walking and leading his horse towards town. JD swallowed hard as he passed the gate. He had been humiliated and couldn't bear facing any of the men, let alone talk to them. At least they had stopped Chris and he was grateful to them for that. In town, he stabled his horse at the livery and checked into the hotel. Once he was in his room and the door was closed, JD walked over to the bed, flopped down on his stomach and buried his head in his arms. He didn't cry nor sob. He just laid there with his head buried and breathing heavily trying to make sense of the things that had just happened. It was close to an hour later when he heard the door to his room open.
The door was quietly closed, though he suspected that JD already knew he was there. He didn't say anything, just quietly set one of the chairs in the room by the bed and sat down. "I'm here if you wish to talk JD."
JD didn't say anything. He just stayed in the same position, breathing heavily, though after a while it began to slow. It was an hour later when JD finally lifted his head. He looked up at the man still by his bedside with surprise. "Ezra, y-you stayed." He said quietly.
"Yes, I told you I was here if you wished to talk and I meant it JD. I may use dubious ways when playing cards or dealing with others, but when I say something to a friend I mean it. I chose not to join in on the thorough tongue lashing the others decided to give Mr. Larabee, and thought that perhaps I could be more of a service to you." Ezra said as he regarded JD.
"Thanks Ez." JD sat up, and then quickly stood. His cheeks turned red as he turned around quickly hiding his face from Ezra's gaze. "I-I guess you all know what happened. Huh?" JD asked softly as he walked over to his bag and began to fidget with it. He was startled a moment later when a hand came to rest on his shoulder. JD looked over his shoulder at Ezra, cheeks still red with embarrassment.
"Mr. Dunn, you have nothing to be embarrassed about. True we know of your chastisement in the barn, but you should know that not one of us would find it humorous. I think we should all discuss this in a reasonable manner back at our home." Ezra said as he turned JD gently around.
Chocolate eyes regarded pale blue eyes, then a small smile formed on the younger man's face. "I can do that," JD lost his smile with his next words. "I don't want Chris there Ezra. I don't want to see him or talk to him just yet."
"That is quite understandable my boy. Here's what we'll do. We will go home, and while you put your horse up, I will tell the others that we have talked some and let them know of your wish to have Mr. Larabee be someplace else. Get your bag, check out of this here establishment and acquire your horse. I will meet you at the livery. We can then ride home and continue the colloquium there." Ezra said as he squeezed JD's shoulder gently and turned to leave.
"Uhm Ezra, if it's alright with you, I think I'll walk home. I'm not quite up to riding yet." JD said as he reached back and rubbed slightly.
Ezra turned with a slight grin. "Do you think I would honestly make you ride back to the ranch with the condition you are in?"
"Ezra, I'm sorry to say that most people would say that you and honesty don't quite go together." JD said with a hint of amusement in his eyes.
"Mr. Dunn, you cut me to the quick sir." Ezra said with mock sorrow, his hand over his heart.
A grin and a roll of the eyes, was JD's response. He grabbed his bag, put his hat on his head and followed Ezra from the room. They went downstairs to the lobby and JD checked out. Ezra said nothing about JD's limp as they walked to the livery to pick up both horses and then walked home.
A large figure loomed at the edge of the property as the two men walked up. "I see that our lost lamb has been returned to the fold. Thank you Ezra." Josiah said as he stood straighter and watched Ezra passed him, then as JD passed him, he halted him with a hand on his shoulder.
"My pleasure sir. Mr. Dunn I believe you wanted to put your horse up while I went into the house and tell the others of your return. Also if you would be so kind as to put my steed up as well young sir I would be most appreciative." Ezra said before he walked away and headed to the house.
JD led both horses to the barn with Josiah following him. He removed the tack from both horses, filled their feedboxes with food, then got the brush and began to brush down Ezra's horse first. He could feel Josiah staring at him and finally looked over at him. "Did you want to talk Josiah?" He asked quietly.
"Would you like to talk JD?" Josiah countered. He could see the tense way JD held his shoulders and the small glances thrown his way as the youngest of the group brushed down Ezra's horse and then moved to his own.
A small sigh finally escaped JD's mouth. He had only given his horse a few quick brushes, but his heart wasn't in it. He kept brushing the animal though, knowing how much Tranquil liked it. "I…I'm not sure what to say Josiah." He finally admitted. A large hand descended on his shoulder a moment later causing JD to look up into a pair of blue eyes and saw the understanding in them.
"What did you think about when you went to the hotel to get away for a while?" Josiah ask as he removed the brush from JD's hand and led him over to some bales of hay. The large man sat down and beckoned the younger man to sit next to him.
"If it's alright with you Josiah, I'll stand. I'm not quite ready for sittin' just yet." JD said as he leaned against a post.
Josiah grinned slightly and nodded. "Yes I would imagine that you're not. Would you like to talk about it now?" He asked looking up at JD.
JD put his hands in his pockets and looked down at the ground for a moment. When he looked up, his face was solemn and none of his youthful lightheartedness showed through. "I was angry at first Josiah, so angry at Chris. Angry that he would treat me like I was some kid that had disobeyed his Pa. It hurt too, because then I thought that maybe
he thought of me as nothing but a kid. I'm not a kid and I was just doing what we always do. Watch each others backs." JD stopped, closed his eyes and sighed.
The older man listened patiently as JD spoke and when he stopped and sighed, Josiah wondered if he was silently being asked to speak. When five minutes passed without a word from either man, Josiah took it to mean that he was to say something, but when he went to speak, JD started to talk.
"He was scared as well as angry. I've never seen fear in Chris' eyes before…at least I don't think I have. Not like this . It was as if he was afraid of losing me. I know he lost his wife and son that was his family, his world. Me? I'm nobody." JD said softly.
Josiah was on his feet and in JD's face the minute the last word was out of the younger man's mouth. "John Daniel Dunn! Don't you ever say you're nobody again. You are most definitely somebody. You are like a younger brother to all of us and a valuable member of the team. I have a good mind to impart some brotherly attention on you at the moment for your choice of words." Josiah said as he gave JD a look that would make clear his intent should he decide to do it.
JD's eyes went wide as he realized what Josiah meant. "Ok ok, I'm sorry. Poor choice of words. I didn't mean it the way it sounded. What I meant was why would Chris care about me? I'm not related to him. Better?" He asked as he swallowed hard and hoped his words had appeased the giant of a man before him.
"He cares about you son, he does, and that's why he did what he did today. True he took it a bit farther than he should've, and that's why we stepped in, because we care about you too. Same as Chris." Josiah said as he stepped back a bit and put a hand on JD's shoulder.
A small smile appeared on JD's face. "Here I was born an only child, then I come out here seeking adventure and wind up with six older brothers." He said softly as he pushed away from the post. "I need to go for a walk." JD said as he walked out of the barn and headed to the back of the house. He headed over to the back fence, crossed his arms along the top rail and rested his chin on top of them as he stared out across the open prairie. It was a while later when he saw, out of the corner of his eye, a black clad figure lean against the post a foot away and light a cheroot.
"Maybe I'd better go out there." Buck said as he, Ezra, Vin and Nathan watched from the kitchen window. He went to head out and was stopped by a hand on his arm.
"Leave 'em Buck. They need to work this out themselves. If we need to go out there we will but until we need to step in we're staying right here." Vin said as he nodded at a seat.
Buck sighed and sat for a minute, then stood again and stared out the window. "Ezra, didn't you say that JD didn't want Chris around him yet?" Bucked asked.
"I did, but if Mr. Dunn truly didn't want to converse with Mr. Larabee at the moment, he would've walked off the minute he detected his presence." Ezra drawled from his seat at the table.
Buck raised an eyebrow at Ezra's statement. "How do you know JD knows Chris is there?" He asked.
"He went tense the minute he saw Chris. JD wants to talk though." This from Nathan, who was still looking out the window.
Chris leaned back fully against the post, one foot in front of the other and his arms crossed over his chest. He glanced over at JD, who hadn't moved, and closed his eyes a minute. When he opened them, he saw that JD had turned around and was now leaning against the rails of the fence and staring across the yard.
"I was mad at you at first Chris. You treated me like a child, no worse than a child, because even a child gets an explanation of why he's about to be licked. I didn't get one. That made me angry more than anything." JD said quietly as he glanced towards Chris then looked down at the ground.
"Sorry kid. I let anger rule me and fear. I shoulda cooled down first, but I'm not sorry I did it. Buck's told you about fanning your guns JD. I know you were just trying to get the guy behind me, but you should have been paying attention to your surroundings. You had a guy sneaking up on you." Chris said as he tipped his hat up and looked at JD.
JD looked up. "I-I didn't know. I just saw the guy behind you and didn't think." JD said remembering that he had heard a gun go off behind him, but had thought Buck or one of the others were shooting at the same guy he was shooting at.
"I know. That's what had me angry, because I know you JD and you're usually more attentive than that. If Nathan hadn't gotten the guy, you wouldn't be here kid, or you'd be in Nathan's clinic. You already know that I lost my wife and son. I don't want to lose anyone else." Chris told him as he glanced towards the house slightly.
JD looked up slightly then looked towards the house. "It won't happen again." JD said quietly, then straightened up.
"Good. Well, how long do you think it'll take them to figure out that they can come out?" Chris asked a small smile gracing his face.
With those words, JD understood that this had been put behind them and nothing more would be said about it between them. Now Buck was a different story. JD shrugged at Chris' question, then grinned as he watched the back door open and the other men walk casually over. He looked at Chris and said softly, "About that long."
Chris nodded and watched as the others began to gently tease JD a bit.
Buck reached JD first and after a long look and deciding that the kid was no worse for the wear, he reached and knocked JD's hat to the ground. "Dang kid, I woulda figured you'd have got yourself a proper hat when you were in town today insteada keeping that fool thing." Buck said as he dodge a tackle from JD.
"I done told you Buck there ain't nothin wrong with my hat. It's a perfectly good hat." JD said as he tried to tackle Buck, but having failed at that, he went to pick his hat up and had to swerve to avoid the aim at his backside. He narrowed his eyes at Buck and went to tackle the older man again. The others stood around grinning at each other as they watched the two play and have the same old argument.
"Ok kids, playtime's over. Buck let him be and give him back his hat." Chris said after watching the two for a few minutes longer. He could see a wince cross JD's face every so often as he horsed around with Buck and could tell that even though the kid was having fun, he was still sore and needed to rest.
Buck gave Chris a nod and grabbed a hold of JD and jammed the kid's hat back on his head. "Come on kid, here's your fool hat back. Can't believe you want to wear the fool thing instead of a proper hat." Buck said shaking his head.
JD shook his head and turned when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked into Vin's light blue eyes and ducked his head a bit.
"You alright kid?" Vin asked softly. He knew he was but wanted to hear it from JD. He had seen the expression on Chris' face when he came from the barn and when he stood there to talk to JD. Chris had hated what he had done and Vin had seen that. When JD had left, he had talked the others into letting him talk to Chris.
"Yeah a little sore but I'll live." JD said looking up at Vin with a sheepish grin.
"Good. I reckon it's been a while since ya got a tannin' eh kid." Vin said as he and JD walked away from the rest.
"Actually, it's the first time. I got an occasional swat or two as a kid, but…" JD trailed off figuring Vin understood.
Vin nodded. "I gotcha. You had a taste or two a few times, but never had the whole thing. Experiencin' it all for the first time is something ain't it kid?" Vin asked as he stopped and looked over the prairie.
"Yeah you could say that." JD said quietly. He wasn't sure why Vin had brought him out here and wasn't sure quite what to say next.
"JD are you truly ok with what Chris did?" Vin asked after a few more moments of silence between them.
JD looked up at Vin and sighed. He remained quiet a few more minutes then began to speak softly. "When it first happened, I told myself that I hated Chris for acting like he could do that to me. I told myself that I was upset with the rest of you for not stepping in sooner. When no one stopped me as I walked off earlier, I thought I was making the right decision to stay away, but when I heard Ezra come in my room shortly after me and saw that he was still there after an hour of complete silence, I knew that I had been wrong about everyone, even Chris."
"Why Chris also kid?" Vin asked turning his pale blue gaze onto JD.
"Well while I lay there thinking, part of me rationalized that what I had done was dangerous and that Chris had every right to punish me like he did, but part of me was still upset with the way he went about it."
"Not saying anything, right? Just punishing you without giving you a reason. That it?" Vin asked as he turned and stared out over the prairie again.
JD watched as Vin seemed to shut him out. "Yeah Vin." The young man said softly. He waited a few more minutes. "Vin?" He asked. JD waited several minutes and when he didn't get a response, he walked away leaving the tracker alone with his thoughts.
Once back down by the large ranch, he had the feeling he was being followed as he headed to the house. JD headed up the back steps slowly and stopped when he was at the back door. "Nathan, I'm fine. You don't need to check me out. Just sore." JD said without turning around.
"How'd ya know it was me JD?" Nathan asked a little surprised.
"You're the only one that hasn't talked to me yet, so I figured it was you. I'm fine though Nathan you don't need to check me over. I'm just sore is all. I'm gonna go lie down a bit." JD said as he opened the door. He felt the hand on his arm, and turned to look at Nathan.
"Here kid. Take this with you. It'll help." Nathan said as he placed a jar in the young man's hand.
JD looked at the jar and then at Nathan, then nodded. He didn't know what Nathan was talking about but he though better of asking what it was and what it was for. "Thanks Nathan." JD said as he headed inside and up to his room. Once in his room, he took the lid off the jar and took an experimental sniff, then quickly held the jar away from him and wrinkled his nose. "Whoa. Nathan I don't know what you expected me to do with this but, whew I'm glad I took a sniff first" JD said out loud to himself, then set the jar on the dresser, took his jacket off and laid on his bed. Sleep claimed him a few minutes later and in his dreams, he dreamed how it would be growing up among six devoted, determined, older brothers.