Just trying something out here… Bear with me.
You need a good knowledge of "One Day Out West".
Disclaimer – You recognise it… I don't own it.
"Let me go, kid." Lucas James sneered, "And you won't die."
"Everyone dies." JD shrugged, with more bravado in his voice than he actually had.
"You don't wanna die, kid." Lucas laughed, "Let me go and I'll make sure you don't have to worry about anything."
"No." JD shook his head.
"What's your price? Name it. My uncle'll pay it."
"You can't buy your freedom. Go to sleep."
JD turned to the small cot he'd managed to scrounge up, positioned near the door.
Ezra was slightly impressed, despite himself. JD had carefully positioned the bed, so that it was under the window, allowing the young sheriff to peer through the window if necessary, but it was unlikely that anyone would notice the cot if they used the window themselves.
JD had also not been unnecessarily cruel. In fact Ezra had been better treated than in any of the other prisons he had temporarily resided in before. JD had managed to fetch them a decent meal each and while he had been smart enough not to give them knives, he hadn't made them eat with their hands.
He had even remembered to count the cutlery in and out. Even if it was only spoons and forks.
"Will your ma even care if you die? Or is she such a whore and a drunk that she don't even know your father's name?"
"Don't you dare say that!" JD snapped, showing the first bit of fire in him that Ezra had seen since the Village.
"It is not advisable to insult a man's mother." Ezra drawled slightly, "While my own mother is no paragon of virtue, Ah would defend her against such insults Mister James."
It was a calculated reprimand on Ezra's part. Designed not to sound like he sympathised with JD, but also allowing the young Easterner to draw some support from the gambler.
Inwardly Ezra was slightly appalled with himself. He was starting to care for the young man. Something he had told himself a hundred times before not to do. In his line of work he couldn't have anything he couldn't walk away from in a heartbeat.
Yet somehow he knew that walking away from Four Corners would be something he would regret.
Ezra watched as JD breathed in and out, struggling to keep under control.
Suddenly, JD spun and left the small Jail/Office.
"Why'd you say that?" Lucas turned on Ezra.
"Mah mother has always reminded me that a kind word and a seemingly sympathetic ear will deceive all. Though it may take longer than direct threats, you achieve your goal with no violence required, Mister James."
"You think you can talk him into opening the door?"
"Ah believe so. He is already more willing to listen to my words than your own. Intimidation can only get you so far, Mister James."
"Good luck with that. My uncle will rescue me."
"Be that as it may be, Mister James. May Ah ask that when your liberation occurs that you leave my cell door ajar, so that Ah may also extradite myself from our current predicament?"
"Count on it." Lucas grinned.
Ezra knew that he had Lucas fooled. But he wondered how much was he actually fooling himself?
Ezra also knew that Lucas would not unlock the door for him when the cowboy left. But the question was expected, so he had asked it.
Ezra spent the time JD was gone flipping cards into his hat. Lucas had finally gone to sleep, after a conversation with Ezra, during which time Ezra carefully wove bonds of friendship, just in case.
Never hurt to have a safety net.
When JD returned, he took off his boots and belt, clearly intent on getting some sleep. Ezra decided that it was the right time to play his best card.
"Mister Dunne, you may effect my emancipation."
"Ez," JD sighed, "I said no before, and I meant it."
"Or should I say Miss Dunne." Ezra knew his guess had been correct when JD spun around to stare at him, shock and horror clearly displayed on his… Her features.
He'd suspected for a while, but hadn't used his best leverage until now, because he knew that it would be in his best interests that no one else knew his main bargaining chip.
Something like this would be valuable in the hands of one person. But the value would diminish with the number of people who knew.
"How did you…?" JD tailed off, "Look, Ez, I can't let you go."
"It would not be that hard, Miss Dunne." Ezra drawled sensing the weakness he had thought it was, "And it would be beneficial to yourself. Without my presence, your secret is safe."
"Of course, blackmail." JD laughed bitterly.
She turned her back to the prison bars and slid down them, so that she sat with her back towards him. Knees pulled up to her chest. Her arms wrapped around her knees. Her head tilted back to stare at the ceiling.
"I suppose you'll be wanting my body too." JD carried on, "Not the prize you'd think though… Why did I hope it would be different?"
Ezra watched as the confident, young and proud girl turned into someone only just holding back tears and overwhelmed in despair.
Once again his conscious poked him. It had been happening all too frequently recently. Not a fact he would admit or was particularly proud of.
Ezra squatted so that he was only just above JD's head.
"Why?" Ezra whispered, "Why risk everything and come West? Why hide what you are?"
"Because staying meant Hell. And He won't be looking for a boy."
"The last person who blackmailed me. Only he called it a mutually beneficial agreement."
"What do you call it?"
Ezra stared. He hadn't quite been expecting that as an answer. And while many may have considered him to be an unscrupulous person, he never took more from a person than they were able to lose. In cards he never took more than they were willing to bet. He never tried to take more than they could afford, or were willing to lose.
Rape and assault were not something he would ever contemplate.
However the word had been said in a tone that made Ezra worry further.
"How old are you?"
Ezra didn't speak.
"Alright! Nearly fifteen. It was come West or live in Hell. What would you have done?"
"Could you not have solicited aid from the authorities?"
"Who would listen? His father has money and influence. I wasn't the first and I won't be the last."
"You are certain of your facts?"
"I worked for his father. I know what can be swept under the rug."
"Surely then he would not leave to search for you?"
"You don't know him. I'm the one that got away. I was only nine the first time… I fought him… But I couldn't win. And if he found me… I'd have to go with him."
Ezra wanted to offer some support and comfort, but knew that touching JD was probably the last think she needed right then.
He knew then that he wouldn't reveal her secret. No matter what it might get him. His mother may have few scruples, but he could not… Would not cause a child such pain.
"What influence could he have to force your residency at his location?"
"I'm his bastard." JD's voice broke as she spoke the last word. Her head fell forward onto her knees and she started to sob.
Ezra realized that he was in a situation he had once sworn he'd never get into. He was in a position where he couldn't help but break Rule Six. He snorted quietly.
The Rules of the Con.
They weren't something his mother had ever taught him. But then again she was strictly Short Con or Marriage Con...
Oh she liked to think of herself as a Long Con Artist. But Ezra had seen Long Con Artists, and knew that his mother was no where near their calibre. Ezra knew that for a fact.
He'd been apprenticed, in a way, to Albert when he was about eleven. Albert had taught him about the Long Con and all the Rules of the Con. Or rather Michael had. Albert's prodigy.
And though Maude had denied such rules, Ezra had always tried to follow them as best he could. He knew he was nothing more than a Short Con artist, but he had hoped to get to the point where he was a Long Con Artist. The problem was, as always, raising enough funds to be able to pull off a Long Con… And the other key element in a Long Con… A family.
There was one thing Maude had tried to break Ezra of, but had failed. Mainly due to Albert's influence… Ezra cared for people in a hopeless situation. He cared for people who had gotten into a bad situation through no fault of their own.
It was why he liked the Long Con so much. It wasn't about the money. It wasn't just about the money.
There was also an element of Justice in it. After all Rule One was: 'You can't con an honest man'.
Ezra didn't place the men at a gambling table in his definition of honest. They were trying to get something for nothing. The trademark of dishonest.
But JD? She was just trying to get out of a bad situation as best she could. Deception wasn't the point of the con… And it was a con. It was necessary. The entire con was necessary.
Rule Six? Rule Six was simple. Never have anything in your life you can't walk away from in an instant. And Ezra knew he couldn't walk away from JD right then.
"Shush, shush, shush." Ezra gave in and slipped a hand through the bars to squeeze JD's shoulder, "Ah assure you Miss Dunne, Ah will not put you in a situation where that ill-mannered brute is able to learn of your identity or locale."
JD slid a hand up to squeeze Ezra back.
"And I'll make sure the Judge gives you a chance." JD promised, "And if that fails… Well, I'm pretty sure that you wouldn't be behind these bars if you didn't think it was too much bother to bust out."
"You have a sharp mind, Miss Dunne."
"Call me, JD, please?" JD replied.
"Ah take it you will not be informing the others of your secret?"
"Ez, they ain't gonna stay around. Hell, you ain't once you're free. I'd love it if they did… But they ain't. Chris can't settle. Buck needs to wander for those women he loves. Vin weren't made to stay in one place. Nathan has Rain. And Josiah's looking for redemption. Why would they stay here? No, they'll leave. And I'll just have to not let anyone close."
"You will endure, JD. Ah am positive. May Ah inquire as to whether your gender being the reason behind taking this position? It does place your life at great risk."
"But it's a position of responsibility and power. He wouldn't think I'd go for that. I had little to no responsibility and certainly no power. He doesn't think I've got the strength of will for this role. I'm just a girl. Who heard of an underage girl having the strength to do a man's job?"
"Any person who has heard of Joan of Arc." Ezra teased.
"Or read the Ballad of Mulan." JD retorted.
"Mulan?" Ezra frowned, "Ah am afraid Ah have not heard of that tale."
"It's a Chinese one." JD smiled, "I was told it once. I rather liked it. Never learnt enough to try and read it myself… Ezra? Why did the Judge jail you at Fort Laramie?"
"Ah was trying to establish a Long Con team, however my compatriots did not comprehend the Rule of the Con. They attempted frequent Short Cons, and where thusly arrested and accused of such. Ah found myself the sole un-incarcerated member of the group.
"When Ah went to attempt to procure their liberations, Ah took objection to the ignoramus lawyer they had been appointed for their defence, as well as the idiocy of the prosecuting lawyer. Ah was arrested for contempt of Court after Ah reamed the pair of lawyers out, as well as addressing my former compatriots in a similar manner. None of them took any insult as to my words, only further proving their standing of ignoramuses.
"Judge Travis was presiding and is a far more intellectual man than the others. He recognised what Ah was doing and thus had me arrested. He attempted to prosecute me for various other criminal endeavours at the same juncture; however had no evidence to prove my involvement. It was a pointless escapade as Ah liberated myself that night and have never returned to Fort Laramie since."
"You left your friends behind?"
"They had proven themselves to be untrustworthy compatriots, far more interested in making money without thinking about the consequences. Ah do not choose to associate with such persons, without an ulterior motive."
"Most be awful lonely for ya."
"No more than for yourself."
"Don't exactly have a choice, Ez."
"Why Sheriff? Ah can understand the position for the power. But being a gun-slinger or a bounty hunter would provide you with greater security from your father. In addition you would be constantly in transit, thus a more difficult target to locate."
"I can't run forever. And… I'd rather die doing something I believe in… Serving Justice… Than live always watching my back."
"You will not endure this way."
"Then I die free. Better that than living on my back… Which I will… If he catches me. 'Thy songs were made for the pure and free, they shall never sound in slavery'."
"You are no Minstrel Boy. However Ah understand the sentiment." Ezra easily recognised the song. It had been popular among the Union soldiers.
"You should hear me sing. I had to sell ma's harp to get out here."
"You said you were a stable-boy."
"I was. He didn't really care what I did. So long as I didn't leave. Stable took children younger than the House… And I'm good with horses. Always have been."
"That incident with the trough not withstanding?"
"Serves me right… I tried to pull a trick the horse didn't know. I forgot I hadn't trained him. It's a thing I teach every horse I've ever ridden. I'm good at teaching Classical Dressage. Figured it'd be something they hadn't seen round here before."
"Ah believe you would be correct in that assumption. Though Ah would love to continue our conversation, Ah believe you should be retiring for the night."
"I think I'm meant to be the one telling you that." JD rose to her feet.
Ezra watched as the young Sheriff made her bed and then lay down in it, having slipped her jacket onto the back of the chair.
It was only after Ezra heard JD's breathing deepen and settle that he slipped out of the cell.
Silently he made his way over to JD's sleeping form. He pulled the blanket up over her and checked that the door was locked, as well as pulling the window shutters closed.
Then just as quietly he slipped back into his cell and relocked his door.
"Ah will watch over you, for as long as Ah am able in this residency." Ezra swore, "He will not harm you."
As the gunshots roared outside, Ezra argued with himself as to whether to join in or not.
By the time he had reached a decision, unlocked his cell door and armed himself the gunfire was dying down.
Ezra quickly returned to his cell, just before JD almost staggered in.
The young Sheriff ended up in the same position as the night before, back leaning against the cell bars.
"May Ah presume you are uninjured?"
"Nothing hurt but my pride. The Judge is hurt bad though. Nathan ain't sure he's gonna make it."
"Mister Lucas' men absconded with the young villain, did they not?"
"Yeah… And I dropped my gun. It fell apart on me… If it weren't for Chris and Vin, I'd be worse off than the Judge right now."
Ezra frowned slightly. He had thought that Vin and Chris were headed to Tascosa for their own reasons. Vin had come across as most insistent on that detail.
So why were they still in town? Vin would have left, even if Chris hadn't.
He did not ask. For one he doubted that JD would know. And secondly the girl didn't need the thoughts.
"I don't know what I'm gonna do… I never thought I'd get someone else hurt."
"Ah once came across an astoundingly simple definition for life. Everyone in this World starts off with a full bag of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill the latter before the former runs out. You learn, Miss Dunne, and you persist."
"Ez… I'm not gonna ask you to lie… But can you call me JD?"
"Of course, Ah apologize. My mother taught me my manners and Ah find it hard to deviate from her teachings."
"She still alive?"
"JD, my mother is alive simply on the principle that Heaven doesn't want her, and Hell is too afraid she'll take over."
"That's not a nice thing to say."
"My mother is not your standard lady. She, like myself, is unscrupulous and well versed in the Art of the Con."
"It's an Art?"
"An Art, JD. An Art Ah learnt a long time ago."
"Could I learn?"
"Why would you wish to?"
"Can't catch 'em, if I can't spot 'em. Can't spot 'em, if I don't know what I'm looking for."
"Perhaps, JD. However with my current state of incarceration Ah am not in a position to aid your endeavour."
"Still ain't going to let you go, Ez."
For a while there was silence.
"If Ah may inquire, what is your legal name?" Ezra murmured.
"Jana Deborah Reid, but ma's ma's family was called Dunne. I came by JD Dunne honestly."
"That is probably better than Ah can claim. Ah am not certain that Ezra Standish is the name Ah was given at Baptism… If Ah were indeed baptised."
"I'm scared, Ez."
"Ah know. You could walk away."
"I'd never be able to look myself in the mirror again. You didn't hear some of what Lucas said. He's done worse than murder."
"What do you count as worse?"
"The only crime that leaves a broken human soul behind… He's raped."
"He will not touch you." Ezra swore.
"We're burying the Judge." JD told Ezra.
"No. But Lucas' men are waiting for him to die… So we're burying him."
"Mister Larabee's idea no doubt."
"How'd you guess?"
"While you have a high level of intelligence, deceit does not come to you naturally. It would take a far more devious mind to invent such a plan. Mister Larabee has such a mentality.
"Ez, I'm lying to everyone but you… About who and what I am."
"For your own protection. You would not devise such a deceit for no other reason, unless to save the existence of another. As Mister Travis' life is not in immediate danger, such a plan would not come naturally to you."
"Thanks for the compliment. I'm off to get the coffin. Then I need to find some rocks."
"Rocks, Mister Dunne?"
"Well, the coffin won't weigh much… Appearances, Ez… Everything in life is about appearances."
"Touche, Mister Dunne. Touche." Ezra smiled as the young Sheriff left the jail.
Travis was resting, just after Chris had left, when he heard a knock on the door, quickly followed by someone opening it.
"Judge? Can I have a quick word?" Travis turned to face the speaker, the still-green Sheriff.
"What is it, son?" Travis automatically used the same term that he'd heard Josiah using.
"It's about Ezra…"
"He committed the crime." Travis interrupted, "I know he's your friend, but I can't just let him off."
"I'm not suggesting that." JD replied, "Ezra told me about his crime and the circumstances. I think it's pretty fair… But putting him into a prison? He'd be out of there before you could blink. The only reason he's still in the jail here, is that he's waiting until you leave."
"True enough. You have a suggestion?"
"His crime was petty. All evidence of other crimes is circumstantial. Give him a pardon if he does something for the community."
"He's a conman."
"Set a thief to catch a thief… You can't see it, but I know there's a decent man under his act. I just don't think he knows how to find it."
"You seem certain it's there."
"Guess you could say I've seen something you haven't. Ez doesn't let his shields down often, but I saw what I saw."
"Are you sure you saw what you think you saw?"
"Yes. I saw something he doesn't let out very often. I don't think he meant me to see it. But I saw it. And you wouldn't have ever seen it. Because it takes a special situation for it to come out."
"And you were there?"
"What is the situation?"
"Ez wouldn't like it if I told you. But he's a good man. You trusted me enough to make me Sheriff. Do you trust my judgement?"
"You're just a child."
"Yet, I'm old enough for you to make me Sheriff."
"I will think about it."
"That's all I ask." JD grinned brightly, for a moment looking much younger than Travis had ever seen him look before, "I'd better go. Chris'll be yelling for me in a minute."
"You think so?"
"I know so, Judge. I was a stable boy, before I came West. I know when someone's going to yell for me. Better to be early than someone to take offense at a delay. Saves you a beating."
JD turned and dashed out of the room. Moments later, the Judge heard a bellow.
The Judge smiled, it seemed that his decision wasn't as rash or as foolish as he had initially thought. Though the true results would only be shown with time.
Ezra had to give JD a little more credit. The girl hadn't just been talking during their conversations, she had remembered enough to counter his usual swearing on his mother's grave.
As they rode out to the James' Ranch, Ezra controlled his horse so that he was riding next to JD.
"How did the funeral go?" Ezra asked quietly.
"I shoulda put less rocks in it." JD grinned shyly, "But it worked. Even if I did have to bully Vin into staying around while we said a few words."
"Are you aware of how Mister Larabee recruited our fellow compatriots?" Ezra was sure that the 'bullying' was more of a guilt trip than anything else.
"Think he just asked them." JD shrugged, "I know Josiah was muttering something about temptation."
"Where is Mister Wilmington?"
"Didn't wanna come." JD replied, "Gotta go. Chris' going to yell."
JD was already spuring her horse forward to catch up with Chris, before the gun-slinger took breath.
"JD!" Chris commanded, just as JD pulled up alongside Chris.
"Yes?" JD cocked her head slightly.
"We don't want to be chased as we leave. You worked in a stable. Deal with the horses."
"Will do." JD nodded, before pulling back, falling away from Chris and Vin.
She returned to Ezra's side. It was a logical position to her. Chris and Vin were up front, Josiah and Nathan covering the back. Everyone was paired off, except her and Ezra, so why shouldn't they ride together?
"You got a plan, Ez?" JD murmured.
"Of course, JD. I always have a strategy."
Inwardly Ezra was thanking his lucky stars (for all that Maude said he didn't need luck) JD wouldn't be close to James' men. While Ezra knew he couldn't protect the girl without making her a bigger target, than her young age and small size already did, he wanted to ensure that she got hurt as little as possible and that she wasn't found out.
Ezra flicked his wrist hard. He'd gone and done it. He'd finally completely broken Rule Six of the Con… He had something in his life he couldn't walk away from in a heart-beat… And worse… He didn't really mind. He wanted it in his life. He wanted to stay… Yet he knew he couldn't. He couldn't stay, not with the Judge knowing about the conviction on his head.
Facing Lucas, Ezra had never been more tempted to simply put a bullet in a man than he was right then. Even if the man didn't give him a reason.
If Lucas had, then Ezra knew he would have shot him without thinking. And without regret.
But Lucas didn't give him the reason. And the other gunslingers prevented any real gun fire.
However that didn't stop Ezra from swearing that if Lucas got away or got off from the charges, he would make a quiet visit and prevent the man from ever being a threat to JD again.
Once raped was bad enough. It was not going to happen again on Ezra's watch.
"JD! I thought I told you to take care of the horses!"
Ezra believed he was the only one who noted JD's tiny flinch, only a heartbeat before Chris' bellow.
"I couldn't take care of all of them!" JD retorted.
Ezra knew the truth in that statement. There simply had been too many horses for JD to deal with all of them discretely. Not in the time the others had taken inside the compound. While it had been necessary to be a quick job, unfortunately their speed had interfered with their retreat.
What made Ezra's curiosity peak was the fact that JD had flinched before her name was bellowed. Even allowing for the bullets, it was too coincidental. Was there a little bit of the fey in, the no doubt, Irish lass?
Ezra wouldn't get his answer… Not that day.
As the Judge granted Ezra's temporary pardon (to become permanent after a month), Ezra glanced at JD's face.
He knew the look of success. JD had hoped for this. She had wanted the others to stay… But she hadn't tried to make them stay.
She had done something… Said something to the Judge to get Ezra to stay. Even if only for a little bit.
That warmed Ezra's heart, as much as seeing the carefree smile on the girl's face. She wanted him to stay. And she had done something to gain his freedom.
"It appears that you got your desire, JD." Ezra murmured to her as they guarded the Trial.
"Guess so." JD nodded, "Wonder what will happen next?"
"Given our current record, Ah doubt our lives will be tedious."
Okay, I'd like to state that this is not my fault. I was reading through archived entries over at Mag7FicFind and came across a request for a Girl!JD story.
Plot bunny bit. And it bit hard.
Please, tell me if I should continue writing the other episodes… Or if I should just shoot the flipping bunny!