DISCLAIMER: The following is a work of fanfic, and isn't intended to infringe on the copyright of MGM, Trilogy, CBS, or any other PTB. The characters, concept, and setting aren't mine, but the story is. Please don't reproduce or sue without permission from the author.
RATINGS/WARNINGS: PG. Spoilers for Safecracker (no, really?)
NOTES/COMMENTS: Those of you who don't know how I feel about JD, Buck, and h/c should be figuring it out sometime soon <G>. In the meantime, like a lot of people, I didn't like how Buck didn't react to JD's injury, particularly in light of how he acts in other eps. It didn't make sense. So, here's my attempt at fixing that little problem.
Safecracker Missing Scene
There were a hell of a lot of things that could happen to a little girl if a bunch of vicious, unscrupulous outlaws got her in their clutches. Buck had grown up in New Orleans around women who, many of them, had been on their own since a young age, and he'd heard--and a few times, seen--evidence of what could happen to a helpless child if the people she was with didn't care for her. The stories Buck had heard as a child had made a lasting impression on him. He could never see a woman or child threatened without feeling in his gut an intense rage, as if the threat was happening to one of the women who'd been his family.
That rage was even stronger when someone he'd come to care about was on the receiving end. Riding back from Purgatorio, he had more than enough time to think about what Coltraine and his men had intended to do to Terry and Olivia, and more than enough time to imagine exactly what he'd do to the outlaws if they even tried to harm anyone he knew.
It'd gone against his grain to leave Chris and Terry behind with Coltraine, but he trusted Chris to handle that situation. He'd stilled the itch between his shoulderblades that was telling him to go back by concentrating on the problems ahead of him in Four Corners. There were still Coltraine's men to deal with and Olivia to protect; Chris was depending on him and the other men to take care of things while he dealt with Coltraine.
The sun was sinking rapidly below the horizon, and with a soft murmur, Buck urged his horse to step up the pace a little. He was beginning to see familiar landmarks: a lightning-struck tree silhouetted against the glowing western sky, a rock outcropping that'd always reminded him of an eagle's nest, a stream that had some pretty good fishing from time to time. He still had another hour or more to go, though.
Buck had never considered himself an imaginative man . . . except where the ladies were concerned, of course. He sure wasn't the moon-calf JD kept showing himself to be, anyway, always dreaming over dime-store novels and the tall tales the old men told in the saloon on rainy evenings. Still, as he rode toward town with nothing to distract him but the occasional flicker of lightning as the sky tried to decide if it was going to clear off more or start pouring again, his mind kept throwing images of a child with blonde hair and too-wise eyes, staring fearfully at a shadowy figure that loomed over her threateningly. Worse still was the picture of the same child, crumpled in the wet streets, eyes empty of all her premature knowledge. The images were too possible to shake off, and Buck found himself urging his horse on faster and faster, his teeth clenching in helpless anger that any child could be put in danger that way.
Finally he reached town and headed straight for Josiah's church, where they'd set up an impromptu headquarters. He looked around uneasily as he rode down the puddle-spotted street. Something was in the air. He couldn't put his finger on it, but there was a tension that was so thick he could have cut it with one of Nathan's knives. He didn't spot any of Coltraine's men hanging around as they had been before, and his stomach tightened. Had something happened?
He pulled his horse to a stop in front of the church and tethered it loosely, looking up into the open door in hopes that he'd spot Olivia immediately and be able to set his uneasiness to rest. What he saw didn't calm him any. He could just see Ezra facing the door, leaning on a pew and drumming his fingers on it impatiently. The look on his face--half worry and half queasiness--did nothing to reassure Buck.
Mounting the steps quickly, Buck entered the church and demanded, "What happened?"
"Long story," Ezra drawled.
Vin turned to look at Buck, and Buck was able to get a look past him for the first time. //Damn it, kid,// he thought vaguely, not real clear if what he was feeling was worry or anger, or who the feeling was directed at. JD was propped up on one of the pews, blood staining his white shirt around a knife that was sticking out of his chest. The kid was whiter than his shirt and had sweat pouring down his face, but when he looked at Buck, his dark eyes were clear and strong. Buck flicked a glance at Nathan, who was bending over JD. The healer didn't look that worried, and Buck felt the knot of tension in his gut ease a bit.
A sudden realization of who wasn't here drove half-formed thoughts of yelling at JD for his stupidity in getting hurt when Buck wasn't there to watch out for him out of his mind. At the same time, Vin asked sharply, "Where's Chris?"
"With the gang, on his way to rob the bank," Buck answered shortly, wondering what could have gone wrong and where Olivia was. The visions that had haunted him on the ride to town returned to hover mercilessly behind his eyes.
"What?" Nathan looked up from tending JD, startled.
"Long story," Buck said dryly, his mouth twitching into a grin in spite of the seriousness of the situation.
Vin turned toward the door. "Well, come on, we gotta find Olivia."
Buck followed him toward the door, Josiah and Ezra falling in behind. As they walking into the muggy night, Buck could hear JD, his voice sounding worrisomely young and pain-filled, gasp, "I wanna go," and Nathan's quiet, firm reply, "Hold still, now."
The four men spread out as they walked down the street. Buck patted his horse's flank distractedly as he passed and put a hand on the hilt of his gun, wishing that the feel of it was more reassuring. There was no telling where Olivia was, or what would happen to her in the hands of Coltraine's men. One thing was for sure, though: if one hair on that child's head was harmed, there wouldn't be enough of the outlaws left to bury.
A similar thought was in Buck's head as he, Ezra, and Olivia waited at the window of the room Olivia had been held in, watching tensely as Chris and Terry began edging away from the horses, trying to make their break from Coltraine. Olivia was safe now, but if anything happened to Chris or Terry . . .
He glanced down with a strong feeling of satisfaction at the outlaw on the floor. He was tempted to just shoot the bastard and put him out of everyone's misery. Anyone who'd kidnap a child didn't deserve to live, and that wasn't even bringing JD's injury into consideration. Slamming his fist into the outlaw's face had felt mighty good.
Suddenly, all hell broke loose down below. Buck whipped his eyes back to the street, feeling Olivia's body tense with the same helpless fear he felt. His friends were down there, in the middle of a gun fight, and he should be with them, not hiding up here where he couldn't watch there backs.
He couldn't see everything, but he had a fairly clear view of Chris and Terry crouched behind a wagon, Chris protecting Terry with his body as he shot at the oncoming outlaws. //Be careful, pard,//he thought tensely.
He was distracted by something else happening just within his field of vision, something that pulled a string of curses from his lips as he spun from the window and ran for the door. Ezra'd have to guard Olivia on his own. There was no way Buck could watch JD--one arm in a sling, face pale and covered in sweat, and armed with a shotgun he had to wield one-handed--face down one of Coltraine's men and not try to help the kid. Even if there was no way he could get there in time, he still had to try. If only he could have gotten a good enough angle from the window . . .
Buck pounded down the stairs and out the doors of the saloon, barely sparing a glance around to make sure he wasn't about to be shot before sprinting towards the spot where he'd last seen JD. A rush of relief ground him to a halt when he saw the kid still standing, however unsteadily, staring down at the body of the man he'd shot.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Buck snapped, reaching out to snatch the shotgun away from JD. "You trying to make it easy for them to shoot you?" He grabbed JD's arm and pulled the kid back toward a nearby alley, out of the way of the slowly diminishing gunfire. "You don't just stand there when someone's trying to ride you down, boy. You get the hell out of the way. And didn't Nathan tell you to stay put? What did you think . . ."
"Shut up, Buck," JD said tiredly, looking more than a little queasy in the flickering light of the fires that lit the street. "Did you find Olivia?"
"Yeah, she's fine, which is more than I can say for what you're gonna be when I get done with you. What kind of fool stunt did you think you were pulling out there?"
"I got him, didn't I?" JD protested.
"Pure, dumb luck. And I emphasize the "dumb" part. You can't aim a shotgun with one hand like that. You could have shot Chris or Terry or me, f'godssake, if you'd lost control of that thing."
"Yeah, well, that wouldn't have been such a great loss, would it?" JD snapped, squaring his shoulders and glaring up at Buck indignantly for all of a second before swaying dangerously and reaching out to steady himself against the wall behind him.
"Whoa, easy there, kid." Buck grabbed his good arm again. "Don't you dare pass out, 'cause I sure ain't carrying you back to that pew you were supposed to be resting on all along."
"I'm not gonna pass out." JD's voice was still indignant but had become noticeably slower. He blinked rapidly, fighting the exhaustion that was suddenly hitting him as the blood loss and excitement caught up with him.
With a sigh, Buck checked the street to be sure it was safe to come out, then, reassured by the sight of Chris standing over Coltraine's prone body, he pulled JD's arm over his shoulders and began walking the kid back to the church.
JD sat on the edge of the porch outside the sheriff's office, feet dangling to the ground as he leaned on the pillar next to the stairs, idly watching the sky play out a brilliant pageant of gold and red. A sort of dreamy lassitude had settled over him, helped by the muggy, damp-smelling heat and the soft sound of Vin's harmonica coming from behind him. It had been a long day, starting way too early after an even longer day the day before, and JD was grateful to finally have a chance to rest. His shoulder twinged as he shifted against the pillar and he winced, but the quiet timelessness of the evening had settled into his bones and somehow kept the worst of the pain away. It even worked to soothe some of the lingering doubts that had haunted him since the events of the night before. His mind wasn't totally set to rest, but he was hard put to find the energy to worry at them anymore.
For some reason, they'd all ended up here in front of the sheriff's office instead of the saloon, all seven gathering without prior consent. After a day spent riding out after the last stragglers from Coltraine's gang following the gunfight the night before, they were all tired. Buck and Josiah had brought whiskey from the saloon, Ezra had his cards, and Nathan had unearthed an old checker game from a desk drawer in the office, so no one had any need to move for awhile. Vin's music--a slow, sleepy rendition of "Red River Valley" that had made Ezra wince when he heard the opening notes--created a bubble of isolation around them that none of the townspeople had dared to break.
JD blinked and yawned. The sunset, reflected in a puddle in the middle of the street, caught his eyes and all but mezmorized him, but his ears caught the sounds from the porch behind him and constructed a picture that was oddly comforting in its ordinariness. Buck laughed at a story Ezra was telling, flicking a card with a sharp scrape and thudding the heels of his boots on the porch as he stretched them out. Chris's chuckle was almost too soft to hear, blending in with Vin's harmonica. Josiah gave a disgusted grunt, clicking one disc on top of the other as he crowned Nathan's checker.
The streets were still for once, only the dripping of rain off the porch roofs mixing with the music. The recent downpour had left the air smelling fresher than usual, but had made the heat so oppressive that it seeped away whatever energy JD might still have had. He felt his eyes drifting shut and jerked them open, not willing to give Nathan the satisfaction of being right. He didn't need to be sent to bed like a little kid, wound or not. He wasn't Olivia's age, needing a mama to tuck him in . . .
I'll remember the Red River Valley . . . the words slid into the cracks in his mind, mingling with the red-gold above and below, the molasses sound of Ezra's voice and Buck's delighted laughter, Nathan murmuring, Josiah answering . . .
"I think it's time for bed, kid." The voice was familiar enough and quiet enough not to startle him, and the hand on his arm steadied him as he straightened and looked up into Buck's amused face.
JD blinked, trying to figure out how Buck had gotten in front of him. "'m fine."
"Sure you are. But I bet that bed'd feel mighty good, wouldn't it?"
"Yeah." JD yawned, then frowned, trying to think back through the conversation. Had he just agreed to something he didn't want to do?
"Let's go, then." Buck pulled him up, keeping a hand on his arm until he found his balance, then transferred it to his shoulder. Behind them, JD heard a low chuckle, and Nathan said, "I told the boy . . ."
It was easier just to keep going in the direction Buck was guiding him, so JD walked, letting Buck's hand stabilize him against the swaying street. He had that half-asleep, underwater feeling that he remembered from staying awake too long as a child. His mother had always led him to bed and tucked him in with a cool, dry kiss on his forehead.
"Your mother . . ." JD paused, feeling Buck's hand tighten on his shoulder. When the older man didn't say anything, he continued, "You remember when you told me she was a saint?"
Buck's hand relaxed as he steered JD around a puddle and toward the boarding house where they both stayed. "Yeah, kid, I remember. She was the sweetest, kindest woman I ever knew."
JD sighed, using his good hand to rub some of the sleep out of his eyes. He hated this groggy feeling exhaustion had given him. It made it hard to think of what he wanted to say. Seeing Terry with Olivia had shaken something up in him that he hadn't had time to deal with since he'd arrived at Four Corners. "My mother . . . that's how she was, too. Worked hard ev'ry day, just wanted me to do better'n her." He yawned. "Always wanted me t'go t'college, Buck. She'd be real disappointed . . ."
Buck's hand moved from his shoulder to his head, towsling his hair gently. "You're getting downright morbid, JD. You sure that knife didn't hit you in the head before it landed in your shoulder?"
JD had to wait until he'd managed to navigate the stairs into the boarding house--an action that took more concentration than he remembered--before he could answer. "I'm not, Buck. 's just, she wanted me to do somethin' good with m'life . . ."
"You need some sleep, kid," Buck replied cheerfully. "It'll look better in the morning."
JD gave up, exhaustion and Buck's obtuseness getting the better of him. It wasn't that important anyway, was it? Buck gave him a gentle shove toward the stairs up to his room, and he started up obediently.
Buck followed him into the little room he'd been given as part of his pay, grabbing his shoulders and aiming him for the bed. "Straight to bed, kid."
JD turned and gave him a half-hearted glare. "I can get myself to bed, Buck."
"You sure?" Buck grinned. He waited till JD sat down on the bed and squatted down to pull off his boots. "Lie back now."
JD frowned, but it did sound like a good idea. His shoulder had started to throb on the stairs, and his eyes were in complete rebellion, refusing to stay open regardless of what he told them. They flew open when he felt Buck unbuttoning his shirt, though.
"What . . . "
"Just checking your bandage. Don't want you to bleed to death before morning."
JD's eyes slid shut again. "Nathan checked't before . . ."
"I know." Buck pulled his shirt and the first layer of bandage back. "Looks okay. I think you're gonna live, kid."
"Good," JD mumbled. "Night, Buck."
Buck's deep voice seemed distant. JD could feel the darkness getting closer, but something seemed strange. What . . . oh, Buck. He forced his eyes open again. Yeah, Buck was still here, watching him with an expression JD couldn't figure out.
The older man moved closer to the bed, his face illuminated by the orange light coming in through the window. "JD . . ." he paused, his expression uncommonly serious. "You helped save a woman's life yesterday, gave a kid back her mama, and you kept fighting even after you were hurt. You ask me, I think your mama'd be mighty proud."
JD blinked, not sure how to handle the older man's praise. He was much more used to being yelled at. Before he could try to gather an answer, Buck reached down to brush a strand off his forehead with a cool, dry touch. "Get some sleep, kid. It'll all look better in the morning."
With a faint sigh, JD gave in and did as he was told.