Disclaimer is stated fully in Part One of Coercion.

Coercion - Part Two

At Vin's warning, JD slid off his horse and tossed his hat to the ground. He lay at the edge of the overhang on his stomach, heart pounding, weapons drawn. The shots were flying so furiously he couldn't tell where they were coming from. Maybe from above them where the craggy rock ridge rose sharply. Maybe below.

"Vin!" he hollered. But his friend didn't answer. "Aw shit . . . " JD looked around. Vin was lying on his back a few feet away, his upper body hanging dangerously over the edge of the ridge. And it was a treacherous drop down.

"Hang on," JD said through clenched teeth. And he crawled on his belly toward Vin. The sting of a bullet grazed his back and he paused for a split second, catching his breath. Then he scurried forward.

"Vin . . ." he said as he reached him. God, let him be alive. JD grabbed the tracker's belt and, with all his might, hauled him back up to safety.


More bullets. The boy instinctively shielded the injured tracker. He pressed his fingers to Vin's neck. He could feel the strong beat of his heart. Good.

JD's heart pounded like thunder, and he willed himself not to panic. But what do I do? What do I do?

Assess. Find cover.

Ricochet. Grazed his throat. Damn! Where were they??

Ah! He saw a glint of silver reflected in the dying sun - and got off a shot.

And heard the groan and fall of a rider.

More gunfire. Damn, how many were there? It was so hard to tell in the fading dusk. He could tell that some were ahead of them, and some below. A quick glance around revealed that Vin's horse was shot. Sick, JD dragged his friend to the dead animal and lay him there, shielded partially from the gunfire, if only for a moment.

He tried to determine where his friend had been hit. His head was bleeding - but not much. No blood anywhere else that he could see. Must've gotten hurt when the horse fell.

JD was about to reload when a fresh volley of gunfire erupted. He pulled his arms up over his head. Sweet Jesus . . .


Buck thought he heard Vin's voice as the first shots rang out.

"Where are they?" he called out as he and Chris took cover.

Chris pressed against the craggy rock face and collected his ammunition. "Behind us," he hissed. "The top of the ridge. Don't know for sure."

"Was that Vin?"

Chris got off a shot. A rider fell. "Sounded like him."

Buck took aim but couldn't draw a bead in the twilight. And if Vin were on the ridge above, he didn't dare risk a shot.

"Shit!" Chris scowled. There were riders closing in ahead of them. "How the hell did Gentry get in front of us?"

Buck fired. "That's not Gentry. He ain't got that many friends."

He started to reload, but ducked as a shot whistled by. "Holy, shit. We're in the middle of a g**damn crossfire."

Chris picked off two more. Clearly, their presence was a complete surprise to their assailants. "They gotta be here for Vin."

"Then where the hell is he?"

Neither knew the answer. But both knew that they had to try to draw fire away from the ridge.

"Just keep 'em as busy as we can. . ." Chris said.


A momentary lull. JD grabbed Vin's rifle, then crawled over to where Vin had fallen and reached around for the eyeglass. Tentatively, he peered over the side. Buck and Chris were pressed against the rock wall, about ten feet ahead of him.

His call to them was drowned out by more gunfire. From above.

JD spun around and shot the big rifle and felt the kick back into his shoulder. His breath stopped in his throat as he realized he'd almost scooted off the edge.

But he'd found his mark.

Who were these guys after anyway?

They were closer. Closing in. He couldn't breathe. He was watching the scene play out below him, but the sudden rush of footsteps jolted his attention to the action behind him.

Someone wielding a pistol aimed at Vin Tanner.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" JD screamed as he shot the man in the face.


Four Corners was strangely quiet. Nothing unusual.

Except a scared and hungry little girl.

There was only one place Josiah could take her. Only one person who might know how to help.

Nathan Jackson was infinitely gentle with the child. Josiah started to leave, but a little hand found its way into his big one. And he stayed. He had gotten her to trust him enough to let him help her. Maybe he could help her trust Nathan.

He knew precious little about her. She wouldn't speak. Wouldn't answer any questions. Wouldn't maintain eye contact for any length of time. Nathan watched her slight interaction with Josiah, and felt a familiar dread. He had seen this reaction before.

And with the dread came a blistering anger.

He didn't put her through the rigors of an invasive examination. Just checked her out enough to determine that she wasn't suffering any immediate injury, and pronounced her malnourished.

"Supper?" he asked her. She glanced back at Josiah for a translation and from somewhere in the annals of his memory, he remembered the Seminole word for food. She nodded.

The preacher smiled warmly and left to get the little girl a hot meal.


They both heard the boy scream. They both saw the body hurtling down. They had no time to consider why JD would be out here in the middle of this because all hell broke loose again.

And Buck just stood there - dazed, looking at the lifeless body lying in the road a few yards away. Chris yanked his arm and pulled him down out of the way.

Chris kept a tight grip on his friend's wrist. He could see that intense, quaking rage that had damn near gotten Buck killed in other situations.

Buck raised his weapon and was about to fire again.

"Wait!" Chris yelled, jerking his arm back. Buck turned on him, livid.

"They're pullin' out," he explained. They waited a tense moment and listened.

And heard the retreat of the few remaining outlaws.

Buck jerked away from Chris' grip and ran recklessly toward the body which lay a few yards away from them. Chris was on his heels, gun drawn.

The body lying facedown.

It wasn't the kid.

Thank God. It wasn't the kid.

The body was too large - and too heavy to be JD or Vin. Buck sighed and Chris toed the body over.

There was no face.

Buck turned and retched.


It was over.

It was over. JD could breathe now.

Breathe . . .

Check on Vin.

He tried to pull himself away, but he was rooted to the spot.

He felt so shaky. His hands shook. And he felt suddenly very cold. He would make himself crawl over to Vin. Vin needed help. He had to go to him. If only he could keep from shaking. . .


Chris' voice.


Pull yourself together, JD chided himself. He crawled over to his friend. He tried to answer Chris, but his voice . . . It was like he was in a sort of . . . daze.

And the bullets could start back any minute.

Help Vin. Help him.


Ezra Standish left the saloon late. It had been a terribly dull evening. Easy money, only now he was growing a conscience. So after he'd won all the poor saps' money, he'd let them win it back.

Well, most of it.

He still had a reputation to think of.

He pulled his watch out.

3:15 am. Damn.

He started home. But then paused.

And frowned.

Nathan's light was on. He'd seen Nathan at supper and the healer was relieved that nobody was sick or hurt. So what was going on?

Maybe he just couldn't sleep.

Or maybe . . .


JD studied his friend's face in the bright moonlight. A trickle of blood rolled down his cheek. But it didn't look too bad. JD ripped part of his shirttail and pressed the remnant against the cut at Vin's hairline.

A groan.

"'S all right, Vin . . . You're gonna be all right."

The bounty hunter squinted up at the kid. "Oh, man. What . . ." He started to sit up.

"No - lay back." JD's voice was gentle.

"What happened?" Vin winced and reached up instinctively to the wound on his head.

"Don't touch it," JD said. "We were ambushed."

Vin couldn't quite put this together. He shifted slightly, and groaned.

"Where do you hurt?"

Vin waited a moment. "My head . . ."

"Where else?"

It was strange. Vin couldn't quite tell what hurt.


JD drew his weapon and crouched down beside the tracker.

What if it weren't Chris? What if the shooting were going to start up again? An involuntary tremor swept through the boy's body. He waited.

"Hey!" A voice they knew. JD holstered his gun. "Buck! Over here," he called out. Vin could feel the kid shudder again, and he put a hand on the kid's arm.

Buck and Chris ran up just as JD's stomach lurched. The kid got up shakily and staggered away from Vin.

Chris knelt beside the tracker. Buck caught up with JD just as the kid regurgitated. He put a reassuring hand on the boy's back, but drew it away quickly when JD flinched.

Buck rubbed his fingers together.


"God, kid, you're hurt."

A sob escaped the boy's throat, and he turned red eyes toward his friend. "Huh?"

It was then that Buck saw blood trickling across the side of his neck.

Buck lifted the black hair away from the injury, and was relieved that it was just a scratch. JD reached up and touched the place. He seemed so dazed.

"You're doing great, kid." Buck said, softly, and he helped JD sit on the ground. Then he scooted around to look at his back. JD wiped his mouth on his sleeve, then craned his neck to look behind him. Buck chuckled. "Just grazed you, kid. And don't you know . . . " he scooted back around to face the kid. "You can't see your own back." JD looked confused for a moment, then he grinned.

Buck put his steady hand on JD's trembling shoulder. "You're damn lucky, boy."

Buck sighed. Damn lucky, he thought. This green kid in the middle of a f***ing range war. This lucky, scared kid.

"Are you all right?" JD asked suddenly, as if it just occurred to him. He involuntarily had a handful of Buck's shirt.

Buck smiled. "Fine, kid."

"And Chr-"

"Chris is fine, and it looks like Vin's gonna be all right, too."

JD's stinging eyes met Buck's for a moment. And as the wave of relief swept over him, he lowered them, and leaned the top of his head into the big man's chest. Moved, Buck hooked an arm around the kid's shaking shoulders and pulled him into a brother's embrace. The gunfighter squeezed his eyes tightly, and he breathed a prayer of thanks.

If only this had been the end of it . . .

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