Return of the Remembered - Part Eleven

"Hey, JD," Buck Wilmington spoke gently. "Come on, son, wake up."

He was kneeling beside the boy, ready to help. JD was laying on his side, his injured hand and arm still cradled against his chest. But his face was turned almost completely down into the big coat Buck had rolled up and placed under his head the night before.

"JD," Buck repeated, a little louder this time. The mop of black hair didn't move, but Buck heard a groan--then a muffled voice.

"Oh, God . . . "

"Easy, son. Don't move too quickly."

"Unh . . ." JD started to raise his head, but he fell back to the ground. Buck reached out a steadying hand, resting it lightly on his shoulder. He was shocked when JD suddenly jerked away.

"Hey," Buck kept his voice calm. JD rolled over his hurt arm and skittered away, curling into himself when Buck took a step toward him.

"JD . . . "

"Don't touch me," the boy's voice was scratchy. He clutched his shirt more tightly around himself. Buck glanced up and saw Vin. The tracker didn't speak, but watched.

Buck took a couple of steps back from the boy. "Ain't nobody gonna hurt you, JD. OK?"

"Please . . ." JD's voice quivered, and he didn't look up. "Just . . . leave me alone."

"Look at me." Buck said softly. "JD, come on now. It's Buck and Vin and we ain't gonna let anybody hurt you. You know that." Buck felt a great lump in his throat. Why should the kid believe him when just last night they let that Lucas animal put a knife through his hand?

JD turned his head slightly. Maybe he was listening.

"That's right, kid. It ok. Listen to my voice. You know me, kid. Everything's ok now."

"Buck . . ."

"Yeah." The big man sighed with relief. He didn't move closer, but he eased down onto the ground. Maybe JD would look at him. Maybe. "I know you're hurtin', JD," Buck said. "But we'll get some help for you."

JD tilted his head up and looked at his friend. "I'm sorry, Buck."

Buck smiled. "Sorry for what?" he asked. What on earth could the kid feel sorry for?

JD didn't answer. He bit his lip and looked at Buck. His hazel eyes filled. Then his eyes trailed away. For a moment, he seemed to be trying to remember something. He looked at his hand, then at his arm. He seemed confused. He turned his bewildered eyes to Vin.

"How're you feelin', kid?"

Again, JD didn't answer, but he ducked his head and his shoulders shook slightly. Buck got up to go over to him, but he felt a strong grip on his arm.

"Listen . . ." Vin whispered, and in the quiet that followed, Buck heard it.

"Sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry . . . "

The muscle in Buck's jaw tensed and he squeezed his own eyes shut. He would kill Grayland Adams for what he'd put this boy through.


Grayland Adams was, in Chris Larabee's estimation, a walking dead man. He knew Adams was a bully, picking on women and children, and, to Chris, there was no lower form of life.

"What are you looking at?" Adams asked.

Chris squinted up at the big man. "Figurin' how big a rope it'd take to hang you."

"You'll never find out."

"All set!" Nathan called from the wagon. Magda was sitting next to Nathan, where he was ready to drive the team. The fellow who used to drive was trussed up in the back of the wagon. Chris was riding behind, having tied Grayland Adams securely to the saddle on the back of Nathan's horse. The horse had been tied to the back of the wagon.

"Move out!" Chris called back, and slowly the group turned around and headed east.

"Hey," Adams' rusty voice growled. "This is not the way to Four Corners."

Chris grinned. "No, it's not."

"Where the hell are you taking me?" Adams cried. Chris didn't answer.

"I've got a right to know."

Chris pulled up next to him. His voice was little more than a hiss. "Mister, you gave up your rights when you raised your hand to my friend. Now shut up or I'll gag you, too."

Adams didn't reply, but Chris knew by the look in his eye that Adams was thinking of how to exact retribution from him. Well, try it, Chris thought. It'll make my job a hell of a lot easier.


This was a nightmare. How had he ever gotten messed up with Grayland Adams again? Adams would be here any minute now, and JD knew he'd have to explain why he'd failed. How could he say anything? "Sorry" wasn't gonna get him very far. It couldn 't save him from Grayland Adams' wrath any more than it could save him from his fists.

"Sorrysorrysorrysorrysorry . . . " Somehow JD felt like this mantra could absolve him--in God's eyes, if not in Adams'. JD repeated the word in hopes that God would forgive him for for all the commandments he was breaking. He also wanted to get forgiveness ahead of time, in case Adams killed him the next time he beat him.

"Sorrysorrysorrysorry . . . " JD learned to repeat this mindlessly when he was hired out, when he was hurt, and when he wanted to die.

Like now.

His hand hurt, and his arm hurt, but worst of all, he'd told. He'd told and he'd sworn to God and he'd sworn over his mama's grave that he'd never tell another living soul. But he'd told.

Grayland Adams would kill him now.


Vin Tanner was angry. Even as he gently led Buck away from JD, he thought of JD facing down that mountain of a man, standing his ground. He could imagine that, even as a little boy, the kid had tried to stand up to Adams, and certainly got the back of the man's hand for it. He figured that JD probably stood up to him until the big man broke his spirit, and all he could do was hide.

Vin had seen folks recover when the body was broken, but rarely when the spirit was. Maybe JD would be one of the lucky ones. For all he'd evidently been through, JD had brought enthusiasm with him when he'd come to Four Corners. Surely that remained with him.

Buck's arm was tense. Vin released him and moved his hand to the gunslinger's shoulder. "He's gonna be all right, Buck," Vin said.

"You don't know that." Buck didn't even look at Vin as he replied.

Vin nodded. "You're right." Vin glanced back at the boy who had fallen asleep again. "But we've gotta keep believing in him so he don't give up believing in himself."

"Them's pretty words, Vin, but you don't begin to know . . . "

Vin spun around and faced Buck. "I don't know everything he told you, but I got a good idea about it. He was gettin' past it until that Adams guy found him. Think how he fancies them dime store novels, Buck--how proud he is to ride with us. It means the world to him. So we know he can live in spite of his past."

Buck watched Vin as he spoke, but then his eyes trailed back to JD.

"Oh God . . ." Buck's jaw dropped, then he looked at the ground. "The stories."


Vin tried to follow his train of thought. "What about 'em?"

Buck looked up at the tracker with sad eyes. "He fancies Bat Masterson, and Chris, and . . . hell, all of us . . . because . . ."

Vin had never seen this expression from his friend. He listened quietly.

Buck swallowed and when he spoke again, his voice was rough. "He wants to be somebody else . . . because he figures that there's something wrong with being JD."

Vin felt a sudden catch in his throat, but he didn't say anything.

Buck began to pace as he talked. Vin figured he was trying to work all this out in his head. "He lives trying to be worth something, and scared of letting us down. He thinks he let his mama down, and here comes this god-forsaken son of a bitch telling him he ain't worth the trouble. And then makin' him . . ."

"Don't . . " Vin interrupted, keeping his voice gentle as he firmly caught Buck's arm. He placed a hand on the back of his friend's neck. "That's between you and JD. He'll tell me if he wants to."

Buck bit his lip.

"He trusts you, Buck. He knows you'll believe in him no matter what. You're the one he told." Buck's head dropped and he seemed to be studying the ground. Vin knew he was listening. "You may be right about him and his hero-worship. He may want to be a different person. But it's possible that he may just be looking for the best in himself. And as long as you stand by him . . . as long as all of us do, he'll know that just being JD is good enough."

"I hope you're right, Vin." Both men looked back at the boy now sleeping soundly, his bad arm held close, his good arm wrapped protectively around his knees.

"God, I hope you're right."


Ezra Standish was up way too early. He cursed his lack of sleep, and he cursed the fact that folks in Four Corners might mistake him for a conscientious person. If that became the consensus, then people may come to the conclusion that he could be called on to do something and then be expected to follow through with it. That wouldn't do. No, that wouldn't do at all.

He considered just lying in bed all morning. At least then he could remain true to form. But then he realized that he could surprise people, thus keeping them guessing, thus remaining an enigma. That worked better for him that day. He was anxious to check the telegraph office. Maybe he could do some more sleuthing about Grayland Adams. He could wire his friend in Boston . . . not "friend" really, but a man who owed Ezra money. That should be good for a favor or two.

He would do what he could to nail Grayland Adams. Ezra had known weasels in his life, but most of the weasels still had an unspoken code of honor. Everything about this Mr. Adams indicated that he was a different kind of weasel--the kind that was despised by criminal and citizen alike. If Ezra's hunch was right, once Adams went to prison, he would become a target very quickly.

That would suit Ezra just fine.


It was the pain that woke him up again. JD tried to move his arm and then the pain exploded. He screamed before he could stop himself and writhed on the ground. He closed his eyes as he fought it.


He looked up to see Vin and Buck hovering over him.

"'m sorry," he gasped, then rolled away from them again. "It . . . hurts."

Buck reached out to steady the kid. While JD didn't fight his friend this time, tremors ran through his body at the touch.

"I ain't gonna hurt you."

JD could hear the concern in his friend's voice. "I know . . ." the boy answered, through clenched teeth. JD was biting back a scream.

"Your hand must hurt like hell . . ." Buck said, grabbing JD's good hand. JD held on, and then with another groan, he rolled in toward Buck.

"My arm . . ." JD pressed his face into Buck's shirt, hiding his hot tears. Buck kept a strong arm around his friend as Vin knelt next to them.

"Can I check your arm, kid?" Vin's voice was somehow reassuring to JD and he nodded, pulling himself up using Buck's strength as leverage.

"Easy, JD . . ." Buck said, shifting his weight a little. "I got you."

JD opened his eyes, sniffling slightly. God, he hated this. He hated that Vin and Buck had to see him cry. They'd never see him the same way--especially Buck. How could he have told Buck? JD felt a sob--a traitorous sob.

He almost wished Vin would hurt his arm. At least he'd have a real excuse for his tears. But then none of the other guys cried when they broke a bone.

Vin reached up and undid the sling that he'd made out of Buck's shirt the night before. JD cried out at the movement. He felt like his arm was coming apart.

"Sorry, son." Vin's voice was gentle. He then unrolled the oversized bandage they'd made and he gasped.

"What?" JD heard Buck ask.

Good Buck. I can't think right now.

JD was fading and he didn't fight it. Unconscious was better than the pain he felt every time Vin moved his arm. He tried not to scream out, but he couldn't help it.

"I'm sorry, kid." Vin's voice sounded farther away.

Then everything went black.


Buck had watched Vin pull the sling off of JD's arm, and he felt JD tremble in response. Buck strengthened his grip on JD's good hand even as he eased the kid back against him. JD was struggling so. Buck felt JD press his head back into his shoulder as another wave of pain threatened to overwhelm him. Then exhausted, the boy's head fell to the side, the black hair flopping across his face. Buck eased his free hand down to feel the kid's forehead.


He let his hand slide up to the boy's hair, and push it back.

Then he heard Vin gasp.

"What?" Buck asked quickly.

Vin didn't answer, but Buck followed his eyes to the boy's arm.

Bone, cutting through the flesh in two places. Bleeding and strangely swollen. Vin was literally holding two parts of JD's arm.

Buck realized JD had gone limp in his arms.

"God, Vin, it didn't look like that yesterday," Buck said.

"He hadn't cut his hand when we made this bandage. And I was so worried about his hand, it didn't occur to me that he could have hurt his arm worse. He didn't say anything about it."

"He could've rolled on it this morning," Buck said, as he fought the nausea he felt. He had to look away for a minute.

Vin's shoulders dropped slightly as he held JD's arm.

"I don't know what to do for him. I don't know how to put his arm back . . . together to even get him to a doctor."

Buck forced himself to look at it again. "Well, we gotta keep it from bleeding, keep infection from setting in."

"We can clean it with whiskey."

"Yeah, and we shouldn't let it move around."

"A splint?"

Buck frowned. "Yeah, but we'll have to straighten it out."

"But then all the blood will go down his arm and his hand will bleed."

"His arm's gonna bleed before it can get to his hand." Buck said. "Damn."

Vin looked at the injured arm. "We have to stop the bleeding or he'll bleed to death."

Buck decided that he hadn't heard that right. Surely. "Don't be talking about death," Buck said.

"We ain't gonna let that happen. I'm just telling you. We can try to bandage it together so tightly it won't bleed. . . ."

"Let's do that then."

"Or we can stop his blood from going down that arm at all."

Buck nodded. "Better yet." Why did Vin look so upset still?

"No, Buck. It's not better. If we keep the blood out of his arm, his arm will die and a doctor will have take it."

Vin was talking crazy now. "What the hell is wrong with you? Ain't nobody gonna cut off this boy's arm."

"If we don't stop his bleeding, he'll die."

"Ain't nobody ever died from a broken arm, Vin," Buck yelled.

"But folks bleed to death, Buck." Vin yelled back, then he quickly lowered his voice. "We're talking about his life here, and I don't know what to do."

Buck held JD a bit tighter and looked at Vin. He could tell his friend was suffering. Buck managed a smile for the tracker. "We do the best we can," Buck said. "We try to save his arm, and if we can't, we make damn sure we save his life."

Vin nodded, his eyes full. "Good plan, Buck."

"Yeah, it is."