Something to Be Thankful For ( A Thanksgiving Tale)
By: Cass Smith
 

Rating: PG
Warnings: None really, unless you need a warning for smarm and major hurt
and comfort. But hey, I did write this. I mean, I figure you all know by now
that if you look up smarm in the fan fic dictionary, there I am. Oh yeah, no
Beta.

****************************************************

It was cold and getting colder. J.D. Dunne shivered in the growing darkness
and tried to curl into a smaller ball to protect what little warmth he had left
against the late fall chill.

What had ever possessed him to think he could catch that stupid turkey!? It
wasn’t like he had ever trapped such an animal before. Heck, he had only
snared a couple of rabbits in his short nineteen years and hadn’t been able to
bring himself to kill either of those.

So what in the world was he doing out in the middle of the woods , at dusk ,
with the bird call Mr. Gentry at the general store had assured him was perfect
for luring Wild Gobblers.? Two words. Buck Wilmington.

The best friend J.D. had ever had. The brother he had always wanted. The
damn fool who had taunted him about having to live with chicken and pigs
feet for Thanksgiving dinner this year.

The young man looked up to view the now clear, star studded , autumn sky
and sighed.

Chicken!! Who had ever heard of such a thing? Why ,even in the worst of
years, he and his Ma had somehow managed to have turkey on Thanksgiving
Day. She always seemed to make the holidays special, even if there wasn’t
much money. He really missed  that . He missed a lot about his mother and
that was one of the reasons he was bound and determined to have at least a
normal Thanksgiving.

A dinner, with a Turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy and all the other
trimmings he was sure he could whip up with a little help from the others.

The others. They were surely the most important ingredient to his fantasized
feast. After all what was Thanksgiving with out a family to share it with?

The sheriff let out a small gasp of pain as he gently rolled back over on his side
and tried to get comfortable. He was ,after all, stuck there for the
night, undoubtedly.

But the ‘others’ didn’t seem to share the same vision as their youngest partner.
That was an understatement!  Chris practically bit his head off for even
suggesting that the Seven all take the day off.

Of course, J.D. realized that Chris didn’t feel very thankful a lot of the
times. He understood that losing people you care about does that to a person.
But that was one of the reasons this year was so important.  Wasn’t it? For all
that each of them had lost in the past, they had gained precious more as a
group.  Well, at least that’s how J.D. had felt.

Vin Tanner must have not shared his sentiment because he had made plans to
spend his Thanksgiving the way he had the last several years. Alone!! Alone,
on the open range, under the sun, moon and stars, communing with nature
and all that other solo stuff the bounty hunter seemed to thrive on. What was
up with that anyway?

At the moment, it was the last place J.D. wanted to be. Give him a roof over
his head and a hard lumpy bed any day. Even Buck snoring in the next room
would be a welcomed sound now.

Anyway, shouldn't Vin want to be with his friends on Thanksgiving?
Especially Chris. After all , the two of them had become really close over the
last year, even more so after the close call with Cross last month. Buck had
even told him that Larabee acted more like him old self than he ever had since
the fire. Vin had a great deal to do with those changes, but the tracker must not
have thought so.

He only smiled when J.D. had mentioned his plans, giving him that
empathizing older sibling look , as if he understood the stage the kid was going
through, but just couldn’t join him in it. Or wouldn’t.

J.D. shivered again as he heard the call of a lone wolf in the distance.

Maybe he shouldn’t be so hard on his friends. After all, Nathan had seemed
somewhat enthusiastic. He’d never really had much experience at the big ,
traditional dinner thing, well except for watching his owners enjoy themselves
why he and other slaves like him ate what meager fixins they were allowed,
but he at least offered to try. Well, that was until Josiah mentioned going to
the Indian village.

The Indian Village. Well, there were Indians at the Pilgrim’s first
Thanksgiving. But this was J.D.’s first Thanksgiving out west, with  his
friends, and dang it , he didn’t want any Indians there. Or his friend at their
Village when they should be in Four Corners eating that damn Turkey that got
away.

“Boy, that’s really childish,” the boy whispered to himself, between clinched
teeth.

Childish.  "Holidays are for Children." Ezra’s words, not his.

The gambler hadn’t even looked up from the hand of aces he was holding to
acknowledge J.D.'s request with a moment of thought. Of course, although the
man of chance was really good with children, he sort of expressed the view that
the wee ones were put on God’s great Earth as a means of amusement. A nice
distraction from more difficult realities such as poker playing and con running.
What was worse , was that in Ezra’s eyes J.D. was no more than an
overgrown kid and should be treated with such accord. Well, that’s what it felt
like to J.D., anyway.

Maybe that’s why the sheriff had seen fit to whistle and congratulate the
gambler on such a great hand before walking away from the crowded
card table. Funny how all those men folded, all of a sudden like.

The younger man stifled a laugh, which only turned into a cough, that jarred
his sore ribs and throbbing leg. J.D. took a deep breath and tried to think of
anything but his predicament.

Ezra sure was mad. But not as mad as Buck was. Sure J.D. had promised
to relieve him in two hours. The older gunslinger had one of his
monumental ‘hot’ dates and didn’t want to be hung up at the sheriff’s
office all day. So J.D. was a little late. Planning their first
Thanksgiving dinner should have taken precedence over Buck’s libido..
Shouldn’t it?
 

J.D. swallowed hard, trying to fight back the sob that wanted to
escape. He wasn’t going to give in. No matter how bad he hurt or how
much he wished Buck and the others were there at that very
moment. God, where were they? They could yell or be as mad or as
patronizing as they wanted as long as they got him out of that damn
hole and back home.

Home. What a funny word that was. It never held much  meaning for the
young man before. It held none after his mother died. But now, now, it
represented so many different things. Safety. Warmth. Shelter.
Brothers. Laughter. Happiness. Belonging.

Belonging. Maybe that was the most important thing. J.D. Dunne
belonged somewhere. And right now , he would have given anything to be
there.

Well, actually anywhere but here, would be good. J.D. took another
deep breath and tried to push himself up. Pain shot through his leg
and threatened to send him back to the blackness from which he had
emerged only a short time ago. Or was it hours. He wasn’t sure. All he
knew was that it had been daylight when he had fell to his demise and
now it was dark.

The last thing he had remembered seeing after the fall was  that no
good gobbler staring down at him as if he was the funniest thing it had
ever seen. Boy, turkey never had tasted as sweet as it would now! Each
bite would be chewed with relish and consumed with utter delight.

Revenge may have been a dish best served cold, but J.D. Dunne would
take his hot , thank you very much. Hot and covered with gravy.

Hot. It seemed really strange to be hot and cold at the same time. His
leg felt like it was on fire. Broken , more than likely. But the rest
of him felt like ice. He was so cold. Cold and afraid. More afraid
than he had been in a long time. More than he been since coming to
Four Corners. Maybe because he was alone and J.D. hated being alone. He
really wished Vin or Chris was there , or even better, Buck. J.D.
would never complain about the older gunslinger's over protectiveness
again.

“Buck!” the kid yelled, hopelessly, as a sudden surge of panic
overcame him.. “Help!!” A coughing fit was his only reward. That, and
a searing pain in his side. “Please...” he said more softly. “I’m
sorry I messed up. Again. "

Sorry. That’s what he was. Sorry for letting the others down. Sorry
for making Buck mad at him. Sorry for chasing that damn bird and not
watching where he was going. And sorry for believing that just once
things could turn out the way he imagined, the way he dreamed. Maybe
dreams were for kids too.

Maybe. Maybe he’d just close his eyes for a moment. Maybe the
beckoning arms of sleep would get him just a little bit warm, take
away some of the pain. Maybe he’d even dream about the others.

The others. They’d probably tell J.D. he should stay awake. Keep
alert. Anything but give in to the lulling silence calling to his
freezing, tired body. But then again the others had told him to forget
about Thanksgiving. They’d told him not to become sheriff. They’d even
told him to go back East, when he first arrived out West. He’d never
listened to them before. Why start now?

Another shudder shook his slight frame, and an owl called out from
above.

J.D.’s head had started hurting now. He felt dizzy, disconnected from
his bleak surroundings. The full moon seemed a large white blur
against its midnight canvas now. At least his leg wasn't hurting as
bad. Or maybe it was just that the rest of his body was going numb all
of a sudden.

Perhaps, he was just thinking too much. Whichever the culprit, it was
only another reason to let go, to surrender to the shelter of
unconsciousness

And although he knew he really shouldn’t , the young man relented...
chased into the dream world by the thoughts that Buck would really
think him foolish now.

******************************************************

Buck Wilmington sighed wearily and ran a hand over his tired eyes. He
really hated riding in the middle of the night, blinded by not only
the darkness but the thick forest around them. He liked being dragged
out of bed and away from the company of a beautiful woman even less.

How many times were Vin and Chris going to think it quite humorous to
practically scare him to death with that little joke? How many times
was Buck going to fall for it?

But what Buck hated more than anything else was finding out that the
person who had  somehow infiltrated their way into his heart ,landing
the lead role as the troublesome younger brother the gunslinger had
never actually wanted, was in some kind of danger. At least that’s
what Vin feared when the kid hadn’t come back from his afternoon ride.

Damn it, J.D., where the hell are you?

So here they were, the legendary Seven, well five at the moment,
standing out in the middle of Tucker’s Gulch, where their futile goose
chase had lead them. Or should that be Turkey chase.

“Damn it ! If this ain’t the most foolish stunt that kid has pulled,
it has to rank right up near the top of the list,” Buck cursed,
shifting in his saddle and pulling his coat tighter around him. “This
has to be the coldest night we’ve had so far and I don’t think he even
had a jacket with him. What in the hell possessed him to tear off that
late in the evening by himself?”

“I do believe our young friend was in pursuit of the prized ingredient
that he was in need of to perpetuate the feast he was so
enthusiastically planning,” Ezra drawled, stifling a yawn from his
position upon the wagon beside Nathan.

The healer had insisted on bringing the buckboard, just in case the
young sheriff’s usual luck prevailed and he found himself injured or
in need of medical care.

“I know that , Ezra!” Buck had worked himself into quite a frenzy
during their two hour ride. Josiah had summed it up best when he
compared the not so amused younger man to a mama grizzly he had once
seen raging through a camp looking for her lost cub.

"What I can’t figure out is why he had to do it tonight?"

“Well, Thanksgiving is tomorrow, Buck.” Nathan Jackson’s kindly voice
did little to soothe his irate friend.

“So!” Wilmington snapped. “It’s just another day!”

“Not to J.D.” Chris Larabee had been quiet throughout most of the
trip, conversing only with Vin , when the tracker stopped the group
long enough to check a hoof print or other signs of their young
partner’s trail. So, when he spoke up, he gained every eye. “Ignoring
that is what got us and J.D. into this mess in the first place.”

“Brother Chris is right,” Josiah agreed with a sigh. “I believe we
jaded souls may have been a little too caught up in our selves to see
that the more innocent of our group needed our support.”

“I know the kid wanted a Turkey dinner, but that’s no cause for him to
go giving us gray hair and a night of hell for not getting his way.”
Buck tried to sound angry , but failed miserably. “I mean, I know I
might have been a little sore at him and all but I.....”

“You were, no doubt, a pompous ass, Mr. Wilmington,” the gambler
accused, nonchalantly. “Just as Mr. Larabee was and Mr. Tanner, too.”
Ezra frowned, “I should know. After all, it takes one to know one.”

Everyone seemed more than a little surprised at their gambling
friend’s admission. Not that it wasn’t like Ezra to sometimes relish
in pointing out the imperfection he often found in his fellow
partners, but rarely did he find himself to be at fault. After all,
Ezra was Ezra’s favorite person. Or at least that’s the way he liked
everyone to believe.

“I can only hope that we find our young sheriff in  favorable enough
form for him to  exonerate us for our short-sighted blunder.” Seeing
the bemused looks on his colleagues faces, the gambler straightened
his shoulders and regained his usual smirk, “Not to mention the fact
that Mr. Dunne has a rather large sum of monetary funds to
recompense me for.”

“I’m sure he’s fine,” Buck scoffed, choosing to ignore the voices of
doubt ringing in his ears. “Right , Chris? I mean the kid might have
made camp or something. Maybe even doubled back , and is sitting in
the nice warm boarding house as we speak, while
we freeze our asses off lookin’ for him. It'd serve us right, huh?”

Larabee held his friend’s hopeful gaze. Even in the dim moonlight,
Chris could see the worry present in the other man’s eyes.  If
something had happened to J.D. , Buck would never forgive himself. To
be honest, neither would he. “ I don’t think he would have camped,
it’s not J.D.’s nature to stay off by himself, if he can help it.”

Wilmington’s face instantly clouded over, “ He could’ve took Manner
Pass back to town, though,” the older man offered, not really
believing his words, but not wanting to completely dash his friend’s
optimism. “Vin will be able to tell us more when he gets back.”

As if on cue, a horse could be heard making it’s way toward the
clearing they had stopped in after the trail had become too
treacherous for a wagon. Vin’s face was grim as he entered his circle
of friends leading a very familiar, but rider less, horse.

“Shit,” Buck muttered and slid from his own mount to take the reins of
J.D.’s horse.

“I found her about half a mile north of here, tied to a tree.” The
tracker explained. “Looked like she’d been there a while.”

“What about J.D.?” Wilmington asked the question on everyone's mind.
“He wouldn’t have left Bailey alone and gone very far.” The kid loved
that horse and Buck knew it. Something had to have happened to keep
his friend from coming back for her. The huge mare whinnied softly and
nuzzled Buck’s shoulder as if she could read the human’s grim thoughts.

“I found some foot prints and some  tracks that could have been made
by a Turkey. I figure J.D. decided to trail it on foot.” The ex-
bounty hunter looked from Buck to Chris. “I thought Nathan’s lantern
may come in handy now that we have an idea of the radius of our search
area.”

“Twelve eyes are better than two, Brother Tanner.” Josiah agreed, with
a nod. “With all of us looking , we’re sure to find him.”

Vin nodded but found it hard to believe his big friend’s words.
Perhaps guilt was clouding his judgment. After all, J.D. had come to
him to ask for help in tracking a bird.

The kid was always asking the tracker to show him different
techniques and ways of following a trail. Most of the time the bounty
hunter really enjoyed teaching his friend anything he knew. Hell, if
the truth be known, there wasn’t much Vin wouldn’t do for J.D.

But something about this time of year brought up bad memories for
Vin, and that in turn tended to resurrect the old walls around his
heart, and made him yearn to escape any threat to his fortress of
self-protection.  At the time J.D. had asked for his help, that threat
just happened to be his friends.

So, he had brushed the kid off without a second thought. And now
instead of trailing a turkey to share with his family tomorrow, he was
tracking his friend, his brother, who was lost and probably cold, more
than likely hurt. It was enough to make Vin begin to wonder if this
whole mess wasn’t his fault when a  firm hand on his shoulder brought
his mind back to the present situation.

“You alright?” Chris Larabee’s soft voice washed over the younger man,
bringing a slight reprieve with it’s sincere concern.

“Uh, yeah, I’m fine.” He lied.

Chris didn’t looked convinced. “You ready to show us where you found
Bailey?”

Vin met the older gunslinger’s worried stare, “Let’s go.”

With the buffalo hunter leading the way and Buck urging everyone on ,
it didn’t take long for the six to make it to the small clearing where
Vin had found J.D.'s horse.

“Looks like J.D. followed the turkey through this underbrush. There’s
no way a horse could make it through the bramble and bushes here.”

“J.D.!!” Buck yelled unexpectedly, and very loudly, startling his
partners and several nocturnal creatures, by the sounds of the
scurrying in the surrounding foliage. “J.D.!!”

“Dang it, Buck,” Chris hissed. “Give a man a little warning the next
time, why don’t ya.”

“He’s around here, close , I know it,” the determined gunslinger
ignored Larabee and made his way past the tracker . Dropping to his
knees and carefully holding the lantern he had took from Nathan, he
began to crawl through the same branches Vin had pointed out.

“Perhaps Mr. Wilmington has developed the heightened senses of that
maternal Grizzly you so perceptively equated him with Brother
Sanchez.” Ezra suggested, quirking an amused eyebrow at his friends,
before being the first to follow Buck through the small opening.

Chris sighed and made to follow the gambler, “Lets just hope for
J.D.’s sake  he has more control with these gifts than he does his so
called ‘animal’ magnetism.”

********************************************************

J.D. Dunne knew he had to be dreaming. Some cruel dream. Just like the
ones he had been having about laughing turkeys and bottomless black
holes. Of course this dream was worse. More taunting, because it was
exactly what the young man had prayed for. .He could have sworn he
heard a voice calling to him. Not just any voice Buck Wilmington’s
voice.

“J.D.!!”

There it was again. This time the young sheriff was sure his eyes were
open. He was awake. The dull ache in his leg and constricting pain in
his side was a sure sign he wasn’t in any lulling dream state.  But
maybe this wasn’t exactly reality either.
 
He had a fever. He knew that much. And a fever could make you see
things that weren’t there and hear things. Things you really wished
were true. Once when he was sick, he had been sure his mama was there
with him, but of course that wasn’t real. Just like now...Just like
Buck wasn’t real.

The boy  painfully pulled his arms up to cover his ears. Now he was
certain he had heard Chris and Vin. But it was just in his head.
Wasn’t it?

“J.D.? Can you hear me?”

“You think he’s down there?”

“I can’t tell, damn it.  Nathan, shine the light over here.”

“Look, something moved.”

“J.D.?"

“Buck??” the hoarse , hope filled plea came out with some effort on
the still disbelieving teen’s part. “Is that really you?”

“ It’s me kid,” Buck practically shouted before turning to Chris who
was bent down beside him. “He’s down there!” Buck slapped the older
gunslinger on the shoulder, not bothering to hide his elation. “ Did
you hear him?”

“I heard him, Buck.” Chris replied grimly, not liking the sound of
their young friend’s weak reply. He looked at Vin and the others who
had now all gathered around the small opening in the earth that the
bounty hunter had spotted. The big preacher got down on his stomach
and leaned over the crevice.

“J.D.? It’s Josiah, are you alright , son?”

The kid swallowed hard and looked up to where he could now see a faint
glow of light. It wasn’t a dream . His friends had found him.  “Been
better..” he coughed.  “I think I broke somethin..”

“J.D.,” Nathan’s worried voice called down to him. “What do you think
you broke?”

“My leg,” came the small reply. “Maybe some ribs.”

The healer’s dark eyes met their leader’s . “We need to get him out of
there. Soon.”

“J.D., can you move at all?” Chris’s voice sounded strange to the
sheriff. For a minute, the kid had thought his hero sounded almost
scared, and that worried him.

“J.D.!” Buck’s panicked plea snapped the kid out of his morose
thoughts. “You still with us?”

“I’m here.” J.D. waited for another coughing fit to pass. “It really
hurts to move , though.”

“Then don’t.” Chris’s voice had regained its strict tone. That
definitely sounded like an order. J.D. could live with that. At least
it was familiar. “We’ll come down and get you.”

J.D. squeezed his eyes shut and said a quick thank you to whomever
must have been listening to his prayers. Things were going to be
alright now.

“I’m going down after him.” Vin Tanner had already gone and retrieved
the rope from his saddle bag. He handed one end to Ezra. “Feed this
around that tree there, you all can use it as leverage.”

“Hold up there a minute, Cowboy.” Larabee stood up and looked at Vin.
“The walls of that chasm don’t look too stable. It could come down
right on top of J.D. and anyone that goes after him.”

“That’s exactly why I should go. I’m one of the lightest, and I’ve
had experience in climbing, Chris.”

“No. No way. I’m not putting you or anyone else at risk, Vin. I’m going
after the kid myself.”

“Not without me, you’re not,” Buck spoke up, fiercely. “The kid needs
me.”

Chris sighed. Vin, he could probably convince to see things his way,
Buck was another story. “Alright, it’ll probably take two of us to get
him secured and up here without hurting him even worse.”

The look Tanner shot the older gunslinger was not at all pleasant. “I
could just as easily help.”

“It’s obvious, Mr. Tanner, that Chris has undoubted felt somewhat
useless on this little mission. After all, it was your honed tracking
abilities that allowed us to find J.D. It’s only fair, that Mr.
Larabee do his  share of the work.” Ezra explained, diplomatically.
“And as far as Mr. Wilmington is concerned, well, only a fool would
put himself between a grizzly and her cub.”

“Can we just hurry this up?” Buck insisted, too anxious to even care
about Ezra’s jab.

“We’ll lower you down slowly, one at a time,” Vin conceded, keeping
his eyes on Chris. He knew why the older man wanted to be the one to
go after J.D. Why he didn’t want to risk putting Vin in danger. But
knowing still didn’t mean Vin had to like it.

********************************************************

**The meaning of friendship is the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn;
but , by far the most important**.....

********************************************************
 
Buck insisted on being the first to be let down into the narrow, dark
crevice. He was surprised to find that the earth opened wider the
further one descended and by the time he reached bottom, it had given
way to a somewhat spacious cavern.

It took only a moment for him to spot J.D.  The kid was curled on his
side facing the far dirt wall. Wilmington released the rope from
around his waist before his feet had even touched ground. Dropping
lightly to the dirt, the older man made it to the kid's side within
seconds.

“J.D.?”

“Buck?” The younger man shifted slightly and fever glazed eyes blinked
open. “It really was you.”

“You bet.” Wilmington pushed a few long, dark strands of hair away
from the boy’s face so he could get a better look at him. “Looks like
you took yourself quite a trip, huh, kid?” he quipped, trying to hide
his fear.

“Yeah,” J.D. gave him a slight smile. “Nice of you to drop in.”

“I thought you might need some company by now.”

A frown marred the sheriff’s youthful features. “Meaning , you figured
I’d be in trouble by now.” The younger man sighed, and winced at the
pain the deep exhalation caused.

“Take it easy,” Buck comforted. He laid a gentle hand on his friend’s
shoulder. “I didn’t mean that at all. I know you can take care of
yourself, it’s just that trouble seems to follow you around a  lot
more than the rest of us.”

“Especially when he’s alone.” Buck had been so focused on J.D. that he
hadn’t even realized Chris was now in the cavern with them. The older
gunslinger maneuvered around Wilmington and came to kneel on the other
side of J.D. “Something  we’ll discuss later when he’s in better shape.”

The kid swallowed hard and tried to interpret the myriad of emotions
that flashed across the gunslinger’s face. They seemed a mixture of
anger and fear, with maybe a touch of guilt thrown in for good
measure. After all, J.D. knew what guilt looked like. He had
undoubtedly, seen it on Buck’s face everytime he’d managed to get
himself hurt over the last year.

But it was misplaced then, and it definitely didn’t fit the situation
at hand. Chris Larabee had nothing to feel responsible for.  J.D. had
ended up in this condition all on his own.  Well, unless Chris had
pissed off some psychotic turkey somewhere along
 the line, and the gobbler had intentionally lured the young sheriff
out to the forest to do away with him as a means of punishing Larabee.
But that seemed a little too far fetched for , well, even a dime store
novel.  Although, the thoughts of Chris seeking revenge by tracking
that turkey down and blowing it to bits did bring about a certain
pleasant feeling.

“You still with us, kid?” Buck let his worried gaze meet Larabee’s .
The sheriff had closed his eyes and an almost angelic smile blessed
his peaceful features.

“J.D.!” Chris’s sharp tone brought the teen to immediate alertness.
“Stay awake, you hear me.”

“Yes sir,” the boy nodded. “I’m awake.”

Larabee’s face softened and the faintest traces of a grin tugged at
the corner of his mouth. “Good. Just keep it that way 'til Nathan
checks you out.”

“Nathan’s here too?” J.D.’s eyes went back to Buck.

“He and the others are up top.”

The kid groaned softly, “Great, now I really feel stupid. They’re
never gonna let me live this down.”

Wilmington looked at Chris and smiled. “Don’t worry ‘bout them, kid.
I’ll give you so much grief they won’t even bother.”

“That’s a comfort,” the sheriff mumbled, trying to sound angry when
all he really felt was relief. Having the rest of the seven there was
exactly what he needed. J.D. was ready to go home. He made a  move to
get up when the pain ,he had pushed to the back of his mind, broke
through his stone facade with agonizing clarity. The teen tried to
stifle the gasp that escaped him , but failed miserably.

“Where you hurtin, J.D.?” Chris asked anxiously, eyes scanning his
young friend’s form.

“Everywhere,” the kid breathed. “But mostly my leg.” Scared hazel eyes
sought out Buck. “I think I busted it up pretty good.”

“Just take it easy.” Wilmington stated a lot more calmly than he felt.
“I’m sure it ain’t nothing Nathan can’t fix.”

“There’s no blood,” Larabee observed, running his hand carefully over
the unnaturally twisted limb in question.

J.D. still flinched under the gentle scrutiny and drew closer to Buck.

“That’s a good sign, J.D.” Chris assured. “Means the bone wasn’t broke
bad enough to pierce the skin.”

“It still hurts like hell,” the younger man sulked and Buck couldn’t
help but to laugh.

If his friend was well enough to complain , then he was more than
likely going to be just fine. Thank God. “Worse than falling off of
Bailey, that first time you rode up to all of us?”  Wilmington
couldn’t resist.

“Ha. ha.,” J.D. smirked , only to have Buck ruffle his hair, which
really got on his nerves even on a good day.

“If you two would knock it off, I’d really like to get out of this
hell hole and be home before the sun comes up.” Plus, Chris really
wanted to get the sheriff back to town and in a nice, warm, safe room
at Nathan’s, where he might consider holding him under lock and key for
the next couple of years, but saw no reason to point that out.

“Sounds good to me.” J.D. agreed, wholeheartedly.

“We’re going to have to splint that leg, J.D.” Chris’s blue eyes met
the kid’s all to trusting gaze.  “It’s going to be bad, but we can’t
risk moving you ‘til it’s done.”

The kid only nodded.

“What are we going to use?” Buck asked, looking around their tight
confines.

“How bout these?” Another voice spoke, as Vin Tanner serendipitously
dropped from the same rope Buck and Chris had climbed down with. He
held two small seedling limbs , about the same size in length. “Nathan
figured you’d need ‘em.”

“You could have dropped them down,” Chris pointed out, none too happy
with the unexpected company.

“And I figured you’d need my help.” Tanner explained, none too
apologetically before making his way over to J.D.  “How you doing ,
kid?”

“Been better,” the sheriff replied meekly. “I’m real sorry ‘bout
dragging all of you out here. I know you were planning on leavin’ and...

A hand on his shoulder stopped J.D.’s words. “Don’t worry about it.
This wasn’t your fault.”

The sheriff looked puzzled but before he could ask any questions Chris
and Buck were hovering above him once more.

“You ready to do this?” Buck asked squatting beside his friend.

“Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Good.” Chris turned to Vin and offered him the make-shift splints.
“I’m going to pull his leg straight and then you hold these in place.
We’ll use our belts to fasten them.”

Vin did as he was told as Buck did his best to keep J.D. focused on
him, instead of what their partners were about to do. "Did I ever tell
you 'bout the time me and old Chris went down to Mexico...."
Wilmington flinched when the kid screamed but merely squeezed his
friend's hand and continued on with his story. It wasn't until J.D.
passed out that the older man finally quieted.

"He's unconscious," Buck sighed wearily, taking his jacket off and
draping it across the sheriff's still form.

Chris looked up from his task of helping Vin to strap the splint on. He
could read the worry in his friend's eyes and knew the procedure had
been almost as hard for him as it had for J.D. "That's probably for
the best, Buck."

Vin nodded his head, but didn't look up. "At least it will make the
task of hauling him out of here a lot less painful." And not just for
J.D.

"You boys about ready down there?" Nathan Jackson's anxious voice
sounded from above, breaking the growing silence between the three men.

Chris, satisfied with the stability of the splint, glanced at Vin and
then Buck. "I'd say we better get home, if we're planning on making
this up to the kid."

The first real smile Larabee had seen since this whole mess started,
spread across Buck's face.

"I'd say you're right, pard."

"You'll get no arguments from me." Tanner agreed.

"That'll be a nice change," Chris smirked and stood up to get the rope
they'd need to fasten around J.D.

"Did you say something, Cowboy?"

Buck heard Vin ask, as he went to help. The older gunslinger looked
down at the sleeping J.D. and smiled. "And they say we act like
brothers?

**********************************************************

Four Corners

J.D. was having the nicest dream. He was home in his warm bed and he
could swear he almost felt his mother’s presence as she lay a
comforting hand on his forehead, the way she always use to do when she
was checking for fever or when she just needed to reassure herself
that J.D. was alright.

And touch wasn’t the only sensation. He could smell something.
Something wonderful coming from the kitchen. The tantalizing , spicy
aroma swirled about his senses, calling him to consciousness with the
promise of pure delight.

The young man smiled to himself and dug deeper into the soft blanket
surrounding him, burrowing his face into the plump pillow beneath his
head, he hoped to stay in the perfect state he had found for just a few
minutes longer. It was almost like being nestled high in the clouds on
a perfect, sunny day.

Unfortunately, a loud crash and curse from somewhere beyond yanked
him from the gratifying state he was floating in and sent him
plummeting from the heavens in  quite a state of panic. He was falling. Again.

“No!” J.D. sat up with a start, only to have someone push him back into
the pillows.

“Take it easy, J.D. You’re alright.”

Vin Tanner’s soft voice was a surprise and for a moment J.D. just
stared at him, not quite a hold of his bearings yet. “I...was
fallin’,” he stammered, trying to get his breathing under control.

“You’re fine,” the tracker assured, laying a hand on the kids shoulder. “You’re
safe now. We’re home. Remember?”

“Buck?” J.D. let his eyes leave Vin to chance a glance around the room.

“He’s downstairs.” Tanner smiled and sat back down in the chair he had
pulled up to the sheriff’s bed. “Blessing out Chris by the sound of
it.”

“What for?” the younger man began to look less anxious and rested
completely back onto the bed.

“Well, it’s kind of a surprise,” Vin looked unsure and shifted his
gaze to the door, before turning back to J.D. “How are you feelin’ ?”
A change of subject was always a good stall tactic.

The kid didn’t seem to buy it, but he humored his friend just the
same. “My leg hurts some, but I’m a lot better than I was.”

The bounty hunter smiled, “Glad to hear it. You had us all worried
there for a while. But Nathan says you’re leg should heal just fine,
and that your ribs were only bruised.”

“That’s good,” J.D. lowered his head and picked at the small pieces of
fuzz on the blanket. . “I’m really sorry for all this , it’s just
that..I wanted ....”

“Like I told you before,” Vin quickly jumped in. “You don’t have
anything to apologize for. You’re not to blame.”

Two wide hazel eyes looked up at him. “Then why are the others mad at
me? I mean they're not here. Even Buck. What did you do ? Draw the
short piece of straw or somethin’?”

“J.D., you don’t understand.” Vin got up and came to sit  down on the
edge of the cot. “Buck was here until about an hour ago. He wouldn’t
go until  your fever had gone down and Nathan assured him you were
alright.  The others have been here too. Chris was as bad as Buck.”

J.D.’s frown seemed to diminish some but he still looked doubtful.
Tanner sighed. So much for the surprise.

“I'll have you know that at this very moment, the others are downstairs
cooking you the biggest
Thanksgiving dinner they can manage. They’ve been at it all morning.”

“Really?” the sheriff’s face instantly lit up.

“Really. Chris got a turkey from the Spinster Cromley, Josiah and
Nathan borrowed Mr. Gentry’s recipe for stuffing, and Ezra’s even
making his grandma’s famous pumpkin pie.”

“Ezra has a grandmother?” J.D. looked amazed.

The bounty hunter chuckled, “Apparently. The last report Nathan gave
me ,when he came to check on you, was that our friend of chance seemed
to know his way around a kitchen almost as good as Buck knows his way
around a woman.”

“Wow,” J.D. whistled, but then looked serious again. “But why? I mean,
why are they doing it? I thought none of them wanted anything to do
with Thanksgiving?” The kid paused and  gave his friend a hard look.
“I thought ‘you’ wanted nothing more than to get out of
town for a while?”

Vin took a deep breath and tried to remember half the things that had
been going through his brain as he had watched his young friend sleep.
A friend who had  somehow managed to become more of a brother than a
friend. A brother who was only one of the six that made up Vin
Tanner’s new family. A family that completed Vin Tanner in a way he
had never realized he was lacking..  And with that thought, the answer
to J.D.’s question dawned on him with crystal clarity.
 
“I guess we all realized just how much we had to be thankful for.”

The kid didn’t know quite what to say to that, and he had begun to
wonder if he wasn’t still back in that hole , having another of those
strange dreams when the door to his room swung open and one very angry
looking Buck Wilmington entered.

Not only was the gunslinger wearing one of  Nellie Benson’s best
apron’s , he was covered from head to toe with flour and some kind of
orange gooey stuff.

“Trust in the Lord, Josiah said. He looks like he knows what he’s
doing, Nathan said.” Buck turned dark, fiery eyes on Vin. “How bad can
it be?, You said.”

Vin tried to control the overwhelming need to laugh out loud at the
sight before them  and managed a hoarse reply, “I take it Ezra’s not
the ‘profound proficient of culinary delights’ that he claimed to be.”

“Hardly!” Buck yelled, waving a flour covered arm in the air. “Damn
fool blew the doors off Nellie’s prize oven. Used enough baking powder
to take out half of Fort Laramie.”

“My ma never put baking powder in pumpkin pie.” J.D. stated, trying to
keep his giggling to a minimum. After all, laughing may have been the
best medicine but it was not a good prescription for bruised ribs.

"Kid!" Wilmington exclaimed, surprised. "You're awake."

"I was sleeping, Buck. Not dead."

"Yeah, you're not actually at your most quiet when you're mad." Vin
pointed out, trying not to look his friend in the face, where dough
and pumpkin had strategically placed itself in random spots.

Buck gave the bounty hunter an evil glare. "Chris sent me to get you
to help clean up before Nellie makes it back from her sister's. You
know how that old lady can swing a broom. And you did use that 'look'
to get her to agree to us using the boarding house kitchen."

Tanner gave J.D. one last knowing smile before edging his way
carefully around Wilmington. If Buck looked this bad, he couldn't wait
to see the others.

"You feelin' O.K.?" the older gunslinger asked, as soon as Vin was out
of the room.

"Much better since you got here." J.D. was half joking, but in all
honesty, his words held a lot of truth.

"I'm glad to know my suffering wasn't in vain." Buck quipped and took
the seat Vin had vacated. "But I'm afraid you're perfect Thanksgiving
Dinner isn't going to be all that you had hoped. Not only will we be
lacking one of our partners, if Chris ever catches Ezra that is, but
we 'won't' be having any pumpkin pie, like your ma use to make."

"None of that dinner stuff ever mattered to me, Buck." J.D. met his
friend's remorseful stare. " I just wanted us to be together. All of
us, like a family. You know?"

Wilmington sighed. He did know. He knew all too well. "Yeah, I know,
kid."

"That's what holidays are really about." J.D. added, a genuine smile
lighting his face.

"Is that so?" Buck grinned evilly. "Does that mean I can send your
Christmas present back then. Cause, I already got it but if you'd
rather just have some quality moments..."

"Now, Buck, let's not get carried away here.  I didn't exactly mean...."

The end, well at least until Christmas.....