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Mag 7 fic: Taking Things for Granted (1/3)

December 11th, 2015 (11:51 am)
complacent

feeling: complacent

Title: Taking Things for Granted

Disclaimer: I do not own the Magnificent Seven.

A/N: A fill for my fever/delirium square on hc_bingo. I wrote this awhile ago for postfallen and then had it beta’ed more recently by sockie1000 before finally getting my act together to post it now.

Summary: JD learns the hard way what really matters in his life.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

Casey’s a girl.

Sure, she dresses like a boy, and sometimes she talks like a boy. She even acts like a boy from time to time, but she’s a girl, whether she wants to admit it or not.

JD is sure of this because she always -- without fail -- drives him positively out of his mind.

-o-

“So, um,” JD says, straining as he carries the trunk. “Where did you want this?”

Casey looks surprised. “Oh, uh,” she flounders. “Wherever.”

JD huffs. Casey had been insistent about the trunk, saying it had to be moved and it had to be moved today. Normally she’d do it herself, but it was just too heavy and she didn’t want to ask her aunt to help for fear of hurting her. JD’s okay with that -- he’ll do favors for people -- but ever since he arrived, she’s been entirely evasive about the trunk.

In fact, it took him nearly twenty minutes to get her to tell him where it was. And then another five minutes before she agreed to let him move it.

Which, as far as JD’s concerned, doesn’t make any sense. “You’re the one who wanted it moved!”

“Well, it’s heavy,” Casey protests.

“I know!” JD complains, feeling his arms start to strain. “So where do you want it?”

“Well, I don’t care!” Casey says crossly.

“Then why did you ask me to move it?” JD says, breathing heavily as he levers it further into the room.

“I don’t even know,” Casey says.

The trunk slips, and JD barely muffles a curse as he sets it down on the floor. He gets up, red faced and sweating. “Well, that’s stupid.”


Casey’s face darkens. “You’re stupid!”

JD’s mouth falls open. “But you asked me to come!”

Casey turns sharply back toward the kitchen. “A decision I’m regretting now.”

JD follows her, and he’s surprised to see the table nicely set with a flower in the middle. There’s fresh baked pie and lemonade. “Wait, did you bake?”

“Not for you,” Casey says.

“I’m just trying to do what you want!” JD complains.

“Well now I want you to leave!” Casey insists.

JD throws his hands up. “All right!”

“All right!” Casey yells back.

JD mutters the whole way back to town.

-o-

“I don’t know what to do,” JD complains. “She acts like she hates me, but then when I don’t pay her no heed, it’s like I’ve offended her!”

Buck coughs into his hand. “Well, you have offended her.”

JD throws his arms wide. “But that doesn’t even make any sense!” he says. “Just when I think things make sense between us, she goes and, I don’t know, acts like this.

Buck raises his eyebrows. “Like what?”

“Like a girl,” JD exclaims.

At that, Buck predictably laughs, but it’s punctuated with another round of coughing and a wet sounding sneeze.

JD makes a face. “You sound horrible, Buck.”

Buck snorts, mopping up snot with his bandana. “Better horrible than stupid.”

It takes a moment, but then JD realizes he’s been insulted. “Hey, wait a second--”

Tucking his bandana back into his pocket, Buck clears his throat. “She sounds like a girl, because she is a girl,” he explains patiently, if congested. “And you run around treating her like your best friend.”

“I don’t treat her like my best friend,” JD retorts indignantly. “You’re my best friend.”

Buck sneezes, inadvertently spraying JD.

With another face, JD steps back. “At least, when you’re not dying.”

Buck hacks sharply and shakes his head. “You’ve got your priorities all screwed up, son.”

“Well, I was kidding, Buck,” JD says. “I still like you even when you look like death--”

Rolling his eyes, Buck looks for a fresh spot on his bandana. “I’m talking about Casey.”

“Oh,” JD says, watching as Buck wipes his nose again. “I just don’t know how I really feel about Casey. I mean, she’s always been there for me, and she can be a lot of fun to be with, but she’s so complicated, Buck.”

“Complicated is what makes the fairer sex so damn attractive,” Buck says, managing a devilish smile despite his congestion. “Besides, you need to act.”

JD shrugs. “But why?”

“Because you don’t want to know how you feel when it’s too late,” Buck warns. “There’s no telling how long she’ll wait.”

JD’s about to tell Buck that may actually be a valid point, but then Buck sneezes and proceeds to cough. It’s so violent that JD stares while Buck curses and huffs, turning to leave, almost sneezing his way out the front door of the saloon.

There’s no telling how long Casey’ll wait, but JD’s not even sure what she’s waiting for.

Discouraged, he orders a drink and listens while Buck continues hacking down the street.

-o-

After his drink, JD reckons it’s about time to get to work, so he heads out and down toward the jail. He nods to a few people with a general friendly smile, but when he steps out to cross the street, he sees Casey across the way.

Her eyes widen, and she swallows. JD knows that look.

It’s the look she gives him when she’s about to speak to him.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Casey could be in a reasonable sort of mood. She has those, quite often, but the trouble is, he can never tell when it’s one of those times and when it’s not. And given this morning, he doesn’t really want to find out.

Damn girls. JD wants to like them, but they make him so flustered. Talking to her might be the smartest option, but JD’s not always one for that type of action.

JD will face down any outlaw, but he’ll run chicken from a girl like Casey.

She opens her mouth, moving toward him and JD frantically looks away and quickens his pace. When he gets to the general store, he ducks inside. The man behind the counter greets him but JD shakes his head and rushes out back.

Buck tells him to get his priorities in order. Buck tells him that complicated is a good thing. Buck tells him to act.

He loves Buck like a brother, but that don’t make him right.

And even if he is, JD’s not sure he cares.

No, all JD cares about is keeping himself sane for just a little while longer.

-o-

After spending a bit of time behind the general store, JD sheepishly makes his way back to the street. He scans it nervously, but there’s no sign of Casey.

He’s more than a little relieved. Buck says there’s no telling how long Casey will wait.

But JD reckons another day would do them both some good.

Hell, as far as JD’s concerned, another week might do them better.

Besides, it’s not like JD doesn’t have other things to worry about. He’s a lawman! He has duties! He has responsibilities! He’s entrusted with the safety of this town and all the people in it. That’s a big job, and he faces it fearlessly and eagerly.

That’s what matters, JD consoles him as he makes his way to the jail.

And there ain’t nobody around to tell him otherwise.

-o-

When he gets to the jail, JD’s a bit surprised that he’s the last one there. He’s usually one of the first, being eager and anxious and generally having less to do than his friends.

Buck makes fun of him for this, but this time, Buck’s there, too.

He greets JD with a sneeze.

JD wrinkles his nose and takes a spot near Ezra and Vin, as far away from Buck as he can manage.

“You’re late,” Ezra drawls, regarding him curiously.

“Didn’t realize we had a schedule,” JD says, puffing his chest up defensively.

“Timeliness is not a virtue,” Ezra says. “But it is an asset worth remembering.”

Vin chuckles under his breath. “Chris just got word about the Malone gang.”

At that, JD frowns. He’s been so preoccupied with Casey and her incessant impossible everything that he’s a little bit behind.

“They’re wanted for a string of burglaries throughout the area,” Nathan reports. “Been making their way toward us for some time.”

“Latest one was a few towns down the rail,” Vin continues for him.

“Wait,” JD says, his memory finally kicking. “They’re the ones wanted for the bank job last month, right? Killed two people?”

“Apparently they’re getting bolder,” Nathan says grimly. “They hit up a ranch, killed the whole family.”

“Ain’t no way to justify that,” Josiah murmurs.

“Lovely bunch, it sounds,” Ezra agrees.

Buck hacks sympathetically.

“We’ve been given the heads up that they’ll probably be in the area,” Chris says. “They’ve got a whole host of lawmen on their trail, though.”

“So what do they want us to do?” JD asks.

“They’ve been chasing these guys across the country,” Chris says. “Now they want us to get a head start.”

This makes sense.

It makes a lot of sense, which is almost surprising to JD. He’s been spending so much time with Casey that he’s started to expect things to confound him.

“We have a good sense of their path,” Vin says.

“And we can learn a lot based on their history,” Nathan adds.

“So we set out, stake out the two most likely paths to cut them off,” Chris says.

“And then Lord have mercy on their souls,” Josiah says ominously. “Because I sure as hell won’t.”

“In your prolonged absence, we’ve managed to discern their most likely course of travel through the area,” Ezra says.

“We have two points,” Chris tells him, pointing to the map laid out on the table. “We put two teams, one here and one here.”

“Great,” JD says, feeling his spirits buoy. He loves getting out; he loves doing this job. And right now, he’ll love getting away from Casey and the mess she makes of his head. “So we split it, three and three--”

“Not so fast, pard--” Buck says, his voice cracking. “We got to--”

He breaks off with a sneeze.

With a face of disdain, Ezra continues, “What our congested acquaintance is trying to say is that while we want to get ahead of these criminals, we also cannot neglect our own borders.”

JD frowns again. “What?”

Chris rolls his eyes. “There’s still a chance something will happen in Four Corners before these boys even get out to our checkpoints,” he explains. “We need to leave the majority of our forces here, where they’ll have the element of surprise on their hand.”

This sounds reasonable. Still… “Well, I volunteer to head out to one of the checkpoints,” JD says quickly before he can be relegated to some safer role. Despite all his good work, he’s still the kid, and he finds that almost as infuriating as talking to Casey.

Almost.

Chris has that look on his face, and Vin looks away. Ezra actually holds back a laugh, and JD feels himself getting indignant.

“Hell, I’ll go with him,” Buck says. “Make sure he doesn’t get himself killed.”

Chris turns his eyes to Buck. “You sure you’re up to it?”

“You should probably rest that cold,” Nathan says. “If you’ve got influenza, you shouldn’t even be up and about.”

“I’m fine,” Buck says emphatically. “I just--”

Whatever defense he’s about to mount, it falls apart when he starts to cough.

And doesn’t stop.

When he’s done, he looks drawn and pale, and even JD has to admit, Buck shouldn’t be going anywhere.

“You were saying?” Chris asks.

“It doesn’t matter,” JD says. “I don’t need a babysitter--”

“No, but maybe Buck does,” Chris says.

“And he is more likely to listen to your youthful exuberance than our hardened wisdom,” Ezra rejoins.

“Well, I’ll stay back, too,” Nathan says. “Keep an eye on Buck and the rest of the town. Influenza’s been making the rounds.”

“It’s not influenza!” Buck says. “It’s the middle of summer.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Nathan lectures. “It’ll kill you in the heat just as much as the winter.”

“That’s all well and good,” Buck mumbles. “It’s just a damn cold, and I’m fine--

This time, it’s a sneeze that does him in, almost bowing him over as phlegm gets stuck in his sinuses.

“Whatever it is, it’s staying here with you and the kid,” Chris concludes.

“Aw, come on,” JD says. “I’m fine! I can ride!”

Vin pats him on the shoulder. “We decided you’d stay back before you even arrived.”

“That’s the virtue of being early,” Josiah tells him sagely.

“Plus, none of us wanted to stay in the vicinity of Mr. Wilmington and his extreme illness,” Ezra says.

“Don’t worry,” Nathan assures him, watching as Buck mops up his discharge with the soiled bandana. “Something tells me we’ll have plenty to do.”

JD looks at Buck and wonders if he’d be better off with Casey after all.

-o-

JD tries not to sulk. It’s not so much that he’s too good to sulk, but he knows it makes him look like a pouty toddler, which doesn’t do him any favors.

Still, JD feels like sulking. He knows manning the homefront is important. Someone has to sit in the jail. And if something should happen in Four Corners, that’ll be JD’s responsibility.

But...he came this far for adventure. He’s a lawman, same as the rest. He’s good at this job, and he has just as much reason to be out there setting up an ambush as any of the rest.

Sulky as he is trouncing down main street, he doesn’t see Casey until she’s standing right in front of him, startling him badly.

“Damn it, Casey,” he says. “It’s like you’ve been stalking me!”

“You’re the one who nearly walked into me,” she says.

“And you couldn’t move?” JD asks.

Casey’s brow furrows, but she manages what appears to be a sympathetic smile. “You looked kind of serious,” she says. Then, she hesitates. “You still upset about this morning?”

“Why?” JD asks. “You have another something you want moved but don’t know where?”

There’s a flash of offense on her face, but surprisingly, it doesn’t take hold. “I’m sorry ‘bout that,” she says. “I just...got flustered, is all.”

She’s being nice. She’s being approachable. She’s being a Casey JD knows how to deal with.

Relieved, he smiles back. “Well, I did get a little short with you.”

Casey’s face brightens. “So if that’s not bothering, you want to talk about what is?”

JD signs, a bit melodramatically but Casey’s one of the few who’ll put up with that. “The guys are going after the Malone gang,” he says.

Her eyes widen. “They’ve been leaving a trail ‘cross the country. Men like that, traveling in packs. Ain’t nobody safe.”

“Headed this way, too,” JD says.

Casey swallows. “But you’re going to get them?” she asks. “I mean, you’ve all got a plan?”

“Yeah, a good one,” JD says. “But they want me to stay here.”

“Well, it seems reasonable to have someone stay back,” Casey says.

“Somebody, sure,” JD says. “But it’s always me.”

“Well, I, for one, don’t mind that so much,” she says, starting to smile. “Means I might get to see you more.”

JD sighs again. “No offense, Casey, but I have bigger interests than your social schedule.”

Casey recoils at that. “No offense?” she repeats, starting to sound indignant.

“I’m just saying,” JD says. “I have a job to do, and it has nothing to do with seeing you or not.”

“Of course it doesn’t,” she snaps. “I don’t suppose you really want anything to do with me at all.”

JD’s mouth drops open; he doesn’t know when this conversation went from friendly to not. “I didn’t say that--”

She huffs. “You didn’t have to,” she says. “Pity you didn’t get to go, though. Town’s better off without you in it, anyway.”

With that, she flounces off.

JD can only stare.

He’s better off with Buck, after all.

-o-

JD takes his time headed back to the jail, but ultimately, it’s not like he has anywhere better to go. He’s there in time to see the other pack up and ride out, Chris and Vin in one direction, Josiah and Ezra in another. JD bids them well, and promises to do his duty, so help him God.

It’s not always as much as he wants, but it’s something.

And it sure as hell isn’t Casey, which is good enough for him.

-o-

With the others gone, JD agrees with Nathan to take the so-called first watch.

“But what about Buck?” JD asks.

Nathan raises his eyebrows. “Man don’t want to admit it, but he should be tucked up in bed, drinking his fluids.”

“Buck knows his limitations,” JD says.

Nathan chuckles. “Sometimes I forget just how naive you are.”

“I’m not naive,” JD objects.

“If you say so,” Nathan says. “If you can’t convince Buck to get some sleep, at least make sure he doesn’t fall over, all right? I’ll be at the clinic if you need me.”

JD tips his hat as Nathan walks away. “Will do.”

-o-

Though he’s not out on the trail, JD has to admit he’s feeling better about things. Casey’s not in sight and watching the jail, while a bit anticlimactic, has always kind of been one of his favorite things. The fact that they’ve only got one prisoner -- a local drunk -- to contend with doesn’t mean anything.

It’s the principle of the thing.

And, he reminds himself smugly, it’s better than being with Casey.

He walks in proudly, just in time to see Buck spit a huge goober into the trash bin.

Better, as it turns out, really is quite relative.

“Hey,” JD says. “Can’t you do that outside?”

Buck looks up sheepishly. He’s looks even paler than before, though JD’s not sure how that’s actually possible. “Old Ben don’t mind,” he says hoarsely.

“Ben’s passed out drunk,” JD points out, making his way to the chair as far away from Buck as possible.

“So,” Buck says, slumping back into his own chair and groaning miserably. “You’ve got options.”

JD rolls his eyes. “So do you, you know,” he says. “Nathan thinks you ought to go to bed.”

Buck grunts wetly. “Nathan’s a healer; it’s in his blood to look for things to fix.”

JD winces as Buck sneezes. “Sounding like that, you might need to be fixed.”

“It’s a cold!” Buck insists. “You can’t fix a cold!”

“If you say so,” JD says. “At any rate, I’ve got first watch.”

“You keep volunteering for that kind of thing,” Buck mutters. He narrows his eyes. “You sure you ain’t avoiding something?”

JD waves his hand through the air. “I like working,” he says.

“That’s because you’re not normal,” Buck says. “Besides, didn’t I see Casey chasing after you not long ago?”

JD does his best not to flush. When that fails, he at least hopes Buck’s too sick to notice. “You must be hallucinating.”

Buck snickers, lifting a weary finger to point at JD. “She caught you, didn’t she?” he asks.

Mouth open, JD tries to think of some sort of denial. Buck knows him too well, though. Defeated, JD sulks. “She really has been crazy lately.”

“Boy, you’re supposed to like it when a lady chases you,” Buck points out. “You’ve got this all backwards.”

“Casey’s no lady,” JD huffs.

Buck looks earnest. “She just wants to spend time with you.”

“We were spending time together,” JD says. “We spend time together a lot!”

“Yeah, but you fix fences with her and muck out stables,” Buck says.

“She likes that,” JD protests. “She’s the one who invites me to help.”

“Because she wants to spend time with you,” Buck reiterates. When JD doesn’t seem to get the point, Buck adds, “As a lady.

At that, JD’s brow furrows. “Well, then why don’t she act like it? I mean, fixing fences, mucking stalls, moving furniture -- none of that’s very ladylike, so I don’t know what she’s reckoning will happen--”

Buck takes a noisy, exasperated breath. “Maybe she doesn’t act like a lady because you don’t act like much of a man.”

“Now, hey,” JD says indignantly, sitting up in his chair. “Just you listen--”

Buck cuts him off with a sneeze, which quickly devolves into a cough. He holds up a hand, and looks at JD with a pained expression. “You’re missing my point,” he says to diffuse JD’s anger.

Skeptical, JD asks, “Which is?”

“That there are worse things than being a man and spending time with a lady,” Buck says, somehow managing to waggle an eyebrow even while breathing through snot.

JD thinks about that briefly.


Then he thinks about Casey’s nonsensical conversational ways.

He shakes his head. “Yeah, sure,” he says. “Casey could torture me, and you could get me sick. Go get some sleep.”

Buck gives another sneeze before levering himself off the chair. “Fine,” he says with a pointed look at JD. “But let it be known that I’m not doing this for you.”

JD raises a quizzical brow. “Then who are you doing it for?”

“The plight of men everywhere,” he says. “Most of whom would give anything to spend time with a pretty girl like Casey. I can’t stomach being around the one who’d take her for granted.”

As Buck leaves, JD rolls his eyes. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

In reply, Buck coughs.

“Yes, I do!” JD yells after him. When there’s no reply, JD settles himself back into his chair sullenly. He adds in a mutter, “I really do.”

Across the jail, Ben snorts in his sleep.

JD slumps back.

It’s going to be a long day no matter what he does.

-o-

When JD’s finally alone, he enjoys it. He struts around the office and checks the locks. He makes sure the guns are properly secured and counts the ammunition. Ben’s still out cold in the cell, and JD checks for any paperwork to do. Then, he organizes the desk and checks the clock.

It’s been about three minutes.

Chewing his lip, he absently goes through the motions again, but finds himself wishing for a bit of company. It’s not that JD can’t entertain himself; it’s just…

Well, JD likes company.

Growing up, it was just him and his mom, and he’d never been a particularly popular kid. Coming out west had been a long and lonely trip, and nothing had felt much like home until Four Corners. A place where people know his name and ask how he’s been. JD likes that. He likes to tip his hat to fellas in the street, and it means something to defend people he knows and cares about.

It’s about purpose and meaning.

And JD just likes people.

But Chris and Josiah and Ezra and Vin are all out on the trail. Buck’s laid up sick, and Nathan’s taking a break. He could probably rustle up Casey….

JD’s not that desperate, though.

No, JD consoles himself as he kicks back with a dime store novel.

He’s not desperate at all.

-o-

Still, when Nathan shows up around dinnertime, JD almost falls over getting up out of his seat. His novel is half done, and he basically doesn’t remember a thing about it.

“Hey!” he says, trying and failing not to be overly eager in his greeting. “How’s it going?”

Nathan gives him a discerning look. “Fine,” he says. “A few cases of influenza have popped up today, so I’m trying to get them all stay inside. I can’t quarantine them or anything, but it would be for the best. Buck go home?”

“Yeah,” JD says. “Finally talked him into it.”

“That’s good,” Nathan says. “Last thing we need is for one of us to be getting sick. Also been hearing rumors about the Malone gang.”

JD’s eyes widened. “Really?”

“Yeah, reports say they’re coming this way,” Nathan says. “But most people think they’re going to go north, where Chris and Vin’ll be.”

This is good news, JD knows, but he feels a little disappointed. “Not much for us to do then.”

Nathan shakes his head. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Well, no,” JD says. “I’m just saying it’s a little slow around here.”

“Slow is a good thing,” Nathan says. “It means people ain’t dying, and by my book, that’s the best we can ask for.”


“Sure, I know that,” JD says quickly. “I just…”

Nathan rolls his eyes. “You’ll learn it someday,” he chuckles. “You just better hope it’s not the hard way.”

-o-

Relieved from his duties for the time being, JD figures he should take the time to eat. He stops at the saloon and orders a bit before having a few drinks and talking to some of the local crowd. Ever vigilant, he minds the room for strangers, but it’s relatively quiet tonight.

Back on the street, it’s getting near dusk, and JD still has several hours to kill before heading back to the jail to take his turn at the night shift. He thinks about going home and getting some sleep, but JD always been the restless sort. He likes to be doing things, and the idea of being at home is just not appealing.

With most of the team out and about, he’s not left with a lot of options, so he heads toward Buck’s before he even really thinks about what he’s doing.

He’s checking up on him, is all. It’s perfectly reasonable and responsible.

When he knocks on the door, no one answers. He considers walking away, but he is actually genuinely curious.

And a lot bored.

Deftly, he glances down the hall before getting out his spare key. Buck was never keen to give him the key, but when the older man got a key for JD’s room, he argued that it was only fair to have one of Buck’s in return. Begrudgingly, Buck had agreed -- but only in cases of emergency.

JD isn’t sure this is technically an emergency, but the lock’s already undone by the time he second guesses it and lets himself in.

On the inside, it’s dim. There’s no candle lit, but the curtains are still open, letting in the last of the dying light. The floorboards creak as JD steps forward, and he pauses with a wince, but on the bed, Buck doesn’t stir.

No, curled up under the blankets, Buck doesn’t come close. He’s curled on his side, mouth open as he breathes noisily through his congested nose. He looks exhausted, even in deep sleep, and JD suddenly feels guilty for breaking in to disturb him at all.

Buck is sick, and Buck is his friend. And to think, the man had willingly volunteered to head out with JD.

Well, as it is, JD figures there are worse things than hanging out here with Buck.

Like another conversation with Casey, for one.

Sighing, JD settles into a chair and leans himself back. “Technically, all this is your fault,” JD says. He stifles a yawn. “I’ll let you buy me a drink when you’re back on your feet.”

In the bed, Buck sleeps on.

-o-

JD naps restlessly for several hours, checking on Buck occasionally when he coughed in his sleep. When time for his shift comes along, the older man’s still asleep, and JD decides not to bother him. With a good night’s rest, Buck might be back to his usual self in the morning.

Or, at least a less congested version of himself.

JD would take what he could get.

-o-

Outside, the streets are dark and quiet. That’s not so unusual, but it seems bleaker than usual. As if everyone’s just up and left like the rest of the seven.

That’s ridiculous, JD knows.

But JD’s always been a bit ridiculous.

Inexplicably nervous, JD walks with his hand on his gun all the way to the jailhouse.

-o-

Inside, Nathan is kicked back in the chair, reading what looks like a medical textbook. Unsurprisingly, Ben is snoring.

“How’s it going?” JD asks hopefully.

“Good,” Nathan says as he gets to his feet. “Nice and quiet.”

JD feels his heart sink. “Oh.”

Nathan shakes his head. “Still pining for action, then?”

“It’s not that exactly--”

Nathan chuckles. “Oh, yes it is,” he says. “Kids like you, they take the peace for granted. They think the quiet is a curse.”

“It’s just--”

“Just be careful,” Nathan warns.

JD looks intent. “You think the Malone gang is around?”

“No,” Nathan tells him. “I think someday you might just get what you wish for.”

-o-

Nathan’s wrong, of course. The night is quiet and boring. JD reads for a while, but he’s dozing before he knows it.

And really, he figures, why not. Buck’s sound asleep in his room. The rest of the seven are on the trail. Casey’s probably at home with her aunt, thinking up new ways to torture him. And here’s JD, just trying to make sense of it all.

It’s not like anything will be different in the morning.

-o-

It’s sometime past dawn when Ben snuffles in his cell. JD winces, sore from sleeping in the chair, but he doesn’t let himself wake up enough to move. He just wants a few more minutes, is all. A few more…

Then, there’s clamoring on the front steps, and the door bursts open. JD flails, almost falling out of his chair while he reaches for his gun. Heart pounding, he brings it up to defend himself when he sees Nettie’s panicked face. She’s crying and talking, words spilling out too fast to make sense of anything.

Shaking his head, JD puts his gun down and gets up. “Nettie,” he says, trying to be patient. “Just settle for a minute, I can’t understand--”

Nettie looks at him, eyes red and cheeks wet. “The Malone Boys,” she tells hims through hitching breaths. “They -- they -- came onto the ranch and just started raising a racket. We tried to scare ‘em off, and Casey tagged two of them before they snuck around the back and broke in. She would’ve kept firing, but there were too many. JD, there were too many.”

JD’s chest clenches and his throat tightened. “You sure?” he asks. “It was them?”

“Who else would it be?” Nettie all but wails.

“Well, it’s okay,” JD consoles. “I mean, whatever they took, you’re okay, so that’s something, and if you got a few of them--”

Nettie shakes her head, more vehement now. “They didn’t take anything,” she says. “Didn’t touch the livestock or the house or--”

“Well, that’s good,” JD says hopefully.

“Because they took her,” Nettie says emphatically, hands clutches around JD’s forearms. “They took Casey.”

-o-

For a second, JD can’t even think.

It doesn’t even make sense.

The Malone Gang.

Nettie’s ranch.

Casey.

Casey’s a girl, and she’s crazy and she’s inconsistent and she’s frustrating and she’s not just a girl. She’s JD’s girl, if he ever just gets his head on straight and makes the right move. He’s just been so fed up trying to figure out the details that he’s missed the whole damn big picture and now she’s gone.

She’s gone.

And JD doesn’t know what to do.

-o-

After a second, JD remembers that he’s a lawman. He’s not some would-be suitor or even a friend. He’s the one people come to when things like this happen.

He’s the one who’s supposed to make it right.

And he doesn’t understand Casey at all, but he knows how to do his job.

“Okay, Nettie,” he says, looking her in the eyes. “I’m going to take care of this. I promise.”

-o-

JD made the promise, but he’s outside before he realizes he has no idea what he’s doing. Sure, he’s officially a lawman, and he’s zealous enough for the position, but truth be told, he’s no mastermind when it comes to this kind of thing. Usually they make plans between the seven of them, and those plans usually work.

But now it’s just JD.

That’s not quite true, though. No, JD’s taken a lot for granted, but he won’t take everything for granted. Because JD’s not quite alone.

Resolved, JD knows what he has to do next.

-o-

He leaves Nettie at the jailhouse with a promise that he’ll be back soon. Then, gun tucked in his holster, he jogs through the early morning, heart hammering in his chest as he makes his way to Nathan’s clinic.

“Nathan!” he yells, pounding on the door. “Nathan!”

He pounds again, reaching to open it when Nathan opens it from the other side. “Someone need a doctor?” he asks, clutching his bag in his hand.

JD’s sets his face grimly. “No, worse,” he says. “I need a gunman.”

Nathan’s worry deepens and puts the bag down, trading it for the gun he keeps by the door. “Well, then,” he says. “Sounds like we best be moving.”

-o-

JD tells Nathan the basics, as best he knows them. When they get back to the jailhouse, Nettie has stopped crying enough to fill in a few more of the gaps.

“There were at least six of them,” Nettie explains. “Sort of lost count, though. Probably more.”

“And you’re sure Casey got two?” JD asks.

“Girl has good aim,” Nettie replies stiffly.

“I don’t doubt that,” Nathan says apologetically. “Just want to be sure they were dead.”

“Trust me,” Nettie replies coldly. “They weren’t going nowhere.”

“Did you see what direction they left in?” JD presses.

“Headed off down the trail,” Nettie says. “They didn’t stay long, and I don’t reckon they want to. Once they had Casey, they cleared out of there real fast, though I don’t suspect they thought they’d get much of a fight. Those fellas underestimated that girl.”

JD swallows guiltily. They aren’t the only ones.

“I apologize for the question in advance, Ms. Wells,” Nathan says. “But how do you know they intended to keep Casey alive?”

“Nathan!” JD objects.

“It’s a fair question, given the history of this gang,” Nathan says.

“But this is Casey!” JD insists.

Nettie trembles slightly, but doesn’t look away. “They said as much,” she explains. “Called her their ticket out of the territory.”

Nathan sighs grimly.

JD blinks, feeling a little lost. “Their ticket?” he asks. “But what does that mean? Nathan?”

Nathan purses his lips, and looks at JD with regret. “Hard to know for certain,” he says. “But my best guess is that they know they’re being chased, and they know it’s only a matter of time before they have a run in with the law they can’t avoid.”

“So?” JD asks.

“So,” Nathan says. “What better way to gain leverage than to put an innocent person in the mix?”

“Wait,” JD says. “You’re saying -- Casey’s a hostage?”

“That’s my best guess,” Nathan says.

“But that’s impossible,” JD says. “It’s Casey. They can’t take her hostage.”

“Son,” Nathan says evenly. “At this point, you better hope she is a hostage.”


JD frowns. “Why?”

Nathan nods stoically. “Because it’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative.”

-o-

Out on the porch, the town’s starting to come alive. People are starting up and down the streets, and the shops are opening up. The air is brisk as the sun rises over town, and it looks downright beautiful.

Hell, this is why people come out here. All the untamed potential. The possibilities. The wonder.

The danger’s all part of that, though, and JD had taken that for granted, too.

Then, what hasn’t JD taken for granted?

“JD?” Nathan asks.

Startled, JD looks back toward Nathan. “What?”

“I was saying, we need a plan,” Nathan tells him. “Rest of the team out on the trail, it’s not going to be easy.”

“Well, if the Malone boys knew enough to take a hostage, you think they’ll be expecting a fight?” JD presses.

“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Nathan says. “Which will make things harder.”

“But Nettie said this all just happened,” JD says. “It’s barely been a few hours. We know the direction they’re headed and we know they’re going to be moving slower than they like.”

“You’re thinking about going after them,” Nathan concludes.

“It’s our best shot,” JD says. “On my own, I could get there--”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Nathan says. “You can’t go after them alone.”

JD straightens, puffing out his chest. “The hell I can’t,” he says. “They took Casey--”

“And you think getting yourself killed is going to get her back?” Nathan asks.

“Well, someone has to stay in town,” JD reminds him.

“We can round up a posse,” Nathan suggests. “Won’t be the best--”

“No,” JD says, shaking his head. “It’ll take too long.”

Nathan sighs. “I don’t see a lot of other options, JD.”

Chewing his lip, JD knows Nathan’s right. JD’s inclined to act on instinct, even when it ain’t the brightest, but all his time with the seven has taught him something. He can’t run off after the Malone boys and hope to bring back Casey alive all by himself. No, he needs help.

JD’s eyes widen, and he looks back up at Nathan with renewed hope. “I think I got an idea.”

-o-

At Buck’s room, JD knocks. He’s reaching for the spare key when there a low grumble and a cough.

Nathan steps forward, concerned. “Buck?”

“Just a minute, just a minute,” comes the garbled reply. There’s a rustling and the sound of footsteps before the lock slides free and the door opens. Pale and disheveled, Buck looks more than a little weathered. The tip of his nose is red and raw, and he’s in his undergarments.

JD wrinkles his nose. “You look terrible.”

Buck sniffles loudly and glares at JD down his nose. “You look terrible, too,” he says. “At least I have an excuse.”

“Yeah,” Nathan says, stepping forward and letting himself into the room. He reaches up and presses a hand to Buck’s forehead. “Your fever up?”

Ducking away, Buck huffs. “Hard to tell,” he says. He attempts to grin. “I’m always a bit hot under the collar.”

Nathan is unamused. “You need to drink your fluids.”

“That’s fine,” Buck says. “But somehow I don’t think you both came here for a house call. Who’s at the jail?”

Nathan’s healer talk stills, and he looks at JD. JD’s stomach flutters. “Something’s happened,” he says.

Buck’s sick, and Buck’s cavalier about most things, but he holds JD’s gaze, suddenly serious once again. “What happened?”

“The Malone gang,” Nathan supplies. “They’ve rode by here.”

Buck swallows back a cough. “Well, we knew that--”

“No,” Nathan says. “They did some damage--”

“What kind of damage?” Buck presses.

Frustrated, JD can’t take it any more. “Casey,” he says. “They took Casey.”

Buck stops, blinking at JD.

JD tries to pull himself up, nodding with as much fortitude as he can muster. “And we need your help getting her back.”

-o-

Buck listens, stony faced, smothering his coughs as Nathan goes over everything they know. JD paces impatiently, running his fingers along his gun.

“So we got to go after her,” JD interjects finally, too exasperated to listen to any more of the same things he already knows. “I know you’re not feeling well, but if you just sit in the jailhouse--”

“Whoa,” Buck says. “What’s this about me sitting in a jailhouse?”

“Well, someone has to stay,” JD explains.

“And you ain’t fit to ride,” Nathan says.

Buck shakes his head and gets to his feet. “I’m fine,” he says. “A little cold can’t keep me out of the saddle--”

“Buck, you should let your body rest,” Nathan admonishes.

“I slept for damn near 12 hours!” Buck says. “I’m perfectly rested.”

“I can do this, just as well as you,” Nathan reminds him.

“And the other people?” Buck asks. “The ones who really have influenza? What about them? We don’t know how long of a ride this is, Nathan. The town needs you here.”

Nathan looks torn at this, and JD knows he’s weighing the options. Which is the greater good; which is more important. JD looks at Buck, who’s staring Nathan down without any sign of hesitation. Sick as he is, Buck sure as hell isn’t staying down. And he doesn’t look well, but he’s a lot better than last night.

And the truth is, JD doesn’t care. Not that he wants to see Buck sick or anyone else for that matter. But this is about Casey.

This is about Casey.

“I don’t care who goes and who stays,” JD says, half bouncing on the balls of his feet. “But I’m riding in ten minutes, so if someone’s coming, I suggest you decide it quick.”

Cheeks flushed, JD doesn’t stay to listen to them bicker. Hell, JD doesn’t want to stay at all. All he can think of is Casey and the look on her face when he walked away from her, fast as he could in the other direction.

That can’t be the last thing. It can’t. That’d be too stupid. Just too damn stupid, and completely not fair.

It’s funny, he reflects, a little light-headed as he heads to the livery to find his horse. Casey’s not even here and she’s still driving him crazy. He’ll have to have words with her when she comes back.

Because she is coming back.

JD’s going to make sure of that.

-o-

By the time JD gets to the livery, his arms feel heavy. He goes through the motions to saddle his horse, and as he tightens his straps, he notices that his hands are shaking. He’s done all this a hundred times, and it’s not like riding out to catch bad guys is especially new to him. It’s not; this is what he does. This is nothing at all.

Except it’s Casey.

Taken from her home at gunpoint, hauled out on the trail. JD wonders if she’s scared; he wonders if she’s hurt. He wonders how they’re treating her, and he thinks if they so much as touch her…

“Hey, pard,” Buck drawls, voice thick and nasally.

JD startles, looking back in surprise. “Buck,” he says. “You coming?”

“Hell, yes,” Buck says. He clears his throat. “I’m not the type to sit idle while there’s a lady in need.”

JD’s heart clenches, and he looks down.

“Hey,” Buck says, a little softer now. “You doing okay?”

It’s JD’s first instinct to lie. To pretend like everything’s okay. That’s what he does, isn’t it? Pretend he’s all grown up and ready to go when the fact is he has no idea what he’s doing. He’s nothing but some idiot kid with a badge and a gun, and that he’s survived this long is nothing short of a miracle. He doesn’t know how he ended up with these people, but he’s better for it.

He doesn’t know how he ended up with Casey, either. And he’s better for that, not that he acts that way. Not that he tells her.

Sighing, he shakes his head. “Not really,” he admits.

There’s no derision from Buck. “I know,” he says, reaching up to clap him on the shoulder. “And that’s why I’m really here.”

JD turns his eyes up toward Buck, daring to be hopeful. “I walked away from her,” he says. “You were right, and now she’s -- hell, Buck, she’s--”

He can’t form the words, and the tears burn unshed in his eyes.

“She’s going to be fine,” Buck says definitively. He still looks pale and a little gaunt, but his eyes shine clear with conviction. “We’ll make sure of that.”

With a swallow, JD tries to breath. He nods. “Okay.”

Buck nods back. “Okay,” he agrees. “Let’s ride.”