Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven is owned by people other than me. If I owned it, it would still be on the TV. I'm not making any money.
Author's Notes: Thanks, Judy, for betaing this for me.
Chris walked slowly across the main street, his duster billowing in the wind. When a particularly hard gust caught his hat, he reached up, laying one hand on the top and pulling the brim down closer to his eyes with the other. He stepped up onto the boardwalk and, seeing JD sitting in front of the jail, started that way.
The younger man had been quiet since the other men had left for Lost Springs three days ago. Chris wondered if it had anything to do with the fact that JD and Buck had gotten into an argument before the ladies' man had left. Chris couldn't remember ever seeing JD that incensed before. Chris had no idea what had happened - the sheriff wasn't talking, and Chris sure as hell wasn't about to bring it up. It wasn't his business. The two argued often, butting heads like two rams, but this had been different. JD didn't bounce right back like he usually did after one of their sparring matches. The kid hadn't been the same since the fight. In fact, Chris couldn't remember hearing more than five words out of him in the last three days. As much as Chris usually wanted the kid to shut up, he really wouldn't mind hearing some chatter right now. A quiet JD Dunne was unnerving.
When Chris was almost to the jail, JD stood up out of the chair, stretching like a cat. The kid glanced at him, nodding once before slipping into the sheriff's office. JD came out with his coat and hat, his rifle resting on his shoulder. Without a word, he walked over to his bay horse, slipped his rifle in the scabbard, pulled his coat on and then set his hat on his head. In one fluid movement, he grabbed the saddle horn and hauled himself up. Glancing at Chris, he tipped his hat as he backed his horse away from the hitching rail, urging it into a fast gallop out of town.
Chris shook his head as he leaned back in the hard wooden chair. Damn kid.
JD had a four-hour patrol around the outskirts of town and then he would come back and relieve Chris from jail duty. Chris hoped that the kid would work out whatever was wrong with him so when he got back he wasn't acting like a 'miniature Chris Larabee'. A slow smile crept over his face at that thought and he settled in for his watch.
A few hours later, the wind had mostly died down. A noise some feet to his side and a little behind him had him whirling up out of his seat, gun drawn.
A startled, wide-eyed Casey Welles gasped, throwing her hands in the air as she yelped. "It's just me, Mr. Larabee."
"Casey!" he hissed, holstering his gun harshly, his face twisted in a grim frown. "That's a real good way to get your head blown off," he reprimanded as he shook his head.
"Sorry," she said softly as she put her hands down and took an involuntary step back. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to trouble ya. I'll go," she whispered as she turned.
"Casey!" Chris said harsher than he'd wanted. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "Casey? What'cha need? You and your aunt need something?" Chris knew how much Nettie Welles meant to Vin Tanner. The older woman was almost like a second mother to the ex-bounty hunter and Vin would do anything for her. Casey was a bit more of an enigma. She was kind, shy almost, unless it came to JD, then she was an overbearing tomboy, trying to outdo him in everything he did. Chris knew that the two young people liked each other, even if they had a funny way of showing it. Chris liked Casey, she reminded him of Sarah when she was younger. When he'd met Sarah, she'd been a bit of a tomboy herself, as she rebelled from a domineering father. Sarah loved horses and anytime she got the chance, she was off on one, racing anyone she could. Hell, that's how Chris had met her. The young woman had taken a spill from a horse spooked by a rattler. Chris had come along her when she was limping back towards her house, her pants ripped and her clothes dirty. He'd made some remark about women and horses that had set off Sarah's fiery temper. Halfway through her tirade, Chris fell in love with her. He'd picked her up, tossed her on the saddle in front of him and took her home. The two fought and squabbled for some time, both knowing they were in love and not wanting to admit it. Chris sighed, Sarah was a hell of a woman.
"Mr. Larabee," he heard Casey's timid voice. "Mr. Larabee, are you all right?" This time it was closer and Chris looked up to find the teenager only a few feet away, looking at him with concern.
He cleared his throat, trying to get rid of the visions of his dead wife. "Yeah," he said gruffly, his throat not wanting to work.
"I said, nothing's wrong or anything. I mean, Aunt Nettie didn't send me to get'cha." She looked down, her hands fidgeting with each other. "I just...wanted to ask you something." She looked back at him, her eyes sad.
"Sure," Chris nodded as he answered her. Reaching over, he pulled a rough wooden bench next to his chair, motioning her to sit there as he took his own seat back.
She didn't say anything and he glanced over to find her looking away, her face wistful. Her shoulders were tensed and he could see that she was shaking a little bit. He wasn't sure if what she had to say was bothering her or if being in close proximity to 'Chris Larabee-The Gunfighter' was. She looked like a child as she sat there, her legs rocking back and forth under the bench as she sat on her hands. He'd heard about her parents, what had happened to them, how Casey had watched it happen. And it hadn't been too long ago that she and her aunt had had the trouble with Guy Royal, which most likely would have turned out much, much worse if Nettie hadn't asked for help. He knew that Casey had been through way too much already in her few years and his heart softened and he smiled a genuine smile.
"Casey," he spoke softly, "you wanted to ask me something?"
She startled, looking over at him with bright eyes. She blushed, turning red all the way down to her man's-shirt collar. "Yeah, I'm sorry." She swallowed. "I know...well, I know that..." she paused.
"Casey?" he coaxed. "What is it?"
"Well...I know that you've been the only one here with JD the last few days and I...well...I was wondering if you know what's wrong with 'im?" She spoke fast, much like JD did when he was excited or wanted to get his viewpoint in before one of the others interrupted him.
Chris shook his head. He could see the caring in Casey's eyes, the hurt that something was wrong with JD and the young man wasn't speaking to her. Shaking his head again, he leaned back in his chair. "I honestly don't know, Casey. He ain't said more'n five words to me in the last three days." He didn't like talking about someone, about their business, when they weren't there, but looking over at Casey's face, he decided he'd break his own rule for this once. "Casey, he and Buck had a fight before Buck left and since then, well, he just ain't been the same. If it makes ya feel any better, he's been like this to everyone, not just to you."
She sniffed, smiling sadly as she looked down. "Must a been somethin' really bad. I mean," she grinned sadly up at him, "those two is fightin' all the time and JD usually just shirks it off." Frowning, she furrowed her brow, anger coloring her words. "Wonder what Buck said to make 'im so mad?"
Chris laughed, a short, barking sound. "Hell, with those two, who knows."
"Yeah." She smiled. Pulling her hands out from underneath her thighs, she massaged them, trying to get the blood re-circulating and the imprints from her pant seams off. "Well, I reckon he'll tell me?" She looked up at him.
Chris took a long look down the main road, taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly before looking over at her and answering. "I don't know, Casey. Hell, he sure ain't told me, not that that means much."
"Oh, it does," she quickly shut up, her face reddening. "I mean...well...if he'd tell anyone, it'd be you or Buck, and since Buck's the one who made him mad, he sure ain't gonna tell him nothin'. And since yer his hero, he'd tell you I'm sur-" She cut herself off again, clamping her mouth shut as she stared hard at her legs. After a few minutes of silence, she laughed self-depreciatingly. "Aunt Nettie is always tellin' me to think 'fore I open my mouth. Look's like I ain't learned it yet."
Chris looked down at her, a grin on his face. "I ain't much of a hero, Casey." His face turned dark as he swept his gaze up and down the street. He could feel her watching him. She made some sort of sound in her throat as she too looked at the road. "I heard 'bout'cha, Mr. Larabee. About the things you's supposed to've done. Fact is..." she looked over at him and he glanced down at her. She looked away quickly. "Fact is, I'm a bit scared of ya," she was quick to continue, "and I ain't scared of nothin'." She grinned slightly.
Chris laughed, throwing his head back. She giggled a bit before she said, "That is, I mean, that's before...well...JD talks about'cha all the time. Heck, we can't do nothin' without him talking about Chris Larabee-this and Chris Larabee-that," she made a funny face as she mocked JD's voice. "But, truth is, he like's all of you'se seven," under her breath, she said, "though, for the life of me, don't know how he can like that sittin'-around-while-there's-work-to-be-done, whiskey drinkin' card sharp Standish," she added, sighing, "even though he *did* save our ranch." Coming back to herself, she grinned, shrugging her shoulders sheepishly, as if apologizing for the words against one of Chris's men.
Chris smiled conspiratorially as he leaned down towards her, wrinkling up his nose. "He takes some gettin' used to."
"I bet!" She barked and Chris laughed again.
"Anyway, guess I was just sayin' that JD thinks an awful lot of you, Mr. Larabee. *He* thinks yer a good man, and," she swallowed and looked up at him, "if he thinks that way, that's good 'nuff for me." Her solemn face reddened and she looked down again, once more slipping her hands under her legs. "Stupid, Casey," she spoke softly to herself. "Stupid." Standing, she stuffed her hands in the pockets of her pants. "Well, I've bothered'ja enough." She laughed slightly, embarrassed, and Chris stood. "Don't tell JD that I told you that you're his hero, huh? He'd never forgive me. Just forget I said it, 'kay?"
"Sorry again that I bothered'ja. I'm gonna go now. Please don't tell JD that I was askin' about him."
"I won't," Chris replied.
Casey turned to go.
"Casey?" He walked up to stand beside her.
She cocked her head back to look up at him.
"Why'n you ask 'im what's wrong. I have a feelin' that he might tell you."
"You think?" She asked, hopeful.
He smiled down at her, thinking about how he would've walked through Hell just to have Sarah talk to him, ask him if he was all right - just to see that concerned look full of love. "Try it."
"Okay," she smiled. "Thanks, Mr. Larabee."
"It's Chris," he said.
"Thanks...Chris," she blushed slightly as she looked up at him. "You know, you're not nearly as scary as they say."
He laughed again, putting his arm around her shoulders as he leaned down and whispered surreptitiously, "And you care more about JD than you'd want anyone to know."
She blushed and smiled up at him, her eyes glowing. "But it's our secret, yeah?"
"Sure," he patted her on the back. "He should be back in about half an hour. If you want, I'll tell him to meet you."
Her eyes lit up. "Yeah? How about at the fishin' hole."
"Will do," Chris said.
She walked over to her horse that was hitched in front of the next building, pulling herself up into the saddle in much the same way that JD always did. Chris smiled. These two were made for each other. She walked her horse back over, stopping in front of him. "Thanks again, Mr- I mean Chris." She looked down at her hands that were holding the reins and then back over at Chris. "And...thanks for taking care of JD." She smiled knowingly.
Chris nodded once.
She moved her horse out a little bit. "Don't forget 'bout the fishin' hole."
"I won't. I'll make sure he's there even if I have to drag 'im."
She giggled, most likely at the vision of Chris Larabee dragging JD Dunne to a fishing hole.
" 'Kay," her smile was huge. "And don't worry, I won't tell nobody that you're nice and ruin your reputation." With that, she kicked her horse into a run, waving once before she turned down the street and out of sight.
Chris sat back down, still laughing, a good, hard laugh.
the end (Jan '02)
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