In minutes most of Eli's men were subdued or surrendered, those who didn't were killed Chris quickly moved forward and pressed his gun against the back of Eli's head cocking the trigger.
"Drop the gun."Chris ordered tersely.
Buck watched the situation with a torn soul. He wanted to stay and back up Vin but he also wanted to make sure the kid was okay.
Josiah saw his friend's expression and moved to stand next to Wilmington all the while keeping his gun trained on Joe. "We got things here, Buck."
Wilmington nodded as he took a last look at Vin before turning and running in the direction that he had last seen J.D.
Sanchez watched him leave praying they weren't too late.
"I believe we have what is known as a standoff, Mr. Larabee."Eli replied with a grin. "You shoot me....your friend dies."
Before Chris could reply Vin had regained his strength enough to defend himself. The sharpshooter swung his legs and kicked Joe's feet out from under him.
Thoughts of Annie dying from his hand flew through J.D.'s mind as he pulled back the trigger.
The youth pushed the thoughts away. Annie had been an innocent bystander just like Casey. People like the Cole brothers needed to be punished for attacking the innocent.
"I'm not worth hanging for." Noah stated as he watched the younger man warily.
"Who's going to say I shot you?" J.D. countered. "Nobody here but you and me."
As soon as Eli hit the ground Vin was on his feet gun in hand. Chris was faster his gun pressed against Eli's throat and one foot planted on Joe's chest.
"You okay, cowboy?" Chris asked as he glanced at Vin's shoulder wound.
Tanner nodded. "Just a scratch."
It was only then that Chris noticed his two missing men. "Where's Buck and J.D.?"
"J.D. went after one of Eli's men." Josiah replied grimly.
"Was Buck with him?" Larabee asked starting to get a very bad feeling.
Ezra shook his head. "He went after Mr. Dunne a few moments later."
"J.D.." Buck called as he cautiously approached the pair. "Put the gun down."
Dunne ignored his friend as he pressed the barrel of his colt against Cole's chest. "He's the one who hurt Casey."
Buck's gaze flickered over to the stranger. "If that's true, he'll stand trial."
J.D. shook his head his grip tightening on the weapon. "He left her there to die, Buck."
Wilmington swallowed hard as he kept his own gun trained on the stranger. For the first time since he had met J.D. Buck had no idea what the kid was going to do and that scared him.
Buck chose his next words carefully. "Is he worth jail, J.D. ? Is it worth loosing Casey?"
The words found their mark but J.D. still didn't face Buck.
"I promised I would take care of her." J.D. stated in a choked whisper.
Buck took a step forward. "You have, J.D.. You caught the person responsible let it end there. Casey needs you now more than ever. She needs your help to regain what she's lost."
After several long agonizing minutes J.D. finally stepped away lowering his gun.
Seizing the opportunity Noah reached for the colt but Buck was there in an instant slamming Cole to the ground.
"Don't even think about it." Buck ordered as he glanced worriedly at J.D. "You okay?"
Dunne nodded slowly shocked by what he had almost done.
"You two alright?" Chris demanded as he and Vin approached.
Buck nodded as he hauled Cole to his feet. "Was a little hairy for awhile but it's under control."
After lunch with his grandfather Mary sent Billy over to Mrs. Potter's to play with her children. As they stood by her desk in the Clarion Mary filled her father-in-law in on her lunch meeting.
"Do you believe him?" Travis asked as he leaned against the desk.
Mary nodded. "I do, but I sent off a few telegrams just to be safe. Vin's been through so much I don't want him to be hurt."
The Judge nodded. "I have a few friends in New York that I can check with. I'll let you know if they send up any red flags."
"Thankyou, Orrin." Mary replied quietly as Travis left the newspaper.
By the time Chris and the others shepherded Eli and his gang back to Stone Valley the army had arrived.
"Which one of you is Larabee?" A tall blond man with Captain's stripes asked as the two groups met by the jail.
"I am." Chris replied as he dismounted. "You guys need to work on your timing. We could've used your help an hour ago."
"I'm Captain Dan Tilson." The man replied as he swung down. "I apologize for the delay but we didn't receive Judge Travis's telegram until last night. How many prisoners?"
"Nine plus one at the doc's office and one needs to be transferred to Tuscosa to stand trial." Larabee replied.
"We'll take care of it." Tilson replied as he glanced at the group behind Larabee. "Why don't you and your men get some rest?"
"Thanks for the offer, Captain." Chris replied as he glanced back at Vin. "But I think we'll just head for home."
It was around eight the next morning when Casey heard a familiar set of hoofbeats. The girl tossed off the blanket and ran to the door of the church.
She had never been so happy to see the six familiar figures on horseback. "Nathan! Aunt Nettie!" Casey called as she ran down the steps. "They're back!"
As the weary group of riders reached the livery J.D. thought he heard someone call his name. He glanced up the street as he dismounted and was surprised to see Casey running toward them.
J.D. walked toward her and as she got closer he saw something in her eyes that he thought he'd never see again.
Recognition and more importantly happiness.
"Casey?" The youth asked as the girl flung her arms around him quickly enveloping him in a bear hug.
"I remembered, J.D.." Casey whispered into his chest. "I remember everything."
"Thank God." J.D. replied softly as he gently rested his chin on the top of her head. "I missed you."
Buck turned away from the livery when a huge hand clamped down on his left shoulder.
"Now there's a sweet sight, Brother Buck." Josiah stated with a wide smile as he watched the young people's reunion.
Buck grinned as he saw J.D. and Casey. "That it is, Josiah."
"Where do you think you're goin'?" Nathan demanded as Vin entered the livery.
Tanner paused glancing back at the healer. "We rode the horses hard, Nathan. They have to be taken care of."
Nathan nodded as he snagged Tanner's good arm. "Yosemite and the others can take care of that. I want to get a look at that shoulder."
Vin sighed knowing that Nathan would drag him to the clinic if he didn't cooperate. "Alright, Nate."
Mary arrived at the livery just in time to see Vin head up to Nathan's clinic. She caught Chris on his way out of the livery.
"What happened?" Mary asked with concern. "Is Vin okay?"
"He's fine." Chris replied as he met her gaze for a long moment before shaking his head wearily. "Let me get a whiskey then I'll fill you in."
Mary touched his arm lightly halting him. "There's something I need to tell you about Vin."
Chris glanced at the reporter his eyes narrowing with worry. "What?"
Mary looked up the street and saw Colin step out of the hotel. "Let's talk in the Clarion."
Nathan was curious to know what had happened in Stone Valley but he had been around Vin long enough to know that the quiet tracker would talk when he was ready and not before.
Vin sat on the cot leaning his back against the wall. He knew it wouldn't really be over until Eli was convicted but with his long time enemy in jail the future was looking brighter.
"Try to keep the bandage dry." Nathan ordered as he put the supplies away and returned to the cot next to Vin. "Come back tomorrow and I'll check the wound and change the dressing."
"It's over, Nate." Vin replied quietly as he stood and walked toward the window.
"You got Eli?" Nathan asked though he had a pretty good idea what the answer was.
Tanner nodded as he paused his hand on the door handle. "Army's takin' him back to Tuscosa as we speak."
"What are you goin' to do with your clean slate?" The healer asked as he stood.
Vin looked back at his friend. "I don't know, Nathan. I've been lookin' over my shoulder for so long I'd forgotten what a normal life was."
"It's a con, Mary." Chris replied as he walked over to the Clarion's window.
Mary shook her head. "No, it's true, Orrin and I both checked him out."
Larabee turned to face the young widow. "What does he want?"
"To know his brother." Mary replied softly.
J.D. glanced at Casey as they sat on the church pew. He was grateful beyond words that she was back to her normal self. But he still didn't know how to apologize to her. Didn't know if she would forgive him.
The youth turned to face Casey gently taking her right hand in his. "Casey, I'm so sorry for everything that happened."
Casey's eyes widened in surprise "J.D......."
Dunne shook his head. "Let me finish. I should've known better than to let you go all that way by yourself."
Casey reached up and touched his left shoulder. "J.D., haven't I always said I can take care of myself?"
J.D. nodded. "Yes, but...."
"I wasn't careful and I got hurt." Casey replied quietly forcing the memories away. "This isn't your fault."
J.D. met her gaxe."Does that mean you forgive me?"he asked in a broken whisper.
Casey squeezed his hand. "I never blamed you, J.D.. There's nothing to forgive."
Chris caught Vin just outside the boarding house. "We gotta talk, cowboy."
Vin frowned not liking the expression on Chris's face at all. "What's goin' on?"
Larabee ushered Vin over to the wall of the boarding house. "Mary had a visitor while we were gone. He claims to be your brother."
Tanner leaned against the wall. "My brother?"
Chris nodded watching his friend warily. "The Judge checked him out and his story holds up. He wants to meet with you if you're ready."
It was almost ten by the time J.D. was able to get back to his room at the boarding house and stow his gear. The youth sat down on the bed wearily he knew he should go down to the bathhouse. He felt like he was covered with three month's worth of trail dust.
Wearily J.D. stood and grabbed a change of clothes and a towel from the small closet. He turned back toward the door when he heard a hesitant knock. The youth opened the door to find a frightened Juliana standing in the hallway.
"Juliana?" J.D. asked in surprise. "I thought you were in San Francisco by now?"
The young woman stepped into the room and past her childhood friend. "I couldn't leave yet."
J.D. frowned as he closed the door tossing his clothing on the bed. He couldn't shake the feeling that whatever she was running from had finally caught up with her.
"Is Cheryl okay?" Dunne asked noting that she didn't have the baby with her.
Juliana nodded as she turned away from the window. "Mrs. Potter graciously offered to look after her for a few hours."She replied as she walked over to the bed and sat down next to him. "J.D., I've got myself into an awful mess and I don't know how I'm going to get out of it."
"Who are you runnin' from?" J.D. asked quietly as he turned to face his old friend.
"Cheryl's father." Juliana replied sadly as she looked away from J.D..
Vin shook his head as if to clear it as he took a few steps away from his friend. "I don't have a brother."
"He says your father separated you when you were little." Chris replied quietly.
Vin looked out into the bustling street as he digested what Chris had just told him. This man's story could very well be true. His memories of his childhood were sketchy at best. After the past two years of looking over his shoulder, never trusting anyone until he met up with the Seven.....could he just blindly trust this stranger?
But then if he didn't he'd pass up the chance at what he'd wanted since his Mamma died....a family.
"You okay, cowboy?" Chris asked with concern as he came to stand next to his best friend.
Vin nodded. "Lot to take in."
"I can tell Mary that you're not up to it." Larabee offered.
Tanner shook his head. "Best to get it over with. Tell 'im to meet me at Nettie's in an hour."