Disclaimer: Not mine.
Notes: Answering my own myths and legends challenge for August – to take the elements of a myth or legend and have our boys live it. I could take a story or just elements, so long as the myth was recognizable. Here I'm just touching the edges of a couple of Greek myths here, which I'll describe at the end.
Note 2: There's no question that I was partly inspired from reading too many wonderful LB fics this summer. Read the Summertime Series if you get the chance—it’s a lot of fun!
"Whoa!" JD reined in sharply, lifting Bonnie's head with the harshness of the movement. The horse shook her head and turned to give him a baleful glance, but JD was oblivious. The kid's head was turned to the left down the side of the hill towards the Wells ranch, his eyes bright with concern.
"Something the matter, Mr. Dunne?" Ezra asked, pulling up alongside. They were just returning from a routine check of some of the outlying farms, heading along the shallow ridge above the Wells ranch in the direction of home. JD responded to the gambler's question in the same way as he had responded to his horse's annoyed look–he didn't. "JD?" Ezra asked again, frowning now and peering down into the valley, trying to see what the kid had seen.
Suddenly the kid exploded off at a gallop down the hill, shouting encouragement at Bonnie as he ducked to avoid the branches of the forest curtain. The gambler didn't question, he just spurred Chaucer after him, knowing JD would explain as soon as he remembered to.
As they neared the end of the trees, the kid did just that.
"I saw Casey running!" JD yelled over his shoulder just as Bonnie jumped over a small felled tree, realizing belatedly that an explanation was needed. After he landed, he shouted: "She looked like she was going hell bent for leather!"
Ezra's frown grew, bending over more in the saddle as he urged Chaucer to greater speed, the Chestnut's muscles bunching up as he readied to jump the same felled tree.
They burst through a thin layer of trees into the shallow valley of the ranch, Ezra turning towards the house while JD turned down towards the barn. The gambler pulled up hard in front of the porch, jumping up over the railing and running inside to check on Nettie. JD continued to chase after Casey, whom he could just see reaching the edge of the barn, still tearing up earth.
Bonnie was fast and young; she ate up the ground between the house and the barn in mere moments, leaping over the short wooden fence without breaking stride. JD reached the barn at the same time that Casey skidded to a halt at the corner, whacking the corner with her hand. Panting, she leaned up against the side of the barn and bent over, her hands on her knees. She turned her red face in his direction as he pulled up next to her, clumps of earth exploding up from under Bonnie's hooves.
She frowned, and wiped a hand across her brow as she stood up.
"Casey!" JD yelled, leaping from Bonnie's back, "What's…."
"What are you doing here?" she demanded angrily, her face reddening ever further. "Come to spy on me?"
"What?" JD could only blink rapidly in response. Casey wagged her finger at him.
"I know what you're doing, John Dunne," she snapped, "and it won't work!"
The kid shook his head, "Huh? Casey, I…."
"Uh uh," she shook her head, "You're just going to have to find out for yourself." She grinned suddenly, the smile lighting her face and her arms crossing her chest. "Bet you wish you could though."
JD stared at her a second, desperately trying to make sense of her words. Finally, he lifted his hand and pressed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, shutting his eyes tightly against the dizziness she made him feel. "Casey," he said as calmly as he could manage, opening his eyes to glare at her, "Fer Heaven's sake, will you talk sense and tell me what in God's Name are you going on about!"
"She's practicing for the race, Mr. Dunne," Ezra answered, an undisguised layer of amusement under his words as he loped Chaucer up towards them. "She thinks you're here to find out how fast she is." Back up at the house, Nettie was standing on the porch, wiping her hands on her skirt and clearly laughing. Ezra patted his horse's neck, and smiled down at Casey. "JD thought you were running because you were scared about something, Miss Wells. He was riding in to the rescue."
"Scared?" Casey stood up straighter, her chin lifting, "I ain't scared of nothin'," she insisted with bravado. "And I certainly don't need rescuing from him!" she indicted JD to Ezra with a jerk of her thumb. The gambler nodded in agreement, smiling back at her. JD rolled his eyes.
"Aw hell, Casey," JD said, lifting his hat from his head, "C'mon. Everyone's scared of something."
"Oh yeah?" she said, looking at him, chin still up in the air, "What're you scared of JD? Bet yer afraid of snakes and stuff, huh. I ain't afraid of snakes. Nor spiders either. You get scared a lot?"
The kid's face flushed, and his eyes narrowed in annoyance. "No," he replied. "'Course not. Can't get scared in my job. People are scared of me, not the other way round." He lifted his own chin slightly. Casey's seemed to rise even further, and Ezra could see she was lifting up on her toes slightly. The gambler just grinned, enjoying the show.
"Well," Casey smirked, "I know something you should be scared about! You should be scared that I'm gonna beat you tomorrow in the foot race!"
JD's face flushed even darker, "Wait…the race? You're running the race?"
"I did mention that earlier, Mr. Dunne," Ezra said calmly. "In fact, it was the first thing I…."
"You bet I'm running in the race! I paid my fifty cents and everything! And I'm gonna win too!"
"But you can't!" JD said, completely confused.
"And why not?" she challenged. "I've just as much right as…."
"But you're a girl! Girls don't run!"
Casey's eyes widened. Ezra covered his face with a gloved hand, biting his lip to stop himself from laughing. JD took a step back as his girlfriend's face turned livid.
"Not only can I run," she hissed, staring at him, "but I'm fast. Faster n' you, I reckon."
JD grimaced, "No, no, I mean, sure, you can run, but I mean, you can't race."
"Oh, JD," Ezra muttered under his breath, "not smart, son, not smart at all."
"I can't race?" Casey said, stepping forward and causing JD to take another step back. "I can't race?" she squeaked. "Why not?"
"C'mon Casey, you know why," JD said.
"Oh?" she had both hands on her hips, "Because the man running the race said I could run. And Mrs. Travis is sponsoring me, and Mr. Greene said he was going to bet on me to win, too. So, you tell me, JD, why can't I race? Huh? Go on," she took another step, her voice growing in volume, "tell me why I can't race, mister smarty-pants."
Ezra let out a choked laugh, covering it up by coughing into his hand. Both Casey and JD glared at him.
"Now, Casey," JD attempted, turning to her again and trying to sound reasonable, "racing…its just…girls, see, they…I mean…."
"I bet you ten dollars I beat you tomorrow!" she said suddenly. Ezra's eyebrow arched.
JD's eyes widened, "What?"
"You heard me," she jabbed a finger into his chest, "ten dollars!"
The kid grimaced, then he shook his head. "I don't have ten dollars," he told her. "Not that I think I'm gonna lose, mind you," he added quickly.
She smiled. "Okay then," she said, "you make the bet."
JD blinked a few more times. Casey's mind worked on a different plane from normal people, and sometimes he had a hard time keeping up.
"Go on," she insisted, "Bet anything you want!"
He lowered his head, thinking. Then he looked up, a wicked grin on his face.
"All right," he said, "if I win," he paused, licking his bottom lip, "then you have to accompany me to the dance at the end, and you have to wear a dress!"
Her smiled disappeared instantly, replaced by a completely nonplussed expression. Did he just ask her to the dance? Abruptly, she smiled shyly and blushed. JD looked confused at her response. He'd thought she'd hate the idea! He frowned in annoyance--he honestly just didn't get her at all.
Meanwhile, Ezra cleared his throat. "Um…Miss Casey, your turn to make a wager, my dear," he reminded her.
"Oh, right," Casey's eyes looked down at the ground, her turn to think. Then, slowly, her own lips curved into a smile. "If I win," she said, grinning, "then you have accompany ME to the dance…."
JD frowned, "But…."
"…And I wear the pants and YOU wear the dress!" she finished proudly. She flicked her eyes to Ezra as the gambler burst out laughing, pleased at his reaction.
JD went beet red, glared at the guffawing gambler, then turned to nod sharply at the girl in front of him. Sticking out his hand, he announced, "All right, you're on!"
She grabbed his hand and they shook.
"By the way," she whispered, drawing him in, "I've been running the distance from the house to the barn in around 30 seconds. Think you can do that?" Winking at him, she let go his hand and skipped away.
JD's face paled as he looked after her, quickly judging the distance back to the house in his head.
"Aw crap," he muttered.
Ezra's laughter only grew.
Buck rubbed his hands together in anticipation as he watched the strange gambler take down his bets in the saloon. He felt more than saw Chris leaning over his shoulder, peering curiously down at the markings. The gunslinger was obviously wondering why he was not using Ezra to make his bets on the foot race, but was instead using this stranger.
“You’ve placed three bets,” Chris noted. “One on JD, one on Vin and," he paused, "one on Ezra?” He looked over at his oldest friend, arching an eyebrow.
“Yup,” Buck grinned. “I’m betting $20 bucks on JD at 3 to 1, $12 on Ezra at 5 to 1 and $10 bucks on Vin at 6 to 1. That way, no matter who wins, I’ll make something.” He crossed his arms over his wide chest, clearly pleased with himself.
Chris nodded, looking askance at his old friend, “Seems logical. Only two problems that I see.”
“Well, for one, Ezra and Vin ain’t entered.”
“Oh,” Buck shrugged, “just a matter of time. I have a cunning plan.” He reached up and tapped his nose, arching an eyebrow as he said the last bit. Chris couldn’t resist chuckling.
"I'm just waiting for the right moment," Buck smiled. "Should be anytime now."
“You seem very sure of yourself, Buck.”
“Trust me, old dog, I know what I’m doing," he waggled his eyebrows then started walking away, heading towards the bar. Chris followed.
"You said two problems," Buck said, holding up two fingers for Inez. "What’s the other problem?”
“What if none of ‘em win?” Chris asked, watching as Inez poured two drafts for himself and Buck. "There's at least twenty names up on that roster I noticed so far, and not all from around here. Could be some ringers."
“Oh,” Buck took the first beer she passed over, “I’m not worried about that. You know as well as me all three of our boys are fast. Town thinks the kid's the quickest, in part because he's the best horseman in town--especially since he got that new mare--but I actually think Ezra's probably the fastest man I've ever seen on foot. I keep thinking about that time he ran away from that dynamite he rigged for us when we set that trap for the Skadden gang. Damn near caught up to us and we were riding."
"Hmm," Chris took the second draft, and raised it in thanks as Buck tossed Inez a handful of pennies. She took them with a smile. "That's true enough," the gunslinger said, remembering how surprised he'd been to see a gasping Ezra reach them only moments after they'd galloped down the hill away from that saddle canyon. For some reason, the gambler has refused to use Chaucer—some nonsense about the horse's delicate ears. Chris snorted at the memory, took a sip of his beer and smiled. "Course, he had some pretty powerful motivation," he noted. It had been one hell of an explosion.
"And Vin's fast, too. As near as fast as Ez, maybe. Remember how fast he ran when Atlanta Johnson asked him to the Founder's Dance last month?" Buck grinned, and Chris had to laugh. Poor Vin—not his best day.
"Good thing you consoled her," Chris chuckled.
"Oh, yes," Buck nodded solemnly, "such a chore escorting her that night." Atlanta Johnson was beautiful and sweet—Buck had been more than happy to be her second choice.
"You ask me, though," Chris said, taking another sip. "Ezra's a sprinter. I'd bet on Vin in a longer race."
"Sure, sure, that's why I’m hedging my bets," the ladies' man grinned.
The gunslinger took a long draw, then wiped the froth from his upper lip. He grinned at Buck, "Still got to get them to actually enter the race first though."
Buck grinned back and just tapped his nose again. Picking up his beer, he turned around and indicated that Chris should follow him outside where they could see Ezra through the window, just coming home from his patrol with JD.
Ezra plopped down in front of the saloon, sighing tiredly and propping his feet up on the railing, happy to be home again. Vin smiled at him from where he'd been perched on that same railing, watching the town and drinking a beer. The gambler pushed his hat over his face, crossed his arms, and looked about ready to take a long nap.
"All's well, I take it," the tracker remarked.
"Except for some rather comical moments at the Wells ranch," Ezra replied from under his hat, "Yes."
Vin smiled at the non-response. "Tired?"
"Want me to leave you alone?"
Ezra sighed, tipped up his hat and smiled at him.
"I'll take that as a yes," Vin nodded.
Ezra put the hat back down.
Chris and Buck pushed out of the saloon doors and went to sit on the far side of the doors. Chris raised a questioning eyebrow and Buck, but the ladies' man shook a hand at him—telling him to wait.
Vin looked up, caught Buck and Chris's eyes, and gave a short nod. Both men nodded back, and Chris raised his mug. Vin raised his back, then took a long draw, finishing it. Setting the mug down, the tracker crossed his arms and looked back over the town.
Buck gave a small smile. Chris frowned slightly, not quite sure what the ladies' man thought was going to happen.
After a moment, the tracker looked slyly back at the gambler, then, with a wicked smile on his lips, he fished his harmonica out from his jacket pocket.
Buck's smile grew. Chris frowned and glanced at his oldest friend.
"Vin owes Ezra," Buck whispered to him. "I may have let it slip that Ezra was the one who put the itching powder on Vin's bedroll last week."
"Ah." Chris understood now. He smiled—this should be interesting.
Still watching Ezra, Vin put the mouth organ to his lips and blew a few experimental notes.
Ezra visibly jumped at the sound, and lifted up his hat to glare at Vin. The tracker was looking towards the street now, seemingly unaware, and blew a few more random notes. Then, terribly, he tried to actually put together a song.
What song in particular was not obvious, but whatever it was, Vin was butchering it. Ezra winced with each painful squeak.
The gambler finally pushed his hat the rest of the way up and sat up in his chair. The glare he offered the tracker's back now was so sharp, Buck wondered how Vin could not feel it.
"Mr. Tanner," Ezra said softly, "would you mind?"
Vin looked around, his expression innocent. "Would I mind what?"
Ezra's tensed jaw muscles stood out clearly on his face. "Would you mind not playing that," he paused, eyes narrowing at the offending object in Vin's hand, "thing."
"Thing?" Vin looked down at the harmonica in his fingers, as if seeing it for the first time, "you mean, the harmonica?"
Ezra offered a small smile, "if you can call it that, though, in your hands, the phrase 'medieval instrument of torture' comes to mind."
Vin's eyes narrowed slightly, and he leaned back against the post at his back. "Well, seems to me, Ez," he smirked, "that I was here first. You want peace and quiet, why don't you head upstairs." He lifted both eyebrows and put the harmonica back into his mouth. He smiled around the instrument when he saw Ezra wince with each sour note he blew.
Buck chuckled, and Chris just smirked. It amazed the gunslinger how Vin could always fake surprise every time Ezra complained about his harmonica, as if it were always a new discovery to him that the gambler hated it.
Ezra's eyes caught gray ones, defiant. "Mr. Tanner, I will not go inside," he informed him. "The air is cooler out here, as you well know. Besides, I would hear it through the window, invading my room like a foul stench." He offered his own smile, "though I suppose you wouldn't know what that is like, considering the rather noxious character of your wagon."
Vin chuckled, "Noxious, eh? That anything like 'obnoxious?' Which," he said smoothly, pretending to shine up the mouth organ on his jacket, "is what Inez called you this morning when she shoved you out the doors with her broom, if I recall rightly. That another reason you don't want to head in just yet?" He dragged the harmonica across his mouth to finish his point and grinned at the flush on Ezra's face.
"A minor misunderstanding," the gambler said quickly.
"That ain't the way it sounded," Vin continued to grin. "What was that other thing she called you? A stinking pile of cow…."
"Mr. Tanner, please!" Ezra stood up, cutting Vin off. The tracker's eyes sparkled, as Ezra's face darkened another shade of red. "None of that is relevant. I, uh, I simply do not feel like repairing to my room at this early hour."
Vin shrugged, "Then go nap somewhere else. Maybe the stables? You'd fit right in with all the other horse's asses," he waggled his eyebrows.
Ezra gave a short laugh, "Oh please, Mr. Tanner, I could never hope to reach your level of intimacy with our four legged friends. The affinity you share with sheep, for example, is so far beyond anything I could ever attempt. It's almost," he leaned closer to the tracker, "criminal."
Vin's lips pursed. "Nice one," he admitted.
"Thank you, " Ezra said, "But, in any event, I will not go somewhere else. This is my home you're loitering in front of."
"It’s the saloon, Ez."
"It's still my home, Mr. Tanner."
Vin arched an eyebrow, sniffed, and turned his head back to the street. Ezra watched him a moment longer, trying to determine whether he'd won, then sat back down when he thought Vin wouldn't lift the harmonica again.
The creak of Ezra settling back in his chair caused the tracker to smile wickedly. Instantly, he had the harmonica back to his lips and started in on what he honestly thought was a fantastic rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
"Argh!" Ezra yelled, leaping from his chair and shoving Vin off his precarious perch on the railing. Then he laughed as a livid Vin glared up at him from the mud.
The gambler was still laughing when Vin threw a glob of mud at his face.
"Ach!" Ezra staggered back, quickly scrubbing the filth off and spitting to get the taste out of this mouth. Vin, meanwhile, started laughing himself and was blowing more random notes on the mouth organ. Ezra shook his head, finally opening his eyes in time to see Vin stand up and back away slightly into the street, still blowing notes and clearly taunting him.
"You're a dead man, Tanner!" he shouted, his hands balling into fists. He was about to leap off the boardwalk after the tracker when he felt someone pull him back. He whirled to glare at the intervener. "Mr. Wilimington! Let me go!"
"Children, please," Buck grinned as Vin tilted his head at him, grinning, "is this any way to behave?"
"Behave?" Vin shook his head and pointed to Ezra, "Don't tell me, tell him! He started it!"
"Did not!" Ezra replied, almost without thinking.
"Aw, let me at 'im, pop," Ezra grinned evilly at the tracker, warming to the tone, "I can take him!"
Vin laughed, clearly enjoying himself. "Oh, no, pa," Vin pretended to whine at Buck, "Don't let him go," his eyes narrowed, "cause if you did, I might have to kill him."
The gambler snorted, "I'd like to see you try, Tanner."
Vin blew a few more atonal notes on the harmonica, and Ezra struggled again with Buck's grip.
"I'm going to shove that thing down your throat if you play any more notes!" Ezra snarled.
"You’d never get close enough to try!" Vin actually stuck out his tongue. Ezra raised his free hand to his face, thumb to his nose and waved his fingers. Over against the saloon wall, Chris was doubled over from laughing too hard.
"Boys!" Buck chastised, "Come on now!"
"Aw, let him go, Buck," Vin said cheerfully, "I need the exercise."
"The only thing you're going to exercise is your mouth, Tanner, pleading for mercy!" Ezra jeered.
"All right, that's it," Buck stated, "seems to me you two need to put your money where your mouths are."
That confused Ezra enough that he twisted around to look at Buck, "Huh?"
"Yeah," Vin agreed, "huh?"
"Obviously, you two need to settle this, but I can think of a better way than fighting," Buck said, finally letting Ezra go. The gambler stumbled forward, rubbing his shoulder and arm where Buck had been holding on to him. Vin leaned on his hip and stared curiously at the ladies' man.
Buck lifted a hand pretended to look at his nails, "I was just thinkin' about that foot race tomorrow, and about the benefits of what Ez here calls healthy competition…." He peered over his fingers at the two men. Both still looked a little confused.
"The foot race?" Vin repeated.
Ezra frowned, "What, you want us to race each other?"
"Well, only of course if one of you thinks he could win," Buck shrugged.
"Win?" Ezra started to laugh, "Please! Vin couldn't win a foot race! Unless, of course, you put a passel of beautiful women chasing him with offers to dances."
Vin straightened at the slight. "Say that again, Standish," he snarled.
"Oh, come on, Vin," Ezra turned around, grinning, "You're no runner. You wouldn't stand a chance against me."
"Oh, is that so?" Vin's eyes narrowed.
"I could beat you barefoot and drunk!"
"Well I could beat you," the tracker lifted the harmonica, "and play the Battle Hymn of the Republic at the same time."
Ezra laughed, "You couldn't play the Battle Hymn of the Republic if you're life depended on it! I doubt you could even play two separate notes in a row!"
"Either way, you're going to lose, Standish."
"Is that a challenge?" Ezra crossed his arms.
"Reckon it is," Vin replied. "You run bearfoot; I'll play my harmonica, and we'll see who crosses the finish line first!"
"Don't forget drunk," Chris added.
"Not a problem," Ezra grinned, sticking a hand out. Vin took it and shook it hard. With sharp nods, the two men separated and headed off together to put their names down for the race.
Chris slapped a slightly disgruntled Buck on the back, "Nice work, Bucklin."
"Didn't want them handicapping each other," the ladies' man muttered.
"Yeah, but, damn, it's gonna be fun to watch," the gunslinger laughed.
Buck found JD still at the stables, sitting in Bonnie's stall on the small bench. The kid was sighing deeply and grimacing, tossing bits of broken hay at nothing in particular. Buck sidled over, leaned on the stall door and looked down at the kid.
"What," JD snapped.
Buck smiled at the dark tone, "Soundin' a mite sour there, son."
"So," Buck shrugged, "something I can help you with, maybe?"
Buck actually grinned and shoved the stall door open. Shutting it behind him, he sat down next to JD, ignoring the angry look he got.
"I heard Ezra mention something happened out at the Wells. Is that what's botherin' ya?"
JD's angry expression faded, replaced by embarrassment, "He…did he say what happened?"
"Nah. Just that you stopped by there. What's going on, kid?"
JD shrugged, returning to his past-time with the hay throwing. "Nothing."
"C'mon kid. What am I here for if not to…."
"Casey's runnin' in the race."
Buck stopped talking, his expression obvious. He was surprised.
"See!" JD said, seeing the look, "you're surprised too! I told her girls don't race!"
Buck quickly schooled his face, and sighed. "Aw hell, JD, you told her that? No wonder you're miserable. Gave you a piece of her mind, eh?"
JD grimaced, then shrugged again, "Yeah, but that ain't it."
This time Buck looked confused, "it isn't?"
"No." JD looked up and sighed, "Casey said she can run from the Wells' house down to their barn in thirty seconds."
Buck said nothing to that. He was mentally judging the distance in his head, just as JD had done.
"That's pretty fast, Buck," JD said, echoing the other's thoughts. "I think she's faster than me. Hell, I think she's faster than everyone."
The ladies' man swallowed. His dreams of winning some money swiftly disappearing. "Really?" he squeaked.
JD nodded, missing the other man's discomfort in the face of his own misery. "And I bet her that, if she won, I'd wear a dress to the dance."
Buck burst out laughing, unable to stop himself. JD glared at him and stood up like a shot.
"To hell with you!" the kid spat, stepping around Buck.
"No, no, wait!" the ladies' man forced himself to calm down and grabbed at JD's jacket. "Wait, I can help!"
That stopped the kid. He stood in front of the stall door with his arms crossed over his chest, waiting. Buck wiped the grin from his face and thought furiously.
"Well?" JD asked after a moment, "How can you help? You can't stop her from running."
"No, that's true," Buck said, looking at JD's things still piled up to one side. The kid's saddlebags were hanging loosely, looking about ready to slip off the peg the boy had thrown them on. The ladies' man's eyes narrowed. "But we can distract her. Slow her down, maybe."
JD turned around, looking at Buck over his shoulder. "Huh? What do you mean?"
"I mean, maybe she sees something while she's running, something she can't resist checking out…." The ladies' man reached into JD's bags, and pulled out the bruised apple he knew the kid normally carried in there. JD normally took it with him if he forgot to feed it to Bonnie, but his distraction obviously caused him to forgot. The kid looked at the apple in Buck's hand, not getting it.
"Buck," he said softly, "I don't want to cheat."
"Oh, it won't be cheatin'," the ladies' man said, winking at the kid, "We're not going to force her to do anything. If she allows herself to be distracted, I'd think that'd be her own fault…." Buck smiled. JD frowned.
"I don't know…."
"You want to wear a dress?"
"Then listen to your betters, kid; one who knows a thing or two about distracting the ladies…." Buck looked at the apple again, still smiling. "Tell me, do you know if Mrs. Potter is still carrying that gold paint she was selling for sign-making?"
JD frowned, then turned and pushed his way out of the stall. "Aw just forget it, Buck!" he called as he disappeared. "Don't do anything."
Buck grinned, and tossed the apple in the air. "Too late for that," he smiled.
Chris leaned against the railing in front of the church, listening quietly as Josiah explained the rules for the race. The preacher had organized it with Gloria Potter's help, to raise some money for one of the homesteaders who had lost their barn to a fire a couple of weeks before. Mary had spread the news, and, as Chris had mentioned, people from a number of the surrounding towns had come by to take part. Mary stood next to Chris now, the newswoman snacking on a pomegranate, seeds and all (in part because she didn't want to be doing anything as unseemly as spitting out seeds in front of Chris).
"All right," Josiah hung up the large cloth on
which he'd painted a rather pathetic map of
"Now," he turned back to the map, then suddenly whipped his head around to check the crowd again one more time for signs of amusement, like a pitcher checking for stealers, before turning back at the map, "you pass to the north of the cemetery, along the ridge," the stick trailed the curving red line he'd painted, "until you reach the edge of the poplar trees planted to mark the road leading towards Blackbird Farm. There you turn south, meaning you turn left again, and that'll bring you back down to the main road leading back into town. Then you just head back in, right down main street here until you cross the finish line here at the church. I'll have a tape rigged up for you to run through when you win. You got that?"
The chorus of yeas from the gathered runners had him nodding, "Good. Then the race will start in five minutes."
JD shuffled his feet and glanced askance at Casey, who was grinning and chatting with Mary. She was jumping up and down and had funny black shoes on her feet that looked, well, like real running shoes. With a sigh, he looked down at the lace up shoes he was wearing. They were his Sunday shoes, but they were better than boots. He hoped.
Crud. He was gonna wear a dress. Crud, crud, crud.
He looked over at Buck. The ladies' man caught his eye and gave him the thumbs up sign. Shaking his head, JD looked down, blowing the air out of his cheeks.
Ezra was standing off to one side, swigging on a bottle of whiskey and looking jealously over at a group of gamblers betting on the race. He sniffed, took another swig, and limped over to where Vin was standing.
"Wazz on your feet?" the gambler asked, squinting down at Vin's feet. The tracker gave a small smile in response.
"Mocassins, why," he asked, "what's on yours?"
"Oh," Ezra looked down at his own bare feet, then frowned. "Nothing, it seems."
"Ezra," the tracker said softly, "look, forget the bare feet thing. I got an extra pair of…."
"No, no, no," Ezra waved a hand in front of Vin's face, "no. Not on your life, Tanner. No. I will…I…" the gambler looked slightly confused, "what wazz I saying?" Then he brightened, "Oh, yezz, mocazzins. No, I wouldn't wear those…Indian…thingzz….no way…." He nodded his head solemnly. Vin's eyes narrowed.
"You saying you too good for 'em?"
"Damn straight," Ezra confirmed, lifting his bottle in emphasis.
"Fine, cut up your feet then," the tracker snarled, turning away and heading towards the start line. Ezra frowned, then chuckled, putting the bottle down so he could take off his jacket. Nathan jogged over and snatched the bottle up before Ezra could pick it up again. The gambler looked puzzled when he didn't see the bottle where he'd put it, then shrugged and started to follow Vin, somehow managing to leave the jacket neatly folded and hanging over the railing. Nathan snagged his arm, and Ezra smiled at him—seeing him for the first time despite the fact that the healer had been standing there for a while.
"Standish!" Nathan demanded, "What are you doing? You can't run without shoes!"
"Really?" Ezra looked surprised, "Why not?"
"You'll hurt them!"
"Really?" Ezra looked at his feet, "How?"
Nathan grimaced, "For one, you could step on something, something dangerous!"
"Really? Like what?"
"Like something sharp!"
"Oh, not to worry," Ezra grinned, "I already did. Stepped on one of young Mr. Travis's toys." He lifted up his left foot, revealing an ugly bruise, "a fake wooden snake. Poor boy," he shook his head, "I think I killed his toy."
"And you're drunk!" Nathan admonished, leaning back from Ezra's breath.
"Stop saying, 'really?' You know perfectly well…."
Just then, Josiah blew a whistle. "Everyone running come forward!" he called.
"Ooh, ooh, Nate, Nate," Ezra patted Nathan's chest, "must go. Race." He lifted his arm, twisted it out of Nathan's grip and half jogged, half stumbled over to the starting line. He bumped into Vin, who shoved him back. Ezra grinned at him.
"Crazy idiot," the healer snarled, "See if I help him when he comes back with his feet destroyed." He crossed his arms.
After a moment, he shut his eyes, then sighed. "Aw hell," he muttered. Turning around, he trudged off towards the clinic to boil some water and make some healing salve that would work well on feet.
Josiah watched the men...and girl…line up and smiled.
"On your marks," he shouted.
Everyone tensed up, even Ezra, though the gambler was swaying slightly.
"Get set!" Josiah lifted his Smith & Wesson and pointing it straight up in the air.
JD glanced once more at Buck. The ladies' man looked unconcerned.
The gunshot was nearly lost amidst the shouting crowds as twenty pairs of feet created an eruption of dust in their wake.
By the time they reached the first left turn, the leaders had already emerged. Casey was well in front, her dark braids flying behind her as she easily outpaced the others. Only Ezra, still drunk as a skunk, was close to her, though his face was darkly flushed from the alcohol that was making it hard for him to breathe properly. He stumbled a few times as his feet scraped sharp sticks or rocks, but always managed to right himself in order to resume the chase. Even "handicapped," he was very fast. JD rounded the turn next, with Vin right on his heels, the tracker gamely trying to blow a tune on his harmonica as he followed. The kid glanced at him only once in bewilderment, but the tracker only winked and continued to play as best he could despite panting for breath. About four others were also with them, coming around the first corner at about the same time.
As they reached the second turn at the top of the hill, heading into the field, Casey was still in the lead, but now it was a stranger who was pacing her. Ezra was third, JD fourth. Vin was behind a couple of strangers now, still trying his darndest to play a tune. His lungs were beginning to burn at the extra effort and he knew it was slowing him down.
Casey turned when she heard a grunt of pain and the sound of someone stumbling behind her, watching as Ezra slipped on something and fell sideways into the fence. She frowned. Served him right for being drunk, she thought coldly. JD slowed as he passed the gambler, shouting:
"You all right?"
"Fine," Ezra grunted back, grimacing, "fine." The gambler glanced down at his feet, and lifted the one he'd bruised, frowning to see blood there. "Blast," he muttered. Had he looked at the other one, he would have seen blood on that one as well.
Suddenly, he heard someone playing something akin to Yankee Doodle, and he glared as Vin trotted past, the tracker lifting the harmonica away from his mouth and grinning at Ezra. The gambler frowned, pain forgotten, and started running after him. He was soon close on the tracker's heels again, more focused now that the alcoholic haze had worn off some.
Casey quickly put more distance between herself and the others, and even laughed at one point to see how far ahead she was as she passed the cemetery. JD had somehow made his way into second place, outpacing the stranger, who was now running a ways back in third, but he was still not catching up to Casey. She was feeling pretty confident now, sure she was going to win.
That's when she saw it. Something glittering like gold off to the side. Her steps slowed slightly, and she looked behind her to judge how far back JD was. He wasn't far, but perhaps he was far enough.
JD frowned as he saw Casey plunge off the track and into the long grass of the Farmer McMurty's field. Where was she going?
Casey reached the tree stump she'd seen and paused, looking down curiously at the thing sitting there. It was a golden apple. Literally. Someone had taken an apple and painted it gold. Cautiously, she picked it up and smiled. It was pretty.
"Hey! Something wrong?" JD yelled as he passed her. Casey looked up suddenly, surprised to already see him even with her, then back down at the apple. She shook her head and took off after him, keeping the apple in her hand. As she ran, she dropped it onto the pocket of her light jacket and picked up the pace.
"Nothing's wrong!" she yelled, as she caught up to JD, "At least not with me!" she added cheekily, reaching him. JD frowned and, for a while, kept up with her, then, slowly, she regained the lead from him. The kid gritted his teeth as Casey's laughter drifted back to him on the wind.
Vin had picked up the pace, passing the two strangers in front of him, until there was only one stranger in front of him. He knew that put him fourth. Frowning slightly, he blew something reminiscent of the cavalry charge and grinned as the stranger looked back at him with a worried frown.
"Are you crazy!" the stranger yelled.
"You betcha!" Vin shouted back, catching up to him.
"I'll attest to that!" Ezra's voice called from not far behind, "Keep playing, Mr. Tanner!"
Vin grimaced. Ezra had sounded awfully close--how was that possible already? And he also didn't sound as drunk as he had when this race had started. He tried to listen to the gambler's steps, to guess how far back he was, but he couldn't tell. The gambler's footfalls were too soft. Blowing another cavalry charge on his harmonica, half the notes being lost as he took a number of quick breaths, he bore down in order to pass the stranger.
Interestingly, the man seemed to give him way as he passed, obviously taking the "crazy" part to heart. Vin winked at him and attempted a version of the cavalry retreat.
"He's nuts," the stranger said to someone.
"Aren't we all!" Ezra answered joyfully, obviously also passing the stranger. Vin frowned and ran faster, zeroing on JD's white shirt not too far ahead of him.
Casey whooped as she saw the edge of the edge of the field and the poplars lining the road. Then her smile fell as she saw something glittering again up on one of the tree branches…but in the wrong direction. Risking a glance back at JD, she frowned to see how close he was, but the temptation was too much to ignore. As she hit the road, she turned right.
"Hey!" JD called, "Wrong way!"
"I know!" she answered, running to the tree. Jumping up, she grabbed the golden apple and stared at it. Grinning, she pocketed it then looked around.
JD was already a good ten feet down the road in front of her. With a small squeal, she ran after him, narrowly missing running into Vin as he jumped off the field track and onto the road. The tracker danced a bit as she tore past, then started running after her.
JD enjoyed the feeling of being in the lead for the ten seconds that it lasted. As he spotted the main road looming ahead of him, that would take them back into town, Casey came up on his left side. She looked a little less sure of herself, but she was still running faster than him, and she knew it. They ran side by side for a little while, nearly the rest of the distance to the main road, and then Casey pulled ahead again. This time, she didn't laugh. She didn't have the breath.
Vin could feel the stitch in his side burning him as he blew a few more half-hearted notes on his harmonica. He wasn't even trying for a song – he was just puffing notes. His lungs felt like they were on fire, and he finally realized he couldn't keep playing.
"Run out of tunes, Mr. Tanner?" Ezra asked, and Vin jumped. The gambler sounded like he was right on top of him.
Finally, Vin couldn't resist. He had to turn around and look to see where Ezra was.
At the same time, his toe caught a random rock, and the tracker fell hard on his side with a cry, rolling a bit.
Ezra's laughter grew as her jumped over the tracker's prone form. "Shouldn't have turned around Vin!" he yelled as he disappeared. The tracker groaned, pushed himself up off the ground and shook off the pain. Glaring at the gambler's retreating back, he got back to his feet and took off after him. The harmonica was forgotten now as he put all his energy into just catching up. After all, Ezra wasn't really drunk anymore....
"Mister Tanner was a tracker," Ezra called over his shoulder, "and a pretty good wisecracker! But he turned in the race, and fell on his face, and now he's just another slacker!" The gambler laughed at his limerick, skidding slightly as he reached the main road and turned left.
"You ain't won yet, Standish!" Vin shouted angrily, reaching the main road not far behind him.
Casey could see the buildings in the distance, grinning despite the wheezing in her chest and the pain in her knees. Not far now! She glanced over her shoulder, and frowned to see JD only a couple of feet behind her. He looked determined, though she could see he was tiring too. Turning forward again, she picked up the pace as best she could…then grimaced.
Another one. She knew what it was now. Someone had put another golden apple in the crook of the old fir just next to the first building. She also knew that if she diverted to go and get it…she'd probably lose. She could also get it after the race, she realized. But…what if someone got to it before her? What if whoever had put it there, took it back?
Gritting her teeth, she decided it was worth the risk to get it now, and turned off the road.
"Hey!" JD called, "Casey…." He frowned as he saw he run a beeline for the old fir, and his eyes narrowed as he spotted the glittering thing sitting in the crook. Grimacing, he turned and ran after her.
Casey heard him turn, and glanced back to glare at him. "What are you doing!" she yelled.
"What are you doing!" he shouted back. "We're almost there!"
"We'll still win!" she shouted, reaching the tree and reaching up to grab the apple. Then, without even bothering to look at her bounty, she whipped around, blew past JD and ran back to the road. JD spun on his toes and ran to catch up with her.
Casey's eyes narrowed as she saw Ezra had caught up with them, a huge grin on the gambler's face, and Vin not far behind. The tracker looked furious, but the gambler was oblivious to the tiger on his tail. He waved at her. She grimaced when she realized he would be past her and JD by the time she hit the road again.
"Ladies first!" Ezra suddenly called, slowing down and indicating that Casey get in front of him. She looked at him, frowning slightly in confusion, but was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth-- she just ran past him and got in front. JD reached the road a split second later and ran next to Ezra, shooting him a puzzled look. The gambler laughed and patted him on the back.
"Why did you….?" The kid began.
"Go on and get after her, Mister Dunne! Unless you want to wear a skirt!"
The kid roared at the thought and found something hidden in his reserves. With a sudden burst of speed that head Ezra shouting in appreciation, the kid caught up to Casey.
The girl glanced at JD on her left, frowning and clearly worried now.
Ezra was still slowing behind them, clearly more interested in watching the two of them than in his own pace. Truth was, besides knowing about the bet between Casey and JD, the gambler had money on Casey to win. Quite a bit. He wanted her to win—he'd never planned to win himself. He just wanted to beat Vin.
Vin did not care what Ezra was thinking as he swiftly caught up with the gambler. He was only intent on what would happen when he did catch up with him….
The crowds cheered as Casey and JD came tearing down main street, flying past the boarding house and the other outlying buildings at a dead heat. Not far behind, a grinning Ezra and an annoyed looking Vin took up third and fourth place. Behind them, three more strangers a little further back made up the remainder of the leaders.
Buck pushed his way forward and grinned to see his three chosen contenders near the front. But he frowned slightly to see Casey still holding her own…and she was gripping on of his golden apples in her hand as well. Hadn't they slowed her down? He could also see that Ezra wasn't really trying, something about the way the gambler was moving. He frowned even more at that fact.
"Come on, Ezra!" he called. The gambler caught his eye, and winked.
"Three bets, Mr. Wilmington?" Ezra shouted as he passed, "Bad form!"
Buck's mouth made a small "oh" as he understood Ezra was running slowly on purpose. "Shit," he muttered.
Then he grinned. Vin was awfully close now and looking very intent….
Casey saw the red tape in front of her, and time seemed to slow. She could hear her heart racing in her ears, and tasted the dryness of her mouth and throat as she forced herself to breathe in and out evenly; she felt the pounding of her feet on the packed earth as the tiny shocks of pain ran up her shins and into her knees; and she was certain that her lungs were going to explode at the end of this. She was also aware of JD matching her foot fall for foot fall, the kid's expression intense. He also looked scared.
The apple in her hand felt warm, and she risked a glance down at it.
Either way, she thought, he's taking me to the dance.
Then she smiled. She suddenly realized she'd rather be the one wearing the dress.
It was ever so slight, the shortening of her next step. He couldn't possibly notice. She shortened the next one as well, feeling a slightly shuddering in her legs as they protested at the strange motion.
And JD pulled ahead. She saw his eyes glance at her as he did so, and she smiled again more brightly. Soon she was pacing him, just a single step behind him. The crowd roared around her, calling her to catch up, telling her she could do it.
Of course I can, she laughed at them, I just don't feel like it today.
JD gasped as the tape snapped around his chest as he crossed the finish line, shouting people instantly enveloping him like a swarm.
"Whoo!" Ezra cheered as he saw JD beat Casey by a nose. Then his grin fell. He felt it. Like a looming shadow.
He turned just in time to see Vin leap at him.
The two men rolled around in the dirt, Vin getting in a few sharp jabs and Ezra giving back as good as he got. At some point, they rolled into the crowds, who gave way for them.
"That's for the itching powder!" Vin snarled, punching Ezra in the nose. "And that's for my harmonica!"
"Ha!" Ezra threw the tracker off, and landed a good punch in the tracker's stomach, "That's for putting castor oil in my flask!"
"Oh yeah?" Vin shoved Ezra back, panting, "That's for telling
Ezra pushed back, "I never told her anything!" He threw some mud at Vin, "That's for filling my boots with pebbles!"
Vin picked up a handful of mud himself, "And this is for…what?"
"You heard me!" Ezra rolled away, wiping the spittle and blood from his lip, "and don't think I don't know who put that rotten tomato in my bed!"
Vin blinked, then he shook his head. "No, I mean, what do you mean you never told her anything?"
Ezra looked puzzled, "It means what it means,
Tanner," he replied, glad to finally be catching
his own breath. "I never told
"Ahem, you boys about done?" Chris asked, walking to stand over the two men sitting in the dirt. The sun shone directly behind the gunslinger's head, causing his blond hair to appear golden while the rest of him remained silhouetted in darkness. "Looks like I'm going to have to separate the two of you from now on." He leaned over and handed Vin a canteen. The tracker took it greedily.
"No, no, hold on cowboy," Vin said, waving a hand up at him, just before taking a long swallow. "Wait," he took another drink, nearly drowning himself in the water.
"No, Vin," Chris shook his head, "the two of you looked about ready to kill each other back there. I think you both need to take a break. I'll schedule opposite patrols, so you won't see each other for a while."
"No, we're all right," Vin smiled, and tossed the canteen to Ezra, who immediately took a long draw himself. "Hey Ez," he leaned over, hand outstretched, "I'm sorry. I was told you had put her up to it."
Ezra stared at him a moment, his eyes narrowed as he lowered the canteen.
"Seriously," Vin said, hand still outstretched, "no more pranks. I won't even play my harmonica near the saloon."
The gambler's eyes stayed narrowed, but he leaned forward, reaching out his own hand. Vin took it and shook it solemnly.
"Who told you I had talked to
Chris and Vin answered the question at the same time:
People swirled around JD and Casey, congratulating him and, slowly but surely, pushing Casey away. She had been very happy at first at the outcome, but as she got shoved backwards, she began to feel less so. Eventually, she was shoved out of the "winner's circle" completely, and she backed away with a pout on her lips. She wondered if she hadn't made a mistake—it should have been her in the middle, not him.
She lifted the apple in her hand, noticing for the first time that it looked a little less stellar than when she had first seen it.
"Hey!" JD called.
Casey looked up, a wry expression on her face as JD pushed his way towards her. The kid was smiling brightly, and, as he reached her, he grabbed her free hand. She tried to look angry at him, but failed completely. Instead, she just smiled shyly.
"Congratulations," she said softly.
"Nah," he shook his head, "You let me win." She opened her mouth to protest, but he just laughed, "Oh come on, you know you would have creamed me if you hadn't seen them golden apples."
Casey closed her mouth and blushed. "Yeah, probably," she admitted.
"And you would have beaten me anyway," he added, "if you hadn't let me win at the end. I know what you did. I could tell you'd slowed down."
She blushed more deeply, "Well," she muttered, "I guess maybe I didn't want you to take me to the dance in a dress. I sort of already made one for myself, see," she shrugged, "just in case. And it's real pretty." She looked up, eyes wide. "You…you still want to take me, don't you?"
"Yeah," JD said, "if you still want to go with me."
She grinned and got up on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek. Then she gave him the apple in her hand. He looked at it, puzzled.
"You want me to have it?" he said.
"It brought me luck," she said to him. He smiled at that and slipped it into his pocket. Casey smiled back, then let it fade. "Did, uh, did you put them out there?" she asked then.
He shook his head, "No. But I think Buck might've."
Her brow furrowed, "Buck? Why?"
"'Cause I told him I thought I would lose. He said he'd help, though I told him not to bother. Guess he didn't listen."
"Huh," she looked at the apple in his hand, and felt the two in her pockets, then she shrugged. "Well, I'm glad he did. Anyway," she bit her lip, "I'll see you tonight? ?"
"Yeah," JD grinned. Impromptu, he leaned over to kiss her, but she ducked away, blushing furiously, and disappeared into the crowd.
The kid watched her go, then staggered forward as someone landed a hard clap on his back. He turned to see Buck grinning down at him. The kid's smile faded somewhat.
"What?" Buck asked when he saw the drooping smile, "You won, kid! You should be celebrating!"
"Nah," the kid said, "I only won 'cause she let me. But you know what?" He smiled again as he looked towards where Casey had gone, "I'm all right with it. Can't be the best at everything, now, can I? Guess I'll just have to be happy being better at most things." He lifted his eyebrows at Buck over his shoulder, then jogged off towards Mrs. Potter's to see if she had any new shirts he could wear to the dance.
Buck laughed. He also patted his pocket where his winnings were. All in all, a good day.
"Buck!" Vin shouted, the anger in his voice.
"At least it was," the ladies' man mumbled to himself. Turning, he saw a very dirty Vin Tanner staring daggers in his direction. Ezra was there as well, though he looked like he was leaning on Chris. The tracker took a couple of steps forward. Buck grinned at him…
…and took off running. Vin roared and took off after him.
Chris shifted Ezra upwards where the gambler sagged a little more against him. "Surprised you don't want to join in," he commented.
"With these feet? Please, I can barely stand." Ezra shook his head, "No, I'll let Mr. Tanner go first this time. But I promise you, my retribution will not be as swift like Mr. Tanner's," the gambler smiled, "but slow and painful."
Chris chuckled and steered a limping Ezra away, towards Nathan's clinic.
And in the background, Josiah listened as Mr. Jensen laid down odds that Vin wouldn't catch Buck before the ladies' man reached the end of town. The preacher grinned, knowing well what Vin could do when he had purpose.
"I'll take that bet," he called, walking over to the gamblers.
Hope you liked it! Email me if you did!
Oh, and for the challenge, I used two Greek myths for this
one. The first, the more obvious one, is the myth of
The other myth is much less recognizable, since it’s a really
warped version of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Orpheus is the greatest musician in
Oh, yeah, and Mary eating pomegranate seeds. I suppose you all know what that refers to. Maybe this explains why she's only in about a quarter of my stories. <bg>