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TITLE:Legends Born: A Lamb Among Wolves -- J.D. Dunne


AUTHOR: Joan Curtin

RATING: PG-13 Language

SPOILERS: To the Pilot Episode.

DISCLAIMER: Sadly, I can't claim financial or creative rights to the characters of the Magnificent Seven. Those belong to the writers and producers of the series. I have quoted dialog from the series where necessary. I reckon you all know those lines by heart.


Note: I suppose you might consider this an alternate universe since it is my version of the events that took place before the Pilot episode. I'm sure there are other stories which I haven't read, dealing with the same subject, and logic dictates that some cross-over of ideas is inevitable. However, I have not knowingly used any other author's ideas. If there is some coincidental resemblence, it is because great minds think alike, and not conscious plagiarism.

I have also taken liberties with some of the circumstances in the Pilot to provide an opportunity for Fate to bring these seven men together in Four Corners.

As always, a thanks to my Beta-readers, particularly Sue N., Sue Bartholomew, and especially to my resident Dunne's Darlin', Sarah Bartholomew. Mel and Elizabeth, thanks for the encouragement.


Legends Born

A Lamb Among Wolves: J.D. Dunne


Hot. Hot and thirsty. Hot, thirsty, and tired. Hot, thirsty, tired, and dusty. J.D. Dunne figured there were only so many ways to describe how he felt after six weeks on the road. The first half of his journey from Boston had been easy; buy a ticket at the Boston train station, hop on board, and ride. That's what he had done. It had been uncomfortable: he'd had to purchase the cheapest ticket, and he had traveled in a crowded carriage with too many bodies crammed into hard seats. Sleeping upright most of the time, and gazing out at a landscape that didn't look too much different from what he had left behind.

He left the train in Missouri, his funds not allowing him to take it further west. At St. Louis, he'd caught a ferry across the river and taken a stagecoach to Kansas City. And from there, everything had changed. Roads became rutted tracks, the land became flatter 'n a pancake, and he'd seen his first Indians -- Pawnee, someone said. They'd looked pretty harmless, half starved and ill, he thought. Not at all like the fierce warriors of the Plains the dime novelists had made them out to be.

But the novelists had sure been right about the land. The plains of Kansas had turned into the dusty, hard-baked terrain of western Colorado and that in turn had withered and dried into the parched deserts of the Southwest. J.D. had been fascinated. Uncomfortable, but fascinated. He still hadn't seen what he had come West for, though.

He reached into his pocket and unrolled the penny-dreadful he'd been reading. The Legend of Larabee: Showdown in Lawrence -- A True Story. When the stage had passed through Lawrence, he'd seen plenty of cowboys toting plenty of guns, but not one that looked like a gunslinger. Like Chris Larabee.When he'd asked the agent at the stage station if they'd heard of Larabee, the man had laughed. "Son, Chris Larabee ain't been in these parts fer a long time." J.D. had shown him the book, and the man shook his head ruefully. "Half a' them books is lies, and th'other half is exaggeration." J.D. must have looked disappointed, for the agent had set a hand on his shoulder. "You'd do better lookin' t'find some nice land somewheres and settle down t'farmin'."

"Oh, I ain't no farmer," J.D. said. "I got me a set of Colt Lightnings, an' I reckon I c'n ride with the best of 'em. I was heading to Texas t'see if I could join the Rangers."

The agent had given him an appraising study. "Yer a mite young, son. Put on a few years and a few inches and ya might be jist what they're lookin' fer." He jerked his head towards a pile of saddles and harnesses. Got some old tack over there, you'll have a time gittin' into the Rangers without horse and saddle. Cain't help ya with the horse, but take yer pick."

"Thanks, mister. I appreciate it."


Despite the man's encouragement, it was the first time that J.D. had felt some doubts as to his readiness. He knew he wasn't very big, and his youth was working against him. But Texas was a long way away, and he might consider getting blooded before he went to the Rangers. Put a few notches on those shiny Colts.

At the thought of his prized weapons, J.D. recalled the first time he had seen those guns. His prized possessions, his Lightnings.


It was March, three months since his mother's death, and J.D. was just then beginning to come out of the fog of grief that had enveloped him. She had died in January, of a wasting fever. J.D. had watched her fade, and at the end, she had clutched his hand and made him swear that he would be no man's servant, but his own master. To find the future and make it his own. He knew she had left him some money -- not as much as she had wanted, she said, and she had never told him how she had saved that much from her small salary as a chambermaid. And then she had told him to look in the trunk she kept under her bed, to take what was there and use it to make his dreams come true.

He had nearly forgotten about that trunk. Then one cold, dreary morning when his boots were soaked through and his lips blue and trembling as he waited for the Master to return to the stables from his morning ride, he had remembered.

That night, he had pulled out the trunk and opened it up. Old clothes. Old books. An old wooden box. J.D. opened the box, expecting to find something else that would have only had value to his mother. It was lined with velvet, and inside, he found a pocket watch. Not brass, or steel cased, but gold, with a soft, pure lustre that left no doubt as to its quality. J.D. had opened it up and seen the maker's mark. E.S. Todd, London, Dublin, Belfast. J.D. blinked away his tears. His mother had told him about Ireland, where she had come from. Her voice had been lilting with the music, and she had kept his own accent from the hard nasality of Boston English. She said he could be anything with that voice of his, go anywhere. Not shanty Irish from Boston. But a real American.

He put the watch in his pocket and went out. He considered several pawnshops and jewelers until he found one that looked like it carried quality goods, not the cheap trash that some dealt in. The broker had looked hard at him, hard at the watch.

"I didn't steal it," J.D. said hotly. "It was left to me."

The owner's face shifted from skeptical, to compassionate. "You're telling the truth?"

"Yes, sir. I ain't lying."

"Are you are sure you want to sell this? Has it been in your family?"

J.D. shrugged and shook his head. "I never saw it before today. My ma, she never told me where it came from. Far as I know, she might have found it on the street."

The man looked at the watch, opened the case, examined the movement. "There are no initials, no inscriptions. But it needs repair. I'll give you a hundred dollars."

J.D. looked at the watch. "I've seen 'em at jewelers for twice that."

The man peered at him over his spectacles. "They don't buy, son. I can offer a hundred. "

A hundred bucks wouldn't buy what his mother wanted. Her dream was for him to go to College. But that wasn't his dream. He didn't want to be a lawyer, or a teacher, or run a business. He needed more than that. He needed something to satisfy the wild spirit in him.

"I don't know, mister. Can I have a minute to think about it?"

The man nodded, and J.D. took a turn around the store. He halted in front of a counter and stared. "H-how much for these?" he asked, pointing to a set of ivory-handled Colt Lightning revolvers. He was sure his voice was shaking. "I'll take these, along with whatever money you can give me for the watch."

It took some bargaining, but he left the shop with enough cash to see him on his way, and the boxed revolvers tucked under his arm. His deal had cost him more than he'd anticipated, but what was the price of a dream?



The driver's shout startled J.D. from his reminiscences. That shout was followed by several loud reports that made J.D.'s blood start pumping. "Are those gunshots?" he called out to the driver.

"Stay down, sonny!"

"Stay down? Not on your life!" J.D. hung out of the windows, feeling more alive and excited than he had in months. "Let me off here!"

"Sonny, this ain't your stop!"

"It is now!" J.D. flung open the door, grabbed the saddle he had purchased in Lawrence off the coach, and with his bag tucked under his arms, leaped to the ground. He opened up his bag and took out his guns. Seemed he'd finally found a place where they could do some good. He started buckling on his rig, fumbling in his eagerness. He was in the wild West, and by God, he was gonna look the part.

"Where's everybody goin'?" he asked a old man sitting outside the saloon.

The man shrugged. "Hangin', I reckon."

"Where?" J.D.'s eyes were round.


He took off at a lope, following in the wake of the folks heading out of town. He was afraid the excitement would die down before he could get to it. God don't let it be over, he prayed as he ran.

It wasn't.

It was like a prize fight J.D. had attended once in Boston, with the fence of the cemetery marking the ring, and the spectators gathered around the perimeter while the contenders circled warily inside. J.D. couldn't take it all in; the cowboys, the Negro balanced precariously on the edge of a buckboard, a noose around his throat. And two men; one so tall and lean and dark that he looked like a walking shadow, the other slight and pale, but balancing a long Winchester on his shoulder with an ease that was as much an overt threat as if he had it aimed at your heart.

They were the most frightening men J.D. had ever seen. He was so busy looking at everything that he missed the moment the tension swung from terse words into deadly action. All of a sudden, the man in black had his gun in his hand, and the rifle was off the other fella's shoulder and spitting lethal fire. J.D. crouched behind the fence. He couldn't believe it! It was like all the dime novels had read and then some. And that fella with the rifle -- J.D. had never seen shooting like that.

He turned to the woman standing next to him."You see that?" he asked, his eyes wide. "He shot clear through that rope! I reckon he saved that man's life!"

She turned blue eyes on him, blinking a bit as if he had startled her "You shouldn't be here," she said, ignoring the fact that she was in at least as much danger as he was, if not more, since she didn't have any weapons he could see.

"I can take care of myself, ma'am. Don't you worry." He drew one of his Colts, anxious to prove that he wasn't a kid. But like a kid at a circus, he didn't know where to look first. And then it was over, the dusty cemetery littered with bodies and wounded men. The gunslinger and the sharpshooter were standing in the middle of that chaos; lethal even in the sudden stillness.

J.D. saw one of the surviving cowboys taking off across the desert, and caught up in the moment and wanting to be a part of it, he drew one of his Colts, vaulted over the low fence and raised his gun. "I got him! I got him!" he shouted.

As fast as a snake, the gunslinger's weapon was out and aimed. J.D. leapt back as a bullet kicked up dust right at his toes.

"You don't shoot nobody in the back!" the gunslinger said, clearly disgusted. For a moment, those cold green eyes stared him down, then he turned to the sharpshooter, dismissing J.D. as completely as if he were a puppy he'd reprimanded.

J.D. blinked at him, hurt by the dismissal, wondering where he had gone wrong. He backed away, then heard a quiet exchange between the two men.

"Name's Chris," the gunslinger said.

"Vin Tanner. New in town?"

"Yesterday. You?"

"Last week"

J.D. swallowed hard. Chris? As in Chris Larabee? God. He slunk away, feeling every bit as low as a chastised puppy. Not even the single report of a pistol made him look back at the cemetery as he walked away, his head hung low.


Hours later, towards sundown, J.D. took refuge in the livery under the pretext of looking over the horses that were for hire or sale. He'd spent the afternoon in the tiny, stuffy room he'd rented at the rooming house, re-reading the story of Chris Larabee. Yeah, it had been Larabee, he knew that for sure now, the town was buzzing with that gossip, and he'd been a fool, thinking a man like that would ever need his help.

He scuffed his boots against the straw, and scowled at the big, blaze-faced gelding who was giving him a look filled with evil intent. He felt sorry for whoever owned that critter -- he seemed like he'd as soon kill a man as let him ride peaceably; though temperament aside, he was a fine piece of horseflesh. J.D. was examining the merits of a handsome bay gelding when he heard voices. One of them he recognized instantly as Chris Larabee's. He shrank back into a stall, not wanting the gunslinger to catch sight of him.

"Four men, Larabee. Ain't exactly promisin' odds." That was Tanner's raspy drawl.

The gunslinger laughed softly. "Well, at least one of 'em's a gambler."

"A cheater, ya mean."

"I wouldn't put it past him. But that's five of us, counting me and Nathan. Buck's a good man. And I have a feeling that Nathan's preacher might change his mind."

Tanner snorted. "I'd feel a mite happier with seven."

"Yeah, well that was the plan." A moment of silence, and then Larabee spoke again. "See you at the saloon?"

"Soon as I take care a' Peso. He don't look kindly on bein' neglected."

Larabee's long strides receded into the distance. J.D. peered over the railing. Tanner was humming softly as he rubbed down the big gelding, pausing every now and then to give the horse a glare when Peso started stamping and huffing. "B'have yerself, mule." He ducked out of the way of long teeth, and gave the beast's nose a flick with his knuckles which seemed to set him aback. Laughing beneath his breath, Tanner pulled something from his pocket and offered it. "Got a treat fer ya. And t'morrow you an' me'll set out -- I reckon you don't like bein' cooped up much more'n I do."

J.D. decided he couldn't stay hidden and inched out into the light. He touched his bowler hat. "Evening."

Tanner nodded. "Evenin'. Was wonderin' when you'd decide t'come out."

J.D. gaped. "How did you know I was back there?"

"Top a' yer hat was stickin' up."

J.D. snatched the offending object off his head. He felt like withering away. Tanner wasn't Larabee, but he was damn close to being as scary. He opened his mouth, closed it, and then finally spoke. "I ain't never seen anyone shoot like you did this afternoon. I thought that man they wanted to hang was a goner 'til you shot through that rope. You saved his life for sure."

Tanner's square jaw hardened. "Nathan Jackson's a good man. Didn't deserve t'die like that." He continued to rub down his horse.

"Are you anybody famous? I mean -- should I know you?"

The pause was nearly imperceptible. "Do I look like somebody you know?" The hat tilted, hiding Tanner's face entirely in its shadow.


"Then I reckon I ain't."

J.D. kept silent for a while, watching Tanner as he prepared his tack for the next day. If J.D.'s presence bothered him, it didn't show, so he sat down on a bale of hay and waited until the sharpshooter had finished and seemed about ready to leave.

"Is it true?" he blurted out. "What Mr. Larabee said? About not shooting nobody in the back?"

Tanner paused, hands on his narrow hips. He seemed to be examining the toes of his boots, and then looked up, meeting J.D.'s eyes directly. "Depends."

"On what?"

"Y'ain't never kilt a man, have you?"

"N-no ... but --"

"Then I reckon it depends on what kinda man you are, inside."

"Have you ever -- I mean -- ever shot a man in the back?" J.D. asked, a bit put out because Tanner seemed to be tap-dancing around his query when a straightforward answer was all he needed. He hadn't expected the sharpshooter to go all hard and pale on him. He swallowed. "S-sorry. I guess that ain't my business."

Tanner folded his legs and sat on a nearby bale. "I do what needs t'be done, when it needs t'be done," he said. And fell silent. When he raised his face to the light, J.D. was shocked to see how young he was. All his age was in his eyes and his weary voice. "You don't belong out here, kid. Y'ought t'go home."

J.D.'s raven hair fell across his forehead. If Tanner could hide behind his hat, then he had a right to screen his expression as well. "I can't. My ma died a while back, and I don't have anyone else." When Tanner didn't say anything, J.D. continued defensively. "I came out here to make a fresh start, all on my own, and I don't need anybody tellin' me what I should do."

"Sorry about your ma," Tanner said softly. "Reckon a man's got a right t'start fresh somewhere." He stood, tipped the brim of his hat to J.D. and managed to drift into the darkness before J.D. could blink away the tears that were blurring his eyes.


After a while, J.D. left the livery and wandered down the boardwalk. He paused in front of the saloon. The sounds of laughter and piano music played a counterpoint to his mood, and he would have passed by, but the aroma of food made his mouth water and his stomach gave a hollow growl. He pushed the doors open and went inside, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. He took a small table in the corner and ordered a plate of stew and a beer.

He slumped in his chair and looked around the room. His gaze lit on the table where Chris Larabee was sitting with Vin Tanner, the Negro Nathan Jackson, a gambler wearing the fanciest get up J.D. had seen since he left St. Louis, and a tall, laughing cowboy sporting a luxuriant mustache. J.D. wondered who he was, and why he could give Chris Larabee a slap on the back and not get his arm shot off. He was like a man immune to snake bite who had no fear of rattlers.

As he watched them, J.D. felt an ache in his heart, a hollow he wanted desperately to fill. He wanted to be one of them. He wanted to have Chris Larabee look at him as he looked at Vin Tanner, with respect. He wanted to get to know that laughing cowboy -- to hear those stories that he was telling. Fascinated, he watched the gambler as the cards slipped through his fingers like a fall of water. He had a gold tooth, J.D. noted. Bet he was a real scoundrel and card shark. And Nathan Jackson seemed like he could take down a whole regiment all by himself, yet J.D. had heard that he was a healer, not a gunman. He wasn't sure he believed that!

They were all different, J.D. thought, but they had a look in common. If he had been more wise in the ways of nature, he would have recognized that they were like lone wolves gathering in a pack; cunning, sharp, predatory, guarded. Even in their laughter, those eyes shared knowledge that J.D. couldn't fathom from his own experiences. His life hadn't been easy, but neither had it been cruel. And until the day his mother had died, he had not been alone.

These were the men Larabee had gathered for a mission. J.D. wondered what it was. He thought back to the livery, and Larabee and Tanner's conversation. They wanted five more men, and now they had three, maybe four. That left them at least one short.

Still skirting the edges of the room, he made his way to the bar and ordered another beer. As he waited, he saw the gambler rise from the table, and heard Larabee tell him that they would be riding at dawn.

J.D. watched covertly as Nathan Jackson stood to leave, followed a moment later by Vin Tanner. A pretty saloon girl came up to the cowboy and linked her arm through his, leading him up the stairs. Chris Larabee was alone at the table.

J.D. swallowed a gulp of beer, trying to work up the courage to approach the gunslinger. Should he apologize, first? Should he offer his services? Maybe he should just forget that whole plan of his. He'd seen a help wanted sign at the hardware store. Maybe he should just lay low for a while. Doubts worried at his mind. Then he heard his mother's lilting voice in his mind. "What's the worst that could happen?" she would ask him when he sought her advice. "All they can do is say no."

"Either that or shoot me," J.D. mumbled into his mug. He had just about decided to take that chance, when Larabee poured a shot of whiskey into a glass, drained it, and stalked out of the saloon. J.D. didn't know if he was relieved or disappointed to have missed his opportunity.

There was always tomorrow morning. Maybe by then the gunslinger would have forgotten the kid who was willing to shoot a fleeing man in the back.


J.D. was at the livery before dawn the next morning. Hiring a horse took most of his cash, but if he decided to buy the bay, the livery man said he'd deduct the cost of the hire from the sale, so it seemed a good deal to him.

He took extra care with his appearance, too. Shaving, brushing his straight black hair, sponging down his suit and hat. He polished his guns, and when he buckled them on, he felt like he could take on the world and win.

He waited in the stable yard, mounted, but just out of sight, until he saw Vin Tanner arrive to saddle up his gelding. A few minutes later, Chris Larabee strode across the yard, his black duster fluttering in the light dawn wind, followed shortly by Buck Wilmington, looking as sleekly satisfied as a big cat after a good meal and a long nap.

J.D. had lain awake for hours planning this. He gathered his reins and waited for the right moment to make his move. The three men led their horses from the stable. When Chris Larabee spoke, it seemed too perfect -- like the lines in a play.

"Sure could use a few more men," he said.

Tanner looked back at Larabee. "Fewer ways to split that huge pot," he quipped.

Wilmington chuckled. "Looks like you'll have to shoot straight for once, ol' pard."

At that moment, just as Chris Larabee's grim mouth turned up in a smile, J.D. goaded his mount forward, and with the slightest urging set him at the low fence surrounding the stable yard. The bay responded like a dream, lifting easily over the rails and coming to a halt when pulled up. "I hear you fellas are heading for a fight. My name is J.D. Dunne and I can ride." He proved his point by guiding the gelding into doing a pretty little pirouette.


"And I can shoot." He drew his Colt, intending to shoot at a lantern strung from a post, and firing. He hadn't thought that his mount would be gun-shy, but the report spooked him, and J.D.'s visions of glory came to a sad and ignominious end as he found himself launched into the air.

Through his shock he heard laughter, the gambler having arrived at the scene in the nick of time. "And he can fly!" Standish crowed.

J.D. was about to recover his dignity when the over-excited bay took off towards the livery, knocking J.D. off-balance and tipping him into the watering trough, dousing his hopes as surely as a burning match tossed into a lake.

"And he can swim, too!" Buck Wilmington was just about convulsed with laughter.

That laughter made J.D. madder than a wet hen. He pulled himself out of the trough, dripping wet, his hat clutched in one hand. He shot Wilmington a furious look with hazel eyes burning like hot coals. He slammed his palm down on the edge of the trough. He glared at Ezra, cursed as he saw the bay vanishing down the street and took off after the wayward horse and his shattered hopes.


The hot, dry air in Four Corners was good for something, J.D. thought as he pulled on his suit coat. In Boston, the cloth would have taken days to dry. The seams were damp, but not enough to bother him. Even his hat had survived its dunking relatively unscathed. He settled it on his head and surveyed himself in the mirror.

He wasn't very big. He didn't have the lean, hard look of the other men. His freckles and his floppy mass of dark hair made him look very young. But he wasn't that young, and he wasn't that naive, not any more. If he wanted to ride with Chris Larabee, he'd have to earn that place. Parlor tricks wouldn't do it, but maybe his brains could. Brains and that stubborn Irish blood in his veins.

He'd go after Larabee and the others. Having shredded his dignity, he had nothing more to lose. He'd prove that he was fit to be the seventh man. After all, what was the worst that could happen?

The End


Continued in: Legends Born: Full Circle -- Nathan Jackson