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Part 2 - Changes
They returned to work, separating into groups of Engine crew and paramedics. They’d mix it up later after they’d learned their own roles. The rest of the men seemed to be enjoying the training and the camaraderie between the crews. If there was any lingering animosity toward Johnny from any of Wheelers shift mates… it didn’t show.
They met the returning medical team at the end of the day and headed for the reservation. Brackett, Early and Dixie reported that their day had been successful as well. Several doctors and nurses had thanked them for coming and for helping them get the program started and seemed genuinely excited about the whole thing.
The group chatted on the van on the way home. Marco was looking forward to an evening with Janessa. Chet scowled in annoyance at the moony eyed look on his friends face. “Nice Marc…You go off with your girlfriend and leave me by myself with her family.
Marco grinned. “Sorry amigo but this Latin blood…,” he shrugged. “And a beautiful woman…”
“Whose father will cut your heart out if that Latin blood goes too far,” Johnny warned his friend. They all chuckled. “That’s okay Chet…You can come hang out with me if ya want,” Johnny offered.
“What…While you and Danella play kissy face and crawl all over each other…No thanks.”
John blushed as the others burst out laughing at Kelly’s joke. “Yeah…Well it’s kinda tough for us to be all over each other while I’m staying in her Father’s house besides, she and the other girls are all caught up in the wedding so I’m kinda on my own for a couple of days.”
“So what are ya gonna do?” Roy asked curiously, not looking forward to being left alone with a pack of giggly females either.
“I thought I’d wander down to the barn.”
“You’re not gonna get near that horse again are you?” Roy asked worriedly, already knowing the answer.
Johnny shrugged and grinned at his friend’s obvious over protective concern. “Well yeah…I kinda thought I might.”
Roy knew better than to argue with his willful friend. “Then I’m coming with you,” he said determinedly with a stubborn set to his chin. Roy was concerned…Not only about the horse but he hadn’t forgotten the gunshot and until he was sure Johnny was safe he wasn’t planning on letting him go anywhere alone.
Chet grinned. “I’ll come along…I’d like to see you get your butt kicked by that animal,” he said snidely. The others laughed at the scowl that crossed Johnny’s face but then they also knew that if anything really did happen to Johnny, Chet Kelly would be the second one in behind Roy to help his friend.
They pulled up in the village square and the group disbanded to head for their respective hosts homes. Roy and Johnny walked into the trading post.
The sound of women’s laughter greeted them. Danella glanced up and smiled tenderly at Johnny as he came toward her, setting the dress she was sewing in her lap. John leaned down to place a gentle kiss on her lips, his hand coming to rest on her slightly rounded stomach…Drawing a grin from Dani’s parents as well as Joanne and Roy as the older man greeted his wife.
John looked into soft amber eyes. “How are you feeling?” He asked gently.
“I’m much better than I was this morning Na’mehoht,” she said wrinkling her nose distastefully.
“Morning sickness…?” He questioned sympathetically. She nodded. “How is she?” He asked rubbing her belly playfully.
“HE is fine,” she assured him smugly.
It really didn’t matter to Johnny what she had but she wanted to give him a son to carry on the Gage name while he wanted a daughter with her mother’s amber eyes.
“I bet you two are starving…Dinner is almost ready Mé’oo’o,” she told him.
Joanne looked to Roy. Chris and Jen are having dinner with that boy they met yesterday. Frankie…,” she looked at Joseph.
“He is the son of Wind Walker,” Joseph filled in.
John nodded. “I grew up with him,” he informed them. The man had been one of John’s worst antagonists growing up. He was a bit shocked that he’d invited the two white children into his home. Things really were changing here since the last time he’d visited.
“They went sliding on the hill with some of the other children and Mike Jr. this morning. They’ve been having a ball.”
“Good…I hope it’ll be a real memorable Christmas for them…For all of you.”
“It will be sweetheart,” Jo assured him. She glanced up at her husband. “I hope you and Johnny don’t mind finding something to do on your own honey?” Jo said holding up the garment she was working on.
“Not at all. Johnny wants to walk down to stables tonight. Chet and I are going with him.”
Jo’s blue eyes lifted in concern. So did Danella’s. “You’re going to see that horse again aren’t you?” Jo asked worriedly.
“I’ll be fine Jo,” he reassured the older woman who’d been like a sister and sometime mom to him for the last seven years.
“You be careful Me’oo’o, Rains Fire is dangerous and unpredictable.”
“Maybe I should come along,” Joseph said quietly. Like Roy, he was also concerned about that gunshot yesterday.
“That’s not necessary,” Johnny said in exasperation. “I don’t need a babysitter,” he said indignantly. Roy’s eyebrow lifted and John sighed. “Most of the time,” he qualified remembering how many times that statement had come back to bite him in the butt. At Roy’s continued look of skepticism, he rolled his eyes. “Oh what the heck…The more the merrier...”
Joseph chuckled and patted John on the back as the young man pulled Dani to her feet to escort her into dinner. “Besides John…I have no intention of letting my grandchild be born without his father,” he teased.
“Me either,” John replied dropping a soft kiss on Dani’s lips.
Dinner was a boisterous affair as the men told them about their day, first at the hospital and then at the station. Neither of them brought up the incident in the locker room and stuck to the high points but it didn’t matter…Joanne’s blue eyes watched the pair. She knew them too well and the looks that passed between them caused her to narrow her eyes thoughtfully at her husband.
Roy swallowed and smiled back at her, knowing she was well aware that they were hiding something. He’d end up telling her about it when they were alone later.
The women told them about the wedding plans and how much fun the children had with their new friends. Sena and Danella finally began the clean up. Joanne rose to her feet. “Let me help,” she volunteered.
“You’re a guest,” Sena argued but Danella smiled at Jo.
“No mother…She’s family.” Jo grinned and quickly joined in.
The sun was just setting as the three men donned their jackets and headed for the ranch. They met Chet as he as he walked into the square from Janessa’s house. He hooked a thumb back the way he came. “Marco’s taking a walk with Janessa,” he told them with a roll of his blue eyes. “At the rate he’s going he may be beating you to the altar,” he grouched at Gage.
The three men chuckled. “What are you complaining about…You’re taking Erin to that Christmas dance this weekend,” Roy pointed out.
“I doubt it…She’s probably changed her mind by now,” Johnny scoffed.
Chet gave him an indignant look before turning to Roy. “That’s right Roy…We’re gonna have a great time,” he stated, looking at the young, dark haired paramedic tauntingly. John grinned and walked away, having successfully goaded his friend into his usual bantering mood.
They approached the paddock where the beautiful chestnut pranced in annoyance, having already scented their presence. Joseph shook his head regretfully. “That animal is going to kill someone someday,” he stated bluntly as they watched the angry strutting.
“Let’s just hope it’s not my crazed partner here, who can’t seem to stay away from him,” Roy said drily.
John grinned. “Danella and I will be living on the ranch when we get married and I want to ask Blue Eagle to sell me one of his foals. I have to start somewhere right?”
Roy breathed a sigh of relief, afraid that he might have actually wanted the stallion himself. “That’s a good idea Junior,” he agreed.
John smirked knowing exactly what his partner had been worried about and he’d have had good cause if John had thought for a moment that Blue Eagle would part with the valuable animal. They saw the man as he leaned against the fence watching the horse.
Kel, Joe and Dixie had all joined Blue Eagle for dinner. They gave him a brief rundown of the day and the chief was pleased that all had gone well, not wanting anything to spoil John’s homecoming and pending wedding.
So much had changed in the last ten months since John had returned home. For the first time they were seeing a change in the attitudes of the people in town as well as those of the reservation. Where as a child, John had been the target and whipping post for both sides, now he was the link that bridged the gap between the two cultures. At least for most people… None of the medical team had heard about the locker room incident either and would have been furious had they been told but still…It was only one person and Johnny had come a long way.
Blue Eagle knew Johnny would never see himself that way…It wasn’t in him to be arrogant.
Kel’s voice broke his reverie and called him back to the conversation at the table. “I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed that ride yesterday. It’s been a long time.”
“We will go again this weekend if you like or whenever you have some free time. Three Rivers is taking the children tomorrow to teach them to ride. They want to surprise John Saturday.”
Kel nodded. “It’s so beautiful here and peaceful,” Dixie commented but her blue eyes were on Kel. He smiled.
“All this fresh air makes me tired,” Joe commented. “I think I’ll curl up in bed with a good book.”
“I think Dix and I may take a walk and look around a bit,” Kel suggested, catching the eye contact from the pretty blonde.
“Good…Then I think I will head down to the stables. I’m thinking of asking Dances with Fire to continue working with Rains Fire…I’d like to see if the boy can still work his magic.”
Kel and Dixie both exchanged a concerned glance that brought a chuckle from the tribal elder. “I will be sure that John isn’t killed by the animal.”
They both laughed. “Thank you,” they said sincerely.
The four of them cleared the dishes before separating to go their own ways. Kel and Dixie headed toward the river and the stand of cottonwoods they’d found the night before. Kel sat down, pulling Dixie down to lean against him. His arms encircled her waist as his chin came to rest on her shoulder to nuzzle her ear. She giggled like a school girl before she turned and let his mouth catch hers and the giggles ceased.
“Good evening Blue Eagle,” John greeted as they all approached.
“Good evening John,” he replied, nodding a greeting at the others. “What brings all of you down here tonight?”
John jerked his head toward the pacing chestnut. “He did…I kinda wanted to get another look at him and talk to you about maybe buying one of his foals…I mean…How much you’d want for one,” he hedged uncertainly.
Blue Eagle smiled. “More than you could probably afford John,” he replied with a grin as the younger man sighed in disappointment.
“But I’ll tell you what?” John looked at him questioningly. “If you can gentle Rains Fire…I’ll give you one.”
John perked up but Roy’s blue eyes filled with worry. “He doesn’t need one that bad, do ya junior?” He said quickly but too late…John’s dark eyes swiveled toward the horse and a slow grin curled his lips. John spotted a coil of rope hung over an upright a few feet away and headed toward it. “Uh Johnny…What are you doing?” Roy asked in concern.
Johnny threw him a smile and ducked under the rail. The horse stomped its hoof and swaggered toward him. John held his hand out palm out as he had the first day. “Nenáasēstse hé ného’kȧhéto…” he said softly.
“Johnny…Get out of there,” Roy hissed through clenched teeth. His young friend was gonna drive him over the edge someday…He just knew it.
John grinned and turned his attention back to the horse. The animal’s ears perked forward at the sound of his voice, obviously remembering him from yesterday. The nostrils flared…Sniffing the air and then he took a step, approaching him warily.
The dark haired young man stroked the velvety nose that nuzzled against him. John’s hand disappeared into his jacket pocket, reappearing a moment later with a chunk of carrot he’d squirreled away earlier. He let the horse have it.
While he was happily crunching, John’s deft fingers made several loops and knots and to Chet and Roy’s amazement, quickly fashioned a crude halter and lead.
Apparently Rains Fire had had several other run ins with a rope before…His eyes showed the white around them as he eyed the thing in John’s hand.
Johnny continued to speak softly to the animal. To Roy and the others it almost sounded like singing as he moved closer. The horse spooked warily.
Roy started forward but Joseph and Blue Eagle stopped him. Chet looked at them in surprise…Johnny could be badly hurt if the animal panicked but as the soft whisper of sound continued, the horse began to quiet once more, drawing knowing grins from Joseph and the tribal elder.
“Would you look at that?” Chet mumbled almost in awe.
“I am looking,” Roy muttered unhappily as John patted the glossy neck of the animal. He ran the halter up the horse’s nose, allowing him to smell it and get a good look at the object before running it over his neck.
After several long moments, John carefully slid the loop over Rains Fire’s nose. The horse tossed his head in annoyance, throwing the rope from his muzzle. John patiently tried again and again the rope was flung away as the horse danced angrily. John let it fall as he chuckled at the animal’s antics.
“You’re toying with me proud one,” he whispered gently. He picked it up and waited for the big animal to settle…John continued until finally after the fifth try the stallion stood still and allowed John to pull it over his nose and ears.
Roy sucked in his breath fearfully as Rains Fire reared on his hind legs. John made no attempt to stop him as the animal bolted, bucking wildly and throwing his head.
John spoke softly and held his hand out palm up. Unable to slip the rope the horse finally stopped and looked toward John. After a moment he relented and approached the outstretched hand. “Good boy,” he said softly, rubbing the nose and offering another treat.
John picked up the lead and took a step. He gently tugged the animal toward him. Rains Fire dug his feet in stubbornly… “Come to me,” John urged softly. After a couple of moments the horse relented and followed.
Blue Eagles eyes met Roy and Chet’s…He grinned in triumph. “Okay…I’m impressed,” the Irishman muttered. Roy grinned but his blue eyes remained anxious knowing darn well that his willful partner wouldn’t stop there. Yup…He was right. A sigh slipped from the older man’s lips.
Blue Eagle and Joseph were smiling broadly. The boy hadn’t lost his touch with the animals in the fourteen years he’d been away. It had been his grandfathers pride and joy but he’d have never have told the boy that back then.
John led the horse further from the fence and came up alongside him. His hands moved over the neck gently and the horses nervous quivering slowly eased.
Joseph exchanged a glance with Roy. “I think he has the same effect on Danella,” he quipped with a grin.
Roy couldn’t contain the chuckle that slipped from his lips. Chet hid his grin behind his hand as Blue Eagle laughed outright.
John tossed a look in their direction but quickly turned his attention back to the horse. Roy’s blue eyes widened worriedly and the grin slipped from his face. “What is he doing?” He asked fearfully as his hands gripped the rail with whitened knuckles.
John had turned and grabbed a handful of cream colored mane. He jumped and hoisted his slender body over the horses back.
Rains Fire froze for a split second before his powerful hind end rose in the air. John slid clear as the animal bolted. John let him go. He stopped to turn betrayed dark eyes on the brown haired human. His ears were laced back against his head.
John held his hand out with a chunk of carrot. “Come to me,” he urged quietly. The horse turned to bolt but the man didn’t approach and a moment later he stepped once more in John’s direction.
“What the heck does he think he’s doing?” Chet asked, sounding more than a little nervous himself now.
“Unlike some who think they need to break a horse’s spirit to control him…Dances with Fire only wants him to trust him,” Blue Eagle explained.
“It’s just something he’s always been able to do…A gift he was born with…” Joseph added, remembering that even as a child John had had that ability.
Roy had seen it work as well but on children, old ladies and frightened patients of all ages.
“If he can teach him to trust him then he will also allow him on his back. Unfortunately it’s a lesson some of our young men refuse to learn. They think they need to master him rather than work with him. Perhaps they will learn when they see John succeed where they have only failed,” Blue Eagle continued.
“There’s always been something special in John that they seem to sense,” Joseph added.
They turned back to watch as John once again hiked himself up and over the horse and again the animal bucked and wheeled away, dropping the young man hard on his back.
John lay there winded for a moment as the horse spun back toward him. Fearing the animal was about to attack as he had others in the past all four men began to climb over the rails to go and help Johnny but they all stopped as the horse stuck his nose in John’s face, drawing a breathless laugh from the dark haired paramedic as he pushed his nose away and climbed to his feet.
Roy couldn’t believe his eyes as John once again jumped up to lay over the horses back. Rains Fire quivered nervously for a moment but didn’t move to dislodge the slender young man. After a long moment John threw his leg over the horses back and sat up. A moment later he found himself on the ground.
Again the horse didn’t move but stood there looking down at the bruised and winded man. John pulled himself painfully to his feet. “Give it a rest Junior,” Roy called softly, looking worried.
John gave him a wave. “It’s a game now Roy…He just wants me to know he can dump me anytime he wants to,” he said as he swung his long leg up and over the horse. This time Rains Fire stood quietly as if knowing he had nothing to prove and John reached down to pat the glossy neck gently.
“Good boy,” he praised him giving the animals sides a gentle squeeze, pulling the horses head around at the same time. Thrown off balance, the animal took a hesitant step, unsure of what the man wanted from him. That step was rewarded with another pat.
Quick to learn…The horse continued on, earning more pats and soft words of praise from his new friend.
Chet folded his arms over his chest. “I’m gonna say something here Roy but if you ever repeat it…I’ll deny it.” The blonde paramedic’s eyes sparkled with laughter as Chet continued. “That was absolutely amazing and if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes I wouldn’t believe it.”
“For once Kelly…I agree with you.” Even Joseph shook his head.
Johnny finally slipped from the horses back and pulled the makeshift halter away. He handed him the final piece of carrot before walking slowly toward his friends. The horse followed until he got close to the others that were sitting on the fence rails. Rains Fire whirled and pranced away.
Roy watched Johnny’s slow gait with worried eyes. “Are you okay?” He asked.
“Yeah…Just a little bruised,” he said with a hitched breath.
Roy moved the jacket out of the way…His hands moved over Johnny’s ribs drawing a sigh of resignation from the younger man who stood quietly and allowed his friend to appease his concerns that John had broken something and knowing he wouldn’t relax until he did. “Happy now…?” Johnny questioned with a tolerant smile.
Roy nodded. “For the moment…I’ll check you out better when we get back to the lodge.” John sighed… “And don’t roll your eyes at me either Junior,” The older blonde man said cutting off the gesture he knew was coming and drawing a laugh from the others at the parental tone of voice.
“I’m okay Roy,” he assured him as he turned to Blue Eagle.
The older man smiled, having received exactly what he’d wanted from Johnny in the first place. “A promise is a promise. You will get one of his colts.”
John grinned excitedly. “Thank you Blue Eagle and I’ll continue to work with him every spare moment while I’m here.”
“Thank you John…No one may ever ride him but you but at least when you’re done I won’t have to worry about him killing someone,” he teased as they turned and headed back to the village.
“So Kel…What are we going to do about this when we get back to LA?” Dixie asked softly against his lips as she pulled back.
Brackett grinned into the soft blue eyes. “We could always ask Johnny if he’d mind a double wedding,” he teased the pretty blonde nurse.
“Don’t tease an old maid like that Kel,” she said sitting back with a pout.
“You’ve been asked before so technically that makes you a spinster, not an old maid,” Kel said with a grin.
“Well thank you for the clarification,” Dix said a bit huffily.
“Besides…Who said I was kidding?” Kel replied.
“Weren’t you?” She demanded.
“No,” he said softly. “Well only about the double wedding part. I want you to have a day that’s all your own.’ Dixie’s eyes pooled with tears. “Are those yes tears or no tears?” The dark haired doctor asked a little worriedly.
“I don’t know…You haven’t actually asked me yet.”
Kel grinned as he gazed into her eyes. “Let me fix that then…I love you Dixie McCall…Will you marry me?”
Dixie threw her arms around his neck and kissed him hard. “All you ever had to do was ask.” Brackett crushed her against him as his mouth caught hers once more.
After a long while, he pulled her to her feet and they dusted themselves off and headed back to the house. “Are we going to tell everyone about this?” She asked curiously.
Kel grinned… “I don’t want to detract from Johnny and Danella’s big day, so why don’t we wait until that’s over.”
She nodded her agreement, wanting everyone’s focus to be on the young couple and not them.
They arrived back at Blue Eagles a little while later. “I’m not ready to go back in yet,” she said softly.
“Okay,” he said agreeably as they sat on the steps.
Dixie leaned into his embrace. “It’s a little bit chilly out here,” she said lifting her face invitingly. Kel grinned as he took the invitation.
Roy patted John on the back as they walked. “I was really proud of you tonight Junior,” he said quietly.
John threw him a pleased smile. “Thanks partner…”
“You scared a couple a years off of me but I was proud,” he teased.
John threw him his trademark impish grin…The mischievous look never failing to bring a smile of exasperated tolerance from his older, long suffering friend.
They entered the village and spotted Marco and Janessa strolling hand and hand from the other direction. “Hey Marco,” they greeted with a wave.
The Latino man sketched a return greeting as they approached the group. “Hey guys…Janessa was just showing me around town.”
Johnny threw him a wicked grin. “She show you the rock pier and the foot bridge?” Johnny asked nonchalantly.
“Yeah she did.”
John gave him a Gage giggle. “Uh…How about that old stand of pines down by the river?” He teased, noting the slightly dreamy look in the young girl’s eyes that the young paramedic recognized well.
Janessa flushed prettily and Marco scowled at the snort of laughter from four of the five men who knew about John and Danella’s special place. Chet looked at them curiously while Janessa grinned shyly. “I hope you and Danella don’t mind,” she said quietly.
John grinned ruefully. “Well we’re not using our place at the moment so someone may well be enjoying the uh…View,” he replied wistfully. “It’s becoming the lover’s lane of the reservation,” he said jokingly.
Janessa giggled while Marco scowled at the teasing. “C’mon Nessa,” he said shooting a glare at the others. “I’ll take you home.”
Chet gave Roy and Johnny a smirk as he headed after his friend and his date. “I’ll walk home with you Marc,” he offered, drawing a frustrated sigh from the Hispanic man and a knowing giggle from Janessa. The others continued on.
Roy was suddenly brought up short by John’s hand on his arm as the younger man pointed. Kelly Brackett and Dixie sat on the stairs of Blue Eagles house…Their mouths locked together in a gentle kiss. “Well it’s about time,” Roy said with a grin. “I thought they’d never figure it out.”
“Figure what out?” Johnny asked with a frown.
“That they’re in love junior. They were together for over a year before the paramedic program came between them.”
John looked surprised. “I didn’t know it had been that serious.”
Roy shook his head. His young friend had been so unobservant about relationships back then.
Kel and Dixie were oblivious to their audience until Blue Eagle’s throat clearing “UH…HMM,” brought them back to earth. “Excuse me Kel…Miss McCall…I just need to get into the house,” he teased as he climbed the stairs and disappeared inside.
Kel smiled while Dixie let out a soft giggle at being caught like a couple of school kids. Both of them a bit red faced as they caught sight of Johnny and Roy across the street. “Goodnight you two,” Roy called as the two younger men disappeared inside the trading post.
Melissa and Emily had returned to Little Fox’s for the evening and it appeared that Sena, Dani and Joanne had pretty well wrapped up for the night as well.
John hobbled a bit painfully over to where Danella sat on the sofa. Her worried amber eyes tracked him as he approached. “What happened to you?” She asked as he leaned down to drop a kiss on her lips.
“Took a little fall…Nothing serious,” he explained casually.
“A fall from what…?” Joanne asked suspiciously, knowing the evasive look Johnny wore very well.
“It doesn’t matter Jo…I’m fine,” he replied with a shrug.
Jo’s eyes shot to Roy questioningly. “He rode Rain’s Fire,” he said softly, knowing Jo would pry it out of him anyway and figuring it would save time and energy.
“Johnny…You could have been killed,” Danella gasped, remembering the condition the horse had left the other five men in. Jo’s brows lowered ominously.
“But I wasn’t and I’m fine,” he reassured his fiancée.
He felt Roy’s hand close around his arm. “That remains to be seen doesn’t it?” He asked as he steered Johnny toward the room he and Joanne were using. “So I’m going to check him out a bit more while Joseph tells you all about it,” he quipped as he led John away.
“RO…OY,” the younger man began to protest but the blonde eyebrow of his best friend arched warningly. “Fine,” he whined in exasperation, drawing a laugh from the others but it was short lived as they turned their attention to Joseph.
Did he really ride Rains Fire Father?”
The older man nodded. “He threw him twice though before John settled him down but in the end he let him ride.”
Dani smiled proudly while Joanne frowned. “He wasn’t hurt badly was he?” She asked.
“No Joanne…I think it was just a few bruises and he had the wind knocked out of him…Even his friend Chet was impressed.”
“That makes me feel so much better Joseph…,” she said sounding irritated. “What the heck even made him try?” The pretty auburn haired woman asked.
“He wanted one of Rains Fire’s foals and Blue Eagle agreed to give it to him if he could gentle the animal.” Joseph shrugged in a ‘so he did’ gesture.
“I may need to have a word with Blue Eagle…I’d like to at least marry John before he tries to kill him,” Danella grumbled.
They all laughed but it died down quickly as the door opened and John and Roy rejoined them. Danella eyed the tall, slender, dark haired man with a combination of desire and concern as he rebuttoned his shirt.
Roy closed the door behind him as they entered the room. “Alright junior, take em off,” he directed as he crossed his arms over his chest.
John heaved a sigh of defeat, knowing better than to argue. Roy would win anyway and giving in would just save a lot of time. He shrugged out of his jacket and he couldn’t hide the painful grimace as the sweater followed. His slender fingers returned to pluck the buttons of his shirt open.
He raised his arms to allow Roy to inspect the bruised area around his ribs and back…Sucking in his breath with a wince as the strong fingers pressed against his ribs.
“Ouch,” he muttered.
“That hurt junior?” Roy asked worriedly.
“Well it looks okay…It’s not broken anyway. What about your leg? You were limping.”
“I bruised my behind a bit when I fell,” John grumbled. “But I’m not dropping my pants for ya to look at it so forget it.”
Roy chuckled. “Danella’s almost a nurse. I’ll let her check it out for ya.”
John shrugged his shirt back on. “Not a chance,” he mumbled. “She’ll just start something we can’t finish and then I’ll really be miserable.” Roy hooted with laughter at his young friend’s predicament and John’s face turned red.
John pulled the door open and shot his friend an irritated look as they stepped out to join the others. The handsome, dark haired man threw a glance at Danella and saw the look in the amber eyes. “I’m fine…Just bruised,” he assured her, rolling his eyes in annoyance as she looked to Roy for confirmation. Man…They all knew him too well.
The blonde paramedic grinned. “Well his ribs and his back are fine but he was limping.”
“Roy…,” John began warningly.
“But he refused to drop his pants for me to check out his last landing site so I’ll have to leave that to you,” he finished, without missing a beat.
Danella giggled delightedly while the others burst out laughing at the embarrassed blush that crept up the young man’s cheeks at the comment.
“Thanks partner,” he mumbled in frustration as Danella climbed to her feet.
“What?” Roy asked innocently.
“It’s okay Na’mehoht…I am in nursing school after all,” she said as she grabbed his hand.
“Danella…,” he pleaded, as she tugged him past Roy toward the stairs.
“The kids aren’t home from their friends yet,” Roy whispered as John passed by him. John grinned and moved a little faster.
John followed Danella into her room. She turned as he closed the door behind them and stepped into his arms. John didn’t hesitate. His fingers lifted her chin as his mouth claimed hers softly several times before closing his arms around her and pulling her against him, deepening the kiss.
Her fingers caressed the back of his neck before moving up to tangle in his shaggy, sable hair. She pulled back slightly. “Do I need to check the bruises on your um…Landing site?” She teased with a grin as her hand traveled down his back to pat the afflicted area.
“I’m not feeling em at the moment,” he whispered against her lips with hooded, dark eyes that made the girls heart pound with excitement. His dark eyes traveled toward the small single bed against the wall and he heaved a sigh of disappointment knowing the others would give them a few moments alone but they’d expect them back very soon. “But I guess it’ll have to wait a couple more days to let you check em out,” he said softly.
“We could go to our place,” she suggested with a grin.
John smiled down at her… “Too cold…,” he mumbled.
“You didn’t mind last night,” she pointed out, looking a little hurt that Johnny was refusing her.
“I didn’t know you were pregnant last night or I wouldn’t have risked you catching a chill then either,” he explained. She grinned at the over protective attitude as he continued. “Besides…Our place is getting a little crowded,” he said.
She looked at him curiously. “Dixie and Dr. Brackett were there last night and Marco and Janessa were down there tonight as well.”
Danella giggled softly. “She’s becoming quite fond of Marco,” the young woman admitted. “Many Horses isn’t too happy about it but like my Father and Mother, he knows she has to follow her heart.”
“I think Marco’s pretty fond of her as well,” Johnny said. “Maybe we can bring her to LA for our wedding there and they can spend some time together.”
“Oh Johnny…That would be wonderful…I think she’d love it.” Danella hugged him excitedly at the prospect of having her best friend in LA with her and she hoped something might come of the relationship.
John’s lips caught hers, enjoying her enthusiasm with the idea. “I suppose we need to go back downstairs,” he said with a sigh after a long moment.
“I guess so,” she agreed wistfully. “Eight more days feels like such a long time,” she said quietly.
“Not when there’s a lifetime afterwards to look forward too,” he reminded her with a gentle kiss. They headed back downstairs and met the understanding smiles of both of the other couples.
“Any bruises Junior?” Roy teased.
John shot a glare at his best friend. “I don’t know…We didn’t get that far,” he muttered in disappointment as the others chuckled at his disgruntlement at being unable to be alone with his fiancée.
The moment was broken as the children ran inside the house and after greeting everyone, began to tell them all about their day.
After a while they all turned in. John and Roy had another busy day at the Station the next morning and the women would be sewing again…Johnny was curious about the wedding garments but Danella and Joanne refused to let him see them. “Must be bad luck in this culture too,” Roy teased, patting his friend on the back. “You going upstairs?” The older man asked as he turned to head for his room with Joanne.
“In a little while,” John said as he resettled on the sofa. “It’s a little early when I only have an ten year old for company,” he grumbled. Roy laughed.
Johnny was dozing on the couch a short time later when he felt a blanket laid over him…He startled awake to see Danella leaning over him. She smiled gently as she slipped under the blanket to cuddle against his side. John smiled as he wrapped his arms around her but sighed in frustration. Ah well…He much rather spend the night in her bed but at least this was better than sleeping alone. He pulled the girl against him as they both dozed off.
Roy and Joanne stepped out of their room early the next morning. They spotted the couple still curled on the couch together…Jo giggled while Roy shook his head in amusement. Joseph and Sena came down the stairs a moment later. “Good morning Roy…Joanne,” Four Feathers greeted… His eyebrow arcing curiously as Joanne made a shushing gesture and pointed. Sena and Joseph joined them to look toward the couch. The older man shook his head and chuckled… “We need to get them married…Soon,” he teased.
Their amusement was short lived as Johnny jerked awake with the sound of Danella’s pitiful moan. The beautiful black haired girl suddenly sat up, throwing back the covers…She bolted for the bathroom with her hand clasped over her mouth. The sound of retching reached them and a moment later Johnny brushed past them.
He snatched up a towel and wet it before kneeling next to Danella while she lost the contents of her stomach, holding her head and wiping the sweat from her brow…The anxious look on his face almost drawing a giggle from the girl despite how miserable she felt. “I’m alright my love…This is perfectly normal,” she whispered as she looked into his pale, distraught face.
Roy understood completely. John was a trained paramedic and the sight and sound of someone retching wouldn’t normally have bothered him but when it was the woman you loved and she was carrying your child it was a whole different ball game.
“I know and I’m so sorry,” he said softly.
“I’m not,” she said as she laid her head weakly against his chest. “I would bear anything to give you this child.”
John wanted this baby too but it tore at his heart to see her so sick because of it even if it was normal.”Are you through?” He asked quietly. She nodded and John scooped her carefully into his arms.
“Mé’oo’o I can walk,” she assured him with a soft smile.
“Shhh,” he replied as he pressed a gentle kiss on her forehead and held her closer. He carried her back to the couch and laid her down, pulling the blanket over her. “You just lay there and rest for a while longer okay?” He insisted.
“Alright na’mehoht,” she agreed, seeing the stubborn look that settled over Johnny’s face and knowing she wouldn’t win the argument. She closed her eyes and let sleep claim her.
“Go on to work John…I will take care of her,” Sena promised with a grin, pleased that her future son in law would take good care of her daughter. John and Roy headed for the lodge to meet the others and head out for Lame Deer.
By lunch time the trainee’s heads were spinning from the information being crammed into them. “Let’s wander over to the café for lunch,” Captain Walker suggested. Chet agreed eagerly drawing a grin from his crew mates.
“You’re just hoping to see Erin again,” Marco teased his friend.
“Of course I am…With you drooling all over Janessa I’m kinda bored…I could use a little company too ya know.”
Station 28’s engineer Brian Collins smiled. “Ah c’mon guys…You’ve only been here a few days and you’re already stealing the prettiest girls in town. Danella…Janessa and now Erin too,” he whined. The others laughed as they headed up the road to the little restaurant.
The group stepped up on the sidewalk still laughing. The door opened and two men came out…Johnny stopped abruptly, causing the others to almost knock each other over.
“Geez Gage…Could ya give us a little warning next time,” Chet grumbled disgustedly.
“Can it Kelly,” Cap muttered as he watched his youngest crew members face turn pale. Hank didn’t know exactly what had caused the frightened look in John's dark eyes but Roy did. The resemblance was uncanny and for Johnny…Terrifying.
The blonde paramedic quickly brushed by Mike and Marco, coming quickly to his best friend’s side. The black eyes of Gray Elk shot toward him but returned to Johnny, sweeping over the younger man and giving John an involuntary shiver of fear.
“Hello John,” he greeted, deliberately using the young man’s English name.
John swallowed uneasily but he pushed back the fear and forced a smile. “Hello Ben…Jimmy,” he greeted both men in kind. Jimmy smirked as the older man’s cold, black eyes narrowed at the disrespectful use of his first name without his permission but he almost respected the courage it took the younger man to stand up to him. John swept his hand toward the others with him. “You know Little Cloud and these gentlemen are my Captain and my friends from LA and the others are from several fire stations around Montana.
Gray Elk didn’t even glance in their direction. “I’d heard that you had returned Dances with Fire,” he said using the more respectful address.
The others glanced at each other curiously but there was also concern at the barely civil tone of voice as well as Johnny and Roy’s initial reaction to the man.
John nodded. “I heard that you had returned as well. I came home to teach these men about being a paramedic and to marry Danella. Why did you return here Gray Elk?”
The older man smiled coldly. “My family is still grieving the loss of my brother.”
John’s eyes glanced away nervously. “I…I um…I’m sorry about Walking Wolf,” Johnny stammered nervously.
“What happened to your brother was an accident,” Roy stated, interrupting the conversation.
Gray Elk glared at Roy but his black eyes quickly turned to the younger man. “It was no accident John Gage.”
Johnny swallowed uncomfortably. “I uh…,” John began but the other man held his hand up.
“I am also well aware that as a child, my brother badly abused you…And that his odd desire for Uh…young boys would have caused him to do far worse had you not been so…Difficult to hang onto when you had those crazed seizures…”
The eyes of the Montana crews as well as John’s friends widened in shock as the realization suddenly set in. The crew of station 51 had already been aware of the abuse but the sudden embarrassed flushing of Johnny’s face told them exactly what the other man was talking about. The sympathetic eyes of the others almost brought tears to John’s eyes.
Gray Elk smirked in satisfaction at having completely humiliated the younger man in front of his friends as well as the other men. Roy wanted to belt the man as his partners face turned scarlet but Gray Elk continued on as if nothing had happened. “I’m also aware that what took place a year ago was self defense.” John breathed a sigh of relief as Jimmy Two Moons turned surprised eyes on his friend.
“I never meant for him to die in that fire,” John said softly.
“That’s right,” Roy added. “He even tried to go back in after him but it was too late.”
“Thank you then for trying Dances with Fire.”
“Someone took a shot at Johnny the other day,” Roy said quietly. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that would you?”
“Are you accusing me Roy DeSoto?” He asked as his eyes narrowed angrily.
Roy smiled calmly. “You know my name?”
The other man shrugged. “You were the companion with John the night Walking Wolf died were you not?”
“Yes…But I’m still surprised that my name was mentioned.”
“Only in passing…But you are accusing me…”
“Asking,” Roy interrupted… “I’m only asking,” he corrected coldly.
“There are many poachers on our lands Mr. DeSoto…”
“So I’ve been told,” he replied.
John moved past him and the others followed. Roy’s hand came to rest on John’s shoulder, pulling him aside and halting his progress. “Are you okay?” He asked his shaky and very embarrassed partner.
“Yeah,” he mumbled, refusing to look around and wishing the ground would open up and swallow him… afraid that the eyes that were watching him were filled with disgust or worse…Pity that he didn’t want. “But I guess I’m gonna have to tell the guys what George did to me…I mean they already know but…”
“They’d never force you to tell them and they’d never blame you for what happened if you do.”
John nodded, knowing he’d eventually have to tell them the whole story but not today…Later when it was just his family…He’d tell them what Walking Wolf had done to him. “I know…But after everything we’ve been through together,” he shrugged in defeat. “I owe them the truth.” He glanced up into blue eyes that were filled with a combination of compassion and admiration.
John was so strong and he never gave himself enough credit for his ability to face anything and overcome it.
Johnny looked around at the others and was relieved that they didn’t appear to be watching him at all. They were looking at menus while Chet was flirting with Erin. Only Cap was casting an occasional worried glance in his direction and threw him a wink as John made eye contact. Maybe they all hadn’t heard him or understood what Gray Elk had insinuated…John could only hope that was the case as he moved to a table and sat down with Roy.
While some of the others had hesitated, John’s friends quickly rallied around their youngest crew member…Acting as if nothing had just been said. They took their cue from the crew of 51’s and followed them inside…Whatever had happened…John had apparently thwarted the man’s attempts. The ones who remembered Walking Wolf admired the young man’s strength of will to defy him.
“So what’s good on the menu?” Mike asked casually.
“Pretty much everything,” Walker replied without glancing at John as they all found places to sit. The dark eyes rose to meet Roy’s blue before he glanced around at his friends. They were all reading menus
and talking among themselves about their selections. He glanced at his Captain and received a wink from the older man.
Erin came over to take their order, her green eyes lingering on Chet. “Good afternoon gentlemen…Do you know what you want yet or do you need a minute?”
Chet grinned and waggled his eyebrow. “I know what I want,” he said drawing a giggle from the pretty red head.
“Are we still going to the Christmas dance Saturday night?” She asked.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” he replied.
“Good…Now what can I get for you today?” She asked with a smile.
They all pretty much put the conversation on the steps behind them and the light hearted atmosphere they’d been enjoying all morning quickly returned.
Jimmy Two Moons watched with Gray Elk through the window. “Why were you so polite to him?” He asked in surprise.
“He will not be on guard if he thinks he is safe from my vengeance for what he did to my brother.” Two Moons grinned at his friend in anticipation, wondering what exactly he had planned for the young half breed.
They returned to the station after lunch and continued with the training…None of them brought up what had happened at the café and John was relieved but as they headed back to the reservation later in the day, Cap turned in his seat to face his youngest crew member.
“John…Who was that man today…?” He asked in concern.
The younger man’s face flushed with embarrassment and he blew out a frustrated breath. Here it comes…The moment when they’d either stand by him or turn away in disgust at what had happened to him.
“That was my Uncle George’s brother…Gray Elk.”
Hank nodded. “John…You don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to and we’ll understand but can you tell us exactly what happened here a year ago? We know your Uncle was killed but…,” he let the sentence hang.
John looked away. “My Uncle set the fire that Roy and the others were trapped in.”
The others looked at each other in shock but stayed silent and let Cap ask the questions. “My God John…Why?”
“Because they were in the way?”
“In the way of what…?” Mike asked from the driver’s seat.
“They were protecting me,” he whispered in humiliation. “He was after me and they got in his way. Roy wouldn’t let him near me…He knew I was in love with Dani and Little Fox had told them all…What he’d uh…Done to me.”
Hank’s brown eyes filled with sorrow. “And what exactly was that son?” He asked softly, seeing the embarrassed stain that was creeping up John’s face. He was already expecting the worst but it didn’t stop the rage that built in him as John looked up at him with tears in his eyes.
“I told you that my uncle beat me when I was a child…” He continued as they nodded warily. “Well part of the reason was because…He tried to…Uh…” The younger man hesitated, unable to say it.
“Sexually assault him,” Roy finished for his young friend.
Hank closed his eyes for a moment as the others gasped in horror. “I’m sorry Cap…Guys…I…I uh…,” John stammered, looking about ready to cry.
“Stop it John,” Hank said quietly as he opened his eyes and glanced around at his crew. He saw only compassion for their friend and sighed in relief. “No one’s blaming you.”
John chewed his lip. “He never succeeded,” he whispered. The others breathed a sigh of relief at that news. “But he did…you know…Uh…T…Touch me…,” he stammered, his face was scarlet. “And I went into withdrawal whenever he did and…and…he’d get so angry…”
Roy’s hand came to rest on Johnny’s shoulder as he pulled the shaken younger man toward him. John let his forehead rest against his friends shoulder as Roy took up the story.
“He got so angry that he kept getting thwarted by a twelve year old that he damn near beat him to death for it a couple of times.” There were four very angry faces staring at them now. “He decided to try for him again when John came home last year. We got in the way, so he decided to get rid of us and use us as bait to lure Johnny to him…It almost worked too and while we were in the burning house, George tried to drug John but John managed to whack him off the head with a piece of wood and get himself and Danella out of the house. By the time he could talk enough to tell me he was in there it was too late.”
“Good,” Marco muttered from the rear of the van.
Hank looked at the distraught and embarrassed face of his junior paramedic. “John…I’m so incredibly sorry that you had to go through that but I want you to know that we’re still your friends and we’ll always be there for you.” Three heads bobbed in unison as Cap continued. “You’re so much a part of this family…This team…You don’t believe that we’d hold you responsible for anything that animal did to you do you?”
John looked up at his friends with relief in his eyes. “Some people would,” he whispered.
“Well we’re not some people Gage,” Chet said quietly as he watched Johnny with a new found respect. The kid was impressive…This must be what Roy had hinted at all those years ago when he’d told him how special and how strong John was. That he knew things that the others didn’t that left him admiring his young partner and determined to stand at his side. Chet knew he’d always feel the same way too now that he knew what the younger man had endured and conquered.
“That’s right John…We’re your family too…Just like Roy.”
John sat for a long moment in humble silence. These men were so special…For the last seven years they’d stuck by him through thick and thin and become such a huge part of his life. “Thank you,” he finally said softly.
Roy looked at him with a smug smile. “Told ya so,” he teased, breaking the tension. John grinned as they drove on.
They pulled up in front of the lodge and piled out. “What are you all doing tonight?” Hank asked.
“Marco’s probably got another hot date with Janessa,” Chet said with a sneer in his voice but the Latino man shook his head.
“Nope…She told me last night that there’s only a week to get everything finished before the wedding so all the girls are working every spare minute since there’s so much sewing and I guess they have to make baskets and…,” he trailed off looking at Johnny in amazement.
“No store bought anything here guys,” Johnny said with a small smile. “Everything is handmade and there’s a lot more to our ceremony than in what you’re used to,” he explained with a shrug.
“So what about you John…?” Hank asked.
“You gonna go ride that horse again Gage?”
“What horse?” Mike asked worriedly.
“John rode Rains Fire the other night,” Chet told them smugly.
“No way,” Mike gasped.
“This I gotta see,” Marco said.
“NO MARCO,” Roy said… “You really don’t need to see that.” John smiled at the worried tone of his best friend’s voice.
“It’s okay Roy…I’m gonna just move real slow with him and I’ll be fine.”
The older man heaved a sigh of frustration. “Then I’m going with you.”
Hank nodded. “I think I’d like to go watch this myself.”
“Me too…,” Mike put in.
John blew out a resigned breath. His friends were worried about him and he knew that but he really didn’t want to end up on his butt with such a large audience either. Oh well…Better to know they cared about him than to worry about his pride.
“I guess I’ll see you after dinner then,” he said with a smile.
“Um Roy…?” John questioned softly as they walked toward the trading post.
“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention Gray Elk to Dani…I mean she’s feeling so sick in the morning’s and she’s got so much stress trying to put this whole wedding together in just a week ya know? I don’t want her to be worried about this too.”
Roy smiled. “Sure John…I understand,” the older man agreed patting his friend on the back.
John grinned at his partner as they pushed the door open. They were greeted by the excited voices of Chris and Jennifer. “Hi Daddy…Uncle Johnny,” Jen cried as she ran to meet them. She hugged her father and then squealed joyfully as John tossed her in the air. She threw her arms around his neck as the dark haired paramedic scruffed Chris’s head affectionately and moved to where the others were seated.
“Guess what we did today?” Jenny asked excitedly.
“What Princess?” Johnny questioned curiously while Roy looked to his equally excited son.
“Mr. Four Feathers took us out to find a Christmas tree,” Chris informed them.
“A Christmas tree…?” Johnny questioned in surprise, glancing toward Joseph.
The older man smiled. “We thought you and your friends might miss your more traditional Christmas celebration. Little Fox and a few of the others are helping the children make decorations and Blue Eagle is planning a Christmas dinner for all of us at the lodge,” he explained.
John smiled. “Thank you Joseph and I’ll be sure to thank Blue Eagle and Little Fox as well.” He turned to Danella. “How are you feeling tonight?” He asked setting Jen down and leaning over to kiss his future wife.
“Tonight I am good my love…Tomorrow morning,” she shrugged, with a rueful grin as she stood up to step into his arms. John placed another soft kiss on her lips and led her toward the kitchen where Sena was placing the food on the table.
“How are the plans coming?” John asked curiously.
“We will have everything ready in time,” she promised.
John reached under his shirt and drew out a chain. A turquise and silver ring hung on it. “Um…Danella…? I didn’t ask before and I’ll understand if you say no but…,” John drew the chain over his head and showed her the ring. “This ring belonged to my mom. My grandfather gave it to my Aunt when she came to get me. I want to use it for you but if you’d rather have a ring of your own…”
“Oh Johnny,” she whispered, taking the ring to examine it a little more closely. “It’s beautiful…Of course we can use it,” she said excitedly as she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him to her.
“Try it on…If it doesn’t fit then we can take it to a jeweler in town and have it resized.” She slid his mother’s ring on her finger and smiled.
“It fits perfectly,” she said giving him another gentle kiss. The others smiled at the two young lovers and went to sit, allowing them the quiet moment alone.
“I had the other made a while ago …My father was wearing his when he died…We never got it back but…I wanted something similar,” he explained to her as they sat down to eat.
After dinner…Melissa, Emily and Dixie joined the other ladies. “I can’t sew…At least not clothing,” Dixie quipped. “But I want to do something to help with the wedding.” They welcomed her help whole heartedly and the men shook their heads and headed for the stable. Kel and Blue Eagle joined them.
John sighed and hoped the horse would be cooperative…He had a too big an audience to end up breaking his leg or worse his neck in front of them a week before his wedding to boot. He’d never hear the end of it.
Rains Fire was grazing in the center of the pasture as they approached. John let out a soft whistle, bringing the horses head around. He stomped his forefoot in annoyance at their intrusion…His nostrils flaring and sniffing the wind. He suddenly seemed to realize who the intruder was and headed toward the fence, halting as he saw the others.
The group stopped and let John continue on by himself. He unhooked the same coil of rope from the fence post and climbed through the rails. The horse approached him warily until the man held his hand out with a chunk of carrot. The soft nose reached out and plucked the offering from his palm, crunching contentedly as John stepped closer, his hand caressing the glistening neck.
He offered the horse another piece of carrot before once more twisting the rope into a makeshift halter and slipping it over the animals head. The big horse tossed his head for a moment as if considering whether or not to put up a fight but he finally relaxed under John’s hands.
The young fire fighter carefully moved alongside and hoisted himself over the animals back. Rain’s Fire gave a token buck before allowing his rider to settle onto his back. John breathed a sigh of relief that he wasn’t going to find himself sitting on the ground in front his friends.
He turned the horses head and squeezed gently with his legs. The horse remembered from the night before and began to walk. John pretty much let him move at his own pace but turned him several times, talking softly and gently guiding him more with his legs than anything else.
Chet looked smugly at the others. “Told ya so…,” he said with a grin.
“Well I’ll be,” Hank muttered, watching the young paramedic proudly…Even Brackett was shaking his head in amazement.
“How’d he do that?” Marco asked in awe.
Roy grinned at them and their obvious pride in their friend. Nothing Johnny did surprised him anymore…Scared him to death on several occasions but never surprised him.
After about a half hour John urged the horse to a quicker pace causing Roy’s heart to accelerate a bit as well. John had no saddle…If the horse decided to take off with him, John would have no way to stop him. Roy shook his head as he watched. He should have known better than to doubt his friend…The horse and rider moved in perfect sync for several minutes before Johnny sat back and tugged on the lead. The animal slowed, coming to a halt near the fence. His nervous eyes watched the group of men until John slid from his back and slipped the halter free before offering him another treat and rejoining the group.
Rains Fire snorted and pranced away. John turned to watch him. “I’ll try a real bridle tomorrow night…If he handles that okay then I’ll start trying him with a saddle.”
“Man…I can’t believe you rode that horse,” Marco exclaimed, slapping John off the back.
“That was incredible John,” Hank added.
“Someday you’ll have to explain how you do that,” Kel said with a laugh.
John shrugged. “I wish I could…It’s just something I’ve always been able to do…Maybe they just don’t see me as a threat,” he said with a smile as he hung up the rope.
“Well he certainly sees us as one,” Chet murmured as the horse paced the fence line a few feet away…His dark eyes watching them in annoyance.
“Come on guy’s” John said with a laugh as he led them away. “I’ll work with him about letting other people near him in a few days as well.”
“I’m not volunteering for that duty,” Roy said adamantly. John chuckled.
“Why don’t you use Kelly here…He can use the practice around the horses,” Cap volunteered the Irishman with a straight face.
Chet’s mouth dropped open in shocked horror… “C…Cap…?” He stammered as the others began to laugh. He scowled as he realized Hank was only joking. “Thanks a lot…,” he mumbled.
“Anytime Pal,” the older man replied.
They returned home to find it pretty much like the night before. The other ladies had retired for the night leaving the three couples alone along with Chris and Jen.
The kids greeted them as they came inside. “You wanna see my dress Uncle Johnny?” Jen asked excitedly. “Miss Little Fox finished it today,” she announced.
“Sure princess,” he replied with a grin as she ran to get the garment. She held it up and both men gasped in awe that the gnarled old fingers could still produce something so incredibly beautiful.
“That’s stunning,” Roy said sincerely as he fingered the soft buckskin and the delicate beadwork.
Jo cast a worried glance at Johnny but she smiled as the two men exclaimed over the little girls dress. She was making Johnny’s outfit and she didn’t have the experience with this type of garment or the beadwork involved and she was terrified that John would be disappointed but she was determined…She was the ‘mother’ of the groom after all…Well…so to speak.
“This is wonderful princess…You’re gonna steal the whole wedding in this.”
Jen looked a bit worried at that… Oh but Aunt Dani’s is even prettier…Wanna see it?”
“NO…,” Dani said quickly as she tossed a grin at Johnny. “It’s considered to be bad luck for the groom to see the dress before the wedding sweetie,” she explained.
“I thought I just couldn’t see it on you?” The young dark haired man teased.
“I’m not taking any chances,” she said quietly. “Besides, you’ve already seen the one I’ll be wearing in California…I want this one to be a surprise.”
“Okay,” he said in resignation. “So what else did you guys do today?” John asked the kids as Roy settled down next to his wife.
“Three Rivers took us riding,” she said proudly.
“JEN,” Chris yelled as John’s eyes widened in surprise. “That was supposed to be a surprise for Saturday morning,” he whined.
“Oops,” she mumbled contritely.
John laughed and tickled the girl into giggles. “That’s okay guys…I’ll still be impressed at how much you’ve learned. So…What else did you do?”
“Mr. Four Feathers took us to find some wood and stones.”
“What for…?” Roy asked in confusion. Joanne and John both grinned.
“For the fire daddy,” Jen explained.
“And to give to Aunt Dani…,”Chris added.
Roy looked at Johnny… “You know what they’re talking about?” He asked in confusion…Why would John want to give Dani a stone?
His young partner smiled back. “Yeah…I’ll explain it later,” he assured him as Jen continued.
“And tomorrow Miss Little Fox is gonna take us to gather plants from the hot house and Miss Mase is gonna let us help with baskets and…”
“My goodness…You’re gonna be busy huh?” She nodded her head enthusiastically, her blonde curls bobbing. Johnny hugged her…The blue eyes and engaging smile twisting his heart as they’d been able to do since the day she was born and he wondered if his own daughter would be able to do the same? He looked to Dani and saw a gentle smile as she seemed to sense the direction of his thoughts. He sat down beside her and let her snuggle against him. Morning once again found them asleep in each other’s arms.
They quickly fell into a routine over the next few days. The crew would leave early in the morning for Lame Deer and return each night to the reservation for dinner. The women would gather after dinner to sew while the men trooped out to the stables to watch Johnny work with Rains Fire, returning to sleep and finding the young couple curled on the couch together each morning. All of them amused at John and Danella’s determination to sleep together even if they had no privacy.
Brackett was anxiously waiting for the weekend as well. He planned to take Dixie riding again and enjoy a little alone time with the pretty nurse who assured him that everything for the wedding should be finished by then and the group could finally have some fun. He had a stop to make in town before the dance that night as well.
Marco was pleased to hear that news, since his courtship with Janessa had been put on hold until the preparations were done.
Chet was often found sneaking off to the diner at lunch time to spend a half hour with Erin each day, bringing a grin to his friends and a lot of ribbing for the Irishman. Roy wondered as he watched the three other relationships unfold if John’s would be the only wedding to stem from this trip
Emily, Dixie, Joanne and Melissa were incredibly impressed with the skill the women of the reservation showed with a needle and thread. The clothes were stunning…The beadwork was sheer artistry. Jo was still worrying over the garment she was working on for Johnny even though they had all assured Joanne that she was doing great, though she’d had a little help from both of the young man’s Aunts with the beading.
Even Lacee had stepped off her pedestal to help and had found herself pulled into the revelry and celebratory mood of the others.
They were all looking forward to the weekend and some much needed rest before the celebration of John and Danella’s wedding began. Monday night would be a huge affair for the people of the reservation. The men would erect a temporary teepee for the two newlyweds…
After that came the dancing and the eating and drinking…A combination of bachelor and engagement party for the couple followed by the smudging ceremony, though most of them had no idea what that meant exactly.
They would all rise early to bathe and get dressed for the Ceremony that Blue Eagle would be officiating and while the service would normally be conducted in the people’s language…The Chief had decided that he would for the most part be doing it in English for the sake of John’s friends. He would also be explaining each custom for their benefit as well.
It was an exciting time for all of them as Christmas would fall the next day and while Johnny and Dani would normally go into seclusion for a week after their wedding before moving into her father’s home…They would break that tradition as well to join the others for Christmas but first was the dance on Saturday night. The entire group of firemen along with the team from Los Angeles were looking forward to it…It would be the first time the people from town and the reservation celebrated together.
Gray Elk and Two Moons weren’t seen again and all of them pushed the unpleasant encounter from their minds as the weekend approached.
John and Roy walked to the ranch on Friday evening. The older man was nervous as he knew John intended to try and saddle Rains Fire for the first time. He noticed the others were already waiting…watching the animal stalk along the fence. His head lifted and his nostrils flared as he tossed his head in recognition of his new friend.
He moved toward John and for the first time seemed to disregard Roy’s presence next to the younger man. “See Roy…I knew he’d get used to you.”
“Yeah…Well he can get used to me on this side of the fence junior okay?” John chuckled as he headed for the barn and Roy joined the others. The young, dark haired paramedic reappeared a moment later with a heavy western type saddle and a bridle slung over his arm. “Uh Johnny…Maybe it would be better if you didn’t annoy him this close to your wedding huh?” His older friend suggested.
“Relax Roy…He’ll be fine.”
“It’s not HIM I’m worried about.”
John threw his friend an amused glance as he slid under the rail with the bridle in hand. He held out a piece of carrot. “Come to me,” he called softly. The horse moved toward him. John looped the reins over the animal’s neck and carefully slid the headgear over his head, gently coercing the bit between his teeth.
The horse tossed his head in annoyance at the metal between his teeth and reared suddenly when he couldn’t dislodge it. His hoof clipped John’s leg drawing a cry of pain from the young man. Roy was over the fence and halfway across the area before the others even realized he’d moved.
Rains Fire stomped an angry hoof at his approach and John turned to see what had annoyed the animal. His mouth dropped open in surprise as Roy came alongside of him. “Are you okay?” He questioned, seeing the blossoming of red through the material of John’s pants.
“I’ll be okay,” he reassured his worried friend. “But have you lost your mind?” He asked staying between Roy and the horse.
“Well you said you wanted to teach him to let other people close to him…Now’s as good a time as any I guess,” he muttered, eyeing the growing stain on John’s pant leg.
The young man glanced down and grimaced. “It’s kinda starting to hurt some,” he admitted. “Let me get the saddle on him and see how he does and then I’ll let you take a look at it,’ he promised, knowing Roy wouldn’t relax until he’d checked him out.
“Why don’t you let me take a look at it now,” the older man suggested taking John’s arm. Rains Fire snorted angrily drawing the attention of both men.
“Let me go Roy,” Johnny said softly as he reached out to pat the animal’s nose reassuringly. He settled down under John’s touch as Roy dropped his hand. “I think he thought you were hurting me or something,” he said quietly. “Why don’t you wait outside the fence?”
“Not without you,” he insisted, knowing that John was determined to try and saddle the animal. If the horse took exception to it, John would never outrun him with an injured leg.
John sighed in resignation. “Man... and you tell me I’m stubborn,” he muttered. John picked up the saddle. “Okay you can stay but keep me between you and the horse alright?”
“Alright but hurry…I wanna take a look at that leg.”
“It’s just a cut,” he insisted as he slung the saddle over the horse. The animal danced and reared once more. The saddle slid off. John heaved a sigh and picked it up. He spoke softly, soothing the animal until he settled once more. He threw the saddle over the animals back again. Rains Fire’s back end rose and John gasped in pain as his leg took his weight as he backed away. The saddle landed in a heap.
“Give it up for the night okay Junior?” Roy pressed, starting to get angry at his friends stubbornness.
“Once more Roy…I wanna ride tomorrow and I’ll waste a lot of time just trying to saddle him…”
“So waste the time,” Roy growled worriedly.
John grinned and threw the saddle up once more…This time the animal stayed still long enough for him to tighten the straps before he erupted into an enraged frenzy. Roy jerked Johnny clear, half carrying and half dragging him to the fence while the horse lashed out angrily, trying to dislodge the thing attached to his back.
Roy sat his partner down and carefully rolled the pant leg up…There was a lot of bleeding and a fairly deep gash surrounded by already bruising flesh. Roy winced… “That may need a couple of stitches junior,” he advised as Brackett squatted down to take a look through the fence rails. The others gathered around as well while Rains Fire continued his angry bucking in the center of the pasture.
“And a Tetanus shot,” the older man warned. John grimaced as Roy probed the wound. “Let’s get him back to the house and I’ll get my…Uh Roy…Don’t move.” There was a collective gasp from the others as they froze in fear.
John’s eyes widened as he looked up into the dark eyes of the profusely sweating horse who stood quivering behind Roy as he worked on John’s leg. The animal’s nose nudged the blonde paramedic and Roy’s face paled slightly waiting to feel the animal’s teeth or hooves pound his back.
“What’s he doing?” Roy whispered nervously, afraid to move and frighten the horse.
“Just checkin you out,” Johnny whispered.
“I think he thinks you’re hurting John,” Cap mumbled.
“Oh that’s just great…Now you’ve got an over protective horse too,” Roy muttered.
John giggled. “Then you two should get along great,” he said with a grin, earning a glare from his older partner.
John reached out his hand… “Come to me,” he whispered. “The horse cast one more wary look toward Roy before stepping over to John, the nostrils flaring at the smell of blood…He danced nervously. John patted the soft nose. “Help me up,” he said reaching for Roy’s arm. The older man stood up slowly and pulled his young partner to his feet.
“Let me get the saddle off him and then we can go,” he said as he pulled the straps free and dropped the cinch. He pulled the saddle off and handed it to Roy while he unhooked the straps from the bridle and slipped it free. The horse followed close behind as Roy slung John’s arm over his shoulder and helped him limp toward the gate…The blue eyes casting wary glances behind him.
Blue Eagle shook his head at the animal’s loyalty to the young man…He’d never seen anything like it before and he wished there was some way for John to teach the other young men of the tribe how to accomplish it but it wasn't something learned so much as bred into him.
Roy breathed a sigh of relief as they passed through the gate and closed it behind them. The horse snorted in annoyance before he turned and pranced away.
Cap moved alongside his junior paramedic and took John’s other arm around his neck. “I can walk Cap…Roy. It’s not broken…Just a little sore.”
“Shut up and take the help,” Cap commanded the younger man, sounding irritated.
Johnny sighed in defeat. “Yes sir.”
“You get him inside and get those jeans off of him…I’ll meet you there after I get my bag,” Kel told them. The others left them at the door.
“We’ll see you tomorrow Johnny,” Mike promised him as they headed home.
“Let us know if he needs anything,” Marco called to Roy as the blonde paramedic assisted John into the trading post.
Danella’s eyes widened at the limping gate and the bloodied denim as Roy brought him inside. “I need the couch ladies,” Roy said as the women stood up looking concerned.
“What happened Roy?” Joanne asked worriedly as he set John down.
“Horse clipped him with a hoof,” Joseph explained while Roy took charge.
“Sena can you get me a couple of towels. Dani…I need a pan of hot water and some soap. Jo…Can you get me a blanket while we get these pants off of him,” Roy said, effectively emptying the room of the ladies while he and Joseph helped John strip off the jeans.
Jo winced at the wound as she returned to drop the blanket over Johnny’s lower half, drawing an embarrassed blush from the younger man at her seeing him in nothing but his boxers but he was pretty well past that for the most part as Joanne DeSoto had been helping Roy care for the young man for over seven years now and had seen him in every stage of undress on several occasions. She kissed his cheek and leaned over to examine the wound more closely. “How is it?” She asked.
“A couple of stitches should take care of it,” Roy said as Sena and Dani returned. Kel came in a moment later with Dixie in tow. The blonde nurse smiled and began to set up a couple of sutures while Brackett dug in his bag for the Novocain.
Roy took the towel and the pan of water from the two women and began to clean the cut. John bit his lip…The bruise hurt worse than the gash at this point but he knew it had to be cleaned and he said nothing. Danella stood watching while Brackett and Dixie set to work. Jo swept the shaggy, sable hair from John’s brow absently as she’d done for years now to soothe the young man, drawing a grin from Johnny as well as his future in laws. The gesture was so automatic that they suspected she didn’t even realize she was doing it anymore than Roy when he did it.
Once Kel was done, he allowed Danella to bandage the wound. He loaded a syringe drawing a grimace from John as he jabbed it into his arm. “Okay Johnny…That should take care of it,” he assured the younger man.
“Roy…Change that bandage every day and watch for any sign of infection,” he instructed as the two made their way to the door.
The older man nodded and grinned as Dani curled up close to her future husband. “I’ll keep a close eye on him,” she assured the man as she cuddled next to John. He grinned and pulled her closer. “Are you through with that horse?” she asked with an arched eyebrow.
John shook his head… “Got a little more work to do.”
Danella’s mouth set in annoyance but she knew better than to argue. The others cleaned up the mess they’d made as Joanne helped John get comfortable for the night. He pulled Danella down against him, drawing a chuckle from the others at the gesture. He wasn’t even trying to pretend that she was sleeping in her own bed.
“Goodnight you two,” they said as they shut off the lights and made their way to their rooms for the night.
John cuddled the girl against him burying his face in her raven hair and looking forward to the moment when he could have her to himself and make love to his wife…Danella was too. She turned in his arms, looping her own around his neck and kissed him softly while John’s warm hands caressed her body. “Soon Mé’oo’o,” She promised him as his mouth closed over hers, parting her lips with his own. Danella’s soft moan whispered through the darkness a few moments later.
The next morning Danella woke Johnny with a gentle kiss. The dark eyes opened to look into smiling amber and his own mouth curled into a sleepy grin. “Morning,” he murmured against her lips.
“Morning Ná’méhόt,” she replied.
John raised himself up on one elbow to gaze down into her face, her sleep tousled hair making her more beautiful than ever. “Are you feeling sick?” He asked as she was usually running for the bathroom by now.
She shook her head with a sigh of relief. “No and let’s hope it is gone for good,” she said sincerely, knowing her morning sickness had lasted longer than most women’s but her mother told her that it ran in the family..John grinned down at her and rubbed her belly gently as his mouth claimed hers.
He sighed in disappointment as the sounds of the rest of the household moving about put a stop to any further early morning activities. He sat up, throwing a rueful grin at his bride to be. “I guess we need to get up Mé’oo’o.” She nodded with a giggle.
Roy stepped from his room and glanced in their direction. “Good…You’re awake. Let me take a look at that before everyone else gets out here and then you can get dressed in peace.”
“Thanks,” Johnny replied gratefully as Roy un-wrapped the bandage. He checked the wound carefully before re wrapping it and even though it was bruised and a bit swollen, Johnny didn’t seem to having a lot of pain or trouble walking on it.
“Okay junior…You’re good to go. We got a lot of things to do today…”
“What are you doing?” Danella asked, hoping he planned to include her.
“We’re going to the ranch.” Danella frowned and glanced at his leg but John stopped her protest. “The kids want to show me what they learned from Three Rivers and his son. Doc and Dixie want to take a ride…I thought I might tell them where to find that old hunters cabin along the river,” John teased. “In case they get cold while they’re out,” he clarified drawing a knowing grin from Dani and Roy both.
“And we’re all going into Lame Deer early for lunch and to do some Christmas shopping before the dance tonight,” Roy added.
“Dr. Early has plans to go with Blue Eagle and check out some of the herbs and plants that we use in our healing balms. He’s real interested in what’s in em…It’ll be a busy day for all of us.”
“So you aren’t going to ride that horse again?” She asked hopefully.
John sighed. “Yes…Yes I am…I promised Blue Eagle that I’d try and get him gentle before I left…I don’t plan to spend too much time with him after the wedding,” Johnny assured her with a waggle of his eyebrow.
She giggled in delight at that piece of information. “You will be careful won’t you?” She asked seriously a moment later.
“I’ll do my best…If I can just convince the horse to be careful we’ll both be all set.” They all laughed as Joanne came out to join them. The children charged down the stairs full of excitement. All the wedding preparations had been made so their mother and Danella were both free. Daddy and Uncle Johnny were off for the next five days. The children planned to have some fun. John wrapped the blanket around his waist and took Danella by the hand as they headed for the stairs after greeting the kids. “I guess we better get dressed too.”
An hour later they were all headed for the stables.
Two Moons and Gray Elk sat at the bar in Lame Deer. Jimmy sipped his beer while the other man threw down his shot of whiskey. “We will need some help for what I have planned for John Gage,” he said quietly.
Jimmy looked at him forlornly. “That won’t be easy Gray Elk…He is the talk of the whole town right now. He’s made friends with everyone…He has our people and the townspeople coming together for this dance tonight.”
“We can’t be the only ones he’s crossed trails with,” Gray Elk snarled angrily.
“Well…I have heard of one other.”
“A fireman at the station…His brother went to school with Gage…Taunted him and got into several fights that John got into trouble for.”
“They are white then?” Gray Elk said musefully. Jimmy nodded. Gray Elk seldom associated with the whites but if he could find a way to kill John Gage and blame it on the white man…? It was worth thinking about.
John picked himself up off the frozen ground for the fifth time and rubbed his sore behind. Chet was grinning at the younger man as he once again approached Rains Fire. Roy, Joanne and Danella were watching worriedly and Jenny had been reduced to tears the first time he’d been thrown. Chris had taken her off to look at a couple of foals in another barn.
“Johnny…Maybe this isn’t such a good idea, especially with that leg already injured,” Roy suggested.
“He’s just letting me know how annoyed he is for putting that saddle on him…He’ll settle down soon,” Johnny assured him. It was a battle of wills now and John intended to win by sheer stubbornness rather than brute force.
Blue Eagle was touched by Roy’s concern for his young friend as he sat on the fence watching but he truly wanted John to succeed, especially as he now had an audience of a dozen young men from the reservation. They were already impressed by his ability to even get near what they considered to be a vicious animal but Blue Eagle was hoping to impress them even more by watching him ride.
John pulled himself painfully back into the saddle, speaking softly to the big chestnut. “I know you can toss me proud one and so do they,” he murmured… “You have nothing to prove,” he soothed the animal as he threw his leg over his back.
The horses head turned and his nostrils flared as he sniffed at John’s leg. He gave two small bucks and a small twisting crow hop but John held on…He finally seemed to give up the fight and stood still. John breathed a sigh of relief.
Mouths dropped in shock all around the fence…All except Roy, Jo, Dani and Blue Eagle who were already well aware of the young man’s stubborn determination. John gave a light squeeze and the horse began to walk…He moved through a series of turns and gaits at John’s urging shocking them even more. It was obvious this wasn’t the first time he’d worked with the horse.
“Do you want to take him out John?” Blue Eagle asked as he approached the fence.
“If everyone else wants to ride…Sure,” he said with a shrug, eager to let the animal have a bit of freedom. “Besides…If he dumps me I’ll have plenty of people to get me to the hospital.” They all laughed. Three Rivers and several of the others saddled the horses and they mounted up. Jenny, Chris and Mike Jr. proudly sat their own horses this time and held the reins.
John and Roy both beamed at the children. “Wow…I’m really impressed guys,” Johnny told them as they rode around the pasture alone. “I’m just sorry I didn’t get a chance to teach you myself.”
“Will they be safe out there?” Roy questioned the man.
Three Rivers nodded. “The horses are well trained for children…They will bring them home safely,” he assured them.
John waved Brackett closer. “If you take off in that direction about five miles up the river, you’ll spot a cabin. It’s kept pretty well stocked for hunting and fishing parties,” Johnny informed the older man with a grin.
Kel smiled back… “About five miles huh…?” Johnny nodded with a laugh and turned his horse away as the others set off.
Kel turned his horse toward the river and Dixie glanced at him curiously. “Aren’t we going with them?”
Kel smiled seductively. “Johnny mentioned a small cabin a ways up the trail…I thought you and I might check it out.”
Dixie grinned. “Lead on Kel,” she agreed, knowing full well where this would lead. Kel knew too. They headed off. Johnny turned in his saddle as they rode away and a secretive smile curled his lips.
Kel and Dixie rode for about forty five minutes making small talk before the cabin came into sight. Kel climbed off his horse and came around to help Dixie down. She slid off the horse and looped her arms around the handsome doctor’s neck lifting her face in invitation.
Kel grinned down into sultry blue eyes and leaned down to kiss the pretty blonde he’d been in love with for seven years. Dixie returned it before pulling back. She took his hand and started up the steps to the cabin.
He pushed the door open and was a bit surprised to find it clean and stacked with fire wood. A bottle of wine stood on the table along with two glasses and a box of matches. When had Johnny had time to do this? He needed to be sure to thank the young man later.
Kel got the fire started while Dixie uncorked the bottle of wine and poured two glasses. He turned and took one from her as they waited for the fire to build and warm the room. The small bed in the corner caught his eye and he grinned at the freshly made up mattress.
He set the glass aside and curled his hand around Dixie’s slender waist to pull her into his arms. “It’s been a long time,” he said softly.
“Seven years since we made love Kel…Do you think the magic’s still there?” She teased.
“Well the fire still is,” he whispered as his mouth claimed hers.
The others returned to the stables an hour later…They still had other things to do today. Roy and Johnny both wanted to spend time with Joanne and Danella and the children. They looked around curiously, noting that Brackett and Dixie’s horses were still missing.
John grinned and climbed down off of Rains Fire. He’d paid the boy Billy to go out there early and hoped he’d managed to get the cabin ready before they arrived. He pulled the saddle off Rains Fire and rubbed the blanket over the horses sweating back. He’d come back later with treats and brush the horse down since none of the children that worked the barns could get near him. He pulled the bridle clear and gave the animal a slap on the backside. He turned and bolted, kicking his feet up joyfully at being free once more.
Several hours later Kelly Brackett and Dixie strolled back into the village. They both looked decidedly pleased with themselves. John watched them from the window with a grin. Danella came up behind him and slid her arm around his waist. He wrapped her in his arms. “Are you almost ready?” He asked her softly.
She nodded and stepped back…She looked beautiful. The black satin dress clung to her curves barely showing the small rounding of her belly. “How do I look?” She questioned.
“God you’re gorgeous,” he mumbled as his eyes swept over her. He dropped a gentle kiss on her lips.
Her hands trailed up his arms and around his neck. “Three more days,” she whispered as her eyes locked with his. John smiled in anticipation.
The moment was broken as Roy and Joanne joined them. “Are we ready?” Jo asked.
“I think so…Joseph and Sena went to meet with Janessa’s parents. They’re going too and they’re letting Marco take Janessa.”
“She’s so happy with him,” Dani said softly. “She told me once when I first met you that she wanted to meet a man who made her feel the way you made me feel.” John blushed as Roy chuckled and Joanne grinned knowingly. “She said she understood now.”
John frowned, hoping that his friend wasn’t just leading the girl on in a casual relationship. He’d have to talk to his friend and warn him off. This wasn’t California and they wouldn’t take kindly to a man toying with their daughters affections.
The object of his musings strolled into town hand in hand. Janessa looked stunning in a green dress that Danella had loaned to her. Chet trailed along behind looking uncomfortably out of place and was looking forward to meeting up with Erin so he wouldn’t feel like a fifth wheel.
The group grew as Mike and Melissa came out followed by Cap and Emily. “I guess we’d better get moving,” Roy suggested as Kel and Dixie followed Blue Eagle and Joe Early from his house.
“I hope Little Fox will be okay with the kids tonight,” Jo said worriedly.
“Are you kidding?” Johnny said. “She’s the best story teller the village has…The kids will love to listen to her.”
Joanne nodded as she shrugged into the jacket Roy was holding out for her. “Let’s go.”
The group headed into town. Many others would be joining them later at the dance but the crew all wanted a chance to shop and have dinner before the party began later.
They all spilt up when they arrived in town. They wandered through small shops checking out the offerings…Several of them shaking their heads in wonder at what a difference there was between Los Angeles and this small town John had grown up in. Nevertheless they were all managing to find gifts to celebrate the holidays with.
Kel wandered into the town’s small jewelry shop. He noticed Johnny, Marco and Roy were also browsing the selections as he headed over to talk to the owner. John glanced at Marco as he examined several items in the glass case.
“Shopping for Janessa?” He asked casually.
Marco grinned. “Yes…I want something really nice...”
“Uh Marc…Uh…I know it’s none of my business but…Um Janessa is Danella’s best friend and…Well…The people of the reservation don’t uh…um,” the young man stammered, trying to be very delicate without offending his friend.
“Take kindly to taking advantage of daughters affections?” He questioned with a smirk.
“Um…Yeah,” Johnny said in relief that Marco wasn’t offended.
“Don’t worry Johnny…I haven’t taken advantage of the woman,” he assured him. “But I am getting very serious about her and she is with me too.”
John smiled. “That would be great but…How does her father feel about that?” He questioned.
“Well…He pretty much told me the same thing you just did…Without the hesitation,” Marco laughed. “But I told him I wouldn’t treat her with disrespect and he’s okay with it. He’s even going to let her come to LA for your wedding there.”
“That’s five months away…You gonna wait that long?”
Marco smiled… “I’ll wait that long,” he assured his young friend.
John patted his back. “Good luck man…I hope it works out for you.”
Roy smiled at his partner as Marco moved off. “Feel better now?”
“Yeah…I’d hate to bring Lopez home to his mother without his scalp,” Johnny said with a giggle. “So what are you buying for Joanne?” Roy showed him a band with five small stones. John frowned. “None of them match,” he pointed out in confusion.
“It’s a family or mother’s ring. I asked em to do it last Monday when we first got here.”
“A family ring?”
“There’s a stone for each different birthday in the family…See mine’s Citrine, Jo’s is Sapphire for September…Chris is an emerald and Jen is Ruby.”
John frowned and pointed at the last stone. “Well…What’s that one?” He asked curiously.
“That’s Sardonyx for August.”
John looked at him in confusion for a moment before it sank in. He smiled and felt a burn behind his eyes. He glanced away so his partner wouldn’t see the tears until he blinked them away. “Thanks Roy,” he said softly. The older man smiled at the reaction and gave his best friend a soft pat on the shoulder.
“You’ve been a part of this family for seven years junior…I just thought I’d make it obvious to everyone that we felt that way.”
“You always have,” he murmured softly.
“So what did you get for Danella Junior?”
John smiled. “My mom had several pieces of jewelry that my dad gave her. She loved Turquoise so he had a whole set made. I gave one of the bracelets to Joanne our first Christmas together.”
“I remember that,” Roy said quietly. “She wears it a lot.”
John grinned… “I’m gonna give Danella the rest of the set. It goes with the wedding rings anyway.”
“She’ll love it John.”
“I hope so…They’re kinda special to me.”
“So is she.”
He nodded. Neither of them noticed Brackett as he left…His gift for Dixie tucked in his pocket.
Several hours later they all met to have dinner. They talked excitedly about the wedding and Christmas over dessert and coffee before they stored they’re purchases and headed for the Civic Center where the dance would be held.
“I have to go pick up Erin,” Chet said looking at his watch. “She had to work at the diner but she said she’d be off by six.”
“We’ll walk over with ya Chet,” Johnny offered. “Dani’s got to talk to her about the wedding anyway.”
The Irishman shrugged as John waved to the others. “We’ll meet ya over there,” he said pointing to the building. They all nodded and headed off as the three went to meet Erin. They didn’t notice the three men standing in the shadows as they passed.
“You think we can handle the friend along with him?” One asked the other two.
“Let’s just wait…See what happens when they come back…Maybe we can catch them alone.” The other two nodded.
Danella gave Erin a hug as they finished their conversation and headed for the door. “I’ll see you over there,” the raven haired girl said as she and John stepped out into the street.
“I just have to lock up…We’re closing early because of the party and I promised I’d take care of it if Tony let me go.”
Danella nodded and took John’s arm as they strolled toward the town square. They could hear the music from the band as they drew closer and Danella was looking forward to her very first Christmas dance…Especially since she was going with Johnny.
They walked slowly, pointing out some of the prettier decorations along the way and just enjoying their time alone together. They were just approaching the building when three men stepped from the shadows.
Johnny stopped abruptly as he recognized two of them. “Hello Matt,” he greeted trying to sound friendly and unconcerned but his heart was thumping wildly. The last thing he wanted tonight was a fight, especially where Danella could be involved. He didn’t want her to get hurt. The dark eyes turned to the other man standing next to him and even though it had been many years, the carrot red hair gave his identity away. “Hello Jimmy,” he said to Matt’s younger brother.
The third man was still in shadow…The lower half of his face covered by a woolen scarf but from what John could see he thought he might be Indian.
“Where do ya think you’re going breed?” Matt asked without any pretense of trying to be friendly.
“I’m taking my fiancée to the Christmas dance…So if you’ll excuse me,” Johnny said quietly, trying to edge past them.
Jimmy’s hand shot out to shove him back. “Doncha mean your squaw Tonto,” he taunted.
John’s mouth tightened angrily as he pulled a frightened looking Danella behind him. Jimmy was furious that the beautiful girl had never even given him the time of day but she was willing to marry the crazy, half breed kid he remembered from elementary school.
“Go inside,” John said quietly to Danella.
“No…I can’t leave…,” she began to protest.
“It’s not just you anymore and I don’t want you hurt, now go…” he muttered.
She started around Matt but his hand shot out to grab her arm tightly. “The dance is only for the town people…Indian’s ain’t allowed.”
It was the final straw for Johnny…He may tolerate whatever abuse they handed out to him but Danella was a whole different ballgame. John grabbed the man’s arm, jerking it free from Dani’s wrist. “Dani GO,” he commanded as his fist sent the older Wheeler sprawling in the snow. “Keep your hands off of her,” he growled looking down at the older man.
Johnny felt himself grabbed from behind and didn’t waste time…He turned and swung laying the younger brother out beside Matt. The third man started toward Danella but John moved toward him, forcing him to turn and face him, giving Danella time to slip inside.
John moved toward the unknown third attacker but by then Matt and Jimmy had regained their feet and charged back into the fight and Johnny found himself facing all three men alone. He managed to get in another solid blow to Matt before the other two jumped on him. The mystery man grabbed him from behind, his arm snaking around his throat and keeping him from turning around as he pressed his arm up behind him while Jimmy tried to grab hold of the other but John’s foot lashed out to kick him in the stomach, shoving him backward.
The red head went down as Matt moved toward him in a rage. The one behind him tightened his hold and John thought his arm was being broken as his breath was cut off. Matt’s face was flushed with anger at having been knocked down twice by the skinny little Indian without his even getting a shot in.
“I’ll teach you to put your dirty hands on us,” he snarled as he landed a solid blow to John’s stomach, driving what little air he had left from his lungs. John gagged and tried to draw air. “That’s for all the times you beat up my brother in school,” he sneered.
Johnny stared back defiantly. “I don’t s…sup…pose he told you th…that he started th…those fights,” Johnny gasped as he struggled to breath.
“Liar,” Jimmy whined.
“It don’t matter who started em…You had no right to touch him boy,” he barked as his fist connected with John’s cheek. The younger man’s head reeled to the right and pain exploded in his brain. He shook it off as he continued to try and break the hold of the arm snaked around his neck. A second blow drove his teeth into his lip and John could taste blood.
The door behind them suddenly flew open and the elder Wheeler suddenly found himself sprawled in the dirt with an irate Roy DeSoto standing over him. “You’re pretty tough when it’s three against one…How tough are you one on one Wheeler?” Roy barked angrily as the third man in the fray suddenly noted the group of angry men at the blond paramedics back. He let Johnny go and fled. John turned and his blow set Jimmy Wheeler prostrate next to his brother.
Matt pulled himself to his feet and looked at his brother before turning to back to John. “Not too long ago you’d a found yourself stripped naked and dragged through the streets of this town for putting your hands on us breed,” he sneered.
John wiped the blood from his chin with his hand. “Not too long ago you’d of found your throat cut and your scalp lifted for touching my woman Ve’ho’e,” Johnny shot back as Danella joined him and took his arm, gazing up at him worriedly.
Matt’s eyes burned with rage but he saw the men gathered behind that damn half breed…Not only Gage’s crew but his own as well and a dozen Indian’s from the reservation. They were hopelessly outnumbered here. He pointed at Gage. “We’re not done,” he snarled.
“No…But you are,” Captain Walker said as he stepped up beside the two paramedics…Hank Stanley joined him. “You’re done at 28’s Wheeler…Don’t come back. I don’t need this kind of attitude at my station.”
Captain Spencer nodded as well… “Can’t use you at 7’s either…Maybe Ashford’s desperate enough to take you.”
Wheeler yanked his brother to his feet and his angry gray eyes watched while Roy gently turned John’s chin toward the light to examine the extent of the damage to his friend. “You okay junior?” He asked softly.
John grinned but it turned to a grimace as his bruised cheek throbbed. “I’ll be fine Pally,” he murmured back. Dark eyes meeting blue and holding for a long moment…Roy smiled and for the first time Walker understood what Hank had meant. The words weren’t vocalized but the conversation he’d just witnessed had been very clear.
“How can you be friends with a half breed mongrel,” Matt sneered at Roy, having witnessed the look as well.
The blonde paramedic glared at the man. “Because I don’t see half of anything in John…Red or white…I see all of who he is…My partner…My best friend…My brother…The man I want at my side when I step out of that squad. That’s all that matters.”
The others nodded as Roy took his young partners arm and walked away. “Let’s get you inside junior, so Doc and I can take a look at that.”
“Its fine Roy,” he said in exasperation.
“It’s not fine,” he growled leading Johnny inside. The rest of the group followed.
“Are you okay sweetheart?” Jo asked tipping his chin up for a better look while Dixie went to get some ice.
He nodded as Kel and Roy sat him down. Brackett’s hand pressed John’s stomach carefully, drawing a wince but not feeling anything serious enough to alarm him. Roy dabbed the blood away with a napkin and turned the lip down to examine the cut his teeth had made. “I’m okay…He just knocked the wind out me is all,” he assured his friends, embarrassed by all the attention he was receiving. He glanced around. “You can all go back to the party,” he insisted as Dixie returned to lay the ice pack against his cheek. “Does it look really bad?” He asked, worried about the wedding that was only two days away.
Dix brushed the shaggy sable hair from his forehead with a grin. “It’ll be fine hotshot,” she teased the younger man. John blushed knowing the eyes of the entire town were watching them in amazement. This young man was obviously well loved by these people despite his half Indian heritage and if these men and women could get past the differences and learn to get along this well then so could they with a little effort to get to know their neighbors.
“Maybe we should just go home,” Marco suggested, a little afraid for Janessa’s safety if other people in this town were as hostile as the Wheelers.
“I’m not running away,” Johnny said quietly. “I won’t let them win. This wasn’t about my people being here tonight…It was about me okay…It was personal and I’m not gonna let them spoil our night or breakup the first get together this town has had where everybody was welcome.”
“Okay Johnny,” Marco agreed.
“Captain Walker,” Johnny said turning to the older man. “Guys…,” he addressed the crew. “Thanks for helping me out back there.”
“Not a problem Gage. One on one,” they shrugged. “Three on one was a little unfair.”
“We couldn’t stand by and watch one of our own take a beating could we?” Walker said, slapping John on the back.
They started to walk away but John called them back. “Um guys…I’m getting married Tuesday morning.” The group nodded…They’d already heard that…Some with envy at the beautiful girl hovering at Johnny’s elbow. “Anyway…If you’d like to come…? You’d be welcome,” he added.
They grinned their appreciation for the invitation. “Thanks Johnny,” they said sincerely as they moved away.
Roy scruffed the dark hair of his best friend. “See…I told you if these people woulda just given you a chance a few years ago, they’d of seen what I did.”
John flushed a bit but smiled in genuine pleasure at the compliment. “Thanks partner,” he said quietly as he set the ice pack aside and stood up. He took Danella’s hand. “Now I’m gonna go dance with my fiancée,” he teased, leading the girl out on the dance floor.
“Mrs. DeSoto?” Roy said with a smile as he offered his arm to his wife.
She took it. It wasn’t long before the rest began to join them.
Narrowed black eyes watched the couples through the window. The lips curled evilly. The stage was set for his vengeance. He looked at Jimmy Two moons. “You’re sure he didn’t see your face?”
The smaller man nodded. “I kept it hidden.”
“Good…Then when Gage dies, they’ll be looking for your two friends and not us.”
“What are you going to do?” Jimmy asked a bit worriedly. He wasn’t up for murder.
Gray Elk smiled. “Our friends already told you,” he replied.
After several dances, John stepped off the floor with Joanne. His dark eyes scanned the crowd and spotted Danella in Roy’s arms a short distance away before they moved on to Marco and Janessa. The Mexican man held the beautiful girl close against him as the music played a slow waltz tune.
His eyes moved to Chet as he leaned down to kiss the pretty red head he held in his arms…Erin didn’t seem to mind. Dixie and Kel seemed lost in their own little world and John put the earlier events from his mind as he led Joanne over to the refreshment table to get a drink...Glad that all of his friends seemed to be having a good time.
He saw Roy lead Danella in their direction and smiled. She looked so beautiful tonight. His musings were abruptly interrupted by a hand on his shoulder. John spun around to see Sean Carlton standing with an attractive, older blonde woman, perhaps in her mid forties. There was something vaguely familiar about her but John couldn’t place her.
She smiled into his dark eyes as Roy and Danella joined them and Sean made the introductions. “John…I’d like you to meet Kimberly Denney. She thinks she knows you,” he said with a grin.
John frowned and shook his head. “I’m sorry…I…I don’t remember…,” he said with a shrug.
“I was Kimberly Ford back then,” she informed him. “I taught first grade.” She reached out to tilt his chin and study the bruise on his cheek. “It doesn’t appear that you get along with Jimmy Wheeler any better than you did then either,” she teased, jogging his memory.
John lit up. “You were my teacher!” He exclaimed with a smile. “Roy…Jo…Dani?” This was my first grade teacher Miss Ford,” he said excitedly.
“I gathered that junior,” the blonde paramedic said wryly as he extended his hand to the woman while Johnny continued with the introductions.
“Um…Mrs. Denney,” he corrected. “These are my best friends Roy DeSoto and his wife Joanne and my fiancée…Danella Four Feathers”
“I heard that you became a fire fighter,” she said after she greeted the others.
John nodded. “I’m a paramedic,” he clarified.
She turned to the other three people with them. “He told me that’s what he wanted to be the first day of school,” she explained. “He was a skinny little waif,” she recalled. “But he was so cute…He had lashes so long most women would have died for them. Long shaggy hair…Big brown eyes that could melt your heart,” she reminisced.
“He still does,” Jo said with a smile. John blushed but shot her a grin as Danella nodded in agreement.
“I remember the first day that you were in my class…You were so bright and I thought… ‘This boy is going to change the attitudes of the people in this town…’and you did.”
“Oh no I…”
“Yes you have John…Just look around you. This has never happened before…The people of the reservation and from town sharing a dance…At Christmas time no less. I knew you’d change things…There was something special about you even then…I just didn’t know it would take twenty two years,” she teased.
“She is right Mé’oo’o,” Dani agreed. “This is a first except for the festivals on the reservation but that’s not the same thing.”
“You came back here a success…You proved that their narrow, little preconceived ideas about Indians were completely off base…That because of YOU…A half Indian fire fighter, we’ve changed the law and have paramedics all over Montana. That others of your people have and will continue to follow you into this career and that you could earn the respect of so many people…,” she explained. “They’re looking at you and your people in a whole different light.”
“Thank you,” he smiled, looking embarrassed as Kel and Dixie joined them. John made the introductions as the music started again. Dixie took John’s hand. “Excuse me but I’d like a chance to dance with Johnny if you don’t mind,” the pretty blonde nurse said as she led the young paramedic out to the floor. The others smiled, suddenly realizing that this was something new for the people here and that their young friend was the cause for it.
John took her in his arms and Dix looked up into his face. “I wanted a chance to say thank you for setting up the cabin this morning,” she told him softly.
John grinned. “I sent Billy out to do it for you.”
She grinned… “Well I appreciate it. Kel and I had a lot of things to catch up on and we haven’t exactly had any privacy to do it in so thank you sweetie,” she said reaching up to kiss his cheek softly.
“You’re both welcome Dix,” he replied. “It was my way of saying thank you for all the nice things you’ve both done for me over the years,” he murmured with a shrug.
The group continued to dance the night away and enjoying the family they’d become and just spending time with each other. It was a tired but happy group that fell into their beds at dawn.
The bleary eyed crew and their families rolled from their beds late the next morning and spent the day relaxing and enjoying the quiet Sunday morning before the chaos of the next three days, between Johnny’s wedding and Christmas they knew they wouldn’t get much rest.
Roy and Joanne heaved an exasperated sigh as the excited children talked incessantly about the big celebrations that were being planned. John threw them an amused grin as he and Danella escaped the house together. “Where are you going?” Roy called after them in irritation at being abandoned.
“Somewhere quiet…This is the first time we’ve been able to be alone in a week,” he called back.
A much as Roy wished his partner would stick around and help them out with the kids, he understood his friends desire to be alone with Dani before all the preparations would keep them both in the limelight and frequently separated from each other.
They strolled to the stables long enough for Johnny to visit with Rains Fire. They both smiled as they watched Kelly Brackett and Dixie ride out together. “She’s getting to be quite a good rider,” Danella giggled as they continued on.
“She’s getting a lot of practice,” John replied. From the direction they were taking John knew they were heading for the cabin.
John turned Danella in the direction of the river as well but in the opposite direction. The beautiful girl smiled knowingly. “I’ve missed that old stand of pines,” she said softly.
John nodded and continued on until they came to their favorite spot. The day was cold and John slid down to sit at the base of the tree, pulling Danella down to sit in front of him. Pulling her back against him and wrapping her in his arms. His chin came to rest on the top of her head. He could hardly believe that in forty eight hours this beautiful woman in his arms would become his wife and knowing that she still had four months of school left after the wedding.
His heart ached at the thought of leaving her behind but he desperately wanted her to have her education just in case. He knew she wouldn’t like it when he told her and that it was most likely going to be their first fight as a married couple. The worst part was that he couldn’t be with her to watch his child grow within her.
He knew he’d have to tell her but not now…After the wedding when it wouldn’t spoil the whole air of celebration. She turned in his arms and he smiled down at her. “What?” He asked softly at the question in her eyes.
“Are we not going to make love?” She asked huskily.
John shook his head. “No…,” he answered wrapping her a little tighter. “I just wanted to hold you for a while.”
“Anticipation,” he grinned. “Tuesday night will be so much better when I make love to my wife,” he teased. “Besides…”
“It’s too cold,” she finished for him in mock annoyance. She grinned up into his face, loving the over protective streak that he displayed toward her. His mouth lowered to catch hers in a gentle kiss. “I should make you wait for this too,” she teased with a pout when he pulled back.
John sighed. “Well okay…If that’s what you want,” he teased as he started to stand up.
“Don’t you dare,” she growled with a giggle as her arms wrapped around his neck to hold him in place. John sat back down and his arms closed around her. He grinned wickedly as he leaned down to kiss her again. No gentle peck this time but long and passionate. Danella sighed as John lifted his head. “I hope Tuesday comes quickly,” she whispered as she laid her head on his shoulder.
John laughed and kissed her nose.
Most of the rest of the crew spent their day much the same way. Relaxing and enjoying the quiet afternoon. Erin drove out to spend the afternoon with Chet and Marco and Janessa were rapidly becoming the talk of the town and many wondered if the pretty girl would follow in her best friend’s footsteps.
They all spent the evening at the lodge putting up the Christmas decorations that Chris, Jen, Mike Jr. and Little Fox had made before going home to turn in for the night. Tomorrow would be a long day.
Monday morning was cold and snowy but the group met out front. Blue Eagle, Joseph, Fire Crow, Wind Walker and Three Rivers joined them. “Are you gentlemen ready to learn how to set up a vehke?” The chief asked.
‘A what…?” Chet questioned in confusion.
“That’s what you all call a tepee Kelly,” Johnny said aside to his friends.
“That’s not what they’re called?” He asked. John rolled his eyes in annoyance but nodded to the elder. “We’re ready,” he replied.
Blue Eagle grinned. “Not you Dances with Fire. You get to watch but that’s all. This is for your friends to do for you.”
“You mean I can’t help?”
Blue Eagle shook his head. “You get to see it for the first time with Danella as your bride John…At least the inside,” he teased.
“Oh…” he murmured. He hadn’t attended many weddings as a child and he certainly hadn’t had this particular part of the ritual explained to him. His mother wouldn’t have explained a wedding night to her ten year old son.
He retreated to the stairs to sit and watch as the rest began to listen to instructions from Blue Eagle and Joseph.
Danella watched from the warmth of her living room as the men set to work building the temporary shelter where she and John would spend several days alone or at least would have if Christmas hadn’t been the next day. She knew he’d want to spend the day with his family and friends and they would break tradition for one day. She smiled in anticipation of being held in his arms again. She could almost feel the touch of his hands and the warmth of his breath on her skin…
Joanne stepped up beside her and peeked out. She slipped her arm around the girls shoulder as she watched the group. “Are you excited Danella?” She asked the smiling girl.
She nodded her head. “One more day Jo…One more day and I’ll be Johnny’s wife.” She turned to hug the older woman. “It still feels like forever…”
Jo grinned. “I understand…I remember how I felt the day before my wedding too. I didn’t think the day would get there fast enough. I wanted to elope and just get it done. I was so afraid my father would find a way to stop it.”
Danella giggled. “Well at least I don’t have to worry about that.”
Sena joined them a moment later and glanced out. Her eyes found her son in law sitting on the stairs with his chin propped on his fists as he watched his friends prepare the small tent. First the fire pit would be dug. The heavy hide covering would be laid out and the three main poles set out and fastened securely at the top. A hide flap would be fitted to keep out the rain and snow but still allow the smoke to escape.
Six more poles would be added for support once the initial tripod was in place. From there the hide cover would be attached to the tenth pole and raised, lifting the cover with it. From there it was circled around the tripod and staked to the ground before it was tied off at the top.
Then it would be the ladies turn. Sena, Melissa, Dixie, Joanne, Emily and John’s Aunts along with Little Fox would be allowed to decorate. John’s family…Descended from Sun Walker…Would be painted on the side and Danella’s family…Four Feathers on the other. Other designs could be added as well if they desired.
The inside would be filled with soft furs and blankets to create a warm floor and a cozy bed for the newly wedded couple. Incense and herbs would be added to the fire to give the dwelling a soothing scent. Food and water placed so they wouldn’t have to venture out for anything but more wood which would be stacked just outside.
Three campfires would be built…Two small and one large. Special herbs would be added to those as well but they wouldn’t be lit until the wedding.
Then would come the celebration…A bachelor party of sorts for John and a time of merriment for all the people before the evening of fasting and reflection for both the bride and the groom, along with their friends and family.
John and those of his friends that wished to join him would take part in the smudging ceremony. Danella and her ladies would do the same but while John and his friends would retire to the sweat lodge after…Danella had been forbidden by Kelly Brackett and Dr. Handly both to participate in that particular ritual so she and her friends would have to wait out the night in the comfort of her living room.
The following morning they would all bathe and get dressed for the wedding ceremony, followed by another afternoon of feasting and celebration before the newly wedded couple would be allowed to retire for the night together to spend several days in seclusion.
She smiled remembering her wedding to Joseph…The smile faded a bit…The difference was that when her daughter wed she would be leaving to move far from home to live in Los Angeles. She would miss her terribly but she knew her daughter would never be happy without John Gage and he would never leave California.
Amid a lot of laughter and a few near misses, the group managed to erect a suitable vehke for Johnny and Danella. John frowned worriedly a couple of times, wondering if he and Dani would have the entire structure down on top of them before their night was through but smiled as they finally finished. “Even Gage won’t bring this down,” Chet said shaking the poles and getting a laugh and a blush from John.
“Come along my friends,” Blue Eagle suggested. “We’ll leave this to the ladies now while we get ready to give Dances with Fire a good celebration to remember before he is an old married man,” he teased. John grinned and trotted along to join them.
Joseph ran inside the trading post to let Sena know they were done but Danella had been watching. She and the others were already gathering the items they would need though the girl would have to wait at the house until tomorrow before being allowed inside. This part was up to her family and friends.
Danella ran upstairs to take a bath. She wanted to look good for Johnny tonight.
The group rejoined the ladies shortly after lunch. A glance at the tepee revealed the tent flap closed against prying eyes. The next people inside it would be Danella and Sena the next evening to make her ready for Johnny.
There was plenty of firewood stacked against the outside to be sure the couple would be warm enough, though they would generate their own type of warmth, Blue Eagle thought with a chuckle as he looked away.
The rest of the village was gathering and a huge fire was built in the town square. They would have used the lodge but didn’t want to disturb the Christmas decorations already set up for their guests. Tables were set up for food and drinks and would remain until after the wedding reception tomorrow.
John stood in the window of the room he was sharing with Chris. The boy was dressed and had already gone downstairs. There was a knock on the door and John turned to see his best friend standing in the doorway. “Hey Roy,” he greeted.
“What’s up?” Roy asked as John turned back to the window.
The younger man nodded his head toward the goings on outside. “Just watching all of the preparations,” he said in awe. “Man…I can’t believe it pally. I’m really gonna be married tomorrow.”
Roy grinned as he came to join him. “Junior…I’m so proud of how far you’ve come. Not too long ago…Well…Let’s just say I didn’t think you’d ever get to this point.”
John turned to face his partner. “I wouldn’t have without you and Jo,” he said softly as his face flushed a bit. “Roy…I…I want you to know…This won’t…I mean this doesn’t change you and me right…I mean we’re still family aren’t we?” He stammered a bit timidly.
Roy smiled and wrapped the younger man in a hug. “That’ll never change Johnny…You’ll always be my best friend and my brother…My partner,” he said softly. “At least until we both make captain,” he teased breaking the quiet moment and setting the younger man away from him. The serious dark eyes met blue and Roy smiled. “We’re still family…You’re just expanding it…A little more than we expected but…,” he shrugged and John grinned in relief.
He couldn’t bear the thought of his relationship to Roy and Jo changing because of his marriage or even impending fatherhood. They were his family and he needed them in a way Dani could never fill but then she was such a huge part of his life now too that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to live without her if it had ever come to that, thankfully he’d never have to choose. He could have both.
“I guess we better go down there huh?” He asked quietly.
“Yeah junior…I was just coming up to get you anyway. Jo has something for you…” John looked at him questioningly but Roy just smiled and turned him toward the door. “Let’s go see,’ he suggested.
Roy and John walked into the living area to find their friends and their wives gathered along with his Aunts. There were several items of Native American clothing scattered about the room. Outfits donated by several members of the reservation to be sure John’s friends were properly clothed for the ceremony if they chose to dress as was customary.
Kelly Brackett, Mike, Marco, Captain Stanley and of course Roy had already chosen their garments and set them aside. Dixie, Melissa and Emily had all jumped at the chance to dress in appropriate style while Chet and Joe Early had shaken their heads reluctantly.
Joanne sat on the sofa with a wrapped bundle in her lap. Her blue eyes looked a bit worried and she chewed her lip nervously. She glanced up as John and Roy came in. “You wanted to see me?” John questioned curiously.
She smiled up at him. “Come sit with me a minute sweetheart,” she said patting the seat next to her. John glanced at the others but went to sit next to Joanne. She took a deep breath. “As a stand in for your mom…They told me it was my job to make your wedding outfit.” John’s eyes widened in surprise… He hadn’t expected them to ask her to spend her vacation sewing and by hand no less.
“I’m sorry Jo…I didn’t mean for you to have to spend all your time sewing….I…”
“Shhh,” she gently commanded as she reached out to smooth a lock of shaggy sable hair from his forehead. “That’s not a problem baby…I’ve had a ball doing it and getting to know everyone but I," she hesitated. "Well…I’ve never had to try anything quite this elaborate and I just…I don’t want you to be too disappointed.”
John grinned… “I’d never be disappointed Jo,” he assured her expecting her to show him a very basic set of white buckskin trousers and shirt. Jo sighed and opened the bundle in her lap. She shook out the garment and John’s mouth dropped open in surprise.
“I did my best and I hope you like it,” she said worriedly.
John’s mouth snapped shut but it trembled as tears burned behind the chocolate colored eyes…His heart was overwhelmed with emotion. “Oh God Jo,” he whispered in shock. “You did this for me?” Tears overflowed and trickled down his cheeks unnoticed as he reached out to take the garments and stare in awe at the hours of tedious work he knew must have gone into this outfit. He raised his eyes to hers. “I can’t believe you did this. I invited you here to have a great holiday and instead you’ve had to sit and sew this…”
“Oh sweetheart…This will be one of the most memorable Christmas’s ever…I promise you, as long as you like it. Your Aunts helped me with the beading.”
“Very little,” Mase added honestly as she watched the tender display between the two…Touched by their closeness and regretting the relationship that she could have shared with her sister’s only child and that she’d thrown away out of spite and petty jealousy.
Even Lacee’s eyes were filling with tears as she watched the loving relationship between the two…Maybe she needed to readjust her thinking as well…Obviously ALL white people weren’t like the ones she’d had to endure growing up here. Maybe they could all change a little and learn to get along despite their differences.
“I love it…Jo it’s beautiful…I just…I can’t believe you did this,” he whispered as he stared at the shirt in his hands. The detail was amazing…The beading exquisite.”
Jo’s hand cupped his cheek and lifted his chin until their eyes met. “John…You are so incredibly special to me…To my family. I love you baby…I’d do about anything for you…Don’t you know that yet?”
He nodded as she threw her arms around him and hugged him to her…Her fingers stroked the dark hair gently and she kissed his cheek. “Thank you Jo…I don’t know what I’d do without you and Roy…I…,” he stuttered to a halt unable to say what he wanted to right then. “These will always be special to me,” he assured her as he sat back to wipe the embarrassing tears from his cheeks. He didn’t need to be worried as everyone else in the room was doing the same thing.
“Alright then,” Kel said clearing his throat. “Why don’t we all get this party started?”
They all headed outside.
The celebration was just getting into full swing when Danella finally stepped outside. Janessa and Erin followed her…Their eyes scanning the group of people, each searching for that someone special. Marco spotted Janessa and quickly made his way over to take her hand. Chet wasn’t far behind…
Danella’s amber eyes scanned the crowd but she didn’t see John anywhere. She jumped as she felt her hair swept away from her neck and warm lips caressed her just below her ear. She turned thinking it was Johnny and was shocked to see Ben…John’s cousin. He’d obviously been drinking and Danella’s nose crinkled at the stench of his breath in her face.
She backed away from him. “What are you doing?” She gasped in disgust. “Why have you come here after what you did to John and me?” She spat angrily at him.
“I never mean…t for you to get hur…Danella…My fath…father li…Lied to me too,” he slurred drunkenly. “It was…Was on…ly suppose a be John.”
“Only supposed to be John? Well that makes it alright then?” She growled. “You were banished from this people when you helped your father try to kill me, Little Fox and Roy and kidnap John…You should leave before Blue Eagle sees you.”
“Come with m…me White Mist…I will make you a better hus…band than my half b…bree…eed cousin,” he sneered.
"You're not even close to the man John is," Danella laughed in his face until Ben grabbed her wrist angrily and yanked her toward him. He pulled the struggling girl against him as she fought to free herself. He suddenly found himself grabbed and shoved backward away from her. He staggered for a moment trying to regain his balance and finally forced himself upright to face his angry cousin.
“You keep your hands off my wife,” Johnny snarled angrily.
“She’s not your wife…Yet John Gage.”
“Close enough Benny,” John shot back.
“You stole her from me…She was promised to me,” he accused.
Danella gasped. “I never was,” she corrected. “Your father asked mine if you could see me and he was refused.”
“Only b…be…cause you wouldn’t g…give me a ch…chance,” he whined. “And then…HE came home,” he snarled pointing at Johnny… “Why couldn’t you just st…stay away? No one w…wanted you h…here. You were dead to us…You should have stayed that way.”
There were gasps of horror at the hateful comments and the hurt look that flickered over John’s face but the younger man stood his ground. “Regardless…I won Danella’s hand and heart and I intend to keep them so you stay clear,” he said taking Danella’s hand and pulling her to his side. She wrapped her arms around him gratefully as John held her protectively.
Mase and Blue Eagle stepped up on the walk between the couple and Walking Wolf’s son. “You were told to leave the reservation Wolf’s Tooth,” the elder said quietly. “This is your only warning. Leave now and do not return here…You attacked and attempted to kill two members of our people…To abduct another…You are no longer welcome here. Do not bring this shame upon your mother and your sister,” he growled.
“John is the only son of my sister,” Mase added. “I closed my eyes once before and let your father abuse him and treat him shamefully…I will not allow you too. GO,” she added angrily.
Ben pointed at his younger cousin… “You’ll pay for this John,” he threatened with a sneer. “And I will have Danella.”
John grinned as his friends stepped up behind him. The warning was clear…Johnny wasn’t alone anymore. He had friends at his back and Ben wouldn’t have an easy time of hurting him again. Roy wondered idly if the shot that first day might have been taken by this man.
“It might interest you to know Ben…She carries my child,” John informed him smugly, resting his hand on Dani’s belly gently.
The other man’s eyes widened in shock and they turned to Danella who smiled proudly back and nodded. “Accidents can happen…Even to babies,” he sneered. The crowd gasped in horror at the threat to an unborn child but the ringing slap shocked them even more as Mase’s hand made contact with her son’s face.
“In truth…You are your father’s son…That is obvious…,” she hissed. “That you would threaten an infant… You are no longer a son of mine.” She turned her back on him. The crew watched in wonder as one by one the rest of the people followed suit. The message was clear. Ben’s mouth tightened angrily as he stared at John for a long moment. He turned and staggered away.
Mase looked up into her nephew’s dark eyes that looked so much like Kate’s. “I’m so sorry John…For everything,” she whispered, her head hung in despair at the loss of her son…Not the physical loss as much as knowing that he was just like his father George had been…He had no heart…No soul.
John reached out and pulled the woman into his arms…embracing his Aunt for the first time in his life. “I’m sorry Aunt Mase,” he whispered close to her ear. “Thank you.” She stepped back and smiled into his face. She caressed his cheek gently as Joanne had done, before she stepped away and rejoined the party.
Blue Eagle turned to the crowd. “We will not let this spoil the celebration…This night is for Dances with Fire and White Mist.”
The others nodded as the music began once more and the group dispersed. Roy clapped John on the back and hoped that the threats had been nothing more than the ramblings of a drunk and that he’d go away to sleep it off and forget the whole thing but if not…Than Roy would be close by until the wedding was over.
The music and dancing lasted well into the night. The food and drink kept coming and the crew ate several types of roasted game and vegetable dishes with herbs they’d never experienced before. They were having a ball.
Johnny and Danella made their way through the crowd of well wishers, being sure they stopped to talk to everyone. It would be even worse tomorrow when the townspeople who were invited also made their way to reservation for the wedding and the reception.
Danella was tiring and she finally turned in John’s arms. “It’s getting late Ná’méhόt and we have a big day ahead tomorrow. We still have a ceremony to go through so I need to get changed. We’ll meet you at the lodge.”
“Okay mé’oo’o.” he replied as he leaned down to kiss her gently. “I’ll see you in a few minutes.” She turned and left.
Roy caught sight of Danella kissing Johnny and then turn and begin to move through the crowd…Sena soon joined her. Joanne spotted them as well. “Oops…That’s our signal. I need to find the rest of the ladies and we’ll meet you inside the sweat lodge.” Joanne’s nose crinkled cutely at the image the name so indelicately conjured up. She headed off to find Emily, Melissa and Dixie. Janessa and Erin were already following Danella
Roy headed in Johnny’s direction. “So it’s been a great party Junior…What’s next?” He asked laying his arm over his best friend’s shoulders.
“The smudging ceremony,” he replied.
Ah yes…Smudging,” Chet said as he joined them. “Just what the hell is that anyway Gage?” Chet asked sound a bit like he’d had a few drinks.
John threw him a withering look. “Can we just leave him out here?” He asked his blonde friend as Mike and Marco joined them.
Roy chuckled a bit and patted his friends shoulder. “”Probably won’t work junior…He’d just sit outside the door and whine all night.”
Chet threw Roy an indignant look. “Oh…That’s real cute Roy…Hah Hah,” he said in disgust causing another round of laughter.
“Just explain to us what’s gonna happen Junior,” he advised as Brackett and Hank Stanley stepped up on the walkway.
“Blue Eagle went to change. He said he’d meet us at the lodge if we wanted to head over there,” Kel said. “Joe went along to help him.”
John sighed. “You should probably change into something lighter too…Or at least strip down to boxers once you’re in there…It’s gonna get real warm.” They nodded and exchanged a few concerned looks as John continued.
“There are four herbs or tree barks that are used for the ceremony. Each one does something different and each represent a different direction and it’s thought to dispel negative thoughts and bring good ones.”
“What are they?” Mike asked curiously.
“Um…Sage, Sweet grass, cedar and tobacco.” Chet grinned and opened his mouth but Johnny saw it. “NO…We DO NOT use a peace pipe though we could in other ceremonies,” he growled in annoyance before the Irishman could vocalize what he was thinking. “It’s traditional but look…If you guys don’t want to go through this you don’t have to…I’ll understand.”
“Not a chance junior…I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” Roy assured him.
“Me either Pal,” Cap assured him.
“We’re all in this together John,” Mike reassured him.
“Besides…I may have to go through this myself,” Marco said drawing several surprised looks. He shrugged. “What…? She’s a beautiful, sweet, intelligent woman…What’s not to fall in love with,” he said with a grin.
Chet shook his head in annoyance. “Great…I’m the last holdout.”
“What happened Chet…Erin smarten up…?” John taunted.
“Hah…That’s real funny Gage but as a matter of fact she’s talkin about movin to LA.”
“Well sure…That’s where Dani and Janessa will be,” Roy reminded him.
“Thanks Roy,” Chet pouted.
“Come on Johnny…Gentlemen,” Kel said with a grin as he swept his hand toward the lodge. “Our ladies and Blue Eagle await.”
To be continued...Part 3 New Beginnings
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