Stamping a Likeness

by Farad
For the Daybook Bingo Prompt "Seal of the Confessional"; this is a 'missing scene' from "Achilles", set between JD getting on the stage and the seven riding to his rescue, concurrent with Vin and Chris talking to Morris in the jail and Achilles' attack on the stage.
Special thanks to the awesome folks at WEC for feedback, HuntersGlenn, JoJo, Charlotte, and also to Dephi and Van who were kind enough suffer through the rewrite!

It was midday when Josiah stepped through the open door of the church and into the sanctuary. The room was bright, sunlight streaming in through the windows, making faint the flickering coming from the candles that burned on the altar.

He walked the aisle slowly, his fingertips touching every pew as he passed. The wood was worn smooth, cool to the touch. It was a part of his life, as familiar as his boots, his gun, his Bible. Every church he'd ever been in, no matter how rich or poor, had pews that were like this. He felt more at home in them than he did anywhere else. They were part of what had attracted him to this old, run-down building. The walls needed work, the ceiling needed to be replaced, but the pews - the pews were perfect.

He stopped before the candles. His mother, God rest her soul, had been an ardent believer in the power of the flame and whenever he had the ability, he tried to keep at least one lit, for her. Right now, there were many; Annie's death had brought out many of the faithful, as funerals so often did.

It had also brought out a feeling he hadn't had in a while, one of restlessness. Or maybe it was the conversations with JD, and the fact that now, JD was gone. He hadn't lied to JD; he hated funerals, hated saying goodbye to people he knew and cared for.

But he hated more being the one left behind. He'd been that too many times, and looking at the candles reminded him of each and every one of those times.

At present, there were only six burning, most having gone out during the morning, so he used a long taper to light a few more. He needed to order new ones, but to do that, he needed to make sure he had the money. Even though there'd been a number of donations, people contributing for lit candles for Annie, he'd sent off much of that to Vista City just the day before. There was little to spare for the next week or so.

As he waved the taper in the air to put out the flame, he heard the scrape of boots on the stairs, then the slow steps of someone coming through the open door. The tread was one he recognized, though it wasn't common enough in this place for him to take it for granted. He turned, nodding welcome as Buck, hat in hand, stopped just inside the door.

"Always room for another in this house," he said as Buck shuffled a step or two, moving from side to side but no further in. "But you know that already."

It hadn't been that long since Buck had been around, first on the steps, talking about love and marriage, then later in the sanctuary, learning the art of the sword.

More recently, though, JD had stood in this place, right where Josiah was standing before the altar, and the memory of that made Josiah's heart ache. He suspected that things were even worse for the man at the door.

Not more than half an hour ago JD had stepped into the stagecoach, carrying Mary's box of sandwiches and staring forlornly at Casey, his words, 'I think it's for the best' hanging in the air.

Now, Buck stood staring at the colored cross hanging in the window, the lines around his eyes and mouth deeper than Josiah remembered ever seeing them. Buck was usually so busy, talking, laughing, living life, that he seemed immortal, young, and tireless.

This man barely resembled the man he knew. After a time, Buck sighed and shuffled his way into the building, twisting the brim of his hat in his hands. "Can't believe he really did it," he said, sliding into a pew about halfway along the aisle. "Can't believe he actually let it happen."

Josiah glanced once more at the candles, his lips forming a quick benediction before he turned away and walked back towards Buck. "Don't think it was his first choice," he said slowly, recalling the most recent conversations with JD. "He seemed to feel that he didn't have any other option."

Buck shook his head, closing his eyes. "He's always got a choice - Hell, he's had more choices than any man I know. He's never listened to anybody else in his life, always done what he wanted. He just didn't want to."

Josiah stopped short, the words making no sense. JD hadn't had many choices - and he hadn't always done what he wanted to do. He'd come west because the money for school hadn't been enough, and once here -

But as he looked at Buck, he understood. This man in question wasn't JD. It was Chris.

He replayed the words in his head as Buck went on.

"It wouldn't have cost him anything to talk to JD - to help him understand it was an accident. But he couldn't do that, couldn't - couldn't - couldn't - Damn him." He stuttered out the last, his head dropping even as he swiped the back of his hand across his face.

Josiah waited for a few seconds, considering his words. When Buck was breathing a little slower, he said, "JD seemed pretty determined in his own right. I don't know that he'd have listened to anything Chris had to say."

Buck made a noise that sounded like a wet snort. "JD would have listened to Chris. He always has given Chris way more respect than he deserves - ain't like Chris hasn't made mistakes. And that's the real truth of it, the thing that makes this so damned annoying. I've known Chris for a long time - too long maybe. I knew him when he was still shooting anything that moved, when he would pull his gun faster and shoot better when he was too drunk to know what he was doing. There were more mornings than I care to recall when I had to tell him what the Hell he had done the night before."

Josiah drew a deep breath, looking away. It wasn't the first time he'd heard something he didn't want to. It wasn't the first time it had been about one of the six men he'd come to depend on. And it wasn't something he hadn't expected about Chris, not in the wake of what he knew about Chris' loss.

But it didn't make it any easier to be the confessor. He walked slowly down the aisle toward Buck, stopping at the pew across from where Buck sat. "I talked to JD over the past few days," he said, measuring his words. "I don't know that any word from Chris would have helped. He seemed pretty determined to do what he wanted. Sometimes - well, sometimes, a man has to move on."

Buck leaned back in the pew, tilting his head back to stare at the ceiling. "Believe me," he said, his tone hard, "JD would have listened to Chris. Not you, not me, just Chris. But Chris couldn't bring it on himself to do even that little bit."

Perhaps it was time for a different approach, one that didn't have him thinking about JD and that last conversation, about JD's lack of faith in himself, and in the beliefs Josiah tried to hold onto himself. "You say Chris has made his own mistakes," he started carefully. "You think maybe he wanted to protect JD from a worse situation?"

Buck grunted, but he didn't say anything, not for a time. When he did speak, his voice was low and flat. "When we were younger, before he met Sarah, he was as rowdy as they come. And as stubborn. If someone told him what to do or what not to do, he'd do just the opposite, bound and determined to go his own way. I think that - that was what he liked about JD. No matter what Chris said in that Seminole village, JD was going to do what JD wanted to do." Buck pushed up out of the pew, twisting from one side to the other as if he couldn't decide where to go. The hat stayed on the seat, wrinkled and twisted from his frustrations.

Josiah eased back in his own seat, and as he did, Buck stepped into the aisle. He looked to the door then through it, out into the street, and Josiah thought he might leave, but instead, he started talking again.

"Chris was full of himself then - Hell, I could barely keep up with him. He could drink me under the table, often did. And he could fight - Lord, could he fight." He shook his head, but something in him had softened a little, as if the memories were good. "And he could keep company with the ladies, too. Back then, he enjoyed it, though he never got himself caught up in a romance. He'd just come out of one that was still weighing on him."

Josiah could imagine it. Chris was a fine looking man now, though the grief of his past had cut lines in his face and weighted the corners of his lips. He could imagine him as a younger, less life-worn man, that dangerous grin settling more lightly on his face, his eyes lighting more easily. He didn't have to imagine Buck, though; he was pretty sure the man Buck had been all those years ago was still present now, or had been, up until JD had gotten on that stage.

"We were close then, like brothers - Hell, closer," Buck went on, his voice dropping almost to a whisper. "All that time on the trail . . . "

There was something warm and sweet in his tone, something Josiah had heard in other men, at other times, but not from Buck. He tried to place it, but he was distracted as Buck cleared his throat and shifted, looking back quickly to catch Josiah's eye. "I ain't saying Chris don't have a call to be bitter. Sarah was my friend too, and losing her and that boy - well, I know what that did to me, and Chris . . . " He sighed, looking away, and Josiah knew the anger was at bay - not gone, he could see the tension still in Buck's shoulders. But the frustration that had come from JD's leaving was ebbing a little now, and Buck was grieving.

"He's a changed man," Josiah said gently. "Like you, I've lost people close to me, people I can't ever replace. But I've never been married and I've never lost a child - I can't begin to think on what that would do."

"It changed him, all right," Buck said. He took three slow steps toward the door, then stopped and turned around, drifting back toward the altar. He was staring at the candles now, as if they held answers he was looking for. "Now, he's scared. 'Bout the only time I see the old Chris is when he's Hellbent on something - usually something involving him shooting somebody. That's the only time he can let go of the worry."

Buck stopped as he drew near the flames. "Time was, he would have jumped right to JD's defense, told the people of the town to mind their own damned business or do their own job of protecting this place. Time was . . . time was he would have listened to me."

Josiah watched as Buck's shoulders slumped a little, the true grieving coming clear. "You don't think he listens?" he asked after a time.

Buck sighed, running one hand through his hair. "He listened to me when I suggested we stay that last night in Mexico. It was the one time I wish he hadn't."

Josiah wasn't clear on the details of what had happened that night, but he had wondered every now and then where Chris had been when his wife and child died. Now, he suspected he knew.

"He's got Vin to listen to. Birds of a feather, those two - Hell, they don't have to listen to each other 'cause they think the same thing." The sharpness from earlier was back, jealousy, maybe, but still grief.

Josiah frowned, not sure what to say. But before he could find words, Buck sighed again and went on. "Ain't Vin's fault. Hell, I reckon it's good that Chris has someone he can trust and don't have to explain himself to. Just - some days, seeing Chris with Vin reminds me of what we used to have. And right now, he's still got Vin, but JD - JD's gone." His voice caught on the last word, but it didn't take much for Josiah to puzzle it out.

Buck's hand rose to his face again and he made a soft noise. The closest candles flickered, one of them sputtering and almost going out.

"'There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.'" It wasn't the best thing he could think of, but it was the first thing, and Josiah needed to say something. He'd said it enough over the years, over the graves of men he'd known and cared for, over the friends he'd left behind when the itch to keep searching for his faith had overcome the warmth and comfort of the place he'd been staying.

Buck made another noise, this one closer to a cough, but one hand fell to rub against the side of his jacket while he swiped at his hair again with the other. "Yeah, well, I like it better when he's here with me, not riding across the country."

JD wasn't the first friend to leave Josiah behind, but he wasn't sure if that was the case with Buck. Given the way the current conversation was going, he wondered how many close friends Buck had had in his life. Counting JD, that number wasn't looking to be many more than two.

As if knowing his mind, Buck said, "There was no need for JD to leave. He's got more reason to be here than anywhere else - he's got us, Josiah, and that counts for everything. Don't it?"

It wasn't the question that caught at his heart so much as the uncharacteristic desperation in it. For the first time, it occurred to him that Buck's friendship with JD was something Buck needed to give his life definition, to give it a purpose he hadn't yet determined on his own.

Before he could answer there were footsteps on the stairs, coming fast and hard. That was never good, and Josiah had his hand on his pistol and Buck, faster, had his already out of his holster.

"Josiah!" Nathan called as he pushed the door. "We gotta ride - oh, good, you're here too, Buck - there's trouble." He paused in the door, breathless and wide-eyed as he stared at Buck's gun, even though Buck was already putting it away.

"What the problem?" Josiah asked, standing up and moving into the aisle.

"That stage," Nathan said, his words sharp. "It's carrying gold. Morris - the man Chris shot - says it's got gold and that Achilles plans to rob it. We need to get out to it. Vin's already at the livery, getting our horses saddled."

"Gold?" Buck said. "There's gold on that stage? That don't make no sense." But even as he debated, he was heading toward the door, picking up speed. "JD's on that stage."

Josiah followed along, taking only a second to step back up the aisle to pick Buck's hat off the pew, then his own off the rack by the door. He paused for an instant, looking back to the altar and the flames there. Without a thought, he murmured a quick prayer for safety, calling on St. Michael, St. Sebastian and, as always, St. Jude. At the end, he also mentioned his mother, reaching out to touch the top of the last pew as he walked past.

By the time he caught up to Nathan at the bottom of the church steps, Buck was already well ahead of them, almost running toward the stables. But he made a quick turn, picking up even more speed as he headed toward the cemetery.

Nathan looked to Josiah, the question in his eyes, and Josiah shrugged as if he didn't have an answer, even though he knew: JD's guns. He hurried along, Nathan matching his stride, and they reached the livery in time to finish saddling their own horses, ready to ride when Chris was.

After they were all mounted, he reached out to offer Buck his hat as Chris and Vin started first down the road. Buck nodded, and he opened his mouth, saying something, but Chris was already moving, Vin right behind him, and the clatter of their horses' hooves drowned out whatever words Buck had said. Nathan and Ezra were next heading out of the livery fence and into the road, but by the time they left the town behind, dust clouding in their wake, Buck was in the lead.

Taking point to rescue his friend.

And as they came upon the stage and the men of Achilles' band firing on it as it made the wide, dangerous turn to head back to town, Josiah knew before he could even see clearly that it was JD at the reins.

JD might not know what a hero was, and Buck might not know what it was to be left behind, but at the end of the day, as they made their way back to town, Josiah knew it didn't matter, not now.

Hours later, as he nodded goodnight to Tiny and started out of the livery doors toward the church, he was surprised to find Buck standing on the stairs, his back to the street. Buck and JD had been up to their usual banter on the ride back, and the last Josiah could remember, they'd been teasing Ezra about his upcoming rematch with Big Lester, which was probably going on right this minute at the saloon.

"Evening, Buck," he said as he drew near, and he almost chuckled as Buck whirled, barely catching his balance on the stairs. "You can go on in, no need for an invitation."

"There you are," Buck said unnecessarily, but he turned as Josiah stepped past him and opened the church door.

"Here I am," Josiah agreed, taking off his hat as he stepped inside. Candles still burned, lighting much of the room, and he paused for a few seconds, staring at them and giving a short prayer of thanks for their safe return. And for their success. Apparently, St. Jude had been listening.

Buck cleared his throat, and Josiah stepped forward, leaving Buck room to come in. "What brings you here on a fine night like tonight?" Josiah asked, walking the familiar steps along the aisle. Behind him, Buck shuffled, and Josiah heard the door close, but he didn't glance back. Instead, he looked at the candles, counting to see which ones had gone out.

"What I said earlier," Buck said slowly, "about Chris - I mean, you know I don't - well - "

Josiah heard the worry and the fear under the words, understanding. JD was returned to them now, and things were as they should be. He smiled as he picked up the taper he had used earlier and held it to a flame. "I may not be a priest in the religious sense of the word, but I honor the seal of the sanctuary." As the wick caught, he smiled. It didn't take long to light others, the flames pushing back the darkness.

"JD's back," Buck went on, "at least for now. Could be a chance for him to show the people of this town - "

"Could be a chance for JD to realize how much he's needed here," Josiah said firmly, blowing out the taper and setting it to one side. He enjoyed the light for a few seconds before finally turning to look at Buck. "Just like the rest of us."

Buck frowned for a second, but then he nodded and smiled. It cast a glow as bright as the candles. "Yeah, all of us. I - well, I don't begrudge Chris anything. I'm glad he's settling down here, finding people who he trusts and who care about him. I didn't mean nothing - "

" 'Love must precede hatred, and nothing is hated save through being contrary to a suitable thing which is loved. And hence it is that every hatred is caused by love.' " Josiah smiled, as he always did when he used that quote. It was one of Aquinas' hardest truths. But as Buck's eyes widened while his brow scrunched, Josiah went on, "We say harsh things when we're upset, things we don't really mean. No need to explain."

Buck blinked and the lines of his face eased. "Thanks, Josiah," he said, nodding. "You joining us at the saloon? Game was getting right lively when I left. Reckon Ezra's giving Big Lester what-for by now." He turned, opening the door but not yet stepping out.

Josiah looked back at the altar. "In a while," he said, not sure if he meant the words or not. "You go on along, keep JD company."

Buck smiled again and slipped through the door, taking the stairs two at a time.

Josiah took slow steps down the aisle, but he didn't make it to the door. At the last pew, he turned back, looking at the altar. Behind it, the bronze cross in the high window seemed to shine, catching the flickering light and shining it back.

He sat down in the pew, the fingers of one hand folding familiarly over the cool wood on the seat in front of him. The restlessness from earlier in the day was gone. He was home.

**Both of Josiah's quotes are from Thomas Aquinas. According to , St. Michael and St. Sebastian are patron saints of police officers, soldiers, and men who fight. St. Jude is the patron saint of impossible things.

The title is also from St. Thomas Aquinas: "Love works in a circle, for the beloved moves the lover by stamping a likeness, and the lover then goes out to hold the beloved in reality. Who first was the beginning now becomes the end of motion."