Greater Love

by KT

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven is owned by Mirisch and several other companies and corporations that I can't keep track of. Not making any money just having fun.

Authors notes: This is my first old west story, there are a lot of similarities to Sue Kelley's fantastic story Still, it is a case of great minds thinking alike or what evolutionists call convergence, but the similarities are coincidental. The original inspiration was scene from an episode of M*A*S*H, I saw over 20 years ago. Thanks to my proof reader Tina.

"I got it Buck, I got it last week when you told me and every time since then alright!" the young sheriff shouted, as he put a saddle on his horse. "So you can just drop it now, I made a mistake I know that, I won't make it again."

The tall older man who's grey was already saddled wasn't about to let it drop. "I'll drop it when I'm sure you really do got it, wasn't just you gonna get shot, me 'n old man Patterson were like to git killed to if'n I hadn't saved your ass!"

Buck's fear, fuelled by persistent nightmares in which he relived the incident in the jail a week ago, had sent his protectiveness into over drive and it was driving JD crazy, not to mention the other five regulators, who were royally sick of the arguments. A Federal Marshal had left his prisoner in the jail over night while he got some much needed rest. The prisoner was very young, younger than JD, fresh faced, blonde hair, freckles and a smooth tongue. Looks can be deceiving, because young Matt Jones was a ruthless triple murderer. While old Tom Patterson the town drunk slept in one cell, Jones spun a tale of woe for JD, lulling him in to a false sense of security. As the evening came on JD took a tray of food to the prisoner. He was still wearing his guns as he handed the tray though the slot in the bars, Jones still chatting and thanking JD for the food, reached under the tray for one of JD's guns, at just that moment Buck had strolled in. He took in what was happening in a split second, pulling JD away and drawing is own gun is the blink of an eye. JD was ashamed he had made such a basic and potentially fatal error. But that shame had given way to anger when Buck wouldn't let the subject drop and worse still had taken to shadowing him every where he went.

Buck knew he was on the point of driving a wedge between them, with his scolding and smothering but he couldn't stop himself, he heard himself nagging and it was as if he was listening to someone else, like he was a spectator, as if some other Buck Wilmington was speaking. In his nightmares he was too late and the laughing freckle faced kid shot JD repeatedly as Buck stood helpless in the doorway of the jail, and the nightmares were very, very real.

JD was due to ride a one day patrol with Ezra, knowing he was going to be up at dawn, JD had left the saloon relatively early the night before, of course that also gave him a legitimate excuse to get away from Buck. His early departure had meant he missed the night's entertainment, a travelling salesman Ezra had been playing poker with realised that he was broke and accused the southerner of cheating. Now every one of the seven knew Ezra could and on occasion did cheat but he made it a point of honour to only do so when the opposition did it first. So whether or not he had been cheating, the others would came to his aid when needed, but one whinging salesman didn't pose much of a threat. There was a scuffle, in which both men fell down the small flight of steps that lead up to the raised area to one side of the saloon where Ezra liked to play. Josiah had picked up the salesman and ejected him on to the dark cold street while the gambler tried to regain his dignity as he dusted himself off. Unfortunately for Ezra, Nathan was watching him with a practised eye as he put weight on his left foot as he stood. Unprepared for the intense flash of pain that the action produced he couldn't mask it fast enough.

"Ezra you alright?" the tall healer asked coming over.

The gambler attempted to stand normally with out putting any weight on his left leg. "I assure you Mr. Jackson I am quite undamaged," he said with a glare.

"Really so that’s why your standing on one foot, 'cause your undamaged," Nathan said slowly, scowling at him.

"Ezra?" Chris enquired.

"Mr. Larabee I am quite able to walk and if necessary ride." With that he turned and attempted to return up the stairs with the help of the banister, without allowing the other five to see how much he was relying on it to keep him going evenly. It didn't work, he limped up the steps, he just couldn't put weight on the left foot.

"Ezra sit down and let Nathan look at your foot," Chris instructed.

"Mr. Larabee I think I know if I require Mr. Jackson's ministrations," he protested.

"You're due on patrol tomorrow I have to know now if you are going to be fit to ride or not; now, not at dawn tomorrow," Chris pointed out, leaving no room for argument.

Looking sullen and aggrieved he allowed the healer to remove his boot and examine his ankle which was already swollen. The diagnosis was a bad sprain, Nathan insisted he allow him to strap the ankle up and rest it. All this meant that Ezra was not going to be able to ride patrol the next day. That left Chris with a dilemma he needed a replacement to ride with JD in the morning, by rights it should be Buck, he was due to go out next with Vin. Chris did consider asking the quiet tracker to go, he wouldn't like it; as much as he liked the young sheriff he found his constant questions and chatter irritating after a while. If he made Buck go it might give them a chance to work out their differences, he knew the others would thank him if he did send them out together, even if they came back still bickering, at least everyone would have had one day of peace.

+ + + + + + +

JD finished saddling his horse and than stomped off in the direction of the saloon. He walked up to the man in black drinking coffee at a back table. Anger gave him courage as he confronted the gunfighter.

"I ain't going on patrol with Buck, he's driving me crazy I'll end up killing him I swear! I'll go alone I'll go with anyone else. I'll ride two in a row but I ain't going with him."

Chris regarded the passionate young man from behind his coffee. "You're not?" he asked quietly.

Suddenly JD realised what he had just done, he'd defied Chris 'scary as all hell' Larabee. "Oh God I'm dead," he thought.

JD looked around to see if any of the town's other regulators were in the saloon to give him some support, but as Chris rose slowly to his feet, JD found he was alone. Chris noted that behind JD, Buck had slipped quietly in through the swinging doors. Without putting down his coffee he spoke calmly to the younger man.

"You signed on to do a job and like it or not, that means you go on patrol with who ever I say you go on patrol with," his voice barley got above a whisper, but the threat was there and JD capitulated immediately.

His head dropped and he turned to go, suddenly realising that Buck was standing behind him and glaring at the tall man before he left. Buck also turned to go, when Chris' hand took hold of his arm turning him so the old friends were facing each other.

"This is your mess, get it sorted," he instructed.

"Me! The kid's the one who…"

"Your riding him too hard," Chris cut him off. "Sort it before you come back."

As Chris turned away, Buck stood alone, he took a single deep breath, he knew Chris was right, he would just have to stop himself ragging on the kid, somehow.

+ + + + + + +

If having to go on patrol early wasn't bad enough Buck knew he was going to be wet before the day was out. There was a storm coming in, you didn't have to be Vin to know that, everyone had felt the sudden drop in temperature, seen the gathering storm clouds, even smelt the rain on the breeze. It would be the first big snow of the winter. Buck pulled the collar of his sheepskin-lined coat higher, he quickly glanced at the kid's saddle to ensure he had his slicker strapped to the back. Their job was to call in at as many of the small out lying properties as possible and ensure everything was all right before the bad weather came.

Mindful of Chris' edict Buck made various attempts to make peace with the younger man, but JD was too angry to listen, so eventually he gave up and the patrol continued in strained science until they reached the Ryan farm. Mrs Ryan tried to persuade them to stay for lunch but it was only eleven and that would have put them well behind schedule. So she settled for packing them a generous and sumptuous cold lunch to carry. JD wanted to eat on the move but Buck insisted they rest the horses. The sight of their repast broke JD's will to punish Buck further with his silence. They had ham and turkey pie, cheese and sweet pickle sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, an apple pie, even a couple of windfall apples for the horses.

"Wow! Mrs Ryan really knows how to cook," he gushed enthusiastically, tucking into a huge wedge of meat pie, spraying Buck with pastry crumbs as he spoke.

"Yeah she does kid, but do you think you could keep it to yourself," he protested, brushing the crumbs away.

"Sorry," JD spluttered, spraying more crumbs.

It wasn't much but it cracked the ice, the conversations after that were not their usual easy banter but at least they were talking and not arguing. As they set out again it had turned noticeably colder and the clouds over head were getting darker. After lunch, they had been going for about an hour on the well used trail from the Ryan's, about three hours behind them to the Miller homestead, about two hours ahead, when they passed the small hardly used trail turn off, that lead up to McPhee's mine.

"Buck shouldn't we go check on the old guy?" JD was already turning up the trail.

"Hold it kid, that old coot was setting himself up for winter before you were born, hell before I was born!" Buck explained with out moving his horse.

"Old, Buck you said it, he's old, we should check." Already his horse was moving up the trail.

Old Angus McPhee owned and worked the Luck Strike silver mine, it did produce silver but barely enough to keep the old man in coffee and sugar. He claimed there was a mother lode in the mine some place and one day he would find it. The mine was located five miles up a narrow, rough trail, and Buck was none too keen to make the extra trip, for one thing it would guarantee they didn't beat the rain back to Four Corners.

"It's only about five miles," JD encouraged.

"I know that kid and it's five miles back, we'll be late," the older man protested.

"It's our job," JD called over his shoulder as he headed up the trail.

Buck knew they should go really, he was putting off the inevitable. "Aw hell, guess it's only water." He spurred his horse on up the trail to catch up with JD.

+ + + + + + +

The mine was just a hole in the side of the mountain, to one side was a structure, that only just qualified for the title cabin, being only a log or two above a shack, beside the cabin was a corral, it's fence so rickety it looked as though one gentle push would bring it down. As the two men emerged into the clearing Buck made a quick visual survey and drew quick conclusions.

The old man's equally old mule was in the old corral, there was a huge pile of fresh firewood stacked on the porch. Smoke wafted up from the chimney.

"Looks like he's set up pretty good to me," he said.

JD dismounted. "Look we're here now let's just say hello," he said pointedly.

Buck didn't protest, he led both horses to the corral as JD went to check the cabin. Buck was strolling up the gentle slope toward the cabin as JD emerged.

"He must be in the mine, I'll go check," JD called setting off at a jog.

Buck heard or felt he wasn't sure which, a low vibrating rumble, his highly tuned instinct for self-preservation told him in half a heartbeat that it meant danger.

"No JD wait!" he yelled.

But it was too late, a ball of flame shot out of the adit, accompanied by a powerful shock wave, behind this came a huge billowing cloud of dust and debris. Buck watched in horror, as almost in slow motion JD was lifted up and thrown, like a rag doll tossed by a dog, across the clearing, before he landed the dust cloud enveloped him.

Buck pulled himself to his feet. "When did I get knocked over?" he wondered to himself. Not stopping to figure out an answer he ran through the still settling dust in the general direction he had last seen JD. As he stumbled through the now settling debris he saw a dust coloured crumpled form ahead of him. Quickening his pace he dropped to his knees beside the naked form lying face down in the dirt. The blast had blown all JD's clothing off except for a few shreds caught around his gun belt, which along with his boots was all the clothing he had left.

"Aw Jeez' kid, what you doing lying out here displaying your best assets to the world?" Buck rambled as he desperately felt for the regular movement of the boy's chest. Relived to find it he released the breath he hadn't even registered he was holding. Just then the rain came; big heavy cold drops began to fall, turning the dust instantly to mud that ran in rivulets down JD's back.

"Great, just great!" Buck muttered.

Picking up the limp form he carried JD to the cabin. Only when he got there did he realise that the cabin now only had two and a half walls and no roof.

"Oh this just keeps getting better and better." Buck commented out loud as he gently lowered JD onto the porch. Then he ran into what was left of the cabin and managed to retrieve a blanket, a buffalo skin and a canteen of water. He wrapped the now shivering young man in the blanket, before he made a more detailed examination. JD had a gash behind his left ear, he had small cuts all over but none were very big, Buck's big but surprisingly gentle hand found no broken ribs, but he suspected some might be cracked. Only when he tried to straighten JD's right foot he was rewarded with a moan of pain from his patient.

"Hey kid it's good to hear you can feel ol' Buck, now why don’t ya wake up and then you can moan at me proper," he encouraged. But JD made no more sound as, taking the water, Buck began to wash the head wound, and fashion a bandage from his bandanna. With this done he wrapped the pale, slight, young man in the buffalo skin. It would keep him warm and keep out the rain that was now turning to sleet. Checking one more time that JD was still breathing, he went to get the horses.

The corral had faired no better than the cabin, it's fence now no more than so much kindling and fire wood, the horses and even the mule were gone. Buck pulled up as he surveyed the devastation and just stood, suddenly not knowing what to do. Only the cold of the sleet hitting his face snapped him back, forcing him to move back to the cabin porch. The cabin offered no real protection from the coming storm. Their horses would, he knew, run home strait back to the livery stable, the mule would try to follow but he doubted it could keep up. With no riders and not stopping at any farms or ranches, he calculated it would take the two fit horses about two hours to get back to town. Normally Vin would be able to back track the horses straight to them, but with the rain and sleet that was falling Buck knew he wouldn't be able to follow their trail. All their friends would be able to do was work back along their route in the opposite direction. It would, he reckoned take them three and a half to four hours to reach the turn off. That was all well and good but their friends had no way of knowing the two of them had turned off the trail. By Buck's reckoning, by the time the rescuers reached the Ryan's it would be dusk, the chances were they would not be found until the next day.

Already the sleet was beginning to settle as wet snow in sheltered corners, soon it would be snow and in the strong wind it would find every part of the ruined shack. There was nothing for it but for him to carry JD down the trail and wait for the rescue party to pass. It was only five miles, he could normally walk that in less than two hours, with JD's dead weight it would take longer but he had about five hours, no problem, he told himself.

+ + + + + + +

"You know kid this is all your fault," he scolded as he hefted the youth into his arms, "why did you have to come up here any ways?"

He grunted as he took the other man's weight, he'd carried JD before, he might be short and slight but what there was of him was all muscle, on top of that was the added weight of the buffalo skin, which all meant that he wasn't the light weight he appeared to be.

"Damn kid why'd you pick now to listen to me when I tell you to eat more." He turned into the wind as he headed down the trail, the sleet stinging his face. To begin with it wasn't too bad, Buck was a strong man, stronger than he looked and that was plenty strong enough. He kept up a running one sided conversation with the unconscious youth in his arms.

"You and your worrying, you just knew the old man was in trouble, how you do that? Shame we couldn't help him, guess he'd buried in that mine forever now, guess that's where he'd like to be, don't ya reckon?" JD didn't respond to this or anything else Buck asked him. He'd been going about an hour when he gently placed his burden on to the wet ground. Then he knelt down and checked JD's pulse and breathing. Relived to find both strong and steady he moved to the other side of his patient so he could carry him the other way around, it didn't make him lighter but at least he was stressing his arm muscles evenly.

"Come on kid lets go find Chris and show him we can be together and not be fighting, course I'm fussing over you some, but hey, your not complaining so he'll be satisfied right?" As he spoke he stumbled and JD's head fall against his cheek. "Glad to know your agreeing with me kid, recognising the superiority of my argument."

He went on like that for another hour, walking through what was now steady wet snow and talking to JD. The snow was settling now making the going under foot slippery, he had to put more effort into keeping his balance. Then he stopped and again settled JD on to the fresh wet snow as he checked his breathing and once again changed his grip. This time it was harder to lift him, his legs trembled as he hefted the youth into his arms.

+ + + + + + +

In Four Corners the rain and cold had driven most people inside, and since there were no prisoners in the jail the towns lawmen had taken refuge in the warm, dry, comfort of the saloon. With his ankle strapped up and resting on a chair Ezra was engrossed in a game of poker. Chris and Josiah were playing chess as Vin looked on quietly absorbing the rules and tactics of the game. Nathan had gone out to check on the Bishop baby, who had the croup, they were expecting him back soon, he might get wet on the way home but considering the quality of Mrs. Bishop's cake it was a small price to pay.

"Them other two are gonna be wet through when they get back," Josiah commented idly to no one in particular.

"And cold," Vin added.

"And miserable," Chris muttered, moving his remaining knight.

"Serves them right, perhaps they'll stop fighting now," Josiah said, as he considered what to do about Chris' knight.

Inez came over to replenish their beer, and they sat back in the smug satisfaction that they were warm and dry and enjoying a welcome libation and their two friends, who had been annoying all of them for a week, were not.

Outside no one noticed two dirty and sweaty horses trotting purposefully but riderless into the livery and straight into their accustomed places. The owner, Yosemite, looked down from the loft to see the two familiar horses stemming in their stalls. Descending the ladder he took in the condition of the horses and their lack of riders and immediately shouted for his stable hand Andy. Once he was despatched to the saloon with the news, Yosemite began to saddle horses. It took only ten minutes for Chris, Vin and Josiah to be on their horses and leading two fresh spare horses. Wrapped up against the rain that was rapidly turning to sleet they set out to find their missing comrades. Chris looked down at Ezra standing lopsidedly on the boardwalk outside the saloon as he rode past.

"If Nate's not back in a couple of hours send someone for him, I just hope we don't need him," he instructed.

"Rest assured I will ensure our healer is present upon your returned," he was unable to keep the concern out of his voice, "find them Chris," he added.

Chris nodded as he and the others set out to search.

+ + + + + + +

Buck had lost track of how long he had been going and how far he had come, the muscles in his arms burned and his legs trembled. His world had narrowed down to just the path in front of him. The shear physical effort was making him perspire, and he wanted to take off his jacket, but that would mean putting JD down and he no longer felt he could pick him up again if he did that, besides it was the only thing keeping him dry. He had considered putting JD over his shoulder, but that would mean stopping and he was concerned about JD's ribs. He no longer talked to JD, just to himself.

"Pick um up and put um down, one foot at a time." He could still hear the drill sergeant's voice. "Just pick um up and put um down," he muttered to him self.

He knew if he stopped now, he would never be able to start again. He concentrated on the ground in front of him, ground now covered in a fresh snowfall, scanning for anything that might trip him, he had to stay on his feet.

+ + + + + + +

Vin continued to search for any signs despite the weather, as the search party continued to work their way along the route they knew the two men should have taken. They reached the Miller property after about and hour and a half. The Millers confirmed that no one had visited them that day. Pushing on the trail took them higher as the snow got deeper. Josiah was feeling his age, he really was getting too old for this he decided, in fact he'd decided that about an hour ago, the cold and wet had got into his bones. He and Chris were each leading a spare horse, and having to constantly make the reluctant beast keep up was making his arm ache.

Buck was so centred on the ground in front of him and staying on his feet he almost didn't realise he had made it, he had reached the trail. He lowered JD to the ground allowing him to drop harder than he had intended but powerless to do anything about it. As he stood there letting relief wash over him (too tired to think much) he registered the hoof prints in the snow, hoof prints that were rapidly filling with snow. He sank to his knees in desperation, he had missed them, he was too late, it was all for nothing! For only few seconds he allowed defeat to hold him, but he was not a man to ever give up, no matter how hopeless the situation. Pulling out his gun he was alarmed to find it shaking wildly in his hand, using both hands to steady the weapon he fired five shots into the air.

Josiah was tired, cold, wet and worried, he was lagging some yards behind Vin and Chris when he heard something, pulling both horses to a halt he held his breath to silence his own breathing, there it was again, and again. He looked behind him as the fourth shot rang out, it was so faint it was no more than a whisper on the wind, but there it was again.

"Chris," he yelled.

The black clad gunman turned in his saddle.

"I heard something behind us shots, five shots I swear!"

Vin wheeled his horse as Chris turned to the older man. He did not ask if he was sure, he knew if Josiah said he heard something it was so. All three of them set off back the way they had come. Buck had gathered his strength and had pulled JD off the trail and under a tree that offered some protection from the snow. With no horse to lead Vin quickly outpaced the other two and was the first to find the pair. Pulling up and dismounting in one fluid motion, he dropped to his knees in front of Buck who was sitting in the snow cradling the shapeless bundle that was JD.

"Hey pard," he said softly, putting a reassuring hand on to Buck's arm.

Buck looked up. "Oh thank God," he breathed, as the other two rode up and joined them.

"Is JD alright?" enquired Vin trying to get a look at the youth.

"We went to check on old Angus," Buck began, "the mine exploded, JD was thrown twenty yards or so," he said by way of explanation.

"Are you alright brother?" Josiah asked putting a hand on his shoulder.

"Me? I'm alright I was further back." Suddenly Buck seemed to get some energy back. "Come on get me a horse and hand him up."

Chris put an end to that idea. "Vin get on a fresh horse and we'll hand him up to you," he ordered. Buck was about to protest when Chris turned on him. "You're exhausted, besides Vin's the lightest so his horse 'll carry the weight better."

He knew is friend desperately wanted, needed to continue caring for his 'brother' but had no counter to Chris' logic. He nodded as Josiah lifted JD, and once Vin was mounted on the larger of the two fresh horses handed him up, careful not to disturb the wrapping protecting him from the elements.

"He's got a cut to his head, some cracked ribs I think, and his right leg or ankle or foot is broke maybe," he explained, "but he ain't woke once only moaned a little," that this was his main worry was evident in his voice.

With JD settled in front of Vin, the others mounted and in the gathering gloom set out for Four Corners. They took the direct rout, even so it was dark and bitterly cold before they were back. During the trip Buck rode beside Vin at all times, occasionally he would reach across just to reassure him self that the lad was still breathing. They didn't talk much but Chris wanted to know what had happened. There wasn't much Buck could tell him, he didn't know what had caused the explosion, he assumed the old man was dead, trapped in the mine but he couldn't prove it, he explained about the horses running off when the corral was blown away, and the cabin being ruined. As Chris listened he realised for the first time that Buck had carried JD for the best part of five miles, somehow until now it hadn't registered.

+ + + + + + +

When they reached the town they found both Nathan and Ezra waiting on the deck of the clinic, having been watching for them for some hours. Buck dismounted quickly at the side of Vin's horse and reached up to take JD, no one was about to try and stop him. Mindful of just how close to total exhaustion Buck must be Josiah and Chris followed closely behind him but he never wavered. Entering the clinic he gently laid JD onto the bed, then stepped back to let Nathan work, his only concession to being inside was to pull off his gloves and push his hat off his head, as he filled Nathan in on what he knew about JD's injuries.

Nathan found no injuries other than the ones Buck had told him about, as he cleaned out and stitched the head wound, JD moaned and he flinched as Nathan bound up his ribs. The right ankle proved to be none too serious, the ankle was swollen and hot but although Nathan thought that, unlike Ezra, his was actually broken, it seemed to be aligned and would not need to be set, just splinted. Chris helped Nathan clean him up and settled him in the big bed. Nathan stood up and turned to Buck waiting anxiously behind him, the others had come in from the other room, when they saw that Nathan was about finished.

"Now it's your turn," Nathan turned to Buck, noting how pale the big gunslinger looked, "you need a hot bath, a good meal and a long sleep," he ordered.

Buck looked past Nathan to JD, and to Chris sitting on the chair beside the bed. "Not yet, not 'till I know he's gonna be alright."

Nathan sighed. "He's doing alright Buck, you were here I'd say he's more asleep than unconscious, he ain't got no fever, it's a simple break should heal just fine."

"So he'll be alright?"

"I can't give no cast iron guaranties, but yes I'd say he's gonna be alright."

"Thanks Nath…" he never finished the words of appreciation as he sank to the floor with a sickening thud as his knees hit he floor.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan just had enough time to drop and catch him under the arms before he pitched forward on to his face.

"I think someone needs to spend the night here," Nathan said lightly as he supported Buck's dead weight.

He looked up at Josiah and Vin who had rushed forward to try and help, he asked them to take off Buck's coat. As they tugged and eased the big heavy jacket down Ezra gasped and exclaimed.

"Oh dear God!"

All the men looked down to where Ezra's horror filled gaze was riveted. Protruding from Buck's blood soaked shirt just above his right hip was a large piece of wood, it appeared to impale him with about an inch on both sides clearly visible. Everyone froze for a second, then Josiah knelt down and silently took Buck's weight from Nathan, supporting him on his left side. Nathan looked up, but before he could even ask for what he wanted Vin handed him a knife. With infinite care he cut away the shirt, he undid Buck's gun belt and handed it to Vin, then he cut away the faded long underwear, finally revealing the actual wound for all of them to see. A piece of wood about one inch in diameter at the entry site and a half-inch wide at the exit point had been driven, by the explosion, into Buck and was stuck there. Nathan looked around realising that everyone was looking at him and expecting him to know what to do.

"How long do you reckon that’s been in there?" he asked the others.

Chris thought a while, "Maybe eight hours maybe more," he guessed.

"Jesus," Nathan breathed. "Alright Vin, you and Chris get JD moved on to the cot, make sure you don't knock his ankle. Ezra do you think you can put some towels down on the bed?"

"Naturally," Ezra responded, as he hobbled to the dresser where Nathan kept his linen.

Nathan looked at Josiah, who while supporting Buck had also been quietly talking to the unconscious man. "Josiah you an' me we're gonna lift him on to the bed and we're gonna have to keep this side strait and lay him on his left side."

Everyone did as he had instructed, once Buck was lying on his side on the bed Nathan re-examined the wounds, they had bled some but not excessively, the blood was now dry and caked around the wood at both wounds. It seemed to Nathan that the wood mocked him, it would be so easy, so tempting just to pull it out, and make Buck whole again, but he knew he couldn't do that yet. He tried to think of a way to do it as he checked for other injuries, finding none, he felt his patient's brow, which was too warm. This, Nathan knew, was one injury he was never going to be able to keep infection away from, the wood itself not to mention the dirt and pieces of clothing it had driven into the wound would see to that. But somehow he had to come up with away to ward of the kind of lingering, festering, infection that not even a great survivor like Buck could beat. He looked up at the four expectant worried faces watching him, expecting him to pull off another miracle.

"Right," he began, "Ezra, get over there and sit with JD, you need to be off that ankle and 'sides your non-to good with other people's blood," he instructed.

Ezra bristled, "I can assure you Mr. Jackson I can rise to any crisis if so required. But I am happy to look to young Mr. Dunne as you request." With that he hobbled over and took the chair beside JD propping his sore ankle on the edge of the bed.

"Josiah, Vin I want you to get me a whole bucket of boiled water, in a clean bucket mind you, it needs to cool down to body temperature, and some of Inez's best whisky." Both men nodded and quickly left on their mission. Nathan turned to Chris. He handed him a knife and a big pair of dressmaker's scissors. "I need you to get him out of those dirty wet clothes," he explained.

While everyone went about their appointed tasks Nathan prepared the equipment and instruments he was going to use. Then he set about cleaning the dried blood from around the wood, Buck flinched a little but made no sound or attempt to move. It took about forty minutes to get everything assembled. Everyone had a job, Nathan looked around.

"Everyone clear on what we're gonna do, if'n not now's the time t' speak up." They said nothing but gave him apprehensive nods, they were as ready as they would ever be.


Comments to: