by Sue Kelley

Nifty Disclaimer Thingy: I don't own the M7 characters. (I'm not exactly sure at this point who does own them, but it's not me). I'm not making any money off this story and since I'm a poor health care professional I have no money period so don't bother to sue me.

Author's Notes: This is just one of those stories which pops into my head and bugs me until I write it down. When I finished it I realized it was probably partially inspired by Jody Revenson's "Unexpected In Common Hours. Many thanks to Jody for such a wonderful story and no toe-stomping is intended.

Chaucer owes his name to Kristin and Paladin owes hers to Mitzi.

Thanks to my betas Wendy and Lori, as always!

Summary: JD says some things Buck might not live to regret.

They call me The Kid. Worse, they think of me as The Kid. Nobody seems to remember I'm only a couple of years younger than Vin. Hell, I'm not that much younger than Ezra. At least Vin and Ezra don't call me "Son". It would sound pretty stupid comin' from them--like they were out begetting (Josiah uses that word sometimes) children before they were even in long pants themselves. Vin does call me "Kid" though. Not too often, but sometimes. Ezra don't ever call me that but I bet he thinks it. He does call me "Young Man" in that same tone of voice old Mrs. Kent used when she didn't like the way I groomed her carriage horses.

As for the others...well, Josiah calls everyone "Son". Okay, not Chris. Chris'd probably just shoot him or something if he called him "Son"

Nathan and Chris? I'm not sure either of them knows my name. Maybe they think my name is The Kid, like in that dime novel about that Pony Express rider. Maybe I should "accidentally" leave Ma's old Bible out so they can see where she entered my name the day I was born... no, that wouldn't be a good idea. Them thinking my name is The Kid Dunne is better than them knowin' what the "D" in "JD" stands for.

I think.

Then there's Buck.

Now, Buck does know my name. But it don't make any difference. No matter what he calls me--JD, Kid, Son--he thinks of me as a kid. A greenhorn. Someone who has to be led by the hand...and taken care of.

Okay, maybe...just maybe that was true when we first met. After my mother died I just had one idea in my head--GO WEST YOUNG MAN. Ma'd saved some money--it was always her dream that I'd go to college. There wasn't anything near enough for that but there was enough to get me west. With my saddle and one change of clothes, the Bible and her old locket. That stage got here to town just as all heck--hell was breaking loose with those cattle hands just bound and determined they were goin' to hang Nathan, and Chris and Vin just as determined they weren't goin' to.

Guess they had every right to laugh when I showed up and invited myself along to the Seminole village. Especially since Chris had called me on drawin' on a man's back the day before. I don't know why I done that, I wasn't goin' to shoot him. Guess I was just trying to show off in front of the great Chris Larabee.

But heck--hell, that was a long time ago. Over a year back. Maybe I was a kid then. But I'm a man now. In any way that means anything. Well, maybe not every way...although I bet Buck is the only person who thinks...well, you know, that, makes a man a man.

But I've shot people (not in the back). I cuss and gamble and even drink whiskey--well, okay, I drink beer. Sometimes. Can't see how the guys toss back that rotgut--it tastes like horse liniment smells. I even wore a tin star (not for very long, but I was the sheriff of this town for awhile). And now I'm one of The Seven


Josiah just wandered past and stopped to talk about coyotes and wolves. It didn't make much sense but I know what he's sayin'. He thinks I was wrong for yellin' at Buck in front of everybody last night. Heck--Hell, everybody wants to tell me I was wrong. Chris lit into me before the saloon doors stopped swingin' behind Buck's back. Like he's got so much room to talk. He gets mad at Buck all the time. I didn't say that to him, though...I don't have a death wish in spite of what Buck says.

Okay, so maybe I was spoilin' for a fight. Heck--Hell, I don't even remember what he said to piss me off. I snapped back and he laughed. He laughed! Like nothing I said should be took serious. I started stammerin' I was so mad. Then he said it, somethin' about me maybe havin' had too much beer. I yelled, "Just shut up, Buck Wilmington! I don't need you tellin' me what to do. You ain't my big brother! Just get out a' my life!"

You know how a room just goes so deathly quiet so it sounds like you're yellin' at the top of your lungs? Well, that's the way the saloon was. Everybody was starin'. First at me then at Buck.

Buck just looked...funny. His face...just shut down. Not like Ezra's poker face, Buck's face just went...still. All of a sudden I thought of Johnny, this kid that worked in the stable with me. He fell out of the hayloft. Broke his foot but he didn't know it at first. He jumped up real fast. He touched his foot down on the ground and--just for a second--his face went just still and dead. Then of course he realized he was hurtin' like blazes and he started yellin' his head off.

Buck didn't yell. He didn't say anything. His eyes went really dark, almost black. Then he looked over at Chris, and back at me. He still didn't say anything. He just put down his beer mug and got up and left the saloon.

For what seemed like forever it was really quiet, nobody lookin' at anybody else. Then all of a sudden people started talking and laughing and tryin' to pretend nothing happened.

Not the guys though. Vin just looked at me and shook his head. Ezra put down his cards and muttered something that translated to "Going to get a breath of fresh air," and walked out behind Buck. Nathan and Josiah just looked--I don't know--sad. And Chris stared at me. Not his real deadly glare--the one he gives bad guys when they're trying to rob the bank, or Ezra when he's slept in and missed his patrol, or even Buck when he's just being...Buck. No he just stared at me like he'd never seen me before. Or maybe he had seen me but had never recognized me.

I got up to go get another beer and while I was standing at the bar Chris appeared next to me and said "It ain't right to fault a man for bein' what he is, Kid. Buck's Buck."

Okay, so what was that supposed to mean? I just stared at him. He wasn't lookin' at me, he was lookin' into space, and he nodded real slow and said, "Shouldn't wish somethin' precious away, cause one day you might just wake up and find it's gone."

He must be taking lessons from Josiah. Funny thing, I wasn't sure he was even talkin' to me. I mean, at the time I thought he was, but lookin' back on it now, maybe he was talkin' to himself.

Not that either one of us is ever gonna get rid of Buck, though. Heck--Hell, when I'm trippin' over my long white beard and my grandkids, Buck'll still be around. Probably still callin' me Kid and braggin' about his animal maggotism.

I went back to the table. Vin had gone--it was his turn on midnight patrol. Chris followed me back but he didn't say anything more. After a little while though I got tired of the silence and I went over to my room.

I tapped on Buck's door as I passed it. No, I wasn't goin' to apologize to him but...I just wanted...heck--hell, I don't know what I wanted to do. Make sure he was there I guess. Make sure that I had imagined that look in his eyes. Like I'd cut him to the heart or something.

But he wasn't there. Course he wasn't. Buck don't spend very many nights in his own room. Heck--hell I don't know why he don't just let it go and save the judge the money. Guess he needs a place to keep his extra shirts.

So I went to bed. Couldn't sleep though. I kind of tossed and turned. Kept seeing that look on Buck's face, and then hearing what Chris had said, and tryin' to figure it out. I was still mad at Buck but by mornin' I was kinda mad at myself too. I mean, I didn't mean for the whole town to hear what I said. I know that embarrassed Buck. Funny thing, you wouldn't think someone who's first exposure to the town was when he fell out of some lady's room wearin' nothin' but his long-johns could get embarrassed.

I kept waitin' for Buck to come home. His room is next to mine and he usually comes in at some point. I never heard him though. He had the dawn patrol so I figured he probably just went straight from his lady friend to relieve Vin. Or maybe he slipped in quiet. I did sleep some so he could have done that.

I didn't feel so good when I got up. Not sick, but just wrong somehow. And I had a headache like nobody's business.

Okay, maybe Buck was right and I did drink too much beer.

I headed over to the hotel for breakfast. Walked in and the first person I saw was Vin. Which wasn't so strange cause he usually eats breakfast after he comes in from patrol before he disappears somewhere to sleep.

But Vin wasn't eatin'. He wasn't even sitting down at the table. He was standing next to Chris and both of them looked kind of worried. Chris saw me and motioned for me to come over. "JD. You seen Buck?"

"No." I reached for the pot of coffee...and then caught the funny looks Vin and Chris were giving me. "Why? He okay?" I got a little worried. I said to Vin, "He relieved you this mornin'."

Vin looked at Chris and then shook his head. "He never showed up."

I felt real cold suddenly. I looked over at the clock. It was after seven. Over an hour since Buck should have relieved Vin. Wasn't like him to be that late. Hell, it wasn't like him to be late at all. That's Ezra's trick. But I said anyway, "He probably just got...sidetracked (hell I can't even think about it without blushing!) And forgot the time."

"Yeah." Chris didn't look convinced. "Probably so."

Vin shook his head. "I looked. His horse ain't in the stable."

The cold spread deep in my gut through my whole body. I quickly looked at Chris, more for reassurance than anything else. I figured--I was hopin'--he'd make his usual "Buck can take care of himself" kind of comment.

But Chris didn't say anything. He just pushed himself out of his chair and strode toward the door. Vin fell into step with him and I scrambled behind them.

Chris led us straight to Buck's room at the rooming house. He didn't knock, just tried the door. It was locked and he looked at me. "You got a key?"

I shook my head. Chris turned on his heel and went down the hall to his own room. Vin stayed put at Buck's door but for some reason I followed Chris. I was right there when he unlocked his door and I started to step in but he blocked me with his arm. He stepped in himself, moving delicately, almost on his tiptoes, looking at the floor and behind the door. "No note," he said harshly, seeing me watching him. Walking across the room he yanked open the top drawer of the dresser and pulled out a delicate gold-and-ivory china box. I felt my eyes widen. It sure didn't look like somethin' Chris Larabee should have. When he opened it a tinkling tune filled the room. I figured it must have been his wife's music box although I kind of remembered Buck telling me the house and everything in it was destroyed in the fire that killed Sarah and Adam. The box looked so tiny and fragile in Chris' big hand. He reached in and pulled out a key with two fingers. Then he was closing the box and putting it back in the drawer, and pushing past me without a word.

Buck's room, when Chris opened the door, looked like it always does. Well, maybe a little neater. The bed was made. One more reason to believe Buck had never made it home last night. Yesterday was Monday. The owner of the boarding house does laundry on Mondays. Every bed is treated to clean sheets.

Vin and I just stood in the door and watched Chris. If he was lookin' for anything specific, I couldn't tell. He opened the drawers--the first two had some clothes in them and the bottom drawer was empty. But then it always was. Chris' face seemed to relax some when he opened up the small drawer on top of the dresser. His body blocked me so I couldn't see what was in it, but he closed the drawer gently and turned to face Vin and me. "Well, wherever he is, he meant to come back." His voice sounded relieved.

"You sure about that, Cowboy?" Vin asked. Chris nodded, once, firmly.

I had a sick feeling in my stomach. Chris had been worried that Buck wouldn't come back? Why? Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, "Buck wouldn't leave. Not just cause of what I--" I stumbled to a stop when Chris just looked at me. The look in his eyes made me so mad I just said the first thing I thought. "Hell, Chris, I know you've said worse to him than I did, and he never left you!"

Vin grabbed my arm but it was too late, I'd already said it. For a minute I thought Chris might draw down on me and I was angry and stupid enough to almost hope he did.


Chris just shook his head. He looked older, suddenly, and tired. Then his body stiffened with tension. "Ezra," he muttered.

I glanced over my shoulder, half expecting Ezra to be there, but he wasn't. Of course, he wasn't. Ezra didn't ever get up before ten unless someone made him.

Chris swung around to look at Vin. "Ezra followed Buck out of the saloon last night. Was Chaucer in his stall?"

Vin looked surprised, then thoughtful, then he shook his head in disgust. "Nope. He wasn't. Damn. I didn't even notice."

Chris elbowed past us into the hall, Vin right on his heels. I followed, trying to tell myself not to worry. It was okay. Buck was okay. He was just...somewhere else. Eagle Bend maybe, or maybe he'd gone over to Bitter Creek or down to Purgatorio. Well, no, not Purgatorio. But somewhere. Somewhere there was whiskey and a willing lady.

And Buck could always find a willing lady.

But my stomach was churnin' like I'd drunk bad milk or something. I kept hearin' my own voice last night, tellin' my best friend--no, more than friend--my brother in all but blood--to get out of my life. Kept seein' the look on his face just before he turned and walked out.

We all burst out of the boarding house into the bright morning sunshine. Vin was in the lead now, headin' toward the stables...then he stopped so fast Chris almost ran him down.

Two horses were plodding wearily into town, both so covered in brownish-gray dust I couldn't even tell what color they were. Except I knew. Knew even before I saw Ezra on the back of the lead horse, covered head to toe in the same choking dust.

Ezra was dallying the other horse behind him, holding onto the reins. A big horse. Lighter color than Chaucer, even under all that dust.


Buck's horse. Pal, he calls her.

I was running before I even consciously recognized the figure on Pal's back. A tall man, I could see that, even though he was slumped in the saddle like--


God, no!




I ran, but Chris and Vin were still there before me. Vin yanked out his knife and cut the ropes binding Buck's wrists to the saddle horn. Buck started to slide limply to one side but Chris reached up and caught him, easing him off the horse's back. Vin moved to help before they both ended up in the dirt. Buck's hat fell off and I saw his face.

Saw all the blood.

Oh dear God so much blood. All over his face and neck and shirt, caked in his hair.

For a few dizzying minutes all I could see was that blood. Spots danced in front of my eyes and I was scared I was goin' to throw up right there in the street in front of everybody. Everything moved real slow, start and stop. There was a roaring in my ears, so loud I thought everyone else must be able to hear it too.

Chris yelled for Nathan. He and Vin were tryin' to keep Buck upright between them. Chris was yelling at Buck, tellin' him to wake up, to open his eyes. But Buck just hung there between them, like a broken doll. Vin was trying to get both of them moving--then suddenly, Josiah and Nathan were just there. Never saw where they came from. Josiah somehow got Chris to let go, and he took Buck's legs and Vin took his shoulders, and they carried him up the steep steps to Nathan's clinic.

Chris and I started to follow, then suddenly Chris whirled around and glared at Ezra. Ezra was still on his horse, just staring after Vin and Josiah. He'd lost his hat somewhere and his hair was dark with sweat and dirt.

"What happened?" Chris snapped.

Ezra looked down at Chris and me as if he'd just realized we were there. He blinked two or three times and then his eyes drifted off to follow the others. "Rockslide," he finally answered.

Ezra never answers questions with just one word but I was so scared about Buck it didn't even strike me as strange until later on.

"Rockslide?" Chris repeated. His eyes narrowed. "Where? Are you all right?"

"Devil's Finger." Ezra shifted in the saddle. "My injuries are minor--"

"What the Hell were you two doing out there?" Chris exploded.

Devil's Finger is a canyon about two hours north of town. I've been there once. I thought of the narrow canyon floor and the high walls of jagged black rocks and shuddered.

Buck could have been killed.

I had to make sure he was okay. I turned and ran up the stairs to Nathan's. Just as I reached the top I heard Chris pound up behind me. Ezra had turned the horses and was slowly moving them toward the stables.

They'd put Buck in Nathan's bed and Josiah was moving around gathering up both the lamps and some candles. The curtains were open but the sun was on the other side of the building and so it was still pretty dim in there. Vin was standing against the wall, out of the way, and he was looking down at his hands. They were covered with something dark. Josiah lit one of the lamps and as the light fell across Vin I realized it was blood on his hands.

Buck's blood.

My heart started pumpin' wildly in my chest and I swallowed, trying to ignore the queasy feeling. Nathan was leaning over Buck. Buck was facin' away from me so I couldn't see him. I started to move around the bed but Nathan looked up and fixed me with a look that froze me in place.

Nathan was scared. Really scared.

I stopped. I opened my mouth but I couldn't say anything. My throat was dry as a desert and the queasiness was nausea churning my gut.


Chris' voice. He'd come in behind me. He didn't stop though, just walked around and looked down at Buck. His eyes widened and his shoulders seemed to slump. "Oh, shit," he breathed.

I'd never heard him sound like that before and it scared me even more. I started forward but Vin grabbed my arm. Then Chris turned around and blocked my view. "JD, get out of here," he ordered.

The haunted look in his eyes told me it was bad. But I was pissed too cause they were treating me like a kid again. I yanked my arm loose from Vin and dodged around Chris before he could stop me.

Oh dear God...

I took one look at the jagged gaping wound above Buck's eye and disappearing back into his hair and the room started spinnin' in circles. I couldn't breathe. Everything tilted crazily...


"Breathe, JD."

I blinked. Everything seemed to be upside down and I slowly realized my head was between my knees. I tried to raise up but someone held me down and I felt something cold and drippin' wet on my neck. I took a deep breath of the fresh air. "Vin?" I asked. My voice seemed really small and far away.

"Right here, kid." The pressure on my shoulder increased a little. "You feelin' better?"

I pushed against his hand again and this time he let me raise my head. I blinked, looking around. I was on the balcony outside Nathan's clinic and Vin was crouched on his heels next to me. "What happened?" I asked. Everything seemed really vague and fuzzy.

And then I remembered. "Oh damn. Buck!" I tried to jump up but everything whirled around again and Vin grabbed me and shoved me back down onto the hard wooden bench.

"Mr. Dunne? Mr. Tanner? Is something amiss?" Ezra appeared, slowly climbing the staircase with one hand on the railing.

Vin snorted. "Shit Ezra, where have you been?"

Even I could tell that wasn't really a question but Ezra seemed to take it serious. "I was seeing to the welfare of Mr. Wilmington's and my own steeds," he answered.

Vin gave him a funny look. "You feelin' okay, Ez?" he asked. "You didn't get hurt, did ya?"

"Minor injuries, I assure you. Mr. Wilmington was in front of me..." Ezra trailed off. He carefully sat down next to me. "How is he?"

"Nathan's with him." Vin glanced at me. "Got kinda crowded and stuffy in there."

I felt my cheeks flame. My best friend was hurt bad and all I could do was faint like a girl. Shit. No wonder they all thought of me as a kid...I sure acted like one.

The door opened and Chris stepped out. His eyes were dark and bleak. I felt that sick feelin' in my stomach again. "Chris..." I started. I couldn't go on. I couldn't ask.

I was afraid to know.

"How is he?" Vin asked.

"Nathan's still workin' on him," Chris answered shortly. He clomped across the rough boards and dropped down on my other side. I could see fine beads of sweat on his forehead before he wiped them away.

"Is he..." My voice failed and I had to clear my throat and start again. "Is he awake?"

Chris just shook his head. He glanced past me at Ezra. "You hurt?"

"I was just explaining to Mr. Tanner that Mr. Wilmington was in front of me when..." Ezra swallowed hard. I could tell he was tryin' to keep up his poker face but his voice shook a little as he finished, "When the rock fall started."

"What were you doin' there anyway?" Chris didn't sound angry this time, just tired and sad.

Ezra shrugged. "I just followed Mr. Wilmington. He seemed agitated last night and I thought it unwise--" he stopped dead.

"Agitated." That's an Ezra word all right. What he meant was Buck was upset and hurt because of what I'd yelled at him.

I was so cold suddenly. I shivered. Vin felt it and he squeezed my shoulder. "Weren't your fault, JD," he said firmly. "It was an accident."

I shook my head, blinking against the sudden rush of tears. It was my fault. Buck was out there cause of me, cause of what I said. I knew it, they knew it. "I yelled at him," I started.

"You didn't drop rocks on him," Chris said. He didn't meet my eyes, just stared down. "And you were right, before...if yellin' at Buck drove him off he'd have been long gone."

"Damn it!" I yelled, taking them all by surprise. I even surprised myself but hell, why couldn't Chris just admit the truth? I yelled at Buck. Because of me, he was out there in that canyon when those rocks started falling. Because of me...

If he died...

Oh God...

He can't...he can't die...

Please Buck. Please! Please don't die...


I don't know how long we sat out there. Felt like forever. Miz Travis showed up with a pot of coffee. Chris, Vin and I all drank some although I couldn't even taste it. I just needed something hot. I was still so cold.

Ezra didn't drink any. He barely answered when Miz Travis spoke to him. He was still covered head to toe with that grayish dust and he had his arms crossed in front of him. A couple of times I felt him shiver so maybe I wasn't the only one feelin' cold.

Finally the door opened and Nathan came out, wipin' his hands on a towel. I jumped up, but my legs were still wobbly and I sat right back down again. "Nathan? How is he? Is he awake yet?"

Nathan looked at me, then looked away. He shook his head. The look on his face...

"Nathan!" Chris' voice demanded answers.

"He's got a couple of broke ribs. Up high," Nathan pointed on his own body. His hand dropped to his side. "Don't seem to have torn up his lungs. He's pretty banged up and bruised but I don't think he's bleeding inside."

Okay, that was all good news. Well, not the part about the broke ribs, but broke ribs can heal. Looking at Nathan though, I found myself holding my breath. There was more and I knew it was bad.

"His head," Nathan started. He stopped, shook his head, then wiped at his eyes with one hand. "It's a bad wound. Real bad. I got the bleeding stopped but..."

"But what?" Chris' voice was soft but still demanding.

"He's not respondin' to anything," Nathan blurted out. The words came out in a rush, a lot faster than he normally talks. "He should be in pain--the head wound, those ribs--but he doesn't seem to feel it. He doesn't respond to my voice or Josiah's or to us touchin' him. I gave him some water and he didn't even try to swallow."

I tried to say somethin'--don't even know what--but it was like my voice had just disappeared.

"What are ya sayin', Nate?" Vin asked the question.

Nathan took a deep breath. "There's somethin' I've read about...with bad head injuries. It's called a coma."

I felt Ezra jump a little bit beside me.

"It's not sleep...more like deep unconsciousness."

Nobody said anything. Vin looked puzzled and Chris didn't look much of anything. Ezra was starin' down at his hands and I noticed they were clenched together so tightly the bones almost looked like they were going to rip through the dirty skin.

I found my voice. "So when he wakes up, will he be okay?" I was praying so hard that Nathan would say yes but I knew he wasn't goin' to. But I wasn't prepared for what he did say.

His eyes when he met mine were wet. "JD...he may not wake up at all."

I heard what he said but I couldn't believe it. No. No. Not Buck. I looked around wildly. Vin was shaking his head. Chris clenched his jaw and his eyes got that flinty green look. And Ezra flinched like someone had hit him.

Nobody said anything.

"Can't we do somethin' Nathan?" Vin's voice almost sounded pleading.

Nathan rubbed the back of his neck with one shaking hand. "Pray," he answered bluntly. "And...some doctors think if you talk to the person, it helps. Gives them something to hang on them find their way back." He held up one hand as Vin and Chris both started for the door. "Josiah's finishin' cleanin' him up now. We can't all be in there at one time. You need to take turns."

That's Nathan's rule whenever someone gets hurt. He says the last thing he needs is everybody crowdin' in there, gettin' no rest and clutterin' the place up. But I didn't care. Buck was my best friend and I was stayin' with him. I stood up. Chris glanced at me and unclenched his jaw long enough to say, "JD and I'll stay with him. Vin, you've got the patrol; I'll relieve you in four hours." Chris sounded as if he was reciting all that for a school lesson. His eyes flickered to Ezra.

"I need to check him over," Nathan said, meaning Ezra.

"There need for that, Mr. Jackson." Ezra pushed against the bench to stand up. "A bath and fresh wearing apparel and I--" his face went sheet-white under all the dirt and his knees buckled. Surprised, I grabbed his arm to try to break his fall but he was heavier than he looked. He ended up on the boardwalk and I ended up on my knees next to him. "Ezra?" I called, laying my hand on the leg that was nearest to me. Something wet and warm and sticky was all over his pants. I jerked my hand back, holding it up. My heart started pounding even harder when I realized it was blood. "Nathan!"


Turned out Ezra had cut his leg, a long, jagged tear in his thigh all the way down to the back of his knee. Nathan cleaned it up and stopped the bleeding, all the time cussin' Ezra for a stubborn fool. Ezra slept through it. He started to come around though when Nathan started stitchin' it closed. Nathan stopped muttering under his breath long enough to get him to drink some water and one of his evil-smelling teas for the pain.

"Is he going to be okay?" Chris finally asked from where he was sitting next to Buck. He hadn't moved from that spot since he and Vin had carried Ezra in and put him on the cot, since Buck was in the bed. Chris had one hand resting on Buck's on top of the blanket. I was on the other side but I couldn't look at Buck's face yet. I watched Nathan with Ezra but I kept my hand on Buck's chest so I could feel the rise and fall of his breathing.

"If he does what I tell him--which he won't, the stupid idiot," Nathan flared. In spite of his anger, his big hands were gentle as he bandaged Ezra's leg. "What the hell was he thinkin', not tellin' us he was hurt?"

If Chris said anything, I didn't hear it. I'd finally worked up my courage to look at Buck. My heart sank into my stomach. He was so still. Buck's never still. Heck, even when he's asleep out on the trail he's got this air of restlessness about him. The only time I've ever seen him like this was--I felt sick.

He'd been like this out in the Seminole village, after he took a sword meant for me.

That was right after we met, a year ago. A year? Was that all? Sometimes it seemed like I'd known the guys all my life; that I'd always been here. Boston and the stables behind the three-story mansion on the Charles River seem so far away. I still think of my mother a lot, but good memories now. The pain of losing her is less. I have another family now. I know she's happy about that, where she is.

And I have a special big brother. A best friend.

I look back at the still figure in the bed. Bruises were starting to come out all over his face and chest. The bandage hid the head wound but one eye was swollen and black.

Chris had leaned down close to Buck's face and was talking to him, so quiet I couldn't make out the words. Chris' icy mask had dropped away and I could see the fear in his eyes.

I looked away, my throat closing up, tears coming to my eyes. I blinked them away furiously. Damn it, I'm a man, not a kid. Men don't cry.

Don't do this Buck. Don't you dare die on me.


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