Second Chances

by LT

Part 1 -3 | Part 4 - 7 | Part 8 - 11
Part 12 - 14 | Part 15 - 16 | Part 17 - 18
Part 19 - Epilogue

Part Four

Ezra slowly walked down the stairs after him and went straight to the saloon. There was someone else who needed to be told. Ezra knew Inez was an early riser, usually getting down to the kitchen shortly after sunrise to begin the food preparation for the noon meal. She would be up in her room at the top of the stairs right now, getting ready to start another day.. Ezra entered the Standish Tavern and made his way across the bar room to the stairs. He stood at the foot of the stairs, looking up at her door, trying to figure out what to say. He hated to be the one to break her heart. Slowly, he started up the staircase.

As if she knew something was terribly wrong, Inez turned in her room and moved across the floor as if something was pulling at her. Slowly she opened the door. She was only partially dressed, her skirt still laying on the bed. She was filled with apprehension and when she saw Ezra coming slowly up the stairs, her hand flew to her mouth and she moaned, the sound of it tearing through Ezra's heart. He ran the rest of the way up the stairs and pulled her to him. He held her tightly for she was shaking uncontrollably. After several minutes, he pushed her away to arm's length and looked into the tear filled brown eyes he so adored.

"I am so sorry, my sweet Senorita. He fought so hard all night long but the end is inevitable. The bullet hit him in the back and ...." She didn't need to hear the gory details. "He's peaceful, not in any pain that I know of now." He took a deep breath. "It’s all my fault, Inez. I was with him when it happened. I should have stopped Rory before he could pull the trigger. I failed him."

"Why didn't I know? Why didn't anyone tell me?" She looked so miserable, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Only a few men came to help me carry him to Nathan's and they probably went straight home afterwards. I had to get Chris, Buck was calling for him. There was nothing you could have done, Sweetheart. He lost consciousness shortly after Chris arrived and he never woke up again. Knowing a few hours earlier would have changed nothing. I am so sorry, Inez, I know what he meant to you even if he didn't. Believe me, Inez, when I tell you that he was as much in love with you as you were with him. He was so crazy over you, my dear. I never saw him work harder or endure such jesting as he went through for you. And now…" He didn’t complete his thought. It would do no good. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"No," she whispered. She turned and walked lifelessly back into her room. She finished dressing and made her way downstairs. She had customers to feed.

A few minutes later, Ezra appeared at the door to the kitchen. He had saddlebags in his left hand and a piece of paper in his right. He laid the piece of paper on the counter beside him and then he reached in his pocket and pulled out a silver dollar. He held it up and then laid it in front of her on the chopping board. He took a step backward, his gaze on the boards of the floor.

"I promised him a beer on his coffin."

He quickly turned and walked out the way he had come.

Josiah followed down the stairs after JD and Ezra and went to his church. He needed to prey, for Buck, for Ezra, for all of the seven. As he walked into the church, he sensed someone inside long before he saw him or heard him. The man in black was sitting in the last pew by the wall. His head was down and Josiah could see the shoulders of the man bob up and down with his sobbing. He could tell the fearsome gunslinger had not heard him enter the building, his mind was far away from the church. Josiah watched him for several minutes before he quietly made his way to the man's side. He sat beside him, not touching him or saying a word. Patiently, he waited.

Gradually, Chris stopped crying, and sniffing back the last tear, he turned his head to Josiah. He took a ragged breath and shook his head. He licked his lips and turned his attention to his folded hands.

"I can't believe in a God that takes people away like this, Josiah. I cried when my parents died but Buck made things tolerable. I went half insane when my Sarah and Adam died but Buck was there to take care of everything. He was there to pull me back from the edge and bring me back to sanity." He shrugged his shoulders. "Who do I turn to now, Josiah? That big galoot was more a brother to me than my own flesh and blood. Every big event in my life, Buck has been a part of it".

"After the war, I went back to Indiana to find all that I had known, my whole world, was gone. So I headed out West. I was so lost, I had no plan, no direction. And then I met up with Buck again. You see, we had met during the war. He was the one that got me through some terrible times. He could always make me smile with that grin of his. You know the one." Chris half smiled, remembering the smile that could light up a whole room.

"Anyway, I just ran into him one night. After that, we did everything together. We were two stupid, hotheaded, know it alls, who didn't know a damn thing about the prairie or the mountains or cattle. Shit, we did the stupidest things but somehow, we made it. Until we met Sarah. And somehow, she managed to tame both of us. Shit, Buck helped me court Sarah! He would help me go behind her father's back just to see her. He was there at our wedding. He helped us get the money for our ranch and Sarah told him it was his home too. He always liked that. He never stayed away too long and after Adam was born, he took a job in town so that he could see Adam every week. He loved that boy like he was his own son." Chris hesitated. He shook his head and whispered, "He felt so damn guilty … about their deaths. I drove him away, Josiah. I wanted to die and he wouldn’t let me. I tried to … " Chris swiped angrily at the tears. "The year we were apart, I cursed his name every day. I needed someone to blame, Preacher, and he was … convenient."

Chris looked Josiah in the eye. "He's not the man that all of you think he is. He's so much more than he ever let you guys see. You know, he never trusted any man until we got here. Yet, he could be the most generous person you could meet. He gave me anything I asked him for and most of the things I didn't. He was always sorry that he never had children. He wanted a little girl so bad. You know how he loves the ladies. He always had a fire boiling inside him when it came to protectin’ the weak and defenseless. If a woman or a child were in danger, he would throw himself into saving them without thinking. Do you remember the rebel band when we all first met, how he stepped in front of JD to take the saber blow? That was Buck. That was my friend and companion for almost sixteen years. Josiah, what am I going to do now?"

Josiah slid his arms around the blonde and pulled him close. He felt Chris’s shoulders hitch up with each sob. He never said a word. Finally, Chris gathered himself and sat up straight. He put his stone face back on, took a deep breath, and walked out of the church. Josiah had never uttered one single word but Chris felt a little of the crushing sorrow ease, at least enough so that he could return to Buck’s side. He washed his face in the nearest trough and went back to where his friend lay dying.. Chris sat beside him, held his hand and waited for the end.

Part Five

Josiah walked out of the church and slowly made his way down the street. People were starting their day with the same motions and habits that they did everyday. None of them seemed affected by the shooting that had occurred while they were sleeping. Josiah wanted to scream at them, "Hey, the best part of this town is dying! What's wrong with you?" but he kept quiet. Most of these people probably weren't even aware of the gun play last night and if they were, it really didn't impact their lives one way or the other. Josiah walked on.

Mary Travis stood outside the door of her newspaper office. She was aware of the shooting last night. She understood the look on Josiah's face as he approached her. Her heart went out to him and the other five. She had spent a lot of time with these seven men and she knew how they felt about each other. She adored Buck for his love of life just as his friends did. She would also miss him. She walked to meet Josiah and she hugged him tightly.

"Is there anything that can be done for him, Josiah?" she asked.

"No. Maybe if there was a doctor in town but I doubt if even a doctor could do anything. He was shot in the lung and he can't breathe, Mary. The end is not far away if he is still alive. Chris could use someone though. None of us knows what to do for him now. He's so lost. Maybe you could ... I don't know," Josiah just shook his head.

Mary brightened slightly. "Josiah, there is a doctor in town. She's at the hotel. The stage she was on broke down yesterday and she had to stay overnight. I met her at dinner last night. I bet she would help!"

Josiah's head snapped up and he grabbed Mary by the arms. "Please tell me you’re not pulling my leg!"

"I wouldn’t do that, Josiah. Not with Buck’s life on the line." Mary was stone cold serious.

"What are we waiting for?" Josiah took her by the arm and together they rushed to the hotel to fetch a doctor.

Josiah opened the door to Nathan's clinic. Nathan met him at the door, trying to halt the big man’s entry. Nathan wanted to keep everyone out of the room until the wait was over. Chris wasn't up to anyone talking right now. He saw a woman standing slightly behind Josiah.

Josiah pushed past Nathan. He quickly said, "Nathan, this is Amanda. Right over here." He started to take the woman over to the bed.

Nathan grabbed his arm and spun him around. "You idiot. Excuse me ma'am but our friend is dying and I don't think this is the time or place for you."

"Yes it is, Nathan! This is Dr. Amanda Elder. She's here to help save Buck. She was on her way back to San Diego when the stage broke down. She just finished her schooling in Chicago. She's a surgeon, Nathan!" He placed his hand on the doctor's back and urged her forward.

Chris turned to see a woman dressed in blue gingham making her way toward the bed and Buck. She had a large black bag in her hand and the word surgeon rang in Chris's ears. He stood and allowed her to examine Buck. She took instruments out of her bag that looked totally foreign to Chris. She listened, she looked, she poked, and finally, she stood up and turned toward the three men in the room.

"Get everything off that table and put some blankets over it. Do you have a sterile sheet?" She looked right at Nathan.

He nodded and automatically started to do her bidding. Josiah was clearing the table already. Dr. Elder moved to the dresser near the table and started laying out her surgical instruments.

"Hold on!" Chris's voice boomed over the activity in the room. "What the hell are you doing?"

Dr. Elder turned and walked slowly up to Chris. Although she was five inches shorter than him, she looked him squarely in the eye. "You have two choices. One, you can let him die or two, you can let me operate. I assure you, sir, that without my help, this man will be dead in twenty minutes. Should we stand here and debate or will you get out of the way?"

Chris studied the woman carefully and then, he stepped aside. He had no choice. She couldn't hurt Buck anymore than he was hurt already.

"Strip him down and place him on his stomach on the table. Then you two leave. Sir, I take it you are the healer Josiah told me about. I will need your assistance." She looked at Nathan. He nodded and moved to take off Buck's remaining clothing. Nathan and Josiah carefully lifted Buck and carried him to the table. Josiah gently patted Buck's head and then he left.

Dr. Elder poured boiling water from Nathan's stove over her instruments and then she turned. She glared at Chris and slowly, he moved to leave. He stopped and glared back at her. But he never said a word. He opened the door and left the room.

Part Six

JD pulled up his horse as he approached Nettie's small ranch. He had no idea what he was going to tell Vin or Nettie. Nettie was the aunt of JD's girlfriend, Casey Wells. Over the past nine months, Nettie had adopted most of the seven. She absolutely adored Vin, whom she treated like a son. She got a big kick out of Buck. She always said, "That boy is so full of shit, he'd have to spend a week in the privy to get it all out." She would laugh at his antics and then pat his cheek and give him a big hug. Buck ate it up, having lost his mother at such a young age. Vin had also lost his mother when he was very young. That's probably why the two of them loved to be around Nettie. Since Casey now lived in town with Mary Travis, JD and Casey would often ride out with Vin to Nettie's on Sunday for dinner. Just like this week, Vin would stay over and do repair work for Nettie on Monday. She refused to let him work on Sunday. She said it was the Lord’s Day to rest and it was Vin's day to rest, too. He liked to go down to the river after dinner and fish for a couple of hours while Casey and JD visited with Nettie. He would return just about the time JD and Casey were leaving so that he could have Nettie all to himself for the evening. Often times, he would cook the fish he had caught for Nettie for their evening meal so that she could do a little restin' on Sunday too.

JD dismounted and walked the last hundred yards to Nettie's front porch. He had to tell them that Buck was dead and he couldn't think of anything harder to do in his whole life. He stood holding the reins of his horse, staring at the door to the house. Suddenly, the door opened and Nettie came out. She gasped as she saw JD standing by the porch.

"Stars and garters, boy, what in the world are you doing standing there? You nearly scared this old woman to death." She stopped suddenly, realizing that the young man she hoped someday would be kin, was pale and his eyes looked lost. "JD, what's the matter, son?" She quickly walked to where he was standing and, putting her arm around his waist, she lead him to the porch. They sat down on the steps.

"I don't know how to tell you and Vin." He hung his head and tears rolled down his cheeks.

"It's always best to just say it, boy. Come on now, out with it." She put her arm around the young man who had come to mean so much to her neice.

JD took a deep breath. "Buck got shot late last night. Rory Ferguson tried to rape one of the saloon girls and Buck and Ezra chased him down an alley. Somehow, Ezra got too far behind Buck and Rory got in between 'em and he shot Buck in the back just as Ezra shot him. Buck lasted 'til Chris got there but …" JD turned his face to Nettie and saw the tears in the old woman's eyes. "I have to tell Vin. He doesn't know there was trouble last night. I'm sorry, Nettie. There was nothin’ left for me to do in town. Even Nathan was just watchin’, waitin’. I said my good byes and then I came out here. Was I wrong, Nettie?"

She hugged the young man close and gently kissed his cheek. "No, you did fine, son, and I am so sorry. I know the two of you were real close, JD. He was such a sweetheart to me. He could always make me laugh, that boy. My gracious, what a world we live in." She sniffed and wiped the tears away with her sleeve. "Vin's out behind the barn repairing a fence. Do you want me to tell him, JD?"

For just an instant, JD wanted to say yes. He shook his head and slowly got up. "No, Nettie, I have to do it. You can come along if you want. We could both use your strength right now, if you don't mind."

She held her hand out and he helped her up. Together they walked, hand in hand, to the barn. Vin was just coming towards the barn door when he saw JD with Nettie. He could tell they both had been crying and he knew disaster had struck. He waited for them, afraid to learn what had happened. They stopped about ten foot from him. Nettie went forward by herself and took ahold of Vin's arm. He looked down at her and patted her hand on his arm. With a bit of hesitation, he lifted his head and acknowledged the young man.

"What is it, JD?" He held his head up high.

JD froze. He bit his lip and just looked at Vin with Nettie right beside him.

"Go on, boy. Tell him." Nettie gently ordered.

With a voice that sounded as if it came from an eighty year old, he reported, "Vin, there was a shooting last night. Buck and Ezra chased Rory Ferguson down for trying to rape Ida Mae. Somehow, Rory got between the two of them and he shot Buck in the back. Ezra killed Rory but it was too late. Vin, Buck's dead. He held on 'til Chris got to town but he just couldn't breathe anymore."

Vin felt his knees go weak. He caught himself just before he collapsed. He felt Nettie's hand on his arm and his gaze dropped to it. He placed his own over hers and then shook his head. He looked up at JD, his eyes blazing.

"No, JD, no, you're joking, aren't you? I just had breakfast with Buck yesterday morning and he was telling me one of his stories and laughing. I can still hear him laughing. You're wrong! He can't be dead! Stop it, JD!" Vin ground his teeth together and drew back a fist. He was prepared to make JD eat the words, the cruel vicious, words he had just thrown at him. Nettie turned around in front of Vin. She grabbed on to his chin and forced him to look at her.

"Vin, he's telling you the truth. Look at me, boy. He wouldn't lie about something so horrible. It's done and you have to accept it. JD is hurting too. Now both of you come in to the house and sit down. I'll make some coffee and JD can tell us again exactly what happened to Buck. You can ride back to town in a little while. JD, how is Chris handling this?" Nettie let go of Vin and turned her attention to the boy.

JD didn't want to talk about Chris. He still couldn't comprehend the reaction of the gunfighter to Buck's death. It angered him beyond words to see the callous way Chris stood there and told them to say good bye to one of the best men JD had ever known. Buck had taken JD under his wing and had kept him alive for the past two years. In fact, Buck had stepped in front of death as it rode down upon him after just three days of knowing him. Since then, Buck had advised him, amused him, and taught him all about staying alive in the rough and tumble world he found himself in now. He had been born back East and had journeyed west after his mother died. He had read about the gunfighters in the Wild West and had decided that was the place for him. JD got to town just as the gang of seven was being formed and he had finally persuaded Chris to let him join. From that day to this one, Buck had been his big brother. And now he was gone.

Vin sat stunned by the news that JD had brought to them. He couldn't accept it. The town had been quiet for so long now that both he and Chris had talked of moving on. Vin had never particularly liked living in town anyways but with the seven of them there he had made it work for him. He loved the gunplay and the adventure they constantly found themselves in. Chris, Buck, and Vin were warriors, always had been, always would be. They needed excitement and action in their lives. In fact, they sought it out each in his own way. None of them were afraid to die. However, Vin had become afraid of losing the others. He had thought about it many times, how he wanted to be the first to go. It was too hard watching the ones he loved die. He had watched his mother pass on when he was only five and he had been passed from foster home to foster home until he was on his own at age fourteen. He had lived with the Indians and had watched them be killed by the army and other white men. After that, he had become a solitary figure, relying only on himself until that fateful day that he had met Chris Larabee. Now his world included all six of these brave and noble men. Today, that world had started to crumble around him. He sat in Nettie's kitchen and tears ran down his face but he never said a word, never asked a question. Right now, all he wanted was to run away and forget the town, the townspeople, and his comrades.

He listened to JD tell a more comprehensive version of Buck's fatal injury. He heard Nettie's words of compassion. He sat there and cried but inside he felt like a stone, cold and lifeless. He knew he had to go into town and face the other four, he had to attend a funeral, he had to look Chris in the eye. Chris. Dam, how he must be hurting right now. Many times in the past year, he had found himself envying the relationship that Chris and Buck had. They had known each other before Four Corners. Exactly how long was kept between them. None of them knew the story of Buck and Chris but they all could see the blood bond between the two men. They fought like cats and dogs sometimes but they relied on each other and offered comfort and support to one another in so many small, intimate ways. And they had history together. Vin would never know the young brash, cocky Chris Larabee. He would never know Sarah or Adam. Only Buck could remember with him and grieve with him. Vin lowered his head and mourned for both of his friends.


"I'm sorry Nettie but we have to go. Come on, JD." He stood and walked out the door. Chris needed him.

Part Seven

Chris stood silently by the railing. Josiah paced behind him. Mary had joined them and she sat in the rocking chair, constantly rocking back and forth. It had been over three hours and still there was no news from inside the room. Several times, Chris had put his hand on the doorknob but he couldn't go in and perhaps ruin Buck's only chance for life. Besides, as long as they were in there, Buck must still be alive. Nathan would tell them instantly of any change in his status.

Chris closed his eyes and saw Buck's smiling face, that mischievous grin that Chris had seen so many times throughout the years. He had known Buck for almost thirteen years now. They had been so young when they met in that prison camp. Buck had been only seventeen, younger than JD was now. They had helped one another escape and had made their way back to Indiana. After recuperating at his family's farm, they had separated and each gone back to their respective units in the Union Army. They had lost contact with one another after that. It was sheer fate that had them meeting again in a mining town shortly after the war. Chris was getting the stuffing knocked out of him by six brothers. Buck had jumped in to help and both of them had been beaten severely. As they healed, they got reacquainted with one another and when they were ready to leave, they had left together. They had been best of friends ever since.

Buck was everything that Chris wasn't. He was gregarious, fun loving, passionate, affectionate, and alive with mischief. He was irresponsible and arbitrary. He could try the patience of Job and disappear on a whim. Chris was a solitary man, usually never needing anyone. He preferred to be by himself, judging only his own actions. He had spent the time since his wife's death hating the world, the people in it and himself. He rarely showed his emotions, the only two the public ever witnessed were anger and rage. Chris was taciturn, sometimes going a whole day without uttering a word. And most of all, Chris was responsible. Once his mind was made up to do something, he never wavered until that goal was accomplished. They were total opposites but together they made one hell of a team. Chris would be lost without Buck. The years before the devastating murders of Sarah and Adam Larabee were wonderful. The two men flourished, finally finding a home and family. Buck made Chris laugh and Chris kept Buck out of trouble. The last year had the two working together, catching wild horses and breaking them for sale. They were gaining a reputation for good stock and they were beginning to turn a profit on the ranch. Life was good. But the world stopped the day the two friends rode back to the ranch and found it burned and their family ruthlessly murdered. For a while, Buck stayed right beside Chris, protecting him from himself, keeping him alive when all Chris wanted was to join his wife and son. Eventually, though, the two parted company. They never spoke of the split. It was part of the pain that Chris carried with him, nourishing it with cheap whiskey and beer. It was part of the past that Buck kept buried deep in his heart, a section that was off limits to all.

Since they had reunited in Four Corners, the two had tiptoed down a rocky path, slowly easing their way back into one another’s lives, back into each other’s hearts. They had each found another to ease the way, first finding a way to trust another human being and then discovering that having a friend didn’t mean pain. Once that was accomplished, the two men found that they could once again turn to each other without hurting. Chris, for one, was skeptical that he and Buck could ever face each other again without the memories, good and bad, causing an ache in his heart. Buck was the heartrending reminder of all that was good in Chris’s life, all that was lost. However, with the trust and friendship of the other five, especially Vin, Chris began to let go of the pain he had wrapped around himself for so long. Once again, he could look at Buck and laugh at his antics. He could sit and talk about the past without his heart constricting. He could listen to Buck’s tall tales and smile, remembering the ones that were true and scoffing at the ones Buck’s memory had embellished to a great degree. What's more, he now felt alive and ready to chance love again.

He looked down at Mary and wondered what she could have possibly seen in him. Whatever it was, he was so glad she had taken the time to dig deep enough to find it. And he cherished the last few months he had with Buck again by his side.

The door finally opened and Nathan stepped out. His face was grim, there was still blood on his hands. He took a deep breath of fresh air and then he looked Chris straight in the eye. "He's still alive. I'll let the doctor tell you exactly how he is. Don't get your hopes up too high but at least there is hope where there was none before. She did an absolutely miraculous job in there under the circumstances. Buck would have died an hour ago if not for her. Whatever happens, she did her best, Chris. We gave him the best shot at living that we could have." He clapped Chris on the shoulder. "Josiah, would you help me put Buck back in the bed. Dr. Elder will be out as soon as she cleans up. I thought I should tell you how he’s doing as soon as we finished sewing him up."

The two of them disappeared and Chris and Mary waited for them and the doctor to come back out. Chris reached out to Mary and she came into his arms. He held her tight, and whispered, "He's gonna make it, Mary. He's gonna live." Mary smiled and continued to hold him, her hands running up and down his back to feel life. They separated just as Nathan, Josiah, and the stranger walked out to greet them. The doctor looked stern and professional. She showed no signs one way or the other of how the surgery had gone.

"He's still breathing right now. The bullet tore up the lung pretty good and it also tore through an artery. The blood you saw on the outside was nothing compared to the bleeding going on inside. We repaired as much damage as we could but your friend will have to do the rest. I'm sorry but I really can't give you what you want to hear. I don't want to give you false hope. His chances are not good. I'll stay with him until we know one way or the other. Nathan, I'd like you to stay with me. The precarious condition that he's in, I'd rather not have anyone else around him. We'll let you know if there is any change at all in his condition." She turned to go back inside.

"Lady, you don't order any of us around like that. You are not keeping me from his side." The look that Chris gave her sent shivers up her spine. He had quietly, calmly, threatened her and she felt cold looking into his eyes.

Nathan stepped in. "Dr. Elder, I think you will find that Buck will stay alive longer if Chris is by his side." He opened the door and Chris walked through before the doctor could say anything to the contrary.

Chris walked right to the bed and sat down beside Buck. Dr. Elder was about to tell Chris off when Nathan put his hand on her arm.

"You don't want to do that, ma'am. Believe me, it is not wise to get between those two. I have been around them for over two years now and although I don't understand everything that goes on between them, I know that they have something very special. Chris's presence will keep Buck alive if anything will." He was so sincere that the doctor kept her mouth closed.

She stood back and watched as Chris whispered in Buck's ear and pushed the hair off his forehead. She saw Chris take Buck's hand and settle in for a long stay. Just maybe Nathan was right. She turned to see Nathan cleaning up the table and she pitched in to help. Buck was in good hands right now.

Vin and JD started up the stairs to Nathan's. The two of them had already checked the saloon and the jail. Giving each other a look that spoke of hope and surprise, they headed for Nathan’s. They saw Mary and Josiah on the landing, talking quietly with each other. Vin was in front. He walked slowly, his desire to meet death head on was nowhere to be found today. As he reached the top of the stairs, the door opened and Chris and Nathan came out to greet Vin.

"Chris?" Vin cocked his head as if listening to a bird’s call that none of the others could hear. His eyes narrowed as he looked into Larabee’s eyes.

"Vin, JD, glad you made it back. Buck’s alive. Mary and Josiah came up with a doctor just in time. He's hanging on by a thread right now but there's hope at least. She said not to get our hopes up too high though. His lung was pretty much destroyed by the bullet and the bleeding. He's fighting for every breath but he's still fighting." He nodded his head to Vin.

"I reckon that's the best news I've ever heard! Where did you find a doctor? You said she?"

"Mary and Josiah found her at the hotel. Her stage broke down yesterday and she happened to talk to Mary at dinner last night. She's a surgeon on her way to San Diego to join her father. She's tough and good. Nathan said she worked miracles on Buck during the surgery. We can only pray that she could do enough for him. He's lasted longer than any of us thought he could, with her help."

The young man with the long black hair stopped, four steps from the landing where the others stood. JD heard all that Chris had told Vin. He was stunned. Buck was still alive! A doctor had operated on him! JD took a couple of deep breaths, letting the reality sink in. "He’s alive?" It came out as barely a whisper but all five heads turned to him.

Chris took a step toward him and smiled. "Yeah, Kid, he’s alive and fightin’ to stay that way." Chris was elated to be the bearer of such good news.

"You tellin’ me he’s gonna make it?" JD climbed the last four stairs and stood inches away from Chris. There was an incredulous look on his face as he stared up at his hero.

Chris’s face fell slightly. "No, boy, I ain’t tellin’ you he’s gonna make it. I’m sayin’ he has a chance now. Dr. Elder worked to repair his lung and stop the internal bleeding but he’s still on death’s door. We just gotta keep prayin’ for him, stayin’ strong for him. He’s got a chance, JD."

JD became incensed. Visions of his mother lingering in her deathbed, dying little by little, sprang into his mind. The doctors had said that they had done all they could for her. All they had accomplished was giving her more time to suffer. Instead of dying in a week, she had hung on for a month with JD spending almost the whole time by her side, listening to her gasps for air, her moans that told of the pain she was in despite the morphine they gave her each day. He would not let that happen again.

"You let her operate just so he could suffer a few more hours! No, I won’t allow him to do that. My God, Chris, what kind of a friend are you? Hell, you didn't even shed a tear for him and now, because of you, he’s still suffering! You son of a bitch!" The youth’s fist flew at Larabee so quickly, the older man didn’t have time to react. It struck squarely upon Chris’s jaw and snapped his head back.

Chris fell backwards two steps, his mouth open, staring at JD. What kind of a friend was he? He was doing everything he could to keep his best friend alive and JD wanted to know what kind of a friend was he? He clenched his fist but instead of arguing or fighting with JD, he simply turned and walked back inside. Nathan blocked the way from anyone else entering behind Chris. Nathan's fist was clenched also but he never got a chance to pop the boy in the mouth. They all heard the growl but Josiah moved so quickly, none of them could stop him. He had JD by the throat and up against the wall of the building before any of them could react. His nose was an inch from JD's nose, his eyes glaring into JD's.

"You are the stupidest child I have ever known." He spat into JD's face. "That man is dying right along with Buck and you ask him what kind of a friend is he? Those two are so much more than just friends but you would never know that would you, you son of a bitch. Get away from here until you grow up, JD. Next time you say something like that, I'll make sure it’s the last thoughtless thing you ever say." He released him and JD fell to the floor. As Josiah stepped back, Nathan and Vin fell in behind him in a show of force. JD looked at the three of them and then he ran down the steps and disappeared.

"I'm sorry for that but he had it coming. He can't see beyond his nose sometimes. Like Buck says, if he were any blinder, he's be walkin' into walls. I sat with Chris for half an hour today and watched him cry like a baby. He's absolutely destroyed, completely lost without Buck. I didn't know what to do for him that would make it any easier. He sure didn't need JD and his selfish remarks."

"Can I go in, Nathan? I'd like to see Buck for just a minute." Vin looked hopeful.

"Sorry, Vin, but the Doc doesn't want anyone but Chris and I in there. She says if he gets an infection or if he gets sick, he's gone." Vin soberly nodded his agreement. Nathan reached out and squeezed his shoulder. "I'll go in and see how Chris is doing. I'll let you know." He went inside.

Vin wished he could help Chris in his silent vigil but he understood the concern . He looked around the landing. Something was wrong with the picture he observed. "Why isn't Ezra here with you, Josiah?"

"I don't know. He was here this morning but I haven't seen him since. He blames himself, I know that, Vin."

"From what I hear, he shouldn't. It was Rory who caused all this, no one else."


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