That’s What Friends Do

by Lynda

Disclaimers: This is a work of fan fiction. I make no money from this. All rights to Mag7 belong to someone else

Warnings: Some mild profanity

Thanks as always to Nancy for giving my little story a home.

Chris smiled as he watched the two little boys playing ‘tag’ with Vin’s young dog, Jake. He glanced over at Buck, who was also enjoying the antics of the threesome.

The two older members of the household were sitting on the deck taking advantage of the after dinner downtime, sipping on coffee and relaxing. The late summer sun was still shining brightly. The day had been hot and dry, but it was cooler now, just the right temperature for running and jumping.

“Throw it to me!” JD hollered as he ran away from Vin with Jake close on his heels. The boys now had a frisbee they were tossing to each other while the dog ran between the two.

Vin hurled the disc straight to JD. “Hey!” The smaller boy yelled as Jake took a flying leap, caught the frisbee and took off with it. The boys screamed in delight as they both chased the dog toward the barn. Jake ducked under the rail on the corral fence and raced to the back of the barn. The horses were in the barn, so the boys quickly scrambled over the fence and continued their mad pursuit.

The men laughed as the little ‘thief’ interrupted Vin and JD’s game of catch. They didn’t think much about it when they chased the dog into the barnyard. The horses had been stabled for the night, so there was no danger to the boys in the paddock.

As the boys rounded the corner behind the barn, they found the frisbee lying on the ground. They looked up as Jake began barking furiously. The middle-sized dog had his rear in the air with his head down, his front legs stretched out in front, flat on the ground. His tail was wagging in time to his barking.

Because of the shadows behind the barn, Vin at first, couldn’t quite make out what the dog was barking at. All he could see were some moving white spots. Suddenly Jake yelped and jumped backwards. The tone of the dog’s barking changed. What had started out as friendly yapping turned to snarls, growls and angry barks.

By this time the pup was hopping back and forth at, what Vin could see now, was a skunk. The small animal was weaving drunkenly towards the dog, seemingly oblivious to the threatening canine.

“No! Jake, no!”

The dog lunged just as Vin yelled, but instead of backing off, the skunk attacked. The small mammal clamped its razor sharp teeth down on Jake’s leg. The dog screamed in pain and tried to shake the animal loose.

Vin, frantic with fear for his pet, ran to the snarling, fighting pair.

“No!” he screamed, then without thinking, he reached down to grab the skunk. He was able to latch on to the animal’s midsection while Jake bit down on its neck. This further infuriated the enraged mammal, but the action caused the skunk to loosen its hold on the dog.

Vin could hardly hang on to the writhing, twisting mass of muscle and fur. All he knew to do was throw the animal as far away as he could.

Five-year-old JD stood frozen in fear watching the drama unfold before him. He regained his senses just as Vin grabbed the skunk and he started screaming for Buck.

Hearing the sudden change in the tone of Jake’s barking, the two men looked at each other and quickly got up and headed toward the barn. They broke into a run when they heard Vin yelling. Both flew over the corral fencing just as JD started to scream. They rounded the corner in time to see Vin throw the skunk

The animal landed with a solid thud and lay there dazed. As it hit the hard packed dirt of the barnyard, it released the spray for which the creature is well known. Vin and the pup were directly in the line of fire.

The two men stopped cold at the scene before them. It was only seconds, as the full implications of what they were seeing registered in their shocked brains. Then reality slammed into them as the skunk slowly got up and drunkenly moved away.

Buck grabbed JD. The little boy was repeatedly calling Buck’s name, like a litany, at the top of his lungs. So engrossed was he by Vin, Jake and the skunk that he didn’t hear the men come up behind him. When Buck grabbed him, he started screaming hysterically and fighting to get away.

“Easy Lit’l’ Bit, easy. It’s Buck.”

Finally, the voice and words broke through the small boy’s terror. He turned and latched on to the mustached man, babbling incoherently.

“It’s OK Lit’l’ Bit,” Buck murmured reassuringly as he watched Chris cautiously approach a distraught Vin, who was holding on to Jake. The dog was barking furiously at the skunk and was trying his best to go after it.

Chris tried in vain to breathe shallow and through his mouth in an attempt to avoid the worst of the overpowering odor, but discovered it was a losing battle. Watching the retreating mammal struggle to its feet and walk drunkenly away, he knew that something was dreadfully wrong with it.

“Buck, we need to catch that skunk!”

Buck had been looking at Vin and Jake, but now turned his attention to the escaping animal. His eyes darted to his friend as he realized what Chris was inferring.

Turning to JD, so that he faced him, he looked him in the eyes to make sure he would understand what he was about to say and how important it was. “JD, I want you to go to the house. Go up on the deck and stay there. You understand?”

“No! I want t’ stay with you!” The frightened little boy clung to Buck.

“JD, listen to me. I need for you to be a brave boy for me, OK? I need to catch that skunk, but I want to make sure you are safe, understand? I‘ll just be a few minutes.”

With wide, tear-filled eyes, the youngster nodded. He turned and ran back toward the house. An eye on the skunk, who was slowly weaving its way toward the woods, he hurried into the barn. Returning with a large metal tub, he cautiously approached the oblivious mammal. Coming up behind it, and out of its line of sight, he quickly and carefully placed the tub over it. He then put some rocks on top to keep the animal from escaping until they could get it to a more secure enclosure.

Chris in the meantime had reached his son, who was holding Jake. The little boy had tears running down his face.

Squatting down in front of Vin, Chris fearfully asked, “Vin, you OK?”

Vin squinted up at him, the fumes made his eyes burn. “Yeah, but that skunk bit Jake.”

Chris’s heart clinched. Jake had received his rabies vaccinations, but he knew that they weren’t a guarantee against the deadly disease.

“OK Vin, let me see him.”

Reluctantly, Vin released his hold on the pup. Chris spoke soothingly to the overexcited dog as he gingerly examined the bite on its leg.

Looking at the tear-streaked face of the little boy, Chris said, “Vin we’ll need to take Jake to the doctor.”

Wanting to help his four legged friend, anyway he could, Vin nodded and stood up.

“But first, we need to see about getting rid of some of this smell,” He said, giving his son what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

Buck had stayed, but because of the acrid odor, had kept his distance. “Why don’t I call Nathan and see if he knows of a way to get rid of that stink.” As he said this he jerked his head toward the overturned tub, indicating that he would call the sheriff’s department about the skunk. With that, he headed to the house to make phone calls and reassure an anxious five year-old.

Chris picked the dog up and as he stood, he noticed blood on Vin’s arm. Kneeling back down, he reached out with one hand and gently brought the boy’s arm up to get a better look at it. He could plainly see a bite mark on Vin’s forearm.

Forcing himself to stay calm so he wouldn’t alarm his son, he asked, “Vin? Did you touch the skunk? Did it bite you?”

Vin was looking at his arm, just realizing he was hurt. He tried to think, “Maybe…I don’t remember.”

Chris took a deep breath then asked in a quiet, firm voice, “Vin, son, this is important. Is it possible the skunk bit you?”

Vin brought wide eyes up to meet those of his father, trying to recall the sequence of events. “The skunk was fightin’ Jake. I…I grabbed it ‘n it was still tryin’ t’ fight, so I threw it.”

Chris bowed his head. He had to stay calm to not scare the boy. “OK, let’s get cleaned up and then we’ll take both of you to the doctor.”

They stopped in the barn to get a piece of rope.

When they got to the deck, Chris tied the pup there until they were ready. Vin had become his first priority.

Buck stuck his head out of the door and said, “I talked to Nathan and he gave me a recipe for stuff to help take the smell out. Thought you two could take your clothes off out there and by the time I get this stuff mixed up, you can go straight to the shower.”

The big man started to shut the door when Chris stopped him. “Buck, call Nathan back. Tell him Vin was bitten by the skunk.”

Buck froze, looking first at Chris and seeing the fear there, then to the little boy that had come to mean so much to both of them, but especially to the man that had adopted him. Chris had finally found a way to enjoy life again and now, there was the possibility of it all being destroyed.

Realizing that he might be giving his fear away to the child, he swallowed hard, smiled and said, “will do”, and ducked back inside.

Chris and Vin stripped down to their underwear, leaving everything in a pile, including their shoes. It would all have to be destroyed. Chris removed his wallet and emptied his pockets onto a table, then they both went inside.

Buck met them, but kept at a distance. “The stuff t’ take the stink out is in a pitcher in your bathroom, Chris. Nathan says to lather up real good all over, let it set for a few minutes then rinse off.”

Glancing at Vin, he continued, “He also said to wash the bite real good with soap and water for at least ten minutes and then get him to the hospital.”

The two headed toward the bathroom when Buck stopped them. “Oh and Chris, be careful and don’t get that stuff in your eyes. It has peroxide in it,” he cautioned.

Grimly Chris acknowledged the instructions, then took Vin to start the cleaning and deodorizing.

JD had been sitting at the kitchen table with the milk and cookies Buck had given him to keep him occupied, but when Chris and Vin left for the shower, he got up and ran to his dad. He didn’t understand everything that was going on, but he could sense that something was wrong.

Without saying anything, he wrapped his arms around Buck’s legs and held on. Buck stooped down and asked the obviously concerned little boy, “Ya OK, buddy?”

With wide eyes, JD nodded, “Buck, is Vin and Jake gonna be OK?”

“Course they are,” he said firmly and prayed it was the truth. “Say! Why don’t you go get that new puzzle Uncle Ezra got you and we’ll put it together while we wait.”

“’K,” the little boy said and hurried off to get it.

With hands on his hips, the big man closed his eyes, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. His mind flashed back to the conversation he just had with Nathan. The EMT had tried hard to mask his concern, but Buck had heard it and if it worried Nathan, it sure as hell worried him.


Buck and JD were sitting at the kitchen table, half-heartedly putting together the jigsaw puzzle when Chris and Vin reappeared, smelling considerably better.

Vin’s hair was a shade lighter from the peroxide and he was wearing a light bandage around his arm. His eyes were red and still slightly swollen and Chris looked totally done in. Undoubtedly, the cleaning process had been rough on both of them.

Buck rose. “Animal Control is on the way. Lit’l’ Bit and I’ll wait here for them and then I’ll give Jake a deodorizing bath and take him to the Vet while you take Vin to the hospital. I’ve already talked to the vet and he’ll meet us at the clinic in about an hour. They’re closed but he said he wanted to check Jake.”

Chris nodded, exchanging a knowing look with his oldest friend, he kept his tone light as he said, “OK. We’ll see you in a little while.”


On the way to the hospital, Vin sat quietly in the back seat, staring out the window.

Feeling the need to reassure the little boy, Chris said, “It’s going to be OK, Vin.”

Turning wide blue eyes to his father, he asked, “Is Jake gonna be OK?”

Chris wanted to be honest with his son while at the same time giving him some hope, so he said, “I think so Vin, Buck is taking him to the doctor to get him checked out.”

Vin looked at Chris with tears in his eyes, “I should be with him. He’ll be scared.”

“I know, but we need to get you taken care of.”

Seeing the sadness on his son’s face, Chris continued, “Jake would want us to take care of you, too.”

Vin turned large, moist eyes to his father. He didn’t have to say anything, Chris could read his face as clearly as if the child were shouting at him.

“Vin, you and Jake are friends. Well, friends want what is best for each other, even if it’s hard. That’s what friends do.”

The little boy looked at his dad for a long moment then slowly nodded, sighed and resumed staring out the window.


Chris wasn’t surprised when he saw Nathan waiting for them as they entered the ER. The medic was smiling but from the quick look he gave Chris, the older man knew he was worried.

It took a few minutes before it was their turn to be seen. The nurse called Vin’s name and the two men stood. The little boy remained sitting, staring back at the nurse with big eyes.

Chris looked back at Vin, turned and kneeled down to put himself at eye level with him. “Hey Pard, it’s gonna be OK.”

Vin stared hard into the green eyes he trusted with all his heart. Believing what he saw there, he nodded, stood and slipped his hand into his father’s. Then slowly and with trepidation, they followed the nurse into the exam room, but before they went in, Vin noticed Nathan had stayed in the waiting room. He stopped and looked up at he dad. Chris smiled down at him and tried once again to reassure him.

“I know,” Vin said, “but I was wonderin’…”

“Yeah?” Chris encouraged.

“Can Unca Nathan come with us?” Then seeing the slightly puzzled look on his father’s face, he hastened to explain, “He knows a bunch ‘bout medicine stuff.”

Chris thought he understood. Vin was just as afraid of not knowing what was going to happen as he was of the actual treatment. Having someone familiar to him, that understood and could explain the procedures, offered him a little more security.

“Sure, it’s all right with me if it’s all right with the nurse.”

Vin turned two large blue eyes to the waiting nurse and she never had a chance. “Sure, that’ll be OK.”

“Thank-you,” the little boy told her.

Chris turned and waved Nathan over. He explained Vin’s request. Nathan smiled down at his adopted nephew, a little overcome that Vin would ask him to come with them. “Of course I will, Vin,” he assured.

Vin nodded solemnly and turned back toward the nurse, squared his narrow shoulders and proceeded into the room. He was determined to be a big boy, but having Chris and Nathan there with him sure helped, he hoped.


Chris lifted the little boy up onto the exam table while giving the nurse the details of the incident. She nodded as she made notes on a chart. She took his vital signs then told them she would be right back with the doctor.

Chris squeezed his son’s shoulder reassuringly as the nurse returned with a middle-aged woman in green surgical scrubs and a white lab coat.

The doctor smiled and extended her hand to Chris, “Hi, I’m Dr. Glover.”

The worried father shook her hand, “Chris Larabee, my son Vin and a close friend of the family, Nathan,” nodding toward the tall EMT.

Dr. Glover briefly acknowledged Nathan before turning her full attention to her young patient.

The little boy was looking at her with wide eyed apprehension.

“Hi Vin, I understand you tangled with a skunk?”

Vin slowly nodded, not taking his gaze off her.

“May I see?”

Noticing the boy’s hesitation, she said, “I’m not going to do anything but look, OK?”

Finally Vin, after glancing at Chris and Nathan, held his arm up for her inspection. Very gently, she took the arm and looked carefully at the bite.

“You cleaned it thoroughly, right?” directing her question to Chris.

“Yes. We called Nathan and he said to scrub it with soap and water for 10 minutes,” Chris informed her.

“Very good,” then to Vin, “I bet that hurt, huh?”

“A little,” the boy conceded.

Releasing the arm, she asked the anxious men, “Did you see the animal?”

Chris nodded, “Yeah, we caught it and called Animal Control.”

“Good. How was it acting?”

Thinking back, Chris recalled the skunks erratic behavior. “Like it was drunk. It was weaving back and forth. Another strange thing is that it didn’t spray until Vin threw it and it hit the dirt.”

The doctor nodded. Then smiling she observed, “I bet it was Nathan that knew about the formula for getting rid of the stink.”

Chris smiled in acknowledgement. “Well, most of it anyway.”

Turning back to Vin, the doctor asked him, “Vin, do you know what rabies is?”

The boy shook his head slowly as his fear returned. He didn’t know what rabies was but he was acutely aware of the sudden tension in his dad and uncle.

The doctor pulled a stool up close to the cart Vin was sitting on. This put her at a level where Vin had to look down at her.

“Vin, this is really serious stuff, but I think you are grown up enough to understand, OK?”

The little boy nodded with trepidation.

Her attention was focused solely on Vin but she didn’t fail to notice Chris moving to his side and placing a hand on the thin shoulder.

Dr. Glover continued her talk with Vin. “Vin, rabies is a disease that some animals have that can be passed on to humans if they are bitten by those animals. Do you understand?”

Again, Vin nodded slowly.

Taking a deep breath, she nodded and smiled. “I knew you would.” Then sobering, she said, “OK Vin, now here’s the hard part. If you got this disease, you would get very, very sick. So we need to give you some medicine to keep you from getting sick. But, the hard thing is that I have to give you some shots. It is the only way to get the medicine in you to fight the bad germs.”

She could tell the little boy was processing the information. She could see the growing fear in his eyes. He turned those same eyes to his father.

Chris’s heart constricted at what he saw in those eyes. Then with what came next, he felt like he couldn’t breathe.

“Dad,” in a voice barely above a whisper, “am I gonna die?”

“No!” Chris said so emphatically that the little boy jumped.

Seeing the reaction, Chris forced himself to be calm. Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, he smiled, “No, Vin, you aren’t going to die. Is he doctor?’

Father and son turned their gazes toward Glover, Vin’s questioning, Chris’s glaring.

Meeting Chris’s stern look, he saw no apology. She had told the little boy the truth and what he needed to know. Then to Vin, she smiled, “No Vin, you aren’t going to die. I just want you to know how very, very important the shots are.”

She could tell he was still afraid as he glanced toward the tall black man. Nathan smiled and nodded encouragingly.

“K,” he whispered.

While the doctor had been talking to them, the nurse prepared some syringes and a tray filled with Betadine to cleanse the wound.

“OK Vin, the first thing I’m going to do is clean the area where the bite is a little better.”

Vin jerked his arm back, eyes wide with remembered pain. Chris grimaced, empathizing with his son, but he knew this had to be done.

“Hey Pard, I know this going to hurt but it’s very important to get all the germs that can make you sick, out. It’ll just take a few minutes.”

Vin glanced at his dad then closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was gonna show Chris that he could be brave, no matter how much it hurt. He stuck his arm straight out for the doctor.

Chris couldn’t help but grin a little at the boy’s determined posture, face scrunched with eyes tightly shut, arm stiff and the thin, little body, rigid. He reached down and placed his hand over the fisted hand laying on his thigh. Immediately the fist loosened and grabbed hold of his father’s.

As the doctor smiled also, she gently took the arm and using the pressure of a large syringe, flooded the bite with the Betadine solution.

Vin’s eyes popped open when there was no pain. It stung a little but that was all.. While that was drying, Dr. Glover explained the next step.

“Now Vin, I must give you some shots.”

“How many?” Vin had had shots before. They hurt, but not that bad. OK, he could do this.

“Well, I don’t know for sure.” While saying this she took a syringe with a small gauge needle from the nurse. “I have to give you several small shots all around the bite.”

Having said that, she gently but firmly held his arm and injected the vaccine around the wound so that it was completely infiltrated.

“This is Rabies Immune Globulin, RIG. He’ll get this only once,” she explained as she worked.

Finishing the injections around the site, she then told the little boy she would need to give him the remainder of the vaccine in his arm.

“Now Vin, that is just part of the treatment. I need to give you three more shots. Two are a different kind of rabies vaccine, it is called Human Diploid Cell vaccine (this was for the adults) and the third is a tetanus booster.”

Vin glanced up at Chris, who gave him an encouraging nod and smile. The little boy sighted with resignation and nodded his understanding.

Dr. Glover smiled in sympathy then gave him a shot in each arm. The third shot was in the front part of his thigh. Luckily the boy was wearing shorts otherwise their might have been some resistance from the normally shy child.

“Ok Vin, that’s it for now. We are going to start you on some antibiotics and then we’ll need to see you in three days. Sherry will put a dressing on your arm to help keep it clean while I talk to your dad.”

She saw the flash of fear that crossed his face and hurried to reassure him. “Vin, I just need to explain to your dad how to take the medicine I’m going to give you.”

The boy looked at Chris, who nodded at him and he gave a slow nod back.

Chris and Dr. Glover moved to out-of-hearing distance, but stayed where Vin could see them. Larabee motioned for Nathan to join them.

Careful to appear casual, Dr. Glover explained to the men, “The second vaccine, to be most effective, will have to be given in a series of shots. The next one will need to be in three days. I’ll have the nurse give you a schedule.

I will also have her give you a list of possible side effects to the vaccines. Make sure he takes the antibiotics with food. Is he allergic to anything?”

Chris shook his head. “Not that I know of.”

“Good, I’ll send him home on Augmentin. Now, what with the shots, antibiotics and the trauma, he may be sleepy and cranky. Some nausea and lack of appetite today wouldn’t be unusual. He may even have a slight temperature elevation. If he develops hives or a rash, I need to know immediately, OK?”

Both Chris and Nathan, nodded.

“Alright,” the doctor took a deep breath, knowing that what she was about to say was going to be difficult for them to hear. “I have every reason to believe that if the skunk tests positive for rabies, that the vaccine will work to prevent Vin from getting it. However, it isn’t one hundred percent effective. Statistically the vaccine is about seventy five percent effective. If he starts running a fever unrelieved by Tylenol and numbness around the bite, call me immediately.”

Chris’s eyes narrowed as he asked, “What does that mean?”

Glover believed in being completely honest with her patients and their families, even if the news wasn’t what they wanted to hear. “It means that there is a twenty five percent chance Vin can catch the disease despite the vaccines.”

Fear rushed through the blond, “What happens if he gets it?”

She returned he gaze steadily. “Most people that contract rabies, die. There is no cure.”

Chris stared back at her in horror. Nathan put a hand on the older man’s shoulder and moved to block Chris from Vin’s line of sight. “But, there is a good chance that the vaccines will work,” the EMT reiterated firmly.

“Yes, like I said, they do about three quarters of the time, but I need for you to know how very important it is to not ignore the symptoms of rabies. The bite itself will probably he healed because the incubation period can be anywhere from two weeks to six months. All of it will be written out for you. I don’t expect you to remember it all. I know this is all pretty scary, but you’ve done everything right. The best thing you could have done was a thorough cleaning of the wound as soon as possible.”

She paused and looked at him intently. She wanted him to believe what she was about to say. “I really think Vin is going to be fine. I just need for you to be aware of all the possibilities.”

Chris nodded, unable to get past the possibility of his son dying. He felt Nathan’s reassuring hand on his shoulder and heard him say, “Thanks doctor.”

The doctor remained a moment assessing the look on Chris’s face. She reached out and briefly squeezed his arm then nodded to Nathan, turned and left.

Nathan still stood between Chris and Vin. He leaned forward. “Don’t let Vin see ya like this.”

The older man looked at his friend. He saw the compassion and understanding reflected in the dark eyes. Over Nathan’s shoulder Chris could see Vin.

Carefully, he schooled his features, knowing that Vin would be able to pick up on any little nuance of worry.

The nurse had just finished putting the dressing on the boy’s wound. As he walked up she handed him a form to sign and a set of discharge instructions.

“Hey, Cowboy. Ya ready to go?”

Vin just nodded. Chris lifted him off the exam table. The little boy latched onto his hand and leaned against him.

The threesome walked slowly to Chris’s truck. The two adults looked at each other as Vin clung to his dad. Nathan nodded reassuringly. The boy was probably just worn out from his ordeal and that it was now well past his bed time.

Nathan left them in the parking lot after assuring Chris he would come out tomorrow to check on Vin’s bite wound.

On the drive home, Chris glanced occasionally at the little boy sitting so very still in the corner of the truck’s cab, with his face to the window.

“You OK Cowboy?” he asked.

He glanced sideways in time to see the youngster barely nod, without turning his head toward his father.

Taking a leap in logic, Chris asked, “Worried ‘bout Jake?”

Again he saw Vin nod.

Until this moment, Chris had kind of forgotten about the dog. Looking at Vin and knowing his son’s heart, he bet that it was about the only thing he had been thinking of.

“Well, we’ll be home soon and you can see him for yourself, OK?”


When they reached the ranch, Chris parked the truck and turned to his son. The events of the past few hours had finally caught up with him. The little boy was sound asleep, slumped down in the seat, held up only by the seat belt.

Chris climbed out and went around to the passenger side. He carefully opened the door and unlatched the belt.

“It’s OK, Cowboy,” he reassured as he gently lifted the boy into his arms. Vin stirred briefly before he nestled into his father’s arms, instinctively feeling safe.

Buck, having heard the truck, came out onto the porch. The big man looked completely worn out. Chris felt his gut clench as he noted the dejected expression on his friend’s face.

“How’s Junior?” Buck asked, gesturing with his head toward the boy in Chris’s arms.

Softly, Chris answered, “Tell ya in a minute. Let me put Vin to bed.”

After Chris had managed to get his son undressed and tucked in without waking him, he went to the den to find Buck already there and an ice cold beer waiting.

Gratefully Chris took the proffered drink, took a long swig and settled wearily into the recliner. Then he filled Buck in on what happened at the hospital.

The big man raked both hands threw his hair, then hung his head over the clasped hands resting on his knees. The he turned searching, pain filled eyes on his friend. “They really think Vin’ll be OK?”

Sighing, Chris leaned forward, unconsciously mimicking Buck’s pose. “I don’t know. They said that if the skunk was actually rabid and if the virus was passed on there’s about a seventy five percent chance the vaccines will work.”

He sat there a minute trying not to think about what might happen. “They also said that by cleaning the wound well immediately, his chances for not getting it, increased.”

Again there was a period of silence as Buck tried to form the question he didn’t want to ask. Closing his eyes, dreading the answer but fearing he already knew it, he asked, “What happens if he gets it?”

Chris took a shuddering breath and scrubbed at his suddenly scratchy eyes, “He’ll probably die.”

Unable to sit still any longer, Buck jumped up and paced agitatedly. Then he stopped in front of Larabee and growled, “It ain’t gonna happen!”

Slowly Chris stood up, his anger, frustration and fear, finally getting the best of him. “And just how the hell are you gonna stop it, Buck?”

Abruptly, Buck wilted. He stumbled to the sofa and collapsed. Just as suddenly, Chris’s anger also disappeared and he was left with an almost overwhelming sense of despair. He sat down hard and placed his head in his hands. Fighting tears and the sudden tightening around his heart.

Wilmington looked at his oldest friend and saw the devastation on his face and in his posture. He stood and walked over to the man he had been through so much with, and placed his hand on his shoulder and squeezed it.

“It’s gonna be OK. I don’t know how, but it just has to be.”

Kneeling down by Chris’s chair, Buck said softly, but urgently, “And we gotta help him be strong. That little boy has been through too much. What he doesn’t need is for us to give up on him, even before we know for sure!”

Chris looked up with sparks flying. “I’m not giving up on him. I’d never give up on him.”

Grinning broadly, Buck said, “I know Buddy. And we can never let him know that he might get sick.”

Buck refused to acknowledge the possibility that Vin might die.

All the color drained from Chris’s face and he turned pain-filled eyes to his best friend. “He knows,” he said in a voice that was barely a whisper.

“Awww shit!” As Buck rocked back on his heels. He rose and went back to the sofa. For several long minutes they both sat in silence.

Finally, Chris said, “The doctor gave me a list of things to watch for. Otherwise, we just have to live one day at a time and pretend that everything is going to be OK. We can’t let Vin know how worried we are, any of us.”

Buck nodded his agreement. Then he broached the subject he had dreaded talking to Chris about. “Chris, there’s something else.”

“What?” Chris asked with a sinking feeling.

“It’s Jake..” Buck started.

Chris closed his eyes and groaned. God, he’d almost forgotten about the dog. If anything happened to that dog, Vin would be devastated.

“The vet treated the bite,” Buck continued, “and gave him another vaccination…”

“But?” Chris demanded, knowing he wasn’t going to like the answer.

“They need to quarantine him.”

Chris sighed, “Shit…for how long?”

“At least forty five days,” Buck knew how much this was going to upset the little boy.

Chris scrubbed at his eyes could this day get any worse? and then immediately he realized, it could be a lot worse.

“Does JD know?”

Buck sighed, “Yeah, he was with me. He cried most of the way home, but I don’t think he understands why we had to leave him.”

“Ok, well we need to figure out how to tell Vin before JD. I hate to wake him up. With all the shots they gave him, he’s not going to be feeling well.”

Buck thought a moment, “Well, I could go get JD and put him in bed with me. He sleeps so soundly, he probably won’t even wake up.”

Chris considered this, but decided against it. “No, it would seem more natural for me to take Vin to my room. I can tell him it’s because I want to keep an eye on him.”

Buck looked at his friend, then down at his folded hands before venturing, “Won’t he think something’s wrong? That you aren’t telling’ him something ‘bout his condition?”

“Damn!” Chris scrubbed at his face with both hands.

The decision was taken out of their hands when Vin slowly walked in the room, rubbing his eyes.

Exchanging a quick glance with his friend, Chris rose to greet the little boy. “Hey Cowboy, what are you doing up?”

“Dad?” came the sleepy response, “where’s Jake?”

Chris looked at his adopted son and knew that no matter how hard, Vin deserved nothing less than the truth.

“Come here Vin, we need to talk,” Chris said.

By the tone of his dad’s voice, Vin knew something serious was going on and that scared him.

Chris saw the fear and wished he could do something, anything, to take it away. But all he could do was gather the vulnerable child into his arms. He held him close for a few seconds then picked him up, carried him to the recliner and sat down with the little boy on his lap.

“Vin, remember when the doctor talked to you about rabies?”

The boy slowly nodded his head, a feeling of dread creeping over him.

Chris took a deep breath, “It’s about Jake, Vin.”

When Chris saw Vin’s eyes widen in alarm, he hastened to explain, “Jake is OK, but he’s going to have to stay at the doctor’s for awhile.”

Eyes filled with tears and his little chin began to quiver. “Why?”

“Do you remember when you got Jake?”

“From Santa,” the little boy whispered.

Chris paused, remembering how surprised his son had been that Santa had actually remembered him. He looked down a moment to hide how upset he was to have to tell Vin about his dog.

He tried to give his son a reassuring smile but was afraid he was failing miserably. Taking a deep breath, he attempted to explain.

“Well, one of the things Santa did before he gave you Jake was to make sure he got a rabies vaccination, just like you did tonight. But, since he was bitten by the skunk, too, the doctor needs to keep him at the clinic just to make sure he doesn’t get sick.”

“How long?” came the small voice.

This was the really difficult part. “About forty five days.”

Tears streamed down the elfin face. “Why?”

“Because sometimes it takes that long for dogs to get sick, if they are going to.”

“Why can’t he come home and we can watch him?”

Chris hugged his son close. “Because it is the law, Cowboy. He has to stay in a cage away from other animals and people.”

“No,” Vin sobbed. “No, we can’t leave him by himself. He’ll think no one loves him? Please, Dad!”

Chris’s eyes misted as he listened to the little heart breaking. “I’m sorry Vin. I would bring him home if I could, but I can’t. I’m so, so sorry!”

“Please, Dad? We can’t just leave him!”

Chris knew this probably had as much to do with Vin’s own insecurities as it was about the dog.

“Shhh, don’t cry, son. Tell you what, we’ll go visit Jake tomorrow, OK?”

The little boy straightened and turned wide eyes to his father. “For real?”

Chris sincerely hoped that this was one promise he wouldn’t live to regret. He smiled even as his heart was breaking at the hope in his small son’s eyes. “Yeah, for real.”

Vin stared at his dad for a minute then in an instant he appeared to deflate. He laid against Chris and whispered, “OK.”

Chris rested his chin on the head of the silently crying child and held him close. Mechanically, he gently rubbed the thin little back.

Buck had been a silent, distraught observer. The big man’s heart was breaking for the two of them. He stood and motioned to Chris that he was going to bed. As he passed, he couldn’t help but gently stroke the little boy’s silky hair and say a silent prayer that everything would somehow turn out OK.

Several minutes went by before Chris could tell that the little boy had finally fallen asleep. His hair was damp and he felt too warm. He was given Tylenol at the hospital so it was too soon to give him more.

Carefully, he lifted the boy and carried him to his own room. He placed his precious charge gently in the bed, trying not to wake him. He undressed and climbed in beside him.

It wasn’t long before the little boy curled up next to his father, instinctively seeking that solid comfort. Chris wrapped an arm around him and pulled him closer, realizing he needed that security as much as his son did.


Father and son slept restlessly. At one point Vin was tossing and turning, mumbling in his sleep. Chris was sweating from the heat radiating from the small body.

Easing himself out of bed Chris got two children’s Tylenol and a glass of water. He woke the little boy enough to give him the medicine and then they both fell back to sleep.

The alarm sounded and Chris quickly turned it off before it woke Vin. The little boy stirred but didn’t wake up. Chris eased out of bed and headed toward the kitchen, hoping coffee would help clear the cobwebs.

He was joined shortly by Buck. They sat at the kitchen table for several minutes before Chris felt awake enough to have a discussion.

“I’ll call Gloria and tell her what happened and that I’m staying home today. Vin is not going to feel well and I promised him I’d take him to see Jake.”

Buck took a sip of coffee then studied the contents of his mug a few minutes before asking, “Chris, do you really think it’s a good idea, taking him to see Jake, that is?”

Chris sat his cup down then scrubbed his face with both hands. “Hell, I don’t know, Buck. You know how hard we’ve worked to convince the boys that we aren’t going to abandon them, no matter what. How is he going to trust us if we desert something he loves? Shit, I’m no psychiatrist but even I can figure out that he might identify with Jake. He doesn’t really understand about the quarantine. All he knows is that Jake *might* get sick, like he *might* get sick. I’m not saying it makes sense. We just have to keep telling him that we aren’t going to run out on him when the going gets tough. If that means letting him visit with Jake, even if it hurts, then I guess that’s what we have to do.”

Buck nodded slowly, then asked the really tough question. “What if Jake gets sick and we have to put him down? Vin’s a bright little boy. He will eventually ask if the same thing will happen to him if he gets the same disease.”

Chris closed his eyes and sighed. “I know. I’ll call his therapist this afternoon but I think we have to be honest with him.”

“And if he thinks that he might get sick?”

Chris frowned. He didn’t want to consider this possibility. Abruptly, he stood and started to pace. “God damn it to hell, Buck! This is just NOT fair!”

“Dad?” came a frightened voice from the doorway.

Startled, both men looked at the little boy, wondering how much he had heard.

Forcing a smile, the distraught father fought to reign in his emotions. “Hey Cowboy. How are you feeling?”

“OK,” came the tremulous reply.

Chris knelt before the little boy, taking in the pale complexion and dark circles under the eyes. “You hungry?”

Vin thought for a second, not entirely sure if he could eat. “Not really.”

“OK, how about I fix you a piece of cinnamon toast. I need to give you some medicine and it is better if you have something on your stomach.”

Vin nodded and wearily moved to sit down at the table. He had heard his dad’s outburst and wondered if there was something they weren’t telling him. Both the doctor and Chris had said he was gonna be OK, so why was his dad so mad? Maybe it was Jake, maybe something happened to Jake.

“Dad? When can we go see Jake?”

Chris glanced at Buck before answering, “Well, first I need to talk to the vet but probably after lunch if you feel like it. I’m going to stay home with you today, OK?”

Vin looked up at his dad, “Yeah.”

About that time JD wandered in, rubbing his eyes.

Buck stood and went to great his adopted son. “Hey Lit’l’ Bit. Sleep good?”

Obviously not remembering the events of the night before, he gave his dad a big grin. “Yep”

Buck carried him back to his bedroom so they could talk without Vin hearing.

“Now son, Chris is going to stay with you boys today and I’m going to work. I want you to be extra good today. Remember that Vin got bit by the skunk last night so he isn’t going to feel good. You will probably have to play by yourself most of the day, just don’t bother Vin too much, OK?”

“’K,” Then the small boy remembered what happened and tears began to well up. “Dad what ‘bout Jake?”

Buck had been helping the little boy get dressed as they talked. He gathered the child to him and sat down with him on his lap, wondering how he was going to explain this.

“Lit’l’ Bit, remember when the skunk bit Jake? Well, skunks don’t usually attack dogs like that, so we think the skunk might have been sick. If it was, then it might have given the sickness to Jake. That is why we have to leave Jake at the doctor’s, to see if he is gonna get sick.”

JD looked at his father for a long moment, then his little chin started to quiver. “Are they gonna make Vin stay at the doctor’s, too?”

Buck hugged his son fiercely. “No, no, Vin is going to stay right here with us. He’s not going anywhere!”


“You just need to be real good for Chris today, OK?”


Holding the little boy away from him so that he could look into his eyes, he continued, “Then when I get home from work and we finish out chores, you and me’ll go get a pizza at the arcade. How’s that sound?”

“’K,” the voice was still tremulous, but it was accompanied by a tentative smile.


JD was as good as his word. He let Vin pick out which videos to watch and tried to help Chris around the house although that quickly became old hat and he resorted to just watching TV.

Chris talked to the vet. Normally people would not be allowed to visit a pet in quarantine, but Chris explained the circumstances and they were granted permission.

After lunch they had a quiet time, in which both boys fell asleep, then Chris took them to the vet’s clinic. Neither boy said anything on the drive.

Chris glanced in the rear-view mirror. He could clearly see the sadness on Vin’s little face and the tension in his body. The boy had said little most of the day, obviously not feeling well. He had hardly moved the entire drive. He just sat, staring out the window, a look of abject sorrow on his little face.

JD wasn’t much better. Although he had played some, he had been unnaturally quiet. Granted, Chris knew Buck had talked with him but the child’s innate exuberance usually exerted itself.

Chris pulled into the parking lot and brought the truck to a stop. He got out and helped JD out, then went to get Vin. Opening the door, he reached in to unbuckle the belt to the booster seat. When he helped the seven year old out, Vin just stood beside the truck.

Chris knelt down and took a thin hand into his own. “You know son, you don’t have to do this.”

The little boy turned sad blue eyes to him, “We can’t just leave him. We have to let him know we still love him.”


“No, Dad. That’s what friends do.”

Chris swallowed hard, he hoped Vin realized how proud of him he was. He reached up and brushed a lock of hair off the little forehead. “OK, let’s go.”

The receptionist led them back to a large kennel area. Jake was in a special cage toward the rear of the building. There was a separate door at the back that allowed the dog to be let out in a private run so he could get some exercise.

The doctor joined them. He explained to Vin that they treated his bite and pointed out that Jake was wearing a bandage just like Vin. This got no reaction from the somber boy. All his attention was focused on his dog who had by now seen his friend and ran from the corner of the kennel where he had been lying morosely, to jump, barking and yelping, against the fencing.

The dog’s tail wagged vigorously to see his family. The vet put a hand on the little boy’s shoulder. “I’m sorry Vin, I can’t let you touch him. If he has rabies there is a chance that you might catch it.”

Vin looked up at Chris with tears in his eyes. “I’m sorry Cowboy. We just can’t take a chance, but you can talk to him.”

The boy wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. He moved to within a foot of the cage. He sat down cross-legged on the floor. The pup jumped at the cage and started whining.

Vin looked up at his dad. “Can I talk t’ him by myself?”

“Well…,” the vet started to object.

Chris looked at him. “Vin won’t go near the cage. He needs a few minutes with his friend.”

Meeting the stern gaze, the doctor acquiesced, “OK, but son, don’t go near the fence.”

Vin solemnly promised, “OK.”

The other three started to move away but JD stopped and tugged on Chris’s hand. “Chris, can I say hi t’ Jake?”

Seeing the anxious little face, Chris said, “Sure, but just don’t touch him.”

JD nodded and moved to Vin’s side. He squatted down with his hands on his knees. “Hi Jake, I’m sorry you got bite’ed by that ole skunk. We miss you. I want you t’ come home soon so we can play.”

Then he stood up. “Bye Jake, see ya soon.”

Chris, JD and the vet moved just far enough away to be out of earshot. They couldn’t hear what Vin was saying but they saw Jake calm down, sit and cock his head to one side as if he were listening intently to what his friend was saying.

Several minutes passed before Vin stood up and Jake looked up at him. The boy said something else, turned and walked back to his father. The young dog followed Vin’s movements with his eyes then laid down with his head on his paws.

When Vin reached Chris, he wrapped his arms around his father and buried his face against the solid comfort. Chris hugged him close then stooped to pick him up. Normally, Vin would have balked at being carried like a baby but today it didn’t matter. Today he needed his dad.

Holding JD by the hand, Chris thanked the doctor and they left.


When Buck got home he found Chris and Vin asleep in the recliner. JD was lying on his stomach with his head propped on his hands, watching TV. He didn’t hear Buck come in, he was so engrossed in the show.

The big man tapped him on the shoulder then quickly put a finger to his lips as the child looked up and broke into a big smile. He motioned for the little boy to follow him.

A few minutes later, Chris joined the two, who were outside doing some chores. When Chris got close enough, Buck made sure that JD was out of earshot and then he asked, “How’s Junior?”

Chris sighed and raked his hand through his hair. Buck could see the lines of fatigue and worry on his friend’s face. “OK, he’s run a little fever but the doctor said that was to be expected. Right now, this thing with Jake has me worried. He’s really taking it hard.”

Buck nodded knowingly. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy. The waiting is going to be the hard part.”

Chris looked at his best friend. “No, the hard part is going to be telling that little boy, who’s lost so much, that we are going to have to put his friend to sleep, if the dog gets rabies.”

“Yeah,” the big man whispered, looking towards the house.


As the days passed, physically, Vin seemed to be OK, but the happy, quiet little boy that they had all worked so hard to get out of his shell, slowly disappeared. Granted there were times he would laugh and play but it was always shadowed with sadness.

The worse times were after they had visited Jake, which Vin insisted upon. At first they were going every day but after seeing the emotional toll it was taking on the young boy, Chris managed to work it down to three or four times a week.

Even though Chris had explained to Vin’s teachers what had happened, it had become apparent that the number of visits would have to be modified, once school started. All the stress was beginning to affect his appetite and sleep, although Vin’s therapist agreed that they were important to the boy and might even help with the grieving process should it come to that.

They received an official report from the state, confirming that the skunk was indeed rabid. So far, neither Vin nor Jake showed any signs of the illness. Vin had made a calendar to mark off the days of Jake’s quarantine, that he hung on the wall by his bed and he dutifully marked off each day, one by one.

One morning a few weeks after school started, Chris was in the kitchen, fixing breakfast, when a very excited young boy ran in.


A little surprised at the tone of voice, he turned and looked at the beaming face of his son. “Hey Cowboy, what’s up?”

“Today is the day!”

It took Chris a moment to realize what he was referring to. The men had been busy on a new case and had been working late. It had fallen on Mrs. Potter to take the boys for their visits for the last week or so. And when they got home they were so busy with homework, dinner and bedtime, that Chris had kind of forgotten.

When it finally dawned on him what Vin was talking about, he smiled broadly. “So it is.”

“Can we go get him after school?”

“I tell you what, let me talk to his doctor and make sure it’s OK?”

The little face fell. It hadn’t occurred to him that Jake might not be able to come home. “But…it’s…been…forty-five days.” Then he held up the calendar for Chris to see.

Chris looked at Vin, then at the calendar and made up his mind, come hell or high water, Jake was coming home. He knelt down and held out his arms and smiled.

Vin ran to his dad, instinctively knowing that his dad was going to make everything all right.


Two days later, on a Saturday afternoon, Chris and Buck, along with Uncles Nathan, Josiah and Ezra, watched as the two little boys played tag with Jake.

They were officially having a welcome home party for Vin’s friend, but in a way it was more of a thanksgiving party. Every heart there giving thanks that Vin and Jake were OK and that the two friends were reunited.