He sat alone at the table with a bottle of whiskey, fingering the half full glass. He had been there for more than an hour, the same bottle and the same half full glass. It was early afternoon and the sun shone through the windows of the saloon stretching the windows shadow across the wooden floor. The light didn't hit the table that Max Conrad occupied, it was far in the back and badly lit at all times, just the way he wanted it. He wasn't a big man, hardly threatening, but he was there for a purpose, he watched the door to the saloon open, and wondered if two of them just entered the saloon.

Conrad studied the two men, one a tall black man the other a mountain of a man. The black man had no apparent weapons. The other wore a wooden cross around his neck and a gun around his waist. He lifted the whiskey to his mouth giving the appearance of drinking it. He fixed his ears to listen as the men sat at a table not to far from him.

"He does have a lot of spirit," the older man said.

"Yeah, well, he ain't gonna have any of that spirit ifn' he keeps on the way he's goin'."

"God looks after fools and children, my friend."

"And which one of those describes our young friend?" Conrad hadn't seen the fancy dressed man enter. As he spoke he sat down across from the two men.

"Does it mean God's watchin' out for him twice as much? 'Cause the truth be told, I'm gettin' mighty tired of seein' all my fixin' comin' undone," the dark man said in a half hearted laugh.

That could be the healer Jackson, thought Conrad.

The men began laughing, in part for Nathan's comment, another part at the latest display of JD's horsemanship, which had gone wrong. As the men made hand gestures and laughed, Conrad watched.

The batwing doors opened again and two more men entered, one in buckskin clothes and a very visible gun strapped to his leg. The other a man dressed in black, gun also visible. The men made their way to the three already seated. With a look towards the bar and a nod from the black clad man, several glasses and a bottle were brought to the table.

Conrad lifted his head slightly and quickly counted the glasses, six. There were suppose to be seven lawman, there were only five men at the table but six glasses. He soon found out why as a tall lean man stormed over to the table, turned a chair around, and sat down with his arms folded across the back of the chair.

"I swear that boy is gonna kill me," the tall mustached man said firmly.

"He was only tryi. . . . . . "

"I know what he was TRYIN' to do!! He was showin' off. That kid's gonna break his neck, Chris!!"

Jackpot! Conrad thought, Chris, Chris Larabee. These could be the men he was looking for. The Seven. The lawmen who protected the town. Now Conrad took to task to watch the men and find their weakness. Conrad had to admit to himself that so far there didn't appear to be any.


The doors to the saloon opened again and a young man stood looking around the room, eyes stopping at the table where the six men sat. The mustached man looked up, shaking his head, the three that had entered earlier tried to silence their laugh, the black clothed man seemed to show no emotion but hung his head shaking it, and the buckskin covered man stood and motioned for the youngest to join them.

The young man looked at the bar, raised his hand and started to walk over to the other men with a slight limp, Conrad noted he was favoring his left leg. He also noted the two colts the younger man had. The young man made his way to the table, taking a chair from the next table, and sat next to the man who had motioned him over.

Conrad saw the waitress come back with another bottle of whiskey and set it down in the middle of the table, she then made her way to the man who just entered, setting down the mug in front of him. Conrad narrowed his eyes. Was that mug full of. . . .milk??

"Thanks, Vin," the young man added, "At least I know I still have some friends that ain't mad at me."


"No one's mad at you, JD. Right, Buck?" Vin stated.

Dunne, the sheriff. Boss said he was young.

The two young men looked at the mustached man, JD giving Buck the pitiful 'puppy dog eyes' and Vin was giving him a 'if looks could kill' stare.


"Don't go givin' me that look," he said to Vin. "And you!" he pointed to JD, "When are you gonna stop bein' so foolish. . . you coulda been killed!"

The kid hung his head, "Geez, Buck. I was only having some fun. 'Sides I didn't get hurt. Well, not that bad," His face became red.

"You got lucky you only twisted your ankle. . . next time you might twist your head off."

"Take it easy, Buck," Chris said evenly.

"You turned soft? He coulda pulled out them stitches and started bleeding again."

"He didn't land on his head," Chris said matter-of-factly.

"The reason he got them stitches in his head is because of the other trick he thought would be fun, knocked him out for two days! Or did you forget that?"

"Buck, go easy now. You tryin' to say somethin' about my sewin?" the healer interjected. He could see the kid's hurt as Buck talked about him like he wasn't there, and as Chris defended him, he became smaller in his chair.

The tracker also sensed it and grabbed the kid, "C'mon, lets go for a walk." JD nodded, took one last drink of milk, and left the saloon.

Conrad figured the well dressed man was Standish and the other man was Sanchez, the preacher. He hid a smile when he realized he hadn't wasted his time. He finally drank the warm glass of whiskey with a grimace. He listened carefully to the conversation between the five remaining men.

"You ever gonna let up on him?" Chris said protectively.

"What's that suppose to mean. . . if I wasn't always ridin' him just think what he'd be doin'!" Buck shot back accusingly.

"I suspect that our young sheriff would not be trying to perform precarious acts on his steed that he had acquired from a circus he had the fortune of attending, if you were not so critical of Mr. Dunne's actions," Ezra drawled out, never lifting his eyes from the shuffling cards.

Conrad was thankful he was in the shadows, glad that no one could see the questioning look on his face, and hoped someone knew what the gambler had said.

"What the hell are you trying to say, this is all my fault?" Buck asked.

"What he's saying is. . . . If you'd back off from ridin' him all the time he wouldn't be tryin' to impress you all the time," Chris said flatly.

"Impress me?! What about you, you're his 'hero', he idolizes you!" Buck was trying to place the blame somewhere else. Buck looked around the table and knew he was defeated. "Ah, Hell."


Conrad was an ever present man in the town for the next few days, he didn't make himself 'known', but he laid low and acted casual. No one seemed to notice him or ignore him. He was pleasant to everyone and vice versa. He was studying the seven carefully. Especially when they were together. There had to be a common bond between them. They were so diverse in personalities and backgrounds, he knew they had at least one thing in common, the job. They seemed to get along well, each knowing how far to push with the teasing and put-downs.

A week had gone by since Conrad had first seen the seven lawmen. He grimly came to the conclusion that these men, as a whole, had no weaknesses. That was the key, to divide and conquer. But that wasn't the plan. His employer wanted to know the seven's weakness. A weakness he didn't see.

Conrad strolled over to the cafe to get something to eat. He made his order and watched three men eating at a table across the room. Wilmington, Tanner, and Dunne. Wilmington seemed to be having another one of his ninny fits with the boy. Conrad moved to the table next to them so he could listen to what was going on. As Conrad figured. Man's worse than a woman,he thought.

"What ya mean you ain't hungry?"

"What part of ' I ain't hungry don't ya understand'?"

"Buck, if he ain't hungry he ain't hungry, let him be," Tanner interjected.

"He didn't eat enough to keep a fly alive yesterday. . . and now he don't want nothing but a glass of milk. That's gonna fill him up," Buck threw at Vin.

"I didn't eat this mornin'," Tanner replied, "And it's almost to hot to eat now." Vin sent a wink in JD's direction that caused JD to crack a smile. Tanner motioned his head to the door and the two young men left the table. As they made it to the door they heard a familiar voice.

"Fine, don't you come complaining to me when you gotta carry him home!" Buck said, shaking his head and smiling at the same time, under his breath came out, "Damn kids."

Conrad watched the youngest members as they left the building. He had a feeling he was gonna learn the seven's weakness. He knew that Wilmington put on an air of aggravation when dealing with Dunne, but seemed concerned for him at all times. Tanner seemed to like the boy, enough to stick up for him with Wilmington. He was beginning to wonder how the others really felt about the youth. He paid for his meal, stood, and walked out of the cafe. He walked behind the two young men, close enough to hear the conversation, but far enough not to bring suspicion to himself.


The two men walked down the boardwalk, going nowhere in particular.

Vin raised his eyes towards the sky, "Sure is a nice day, you wanna go for a ride, maybe you'd work up an appetite."

"Not you, too! Why is everyone so bothered 'bout my eatin' habits?"

"We're just worried bout ya, kid."

"Well, I don't need no nanny. I can take care of myself."

"No one sayin' you can't, it's just. . . "

"I know, I know, 'I got more bad luck then three black cats walking under a ladder'," JD said, badly mocking Buck.

Vin smiled and put his arm on the kid's shoulder, "So you wanna go for a ride or not?"

"You sure ya feel 'safe' with me?" the kid asked with a smile.

"Come on," Vin said as the two men headed for the livery.

Conrad made his way to the back of the livery so he could listen as the two men talked. There was a constant chatter from the boy as they began to saddle there horses. Conrad didn't think anyone had ever talked as much as that kid could. He noticed the tracker and was surprised that Tanner was listening to the kid's rambling. The man seemed interested in what the young sheriff was saying.

". . . . . . .I promise," JD said as he put the blanket on his horse.

"Good, I hate to tell Buck you were doin' another trick," Vin added with a smile.

Vin swung his saddle on his horse and began to synch it. JD lifted his saddle and began to swing it. He let out a gasp and grabbed at his right side as the saddle fell to the ground.

"You okay?" Vin said, concern in his voice.

"Yeah. . . just a cramp. . . or somethin'," the kid returned with a weak smile. JD bent over, picked up the saddle and swung it on his horse, with little effort. "Just twisted the wrong way, I guess."

"Probably. . . You ready to go?" Vin was concerned, but figured if it was something other than a cramp he would have had the same reaction when he saddled his horse.

"Yup. . . where we going?"

"I told Chris I'd patrol the pass out by Emery's Canyon," Vin said with a grin, knowing the kid would be happy.

"Vin. . . that's half a days ride. . . I didn't. . . I mean. . . I don't have any supplies or nothin'."

"We'll be comin' back tonight, moon will be full, we'll have plenty of light."

The men led their horses out of the livery and mounted, Vin watched JD mount, wondering if the 'cramp' was still there. The young man mounted with ease. They urged their horses on passing Buck and Chris sitting outside the saloon.

"You sure you want me taggin' along, I mean. . . does Chris and Buck know I'm goin' with you?" JD

wondered if he was suppose to go, Vin didn't need any help out in the 'wilderness'.

"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want ya to come. Chris knew you were comin'. As for Buck, guess he knows now," Vin said with a slight chuckle.

Conrad strolled out of the livery spotted Wilmington and Larabee outside of the saloon and casually made his way there. He sat at the table nearest the door so he could listen to the conversation going on out on the boardwalk. Larabee and Wilmington seemed to be disagreeing about something. That something became clear as Conrad listened in, Dunne.

"Emery's Canyon?! There goin to Emery's Canyon?"

"Had some reports of coyotes hittin' the farmers. Vin's checkin' it out, see if the pack moved on. He thought the kid needed a break."

"From me? Right?"

"From here. Ever since he landed here it's been one thing after another. He ain't had time to just relax, maybe that's why he ain't been eatin'." He waited to see his oldest friend's reaction to the fact that he had noticed the kid's lack of appetite.

"You seen it, too, huh?" he asked quietly.

"We all have, just we have different ways of dealin' with it."

"And Vin's way is to take him out in the middle of nowhere? What if he's sick, Chris? What's Vin gonna do?"

"I know he don't look good, don't mean his sick. Nathan says it's cause he ain't eatin'." Chris noticed Buck's surprised look.

"If Nathan's worried about him then maybe. . . ."

"Nathan's Nathan. Someone looks a little pekid and he thinks they're sick."

"It's just. . . well. . . Damn it. . . the kid has more bad luck tha. . . ."

"How many black cats this week??" the leader snickered.

"I lost count. . . ," the ladies' man laughed back.

As the two lawmen made their way off the boardwalk and across the street, Conrad began to organize his thoughts and observations. It all came down to one thing, their weakness. He could add his thoughts anyway he wanted the answer was always the same, the kid, JD Dunne was the weakness.


Conrad made his way out of the saloon and to his room at the hotel. He sat at a table with a notebook and a pencil, writing things he had observed about the individual men. He stopped and rubbed his eyes. He sat back in his chair and began pondering his discovery.

It wasn't that Dunne was weak, small yes, but weak, hardly. There had been a couple small shoot outs in town, he noticed the kid held his own. He had the skill and seemed to have the patience, not just randomly shooting. He'd been taught well, most likely by these men. It was odd, Larabee and Tanner seemed to be able to speak with out words. . . unspoken questions and answers. . . Jackson and Sanchez had their callings. Dunne and Wilmington acted like they were brothers. . . and Standish. . . he could fit with any of them. . . .but for the life of him he could never understand the man.

Dunne had the same ability that Standish did, he fit in anywhere as well. . . .but differently. Conrad felt they considered Dunne equal to them in a gunfight and counted on him, but in everyday life they took on different duties. Wilmington the ever critical, 'I'm doin' this for your own good' older brother. Wilmington cared a lot about the kid. Sometimes a little too much, he had heard the others compare Wilmington to a Mother Grizzly.

Sanchez was the one he went to when he had a question, spiritual or personal. Standish was an older brother who made you do things you were told never to do (like gamble), teaching the kid a card trick here and there when he didn't think anyone was looking.

Jackson cared for the boy, and from what he had observed the healer had invested a lot of time in the kid. Not trying to teach the kid anything, trying to keep him together.

Tanner was the fun brother. He didn't bother the kid with 'I told you so's' and 'What were you thinking's. He let the kid be himself. As intimidating as the tracker could be at times (Conrad had seen his intimidation towards someone), Dunne never felt it.

Larabee, he was the idol, the hero to the kid. Conrad had heard of his reputation as a hardened gunslinger, the man who lost everything. Conrad never saw that when Larabee dealt with Dunne. Conrad saw the same unemotional face but it was the underlying patience he had with the young man. He had watched these two men one day, and as much as Dunne admired and respected Larabee, Conrad realized that Larabee adored the boy.

When the seven were together as a group, Conrad had physically felt their protectiveness of their youngest member. The boy would have an idea, and the men would say no, but would breakdown without much fight. Tanner and Wilmington were the first to give in, followed surprisingly by Larabee.

Conrad began to yawn and decided it was time to go to bed. He wanted to wait a few more days before he left, just to make sure he was right.

He knew he was, the truth is he was fascinated by these men. He was looking forward to telling his employer how things had gone, that he had indeed found the Seven's weakness, he was intrigued to find out how far these men were willing to go for each other.


JD and Vin made there way out of town. Vin was glad he'd gotten the kid out. He figured the kid needed a break. Buck was right about the bad luck. Weren't the kids fault, it just seemed to find him. He figured he couldn't get in any trouble looking for coyote tracks. Tracks don't bite. Unless they stop and you find what made them. Geez Vin,he scolded himself.

Vin took a side ways glance at the young kid riding next to him, JD was watching the dusty ground carefully, trying to pick up the pack's tracks. Vin got a kick watching JD. He knew he was looking for the coyotes, but he was also looking for a track he didn't recognize. Vin knew that if he found one they would stop, Vin would tell him what made the track, where it was going and why it might be out here. It was always the same, but never the same track, he always questioned the ones he'd never seen. Once the kid knew a track, he knew it.

"I think I found them!!" JD said excitedly.

The two men stopped their horses and dismounted. Vin made his way to where JD was standing, "What ya' got kid?"

"Well, they look like them wolf tracks you showed me awhile back, but smaller. They could be dog tracks, but there's too many of them," he said with confidence. "I think," he added, questioning himself.

"I think you're right. Looks like there headed to the canyon," Vin said, proudly patting JD's shoulder and smiled to the kid next to him. He had expected to see him smiling, proud of himself, he saw the smile but noticed the pale face and glassy eyes.



"You all right?" He wasn't surprised by the kid's reaction, Buck and Nathan had been hounding him for days. And he just added to it.

He rolled his eyes and stood abruptly, "Is that why you brought me out here?? So you get me out in the middle of nowhere and start hounding me, too? Was this Buck's idea? Or did you think of it all on your own?!" Vin wasn't surprised, he asked for it, but something just wasn't right.

"Lis. . . .," he tried

"Listen? I know everyone's worried about me, I thought we got outta town to avoid this!! Why can't I go nowhere without someone keeping their eye on me!" JD was livid, his voice not having the same youthful tone.

Vin raised his arms in surrender, he knew the kid needed to vent. He didn't get the chance to with Buck interrupting, so he let the kid go. When the kid stopped pacing and throwing his hands in the air, Vin felt it was safe to talk again.

"Feel better?" Vin questioned

"Yeah. . . .thanks," JD shyly said, hanging his head, embarrassed at what he said. He knew of all the men, Vin didn't harp, hover or nag him about how he ate, slept, anything.

"Good," Vin approached JD and faced him. "I was just saying you don't look so good kid. That cramp come back?"

"No, kinda caught me off guard, though," JD smiled, the pain was still there, just not so bad, more like an ache.

"Me, too. Hated to have to take you to Nathan's before we even left, that would be a new record for you," Vin chided in.

"There ain't no adventure in that."

"Nope, and it woulda been a short trip."

The two men took the reins of their horses and began to walk to a bend in the canyon. It wasn't too far, it would be a good place to watch the pack without being seen. Vin had set off for some meat for the stew, he returned empty handed. JD had made a fire and had the stew heating up.

"Nothing?" the kid was surprised.

"Nope. . . guess we're havin soup instead of stew," the tracker stated.

"S'pose that's why the coyotes are headin' for the ranches?"

"Yup, I reckon so. If they ain't got anything to eat. . . .the ranches are easy pickin's, they don't have to work for it."

JD stood and retrieved two plates from the pack they had, as he turned to stand from the pack the pain came back. Again he gasped and grabbed his right side, dropping the plates. Still grasping his side he managed threw gritted teeth, "Damn."

Vin was at his side in two steps. He watched the kid's face contort in pain and then relax. Just as fast as the pain was there, it was gone. "That weren't no cramp, kid," Vin said, trying to mask his worry.

"I'm fine. . . probably pulled a muscle or somethin'," the kid tried to smile and swallowed back the nausea he was feeling.

"Now I'm worried."

"Why's that?"

"You said you were fine."

"Ha, ha."

"I'm serious, JD."

The kid hung his head, he knew Vin was worried, But why does it always have to be me they're worried about?

"How long you been havin' that pain?"

"Today's the first time, I swear," the boy lied.

Vin gave the kid a look that told him he wanted to know. As Vin, and that look, got closer Vin raised his hand to touch the kids forehead. JD took his hand and pushed the tracker's away and moved his head away from the hand.

"I haven't felt good a couple of days, thought it was just the flu or somethin'. I had twinge this mornin' but it was a bit worse at the livery and then here. Its just a muscle or som. . . . . . ." Another pain, another gasp and another look. This time it was the scared look on JD to the tracker.

"The pain worse?"

As before the pain didn't last long, but that was two in just a few minutes and this one was more intense. JD tried to catch his breath but all he could do was shake his head yes. This time when Vin put his hand to his forehead he didn't back off.

"You got a fever, but it ain't bad," the tracker smiled, trying to reassure the kid.

The young sheriff had composed himself and sat next to the tracker shaking his head. "What's wrong with me, Vin?"

Vin looked at the pleading eyes and wished he had a better answer, but he didn't. "I dunno, JD, never seen nothin' like this before. Hurtin' like hell one minute then fine the next."

"Buck's gonna love this one. . . Can't even get sick the right way," he said, trying not to let the unknown scare him.

"Let's not worry about him, I'm gonna pack up and we'll go home."

"I'll give ya a hand." But as JD stood the pain came back, he fell to his knees and cried out, wrapping his arms around his stomach. Vin was there instantly, he wished he knew what to do for the kid. The tracker knew he had to stay calm, for the kid. Fact was the kid was scared witless, and so was Vin, he had no idea what had caused the kid to be hurting so badly.

The pain began to dull and the teen began catching his breath, his face was still pasty colored. With scared glassy eyes the kid turned to Vin, "What's wrong with me? It's gettin' worse, Vin."

"We'll get ya' to Nathan's," he grabbed at the kid's shoulder for reassurance, and began to quickly break camp. In what seemed hours to JD, it hadn't taken Vin long at all to break camp, the horses were saddled and the two men were ready to leave.

"Ya think you can stand up?"

"Pretty sure," the young man said in a half smile. He got to his feet and began to straighten his back, but his breath caught in his throat and his side tugged him to a forward position. The kid looked at the tracker, almost amused.

"Guess I can walk, just don't wanna seem to let me stand-up straight."

JD made his way to his horse, leaning forward and a bit to the right. Vin thought it would be right down funny if the kid wasn't hurting. Vin watched the kid mount his horse, he was surprised that he was able to get up with ease. The kid seemed to be surprised a well.

Vin mounted and turned to the young man beside him, "You ready?"

"I don't think its gonna get any better if we wait." The lift in the kid's voice didn't hide the worry on his face.

Vin and JD urged the horses on into a fast walk. Vin didn't know if a faster pace would make the kid worse, he knew it would take them longer to get back, but if the kid didn't have any more pain it would be worth it. The two men headed to Four Corners and disappeared into the darkness.


The two men had ridden for close to an hour, they had upped their pace. Soon after they had left camp it became clear that it didn't matter if they were going fast or not, the pain in JD's side came more often and more intense. JD could feel the pain begin and would pull his horse to a fast stop, as would Vin, and when it stopped hurting so bad they would start again.

JD could feel another pain coming up, but he could see Four Corners, and wanted to be there more than ever. He slowed his mount and rode out the pain, he dropped the reins, leaned forward, and held on to the saddle horn with one hand, his side with the other. Vin slowed and looked at the kid. What the hell is wrong with him?

"Hang on, kid, almost there."

By the time they made it to the clinic, JD was winded and the two men dismounted. The pain had subsided, but was very present when JD tried to straighten, and was rewarded as the pain dropped him to his knees.

The town was dark, as was the clinic. Vin figured everyone was asleep and hated to wake Nathan. They made their way awkwardly up the clinic stairs and the a hall till they had reached Nathan's door. Vin sat the kid on the bench in the hall and returned to the door, knocking and calling for Nathan.

"Nathan! NATHAN!. . . Open up. . . NA. . . "

The door opened and the sleepy eyed healer appeared, "What?"

"JD's sick or somethin'. He's hurtin' bad, Nathan."

Nathan went to the bench, JD was bent over, still trying to catch his breath, but didn't seem to be in any pain. As Nathan got closer JD raised his head, and with pleading eyes and frightened tone said, "Somethin's wrong Nathan. . . " The healer could hear the panic in the boy's voice.

He noticed the kid was still pale, he'd looked like that for a few days now, but the sweat on the kid's forehead hadn't been there, and he reached and touched it, knowing he would find a raging fever. He didn't. The kid had a fever but it wasn't bad, and it was a cool night, so that couldn't be it. Nathan was at a loss, then the pain struck again. Nathan pointed towards a bed and he and Vin lay him on the bed.

The instant he hit the bed he curled into himself until the pain lessened. The pain had become constant, had been since they had reached the edge of town, it just came in different degrees. As the pain lessened Nathan and Vin undressed JD so Nathan could examine him.

"God, Nathan, what's wrong, what's happenin' to me?" the words came out in gasps.

"Where's it hurt, JD?"

"In my side, mostly."

"Show me where it hurts the most. Which side, left or right?"


Nathan had a pretty good idea what was going on, he'd seen it a few times before. And to be honest, he wasn't happy. He decided to find out if he was right.

"JD, I'm gonna touch your side, let me know if that is where it hurts, okay?"


Nathan laid a gentle hand on the kid's side, and very gently pressed down.

"God, Nathan, it hurts enough without you doin' that!!!" JD curled into himself again.

"Sorry, kid," and he stood.

"Well?" Vin gave JD a pat on the arm and went to Nathan.

"I think it's his appendix."

"His what?" Vin had no idea what Nathan was talking about.

"His appendix, it's infected."

"So he's gonna be okay, you can give him some medicine, right?" The look on the healer's face was not reassuring.

"He needs it taken out, by a doctor."

"What do you mean by a doctor? Can't you take it out?"

"Vin. . . he needs someone to operate on him. . . ."


"I ain't never done that! I can't do anything for him but help the pain. . . ," Nathan sadly said.

"Maybe he'll get better."

"He ain't gonna get better."

"Look in your books, there's gotta be somethin' in there for his spandex! I'm gettin' the others. Look, I got time to get to Fall Creek and back?" Nathan shook his head. "Your his only hope then," and with that he went to retrieve the rest of the men.

Nathan went to JD. His eyes were closed, he was wearing down. The healer lay his hand on the boy's forehead, his eyes opened, and Nathan's heart sank. How was he supposed to tell this kid he was dying?

"Well? Do you know what's wrong with me?"

"Yeah. . . your appendix."

"Can ya fix it?"

Nathan was about to answer when Buck Wilmington stormed through the door half dressed. He made his way to JD without touching the floor.

"Vin said ya was sick. Ya don't look to bad,"he smiled, trying to hide his worry.

"Yeah, Nathan says I got a fedex," he said tiredly.

"A what?" Wilmington looked at Nathan.

"Appen. . . "

He couldn't finish. JD was in agony again, grabbing his stomach he rolled to the his side instinctively, like he was trying to surround the pain and make it go away. The remaining men had entered the room at the start of this last wave of pain.

Buck didn't know how to help him. . . so he did what he always did. . . He talked him through the pain, like he had done a thousand times before, but it was hard to mask his worry. He had never seen anyone be relatively okay one second and in excruciating pain the next.

From the looks on the other men's faces, neither had they.

JD settled down in minutes and fell asleep. Nathan stood, touched Buck's arm, grabbed a book and motioned for the men to step outside. Once out of the room Nathan closed the door.

"Vin says you can take this lemox out," Chris stated.

"Spandex," Vin corrected.

"A fedex," Buck added.

"Appendix," Nathan said firmly.

"Oh," all three said at once.

"He needs an operation. . . and I don't know if a doctor will get here soon enough. From what the kid told me he ain't felt right for a couple of days. . ."

"I told you he wasn't right!" Buck glared at Chris.

"Can we do this later? Let Nathan finish."

"From what this book says. . . his appendix could rupture. . . anytime."

"What happens if it ruptures?" Chris asked evenly.

"It's not if. . . it's when. . . and when it does. . . he dies."

The hall fell silent as stunned faces looked at Nathan. It was hard to believe that something they couldn't see an entrance and exit wound to was capable of taking their youngest member away from them.

"So why can't you do it?" Buck asked, it was the most logical thing as far as he could see. . . what did they have to lose?

"I ain't never operated, Buck! If I did somethin' wrong. . . I might. . . ki. . ."

"End the boy's life prematurely? The odds are in your favor, Mr. Jackson, as surrogate doctor of this fair town. If you fail, the young man dies, if you do not attempt this delicate procedure, the boy dies. In essence, Mr. Jackson. . . you have nothing to lose," Ezra stated with no charm, but with firmness.

"Brother Nate, his fate isn't sealed. Can you live with yourself if you do nothing?"

Nathan felt like he had a mountain of rocks on his shoulders.

"I'm not a doctor. . . I don't know how to operate. . . "

Vin held the book open, "It has pictures Nate. . . can't you go by them?"

"Nathan. . . you're his only chance."

Nathan knew it, Chris knew it. . . they all knew it. What did he have to lose if he tried? Ezra was right, nothing. . . and if he didn't try. . . what did he have to lose. . . the respect of five men, and his dignity.

"Josiah. . . will you hold the book for me?"

Josiah nodded, "Of course. . . and I'll add a few prayers."

"I'm gonna need someone to help me put him out. . . He ain't gonna like it. . ."

"We'll do what you want."

The men entered the room and prepared to tell JD what had to happen.