Josiah Sanchez, Buck Wilmington and JD Dunne sat in the saloon eating breakfast.

As usual, Buck was picking on JD unmercifully.

"Leave me alone, Buck," JD said.

"Come on, kid. You need to eat more. You ain't never gonna grow if'n you don't eat," Buck harassed.

"For Christ sake, Buck…I'm nineteen…I ain't gonna grow no more. Give it up!" JD stressed.

"You could get bigger," Buck said, spreading his arms apart.

"Oh…so since I can't grow up, you want me to grow out. You want me to get fat like Josiah here," JD teased, motioning his hand towards the large preacher sitting next to him.

Josiah grabbed the teen's wrist and squeezed.

"Ow!!" JD yelped.

"I suggest you re-phrase that, son," Josiah said quietly.

"Ow! Ow! Yeah…you're not fat, Josiah. Ow! You're…you're…Ow!! You're…" the kid was experiencing his usual loss of words.

"Try immense, son," Ezra Standish suggested as he came up on the group, pulled out a chair and sat down.

"Ow! Thanks, Ezra. You're…Ow!…immense…Josiah…Ow! Let me go.!!!" the kid pleaded.

Josiah smiled and released his grip on the boy's small wrist.

"Thank you, JD," Josiah said.

"Sure," The kid was shaking his hand, trying to get the blood circulating again.

"If I was your size, JD…" Josiah offered, "I wouldn't go around calling people my size, fat."

"OK…OK…can't take a joke, can 'ya, preacher man?" JD smiled at the much larger man.

"Only when they're funny, son…only when they're funny," Josiah said, giving the kid a slap on the back.

"Hey…did I tell you guys the one about the three-legged…"

"NO!!!!" they all screamed in unison.

"Jeez…OK…OK," the boy said.

"See, JD," Buck began, "if you were bigger, you wouldn't have to take crap from people. You could intimidate the hell out of them."

"Well, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra reminded, "that certainly never worked on our young friend. I do seem to recall you and Mr. Larabee trying to intimidate the hell out of Mr. Dunne here, to no avail."

"Who asked you, Ezra?" Buck asked.

"Just setting the records straight, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra remarked.

"OK…OK. Now, kid, finish eating so we can get going," Buck said, pushing the plate of food at the boy.

"I am finished," JD said.

"You didn't hardly touch your food," Buck exclaimed.

JD laid his head on the table and pounded his fist.

JD lifted his head, held his hands in the air, and stared at his best friend. "I give up, Buck. Who'd 'ya ride herd on before me???"

"That would have been me, kid. And thanks for takin' over for me," Chris Larabee said as he walked in the saloon door, accompanied by Vin Tanner and Nathan Jackson.

The three joined the others at the table.

"Now, Chris…I never ran herd on you," Buck smiled.

"Sure, Buck. You just keep thinkin' what 'ya want," Chris told his oldest friend.

Buck was anxious to change the subject. "Well, kid, if you ain't gonna eat, then let's go. We should be back by evenin'. If anyone cares," Buck grinned.

"Oh we care, Buck. We'll make sure you two get the evenin' watch on the jail prisoners," Vin eagerly pointed out.

"But…Buck…you said if we rode out to Nettie's we'd get out of havin' to watch the…" JD began, before Buck hurriedly grabbed him out of his chair.

"Come on, kid. Now, you know we gotta pull our share of watching those prisoners. I don't know where he gets these ideas," Buck smiled.

"But…Buck…you said we'd…" JD got out before Buck's large hand clamped over his mouth.

"See ya, guys," Buck called as he dragged the struggling boy out of the saloon.

* * * * * * *

As JD and Buck exited the saloon, JD ran right into a very large man -- bigger than Josiah -- on his way in.

"Sorry, sir," the kid apologized.

"Watch it, runt," the man snarled.

"Hey…he said he was sorry," Buck stepped between JD and the man.

"What are you? His daddy?" the man asked Buck, barely an inch from his face.

"You got a problem, mister?" Buck asked.

"Yeah. I got a problem, all right. I got a problem with this pip-squeak nearly knockin' me down," the man said, as he pushed JD through the swinging doors.

The kid would have hit the floor, if Chris hadn't caught him first.

Chris and the others had heard the commotion and were coming to the aid of Buck and JD.

"I really doubt the 'pip-squeak' could knock you down, mister. Now…why don't you move on?" Chris said.

"Not until he apologizes to me," the man stood firm.

"I believe the youngster did apologize to you, sir," Ezra explained. "Perhaps in your inebriated state you just don't recall the fact. I implore you to heed Mr. Larabee's suggestion and move on."

"I guess I ain't got much choice," the man stated. "I can't take on you six…but you…" he said, poking his finger at JD's chest… "we'll meet again."

Josiah grabbed the man's finger and bent it backwards until the man cried out.

"Didn't your mama ever tell you it ain't polite to point?" Josiah asked.

"Let me go!" the man yelled.

"Gladly," Josiah said, releasing the man.

"It ain't polite to go around threatenin' kid's half your size, either," Vin said. "Now, walk away….while you still can."

The man turned to walk away, when Buck grabbed his arm, pulled him close, and whispered in his ear, "Look, you bastard…you touch that boy and I will kill you."

The man snorted and walked off.

* * * * * * *

JD seemed especially quiet as he and Buck continued on to the livery.

Buck figured the boy was a little shaken by the encounter outside the saloon.

"You OK, kid?" Buck asked.

"Yeah…I'm fine," JD said, without much conviction.

"I thought maybe you were…" Buck began.

"I'm fine, Buck. Drop it," the kid snapped.

"Sure, kid."

They walked into the livery and tried to adjust to the darkness.

"Start gettin' the horses ready, kid. I'm gonna talk to Pete for just a minute," Buck instructed the boy.

"Sure, Buck," JD smiled. The teen knew that by 'a minute', Buck really meant that he'd be back when JD was all done saddling the horses.

The boy went about his assigned task. He didn't mind -- JD loved horses -- he never really considered it work taking care of them.

"Hey…sweetie…it's OK," JD whispered to Buck's horse. "You know I'm nicer to 'ya than Buck, right?"

The boy pulled some sugar cubes out of his pocket. "Here 'ya go."

"Now…ain't that sweet," a voice came from the darkness.

JD jumped as he saw the hulking man from the saloon move out of the shadows.

"What…what do you want?" JD asked.

"Where's all your friends, now, runt?" the man grinned evilly at the boy.

"Buck's right outside…you better…"

The man was fast for his size. He lunged at JD and grabbed him -- his huge hand covering the boy's mouth before he was able to call to Buck.

"HUMPPPFFF!!!!!" the boy let out a muffled scream as the man lifted him off the ground and squeezed hard.

JD struggled as hard as he could, but he could begin to feel things starting to go black.

At that moment -- Buck came in the door. "JD! 'Ya done, boy?"

Buck froze when he saw the giant of a man holding the kid like a rag doll.

"Let him go," Buck seethed, pulling his gun.

"Sure," The man tossed the kid aside and raised his hands into the air.

"Move away from him!" Buck yelled.

Then everything happened so fast --

-- The man began to back away from JD.

-- Buck had his gun trained on the man.

-- JD, who was shaky on his feet, stumbled towards the man.

-- The man lunged towards the boy.

-- and Buck fired.

The man had grabbed the kid and used him as a shield.

Buck's bullet struck the kid right in the chest.

JD had a shocked, scared look of disbelief on his face, as he looked down and saw the red stain spreading wider and wider.

"Buck????!!!" the kid pleaded.

My God…

The man released the boy, who began to crumble to the ground.

Buck threw himself to the ground and caught the kid in his arms -- letting the man escape through the back door.

"Oh, JD. My…my…God…JD. I'm so sorry, kid," Buck whispered in the kid's ear.

JD never heard Buck's apology.

The kid was unconscious.

Buck tried to stop the bleeding.

There was so much blood.

So much blood.

* * * * * * *

Pete the blacksmith heard the shot from inside the livery and came running in.

"Dear God…" He found Buck sitting on the ground -- holding JD's limp form in his arms.

"Pete…get Nathan…he's at the saloon…hurry!!!" Buck screamed.

Pete raced out of the livery, down the street and into the saloon. He made a quick survey of the room, but didn't see Nathan.

He spotted Vin. "Where's Nathan?" he called out.

What's wrong, Pete?" Vin could see that Pete was out of breath.

"I need Nathan," He knew how the men felt about the kid and hated adding, "JD's been shot…it's bad, Vin."


The kid was fine ten minutes ago. Buck's right…kid needs a full-time keeper.

"Where's Nathan?" Pete asked.

"He's at his place. I'll go get him," Vin said.

"No…I'll get him," Pete suggested. "You go to the livery…Buck's there…with the kid…he's pretty shaken up."

"Oh, God…Josiah, Ezra…come on…kid's hurt," Vin shouted.

The three men raced to the livery and ran inside.

The scene before them stopped them in their tracks.

Buck was covered in blood, sitting on the ground, sobbing. He was clutching the kid, trying to stop the bleeding with his kerchief. His chin was resting on the kid's head -- he never even noticed Vin, Josiah and Ezra as they ran in.

JD was as white as a sheet -- unconscious -- and his chest was completely red.

"Good Lord," Ezra exclaimed.

The three men tried to do what they could. They knew JD needed Nathan…so they tried to do what they could for Buck.

Josiah placed one hand on Buck's shoulder and the other on the boy's head. "Nathan's on his way, Buck," he whispered.

"I gotta find Chris," Vin said.

"I saw him earlier at the jail," Josiah said quietly. "I believe Buck's in shock…I'm not even sure he knows we are here."

Vin just sat, staring at the teen, making no attempt to leave.

"You want me to go?…Vin???" Josiah asked.

"Huh?" Vin jumped.

"You want me to go get Chris," Josiah offered.

"No…I'll go…" Vin said as he stretched up.

Suddenly Nathan burst through the door, followed by one Chris Larabee.

"Chris!! I was comin' to get 'ya," Vin said. He could see that Chris' face was tight with fear.

How many times had they all been through this? One of them hurt…one of them in danger…and how many times had Chris blamed himself for whatever happened?

Especially when it was the kid.

Too many.

"I met Nathan on his way over here. Buck you OK?" Chris called out.

Nathan knelt on the ground by Buck and JD.

"Let me see him, Buck," he told the man quietly and calmly. Nathan could see that Buck was on the verge of shock. He would have to keep Buck calm. He couldn't risk Buck flying off the handle right now…JD was in bad shape and Nathan could only deal with one crisis at a time…and right now…it was JD's turn.

"Come on, Buck," Nathan said. "Let me get in here to help him."

Buck stared at Nathan, like what the healer was saying was not registering. Chris walked over slowly, grabbed his friend's shoulders and shook them gently. "Come on, Buck. Let go of the kid," he whispered in his ear.

"Chris???" Buck looked up.

"Come on…just let go of him, Buck," Chris repeated.

Buck let go of JD -- and winced as the boy's head fell to the side when he released him to Nathan's arms.

Chris whipped off his duster and placed it on the ground, then he and Nathan gently laid the boy on top of it.

"I gotta stop this bleeding…" Nathan remarked to no one in particular, probably more to himself.

"How is it, Nathan," Chris asked. He wasn't sure why he asked -- he knew it was bad -- there was so much blood and the kid looked bad.

"It's bad, Chris…right in the chest," and if that wasn't bad enough, Nathan added "Bullet's still in there."

"Damn!!" Chris slapped his leg. "Damn!!!" He looked at the boy…and felt bad about yelling. He knew he needed to stay calm, just in case JD was taking any of this in. He didn't look like it…but maybe he could hear them.

"What happened, Buck?" Josiah asked, kneeling next to Buck, who was still on the ground.

"That guy…from the saloon…" Buck started.

"That big guy shot the kid? Where'd he go??" Vin shouted.

"Keep it down, Vin!" Chris told the tracker. "JD don't need to be hearin' no yellin' right now. Everybody…just keep it down."

"He..he got…away," Buck finally got out.

"I'm goin' after him…he's a dead man," Vin promised.

"Hold it, Vin," Chris said as he walked over. "He can wait."

"What?" Vin was shocked.

"You may be needed here, Vin. Just wait up a bit," Chris explained.

"I will accompany you on your trek after the filthy piece of trash, Mr. Tanner. I will take great pleasure in inflicting upon him the same as he gave our young friend here," Ezra said, his eyes filling as he looked to the youth before him.

"I'm gonna kill that bastard, Chris," Vin said, as he turned to leave.

"Hold on," Chris said, as he grabbed his arm. "We'll get him…but not right now," Chris had an unnerving fear that the kid might not make it. The boy deserved to at least have all his friends around him.

Josiah noticed that Buck was being awful quiet. Buck was never quiet where JD was concerned. Usually, Buck would be hovering over Nathan like a mother bird…but Buck had not moved since giving the boy up. He moved over to Buck and knelt down, placing a large hand on the man's shoulder.

Buck flinched.

"Sorry, Buck," Josiah apologized. "Don't be blamin' yourself about this, Bucklin. I'm sure you did all you could."

Buck broke down in heavy sobs.

Chris came over to comfort his long-time friend. He put his arm around Buck's shoulders. "Take it easy, Buck. He'll be OK. He's always OK."

The quiet was shattered -- the kid screamed as he came to.

"Calm down, son," Nathan soothed. "You're gonna be fine. Just lay still."

The kid looked around -- his tear-filled eyes searching…searching…until they came to rest on what they were looking for…

"Buck…Buck??" the boy gasped, reaching out to his best friend.

Buck stared at the boy -- not moving.

"Buck…please…help me…" JD pleaded -- tears streaming down his cheeks.

"Buck…go on…the kid needs 'ya," Chris said.

Buck didn't move.

"Buck…" Chris repeated.

"I can't, Chris," Buck whispered.

"Buck???!!!" JD reached again, sobbing.

"Buck…kid needs you," Nathan called. "Get over here."

It was too late -- JD had passed out.

"I can't…I can't help him," Buck said.

Vin knew Chris wanted quiet, but he exploded anyway. "What the hell's the matter with you, Buck??!!!"

"I shot him," Buck confessed.

"What?" Chris snapped.

"No!!" Vin couldn't believe it.

"I shot the kid….or…well…I shot that…that guy…and he pulled the kid in front…in front of him…" Buck closed his eyes -- the scene replaying itself in his head.

"And JD got shot," Chris finished for him. "God…I'm sorry, Buck."

"That don't change the fact that this boy over here needs you, Buck," Nathan pointed out. "I know you're hurtin'…but don't you dare turn your back on this boy now, you hear me?"

Nathan had done all he could for the boy where they were. He needed to get him moved over to his place.

"Buck…you want to carry JD over to my place?" Nathan asked.

"I…I…can't, Nathan," Buck said.

Josiah stepped forward, knelt down and lifted the boy easily -- holding him to his chest.

The boy stirred.

"Buck??" he gasped.

Buck didn't move.

Chris ran over to Josiah and the boy. He stroked the kid's face -- wiping the tears from his pale cheeks.

"JD, son, just relax," Chris said gently, a tone he often used when the kid was hurt or sick. "Nathan's gonna fix 'ya right up."

"Buck???" JD pleaded again.

"It's Chris, son. Now just relax. We're takin' good care of 'ya."

JD was beginning to panic. He looked around and found his 'brother' again and reached out to him. "Buck???!!!"

Vin came up behind Buck, grabbed his shoulders and pushed him towards the boy.

Buck tried to resist, but one look at the kid and he caved in.

Buck put a trembling hand on the boy's face.

"Hey…kid," Buck sobbed.

"Buck…help…me…please," the kid reached out both arms and Buck took him from Josiah into his arms and held him close.

"Let's get you over to Nathan's now, son," Buck whispered.

* * * * * * *

Chris, Vin, Josiah and Ezra waited quietly in the outer room of Nathan's clinic, for what seemed like hours. Leaving was never even considered as an option among them.

Not until they were sure JD was going to be all right.

Not until they were sure Buck was going to be all right.

The second matter hinged on the first.

The four peacekeepers listened helplessly to JD's cries as Nathan worked on locating and removing the bullet.

"How much longer must the poor boy endure this torture?" Ezra asked, pacing the room like a caged lion.

"I'm sure Brother Jackson is being as gentle as he can," Josiah said.

"Yes…I know," Ezra acknowledged. "I am not implying otherwise of Mr. Jackson."

"I could have had the bastard that shot the kid in jail by now, if you'd have let me go, Chris," Vin observed.

Vin regretted the words as soon as they were out. Chris turned to face him -- tears staining his stoic face.

"And what good would that do the kid?" Chris asked. "I would think you would want to be where you can do the most good, Vin."

"What are you sayin', Chris," Vin was confused by Chris' comment.

"What I'm sayin' is…" Chris' voice was cracking, "I'm not sure he's gonna make it. We need to be here for him…all of us. And if the kid…if the kid don't…don't make it…if he don't make it…it's gonna take all of us to handle Buck."

Josiah agreed. "Buck truly is hanging by a thread."

"Well…I shoulda run that guy outta town when he shoved the kid at the saloon," Vin said.

"I don't believe we have a 'shoving' law on the books, Mr. Tanner," Ezra observed.

"You think I need a law to take care of slime like that, Ezra," Vin snarled.

"I am merely saying, Mr. Tanner…" Ezra began…

"Well…just don't say no more!!!" Vin was in no mood for Ezra to be quoting the law to him.

"Gentlemen…" Josiah interceded. "I think we need to keep focused. I believe we are all so worried about our young 'brother' that we are getting a little short tempered."

"Thank you, Josiah," Chris said. "We need to be strong here, guys. Not fighting amongst ourselves. How do you think the kid would feel if he heard this? He gets scared every time we fight…so stop it, OK?"

"I'm sorry, Ezra," Vin apologized.

"No offense taken, Mr. Tanner," Ezra assured.

"What's takin' so long?" Chris slammed his fist against the far wall.

"Chris, Nathan's doin' all he can," Vin was sure it seemed like Nathan had been working on the boy for hours -- when in reality, it had not been quite thirty minutes.

"It's so…so hard…listening to him," Chris whispered.

Vin walked over and placed a hand on Chris' shoulder.

"He'll be OK, Chris. He's gotta be," Vin said.

"You know when that boy tried to join us…I couldn't imagine him with us…and now…and…now…I can't imagine us without him," Chris sobbed.

They all realized that JD was the glue that held the seven together. There had been many times where one of the other six had considered leaving -- breaking up the Seven -- but none of them could ever actually carry out the act. Partly, because they all knew that they were strong as a group -- capable of making positive changes in a town that dearly needed a change for the good. And partly, because none of them had the heart to tell the kid they were leaving. They were all his family now -- like it or not -- and JD was not about to let anyone in his little family go without a fight. He'd do anything to keep them all together -- or he'd die trying.

Die trying…

"Mr. Larabee, I assure you that our young Mr. Dunne is quite the fighter. He will come through this latest situation like always. I'm sure."

Ezra would accept no less.

Ezra had come to care about and respect the others -- a fact that he'd never admit -- except for JD. He found it hard to hide his feelings for the boy.

They all did.

Something about the kid just made them all feel good.

They all seemed to feel that JD was their second chance.

Their second chance to go through life without making the mistakes that they'd already made. Maybe they could mold this boy into a young man that they would be proud to call a friend -- no -- a brother. JD was well on his way to being that young man -- if he could just make it through tonight.

* * * * * * *