Nathan was working as quickly and as gently as he could -- trying to locate and remove the bullet.

He realized the boy couldn't take much more. He had already given JD some laudanum, but the kid was still aware of the pain and cried out occasionally.

"I know, son," Nathan comforted. "I know. I know it hurts real bad, son. I'm sorry."

JD's huge hazel eyes were full of tears as they looked up to Nathan.

Nathan hated seeing the pain and fear in those eyes -- those eyes that were usually so full of life and fun -- now they were glazed and scared.

"Nathan…" JD gasped, grabbing the healer's arm.

"Yes, son,"

"I'm gonna…I'm…gonna…die…ain't I?" JD cried.

"You hush now, JD. You tryin' to make me look bad, son?" Nathan tried to reassure the teen.

"Sorry…" JD whispered, as he faded.

Nathan finally got a hold of the bullet, pulled it out and threw it in a dish.

"You rest now, son," Nathan said as he pushed the boy's hair out of his eyes. "You deserve it."

The boy didn't stir.

"Buck…" Nathan called. "Help me hold him up to bandage him."

Buck had not moved since he came into the room. And still didn't.

"Buck," Nathan repeated.

Nathan stomped over and threw open the door.

"Chris…I need help in here," Nathan said rather sharply.

Chris jumped up and ran in.

"I need you to hold him so I can get these bandages around him," Nathan instructed.

"You get the bullet?" Chris inquired.

"Finally. It was really deep, Chris. Boy went through hell…" Nathan's eyes filled as he realized just how much pain the youth had been through.

"Come on, son. You're gonna be fine. I ain't gonna let nothin' happen to 'ya," Chris promised, as he leaned the boy against his chest.

Chris noticed that Buck was sitting across the room, his head hanging in his hands.

The boy began to wake…

"I'm gonna throw up…" JD announced, and proceeded to do just that.

"Take this, JD," Nathan offered the kid some laudanum.

"No…no…" the boy replied, weakly.

"Come on, JD. It'll make 'ya fell better and help 'ya sleep," Chris said.

"No…where's…Buck?" the kid wanted to know.

"Take the medicine, son," Chris said again.

"No…Buck???!! Where's Buck???" the boy was getting agitated, slapping the medicine away.

Chris looked up to see Buck staring at them.

"Buck?" Chris looked to his friend.

Buck shook his head.

"JD…Buck wants you to take this medicine," Chris tried.

"Where is…he…Chris?" JD pleaded.

"Come on, JD. Take this medicine," Nathan knew he had to get the kid calmed down soon…he didn't have the strength to be putting up this kind of fight.

"No…" JD refused.

"Why, son? Why won't you take this? I don't understand," Nathan said.

"Can't go…can't go to sleep…till…I…till I…see…Buck," JD insisted.

Chris walked across the room, grabbed Buck by the arm, and drug him out of the room.

Once they were in the outer room, Chris let it out -- quietly -- so as not to disturb JD -- but he made his point clear to Buck.

"OK, Buck…I know you're hurtin'…my God…I know you're hurtin' real bad…but you gotta talk to that boy. He ain't gonna take that medicine till he gets to talk to 'ya. So…you will go in there and you will talk to him…now…got it? I ain't gonna listen to him cryin' no more because you're too upset to have anything to do with him."

* * * * * * *

Buck and Chris walked back into the room and froze.

JD seemed worse than when they had left a few minutes earlier. He looked paler and was much weaker -- yet he was still fighting with Nathan.

"JD…now, boy…you need to take this…"

"No…" he weakly pushed the medicine away, again.

"Nathan?" Chris called.

Nathan didn't turn around, but asked "Is Buck in here?"

"I'm here," Buck said.

"Come here, Buck," Nathan instructed. "He's been throwin' up. I need to get this medicine in him to stop it. Then I can give him some morphine. But not until I'm sure he's past the vomiting."

Buck walked slowly towards the bed.

He was afraid to look at the kid -- but as he got there -- he heard…


"Yeah, son. I'm here," Buck comforted.

Buck then proceeded to do what came naturally to him…

He took care of the kid.

Buck pushed the black hair out of the boy's eyes and stroked it gently.

"JD…boy…you need to take this medicine…it'll help settle your stomach," Buck said.

"I'm gonna…be…sick…" the boy cried.

"OK. That's OK," Buck held the teen up a little as he threw up.

"Now…take this, JD," Buck instructed.

"OK," JD said obediently.

Buck gave the kid the medicine, which he took without argument.

Nathan and Chris smiled at each other.

Buck had an amazing control over the boy. JD trusted Buck completely.

The three men sat in the room with the boy, waiting to make sure that he was not nauseous anymore.

JD awoke moaning, as the pain in his chest became unbearable.

Buck offered his hand to the boy. "Squeeze my hand. Give me the pain, kid."

JD did as Buck had said. He grabbed Buck's hand and squeezed when the pain was too much for him to bear on his own.

Buck sat holding the boy's hand and stroking his hair, which seemed to help calm him and keep his mind off the pain.

"God…Buck…it hurts!!" the kid cried out.

"I know kid…I know. Nathan…can you give him the morphine now?"

JD flinched as Nathan gave him the injection.

"I'm sorry, son," Nathan apologized.

"It's OK…JD…you're gonna feel a lot better now," Buck soothed. "You ain't gonna be hurtin' no more."

The boy's lashes began to flutter.

"Buck…" JD pleaded. "Don't leave me…please??"

"I'll be right here, son. Don't you worry. I'll be right here," Buck promised.

And the boy was asleep -- with his hand in between his best friend's two larger, callused hands -- reassuring him that he was not alone.

* * * * * * *

Buck and Nathan sat up with the kid all night.

Nathan dozed off and on in a chair, checking on his patient each time he awoke.

He didn't feel too guilty if he drifted off -- he knew Buck was not going to sleep at all and would wake him if the boy needed anything.

Buck was indeed awake for the entire night. He didn't want JD to wake up needing something and not be there for him.

Nathan had said if JD made it through the next twenty-four hours, he'd probably be OK.

Buck knew it would be a long twenty-four hours…

For Nathan…

For him…

And -- definitely -- for the kid.

Buck sat in the chair next to the bed for as long as he could, then proceeded to pace about the room.

Buck was never one to sit still for very long…a trait he shared with the kid.

JD could never sit still for more than two minutes, it seemed. And if his body was sitting still -- you could bet that his mind was racing.

Buck chuckled as he remembered that Chris had one time described JD as "ten little Buck Wilmingtons in one body," Buck liked that…and he remembered the kid getting a kick out of it, too.

"I hope you're around for a long time, kid…getting a kick out of life," Buck whispered to the still form lying so peacefully in the bed.

He sat back down in the chair and reached to push the hair from the boy's eyes, and felt that his forehead was quite warm.

"Nathan…" Buck called. "Kid's feelin' kinda warm. Is that OK?"

Nathan pushed himself up from his chair and stretched his aching muscles. It was not easy sleeping in a chair all night being as tall as he was. But he wouldn't consider being any farther away from his patient.

He put his hand on the boy's face and frowned.

"Yeah…he's pretty warm. It's to be expected bein' hurt as bad as he was…but I still don't like it. I'll get some water and a cloth."

He returned with a pan of cool water and a cloth and was going to apply it to JD's face…

"Let me do that, Nathan. You get some rest. Kid's gonna need 'ya fresh tomorrow," Buck said.

"Kid's gonna need you tomorrow, too, Buck," Nathan pointed out.

"I'll be ready…don't you worry about me…I'm fine," Buck smiled.

Nathan knew that Buck wanted to help with whatever he could for the boy, so he left him with the water to try to cool him off some.

Buck wet the cloth, wrung it out, and applied it to the kid's face.

JD began to stir…

"What??? Buck???" his voice was so pain-filled, it brought tears to Buck's eyes.

"Sshhh…just rest kid…you're fine. Go on back to sleep, now," Buck soothed.

"Buck???" JD repeated.

"Yeah, kid…I'm here…just relax, OK?"

"I…feel…sick, Buck," JD cried.

"Just relax, kid. It'll pass," Buck promised the boy.

"'Kay," and the boy was out.

"Is there anything you can't get him to do for 'ya, Buck," Nathan had walked up behind Buck.

"What'cha mean?" Buck asked.

"You got some kinda spell over that boy, I swear. I can preach and preach at him till I'm blue in the face to do something…and if Buck the Almighty says 'here…take this'…it's like gospel to him," Nathan teased.

"Kid usually never listens to me, and you know that to be true, Nathan," Buck said.

"Maybe, with the stuff that don't matter, Buck…like his hat…or being sheriff…but I mean the emotional stuff. You know, Buck…if'n he's scared…or hurt…you're his rock…he trusts you with…with…with his life…you know that, Buck."

"Yeah…I know," Buck agreed.

Nathan needed to stretch a little and decided to take a little walk.

When he stepped into the outer room -- he saw a sight that brought tears to his eyes.

There…sitting…lying…wherever they could find a spot…was Chris, Vin, Ezra and Josiah.

Not a comfortable looking one in the bunch.

Nathan had assumed that they had all left hours ago. 'Course, he knew they were worried about the kid, same as he was, so why would they leave. He hadn't. If a patient had someone sitting with them, like Buck was doing for JD, Nathan would usually go off to bed…not sit up, too. But…the kid was so special…to all of them…he never even considered leaving…so it should really have been no surprise to him when he found the others still there, either.

"How's the kid?" a worried voice broke the silence.

Nathan walked over and sat down next to Chris.

"Too early to tell, really…next twenty-four hours will be critical for JD. He's gettin' a fever…'course that's to be expected."

"How's Buck holdin' up?" Chris asked.

"Seems to be doin' pretty good…but if this fever gets worse…I'm afraid Buck'll start to panic…like always," Nathan observed.

"Maybe I should go in and spell him for a bit," Chris offered.

"I guess you could try…but I wouldn't bet on him leavin', Chris."

"Tell me about it…" Chris got up and went to check on his oldest friend, Buck and his youngest friend, JD.

He walked in to find Buck holding the kid's hand and JD seemed to be in great pain.

"Buck…God, Buck…help me," JD pleaded. The boy was panicking.

"JD…you just gotta ride the pain out…just stay calm," Buck whispered. He was stroking the boy's face with the cool cloth, but it didn't seem to have much effect on the fever raging inside him.

"BUCK!!" JD gasped as he grabbed Buck's arm passed out.

"Buck…" Chris called from the doorway.

"Chris…ask Nathan to come in, OK?" Buck was beginning to panic…just as Nathan had predicted.

Nathan came in like a flash to check on the kid.

"It's almost time for him to get some more morphine, anyway. I'll just go ahead and give him the shot now. That should help him, Buck," Nathan said placing a comforting had on his shoulder. He knew that Buck was drained from dealing with JD's pain-filled episodes.

Chris pulled a chair up next to the bed -- and next to Buck.

It was going to be a long night -- indeed.

* * * * * * *

JD was sick, off and on, for most of the night.

Buck, Nathan and Chris took turns helping him through it.

For the moment, he was resting comfortably.

Chris eyed Buck, who looked exhausted. "Why don't you take a break, Buck?"

"No…I'm OK," Buck replied, tiredly.

"You still need a little break," Chris countered. "Kid's sleepin' pretty good now. Nathan and I can take care of him for a bit…go on."

Buck hesitated, shooting a worried glance at the boy's flushed face. "Well…maybe I'll just step out for a minute…stretch my legs a bit."

Buck walked out and closed the door behind him. He tried to make his way quietly across the outer room, but a squeaky floorboard foiled that plan.

"Kid OK?"

Buck jumped. "Oh…sorry, Vin. Didn't mean to wake 'ya."

"That's OK. How's the kid?" Vin repeated.

Buck flopped in a chair next to Vin.

"You look like hell, Buck," Vin said, not telling Buck anything he didn't already know.

"I feel like hell, Vin. Kid's pretty sick…and he's got a bad fever…but Nathan still thinks he'll be OK."

"Thank God," Vin breathed a sigh of relief.

Vin looked around the room. "I guess Chris left."

"Nah…he's in with the kid," Buck said.

"Oh…shoulda known," Vin realized.

"Yeah…" Buck smiled. "For a hard-ass…he's a real softy…for the kid anyway."

"You takin' a break, huh?" Vin asked.

"Yeah…I should be getting' back in there," Buck said, as he pulled himself up stiffly from the chair, stretching.

"Aw, Buck…take a walk. Come on, I'll go with 'ya," Vin encouraged. He knew Buck needed to get away -- even if just for a few minutes.

"OK," Buck gave in.

The two friends walked out and strolled down the street.

"Nice night," Vin commented, looking up at the sky -- full of stars -- not a cloud in sight.

"Not for kid it ain't," Buck said flatly.

"No…guess not," Vin said.

"Sorry, Vin," Buck apologized. "Ain't your fault the kid's layin' up there dyin'," Buck broke down.

"Ain't your fault either," Vin assured the man, as he put his arm around Buck's shoulders and guided him over to a bench on the boardwalk. "Come on, Buck…have a seat."

"Vin…" Buck cried. "What am I gonna…do if that boy dies?"

"Come on, Buck. You said yourself, Nathan thinks he'll be fine."

"He's hurtin' real bad, Vin."

"Kid's been hurt bad before, Buck. He's a fighter. He's a lot tougher than he looks…you know that."

"This is different," Buck whispered.

"Why, Buck? 'Cause you think it's your fault?" Vin asked.

"It is my fault, Vin," Buck confessed.

"No…" Vin corrected his friend. "It's that bastard's fault. And I intend to make him pay for it."

"I shot him, Vin…that kid thinks I'm his protector…and I shot him," Buck broke down again.

"You're still his protector, Buck…and that's a fact can't nobody deny."

"No…not anymore I ain't."

"Buck…face it…kid knows you shot him, but you're still the one he cries for. Please don't let this come between the two of you….'cause JD needs 'ya, Buck. Please, don't ignore the kid," Vin pleaded.

"Aw…I'm past that, Vin. I can't ignore that boy."

"I'll tell 'ya one thing, Buck…that kid's sure got a way of pullin' on the heart strings…and I don't just mean yours either…" Vin started, his eyes filling and his voice starting to break. "He's a good kid…couldn't hurt no one if'n he tried."

"Yeah. 'Ya know somethin', Vin? I bet I could count on one hand the people in this world that have gotten through Chris Larabee's defenses…but I'd have to say that JD's right up there at the top," Then Buck added with a smile, "Maybe just a smidgen ahead of you right now…kid bein' so sick and all."

"Remember when Chris tried to get the kid to leave?" Vin laughed.

"Sure coulda saved us all a lot of heartache if'n he'd been successful at that," Buck said. "Oh, hell…who'm I kiddin'…this place'd be downright borin' if it weren't for that kid up there. You ever seen anyone get such a kick out of life, Vin?"

"No…can't say I have, Buck…except for maybe you…whenever the kid's around," Vin said, placing a hand on the man's shoulder as they both started to make their way back to check on the boy.

* * * * * * *

JD was beginning to wake up.

"Buck??" he called out, without opening his eyes.

Chris leaned over and grabbed the boy's hand, which was hot to the touch.

"Hey, kid," Chris whispered. "How 'ya doin'?"


"No,'s Chris."

"Chris? Where's…where's…Buck?" JD asked. Chris leaned over to hear the boy. His voice was pain-filled and less than a whisper.

"He's just takin' a break, kid. Stretchin' his legs at bit. He'll be right back," Chris assured the teen.

"Is…is…he…OK," JD got out.

Chris was touched. What a sweet kid. Lying here -- hurting like he is -- still asking about Buck. Kid knows Buck is hurting, too.

"He's fine, kid," Chris assured the boy, reaching to brush his sweat drenched hair from his face. His fever was definitely spiking again.

Nathan walked over with the water and cloth.

"Still hot?" the healer asked.

"Yeah…real hot," Chris answered.

"JD? JD?? You want a drink, son?" Nathan inquired.

"No…thanks…I'm…I'm…c-c-cold, N-N-Nathan," the kid croaked, his teeth chattering.

"I'll get another blanket," Nathan said.

"Th-th-thanks," JD was drifting off again.

Buck returned to find Chris and Nathan trying to get the kid warmed up.

"What's wrong?" Buck asked, unable to hide the panic in his voice.

Chris looked up from helping Nathan get the boy tucked in. "You didn't take much of a break, Buck."

"I'm fine…what's wrong?" Buck repeated.

"Chills," Nathan explained. "Just gotta try to keep 'im warm."

"B-B-Buck??" the boy was shivering.

"Yeah, kid. I'm here. You cold, huh?" Buck asked, placing a hand on the boy's face.

Damn this fever!!

"Y-y-yeah," JD replied.

"Well…that's easy enough to fix, son," Buck said, pulling the blankets up closer to the teen's chin, letting his hand finally come to rest on the boy's chest. He could tell by the rhythmic rise and fall that the kid was asleep again -- but he could also feel him trembling from the cold.

* * * * * * *

Buck, Nathan and Chris woke to a light knocking on the door.

Josiah and Ezra walked into the room.

"Ya'll been here all night?" Nathan asked.

"We really had no pressing matters," Ezra said, trying to disguise his concern for the kid.

"How is the boy?" Josiah asked.

"He's still pretty sick," Nathan said.

"I believe I will take a walk to the church," Josiah said, heading for the door. "Maybe ask for a favor."

"Mr. Tanner has gone to get breakfast for you three gentlemen," Ezra explained. "If you would like to freshen up, I am available to sit with the boy."

Chris could sense that Ezra wanted to be needed.

"Yeah…maybe I'll go shave and change clothes. You'll stay until I get back?" Chris asked.

"You have my word, Mr. Larabee," Ezra swore.

"Buck? Comin'?" Chris asked.

"Nah…I'm fine…maybe later,"

Chris knew better than to argue the matter. Buck had an uncanny sense about the kid. He could always seem to tell when the kid needed him…or for that matter…when the kid may need him…even before it happened. The two have a definite connection -- so Chris gave up arguing with Buck about it long ago…Buck would stay until he felt it was safe to leave the kid.

Nathan felt the teen's face.

"I think it's cooler…what'cha think, Buck?"

"Lord almighty!" Buck whooped. "I do believe you are right, Nathan."

"Buck??" the kid came around.

"Yeah, kid," Buck smiled, unable to hide his relief that the kid was beginning to beat the fever.

"Be…quiet. How's…a…guy supposed…to sleep…with…with you…" then he was asleep again.

"Kid??" Buck called.

"Rest's the best thing for him, Buck," Nathan said.

"Yeah. I know. I just miss talkin' to him, Nate."

"I know, Buck. You can talk to him later…pretty soon you won't be able to shut him up," Nathan laughed.

"I guess…" Buck trailed off.

"Why don't you take a break, Buck?" Nathan asked. "Go clean up before Vin gets here with breakfast."

"I don't know…" Buck was hesitant.

"Go on. He's fine," Nathan stressed. "Fever's goin' down…he's started to give you a hard time…go on. 'Cause after breakfast I'm gonna need 'ya to help me change those bandages."

"You sure?" Buck was still uncertain about leaving the boy.

"Go on…get," Nathan said.

Buck leaned over and felt the kid's cheek -- which was again cooler than before.

Buck talked to his best friend -- who was sound asleep. "JD, son…I'm gonna leave for a few minutes. I'll be right back. OK? You just sleep, kid."

Buck pushed the ever present hair from the boy's eyes and stood up -- his eyes filling as he turned to the healer.

"I don't think I should go, Nate. Don't feel right. He might wake up…wantin' somethin'."

"I assure you, Mr. Wilmington, that Mr. Jackson and I will indulge our young friend with whatever he requests," Ezra said.

"What if…what if he wants…me?" Buck asked.

"Go on, Buck," Nathan said. "Kid ain't gonna want to look at 'ya right now anyway…you look like hell."

"And that's…damn…near…impossible…" came the weak voice.

"Kid!! You're awake again," Buck was at his side again.

"Hard…not to be…with you…yackin'…all the…time," JD whispered.

"Well…I'm gonna leave for a few minutes…that OK with you, JD?" Buck asked.

"Sure. I'll get…some…sleep," the kid blessed Buck with a smile as he drifted off.

Buck now felt it was safe to leave the boy. "I'll be right back, kid."

* * * * * * *