Vin carefully picked JD up, carrying him to where the horses were, laying him carefully on the ground. He went to JD's horse and untied her from the tree, holding the bridle with one hand and stroking her nose with the other he talked to her. The men JD rode with had come to call her 'pup', for the way JD would walk around and she would follow. She had become invaluable to the others, for the fact that she would do anything that JD'd ask, much like JD would for any of the others.

"Pup, he's hurtin' real bad, an I can't hold onto ya and him, I need ya to show me how smart ya are, cause he'd kill me if I left ya out here, okay?" Vin stroked her nose, seeming to wait for an answer. He then patted her neck and said, "I'm sorry, Pup, didn't mean to hurt him." And as he turned, the horse nudged his shoulder, like she was forgiving him. "Thanks," he smiled. And went to task of getting his brother on his horse.

"Here we go, JD," he said as he started to lift him, his eyes fluttered open. "I'm gonna get ya up, can you stay up for a few minutes till I get up?" JD nodded weakly.

"Don't leave her.." JD started.

"Pup and me already had a talk, she's gonna follow us out," Vin smiled to him.

"Rein's gotta be.." he wanted to instruct, but was cut off again.

"I know," Vin grunted out as he put JD in the saddle, "reins are tied to the horn," he finished as he mounted, holding JD by the waist, his hand holding firmly on the crude bandage, still trying to stop the bleeding, that had slowed.

Vin nudged his horse forward, back down the trail they had come up from. He looked back to the destroyed campsite, he noticed JD's horse still stood there, as if taking in the sight as well.

"Come on, Pup," he said back to the horse.

"Walk," said the voice barely above a whisper in front of Vin. He looked back to the horse again

"Walk, Pup." And the horse did as she was told, and made her way behind Vin, who couldn't help but smile.

+ + + + + + +

"You suppose they found that thing yet?" Josiah asked Chris.

"Vin seemed to think it would becoming back for another sheep tonight sometime, probably be seein' them tomorrow," Chris smiled.This towns just too damn quiet without Buck or JD here, Chris thought to himself.

"Of course, you do realize, Mr. Tanner being an extremely talented tracker, may have already discovered their quarry and disposed of it properly; and with young Mr. Dunne's distaste for 'living off the land' may be on their way back even as we speak."

"It ain't even dark yet, Ezra," Josiah said like he was pointing it out.

"I wouldn't be surprised, JD don't like it when there ain't a fire," Chris stated.

+ + + + + + +

"How ya doin', JD?" Vin asked wearily.

"Okay, we almost there?" he tried tiredly, all his body weight leaning against his brother.

"Yeah, we're almost home."


"No, I'm takin ya to Nathan's," Vin said. He happened to look to his left and realized they were closer to town than to Hansen's, it would have taken Vin an hour to get to the ranch from where they were, as it had only been twenty minutes getting out of the woods and in another fifteen minutes or so they would be landing in the clinic. Vin hoped Nathan would be back from Fall Creek, it was a days ride both ways, and maybe a few hours to get the hat fixed.

"Hansen's..closer?" JD was having a hard time staying awake, he hurt so much, and leaning against Vin and the rocking motion made it even harder.

"It was faster to come back to town. How ya doin'?"

"I'm fine," he answered quietly.

Fine, Vin thought, he knew what fine meant, and it was never good. He could feel JD get heavier against him and he held tighter against the blood soaked bandage, causing JD to groan.

" ..tight..can't....breath.." he said between clenched teeth and his eyes shut.

"Sorry, JD," and he loosened his grip, "God, JD, I'm sorry, 'bout everythin'..I shoulda made sure.." Vin said, trying to hold back his emotions, knowing that the dog attack was nothing compared to the bullet he'd put in his brothers chest; realizing that both could have been prevented if he'd just taken the shot earlier.

"No..please ..don't .. I shoulda stayed..down.." JD said, thinking that if he'd stayed down he wouldn't have attracted the dog to jump.

"Who's the sharpshooter?" Vin asked out loud, not meaning to.

"It ..was accident..sides," JD winced as he took a deep breath, "Who's the one..thats..always..messin..up," he tried to laugh, but was rewarded with sharp pain, causing him to lean away from Vin, and into himself.

"Almost home..short breaths, JD..easy..easy.. Thats' it," Vin said as they pulled past the jailhouse and to the front of the clinic, JD relaxed and surrendered to the darkness.

"Nathan! NATHAN!!" Vin cried out. Where the hell is he! Vin said to himself, as he dismounted himself and began to get JD off the horse. They have to be back.


"Vin?" Chris asked as he heard Nathan's name being called.

"Sounds like it," Josiah said, as the three men stood from the table and went to the door.

"Good God," Ezra let out as he could see Vin cradling what he assumed to be JD, near the clinic. They ran through the street quickly to where the tarcker stood, as they got closer it wasn't JD they was the look on Vin's face, pale and scared.

"Where's Nathan!?" he asked in tone that none were familiar with. It was fright.

"He went to Fall Creek with Buck, they won't be back till tomorrow," Chris said, motioning for him to into the clinic.

"The dog do this?" Josiah asked as he followed.

"Not all of it," Vin choked out, remembering.

"What happened?" Chris asked as the kid was lowered into the bed.

Vin tried, but he couldn't find the words, how was he suppose to tell his friend he'd shot his own brother, the one Chris Larabee considered as close to a son as one could be. All he could do was remove the sodden shirt he'd used to stop the bleeding from JD's chest.

"Vin?" Chris asked again.

"I grazed the dog.." he felt the tears, "I...I..shot him.."

"Acci...dent...not...his...fault.." JD said quietly, never opening his eyes, still defending his brother.

"JD? How ya doing, son?" Chris asked, not knowing what to think.

"Fine...not..Vin's't...I..should.." JD tried to explain his part in the whole incident.

"I suggest you refrain from talking, Mr. Dunne, I assure you that we are well aware of your brothers skill, and accidents do happen," he smiled, then cast a look of compassion to Vin.

"Where's...Buck?" JD realizing that he didn't remember hearing him.

"He's in Fall Creek..with Nathan," Chris said, sitting next to the bed.

"Why?" it seemed like a good question.

"Gettin' your hat fixed," Josiah offered.

"Oh," he laughed out, causing the forgotten pain to intensify in his chest, setting off a chain reaction from the rest of his body, causing him to cry out.

Chris grabbed JD's hand and began the words of comfort, Ezra and Josiah did there best to examine the extent of the kid's injuries, and Vin backed off; sitting in a chair on the other side of the room. Josiah and Nathan removed JD's shirt, they moved to his legs, each grabbing a boot.

"He got bit on his leg, I dunno how bad," Vin said quietly from his place of exile.

He caused all of this, the last thing JD needed was him to remind him what he'd done, he'd let him down, he'd hurt him, he'd shot him..his own brother..he'd shot his own brother..God please let him be okay, Vin thought..his head went into his hands as he heard his brothers cries and pleas to stop, Chris' words of comfort as Ezra and Josiah did the only thing they knew would help and clean and dress the wounds.

As the two men began dressing the wounds, the pleas and cries stopped and JD's body dragged him back into unconsciousness. Chris looked to the two and then stood to go to do what he could for his friend that had no visible wounds, the hardest to try and heal.

"Josiah and Ezra are almost done, they're doing what they can for him," Chris said evenly, but much more in the way he would talk to JD.

"How.. How bad's the.. Where....where I shot him?" Vin asked never lifting his head.

"Josiah got the bleeding to stop, I don't know how deep it is," Chris said honestly. "He was asking for you, earlier."

"Last thing he needs is me," Vin said.

"You got that all wrong, Vin..the first thing he needs is you, don't do this, Vin..don't, you're hurtin him more now than that bullet did," Chris said in a stern way.

"How you figure that! Hell, I put it there!" Vin cried out, no longer able to fight the grief.

"What you're doing now, right here, by not being with him when he needs you the most is the only wrong thing you did..that bullet was a was an didn't do it on purpose, not like now," he said a bit more harsher, hoping he was getting through to him.

"I'm sorry to interrupt," Ezra said softly.

"What is it, Ezra?" Chris asked, turning his eyes to him.

"I'm going to send a telegram to Fall Creek."

"Ezra, no ones going to be there till morning, and they'll be heading out first thing," Chris decided.

"Do you think it prudent to give them some warning?" Chris was about to answer, but JD interrupted. Chris and Ezra went quickly to the bed, Vin stayed in the chair.

"Vin! God..VIN! Help me..please! Oh God..VIN!!"

"His fever's worse," Josiah said simply as JD continued to stir and cry out.

"'s're're safe.." Chris began, and was rewarded as JD opened his eyes and looked at him. Chris forced a crooked smile, as he looked into the fevered hazel eyes that didn't look for him.

"Where's.....Vin?" he said between breaths.

"He's okay, he's taking a break," Josiah offered, knowing Chris didn't like lying to the kid.

"" Josiah understood the broken question.

"He's here, son," Josiah knew he couldn't lie to the boy either.

"Wanna...see fault....." he was getting agitated and worried and he tried to sit up, and find his brother, three sets of hands decided otherwise for him.

"You can't be up right now, you gotta lay still, what would Nathan think if we let you up and about?" Chris tried to change the subject.

"" his speech was becoming relaxed, as he began to wear down.

"He's in Fall Creek," Chris said, putting his hand on the cold cloth that Ezra had put on JD's forehead.

"With Buck.."

"Yeah, he's with Buck."

"Tell...Vin..I'mmm...sorryy..not..hisss fault...mine..shoulda..sstay...downnn," JD let out, loosing the battle with darkness again.

Ezra watched and listened to the young man lying in the bed, hurting as he was, his first and only concern was for his older brother. Ezra turned an angry head to the man sitting in the chair across the room, his anger finally getting the best of him he walked over to Vin and grabbed him out of the chair and into the hall way, slamming him against the wall; normally a fatal mistake.

Chris saw the action and heard the slam, he glanced at JD then to Josiah, who nodded his understanding, and Chris hurried to the hall.

"Ezra.." Chris said evenly, noticing the anger that filled the gambler's usual neutral face.

"What!?" Ezra snapped.

"Get your hands off me! That's what!" Vin said, pushing Ezra's hands away.

"Out side, now!" Chris ordered, Ezra glared at the leader and went downstairs.

"Now, Vin!" Chris grabbed the tracker's arm and 'escorted' him out.

Ezra heard the men come on to the porch and turned, his anger had only intensified.

"And here I am thinking I'm the most self serving and selfish member of this group!" he spat out.

"I put him in there, Ezra," Vin said quietly.

"Am I to assume that beast is totally innocent?" controlling his anger.

"The dog wouldn't have come after him if I'd taken the shot early," Vin hung his head.

"So you are taking responsibility for the whole incident?" Ezra said again, with compassion, not anger. Chris was watching the exchange with interest. Six months ago, Ezra would seem to care less about what would be happening around him concerning the others, much less state his opinion.

"I shot him, Ezra."

"A simple miscalculation or lack of judgment, whatever the circumstances, your brother needs you. You are denying him the one thing he is requesting. There are three men in this group that JD depends on, one is unable to be here, one is doing the best he can and the one he depends upon most has turned his back."

"I haven't turned my back on him!"

"He doesn't blame you, Vin, he's saying he messed up, he didn't stay where he was supposed to," Chris added, trying to show that JD blamed himself for causing Vin's anguish.

"That's just stupid..the dog was after him...ain't nothin his fault."

"Mr. Tanner, I suggest you redirect your anger to the beast responsible and put your questions and doubts of this incident aside and start acting like the brother that he needs," Ezra said sharply.

"I can't look at him, knowin' I did this."

"Then you don't deserve to be anyone's brother," Ezra said flatly and headed back to the clinic.

"What the hell am I supposed to tell him, Vin? You wanna tell me?"

"Tell him the truth," Vin said.

"What? That your so wrapped up with your self pity that he doesn't matter? Fine..that's what I'll do, but let me tell you this..." Chris started, "You turnin your back is gonna kill him more than any bullet..and you know that. GET OVER IT, VIN!! Put it in the back of your got other things to deal with, he comes first," Chris turned and left the tracker alone, he hoped some of the words had sunk in.


"Sleep well?"

"Yeah..great. You gonna let me out now?"

"As long as I don't hear all your complaining all the way home," Nathan smiled.

"I gotta get the kid's hat before we leave," Buck remembered.

"I already got it, looks pretty good," Nathan said as the cell door opened.

"Hah, there's a joke. That hat never looked good!" Buck laughed out as he made his way out of the cell.

"Hey, that looks just like the hat that.." the deputy started, reminding the men of someone they knew very well.

"Like Bat's," Nathan and Buck finished.

"Yeah, I'd love to have a hat just like that!" Deputy Jack stated with enthusiasm.

"Well, for a..." Buck started.

"He'd kill you dead, Buck! Don't you even think of it!" Nathan smiled, knowing Buck would never sell the hat.

"Well, you ready to head back and see what kind of trouble he's managed to get himself into, probably yacked Vin's ear off to the point Vin threatened to shoot him," Buck smiled. Not knowing how close to the truth he was.

"Yup, let's go."

The two men left the jailhouse satisfied that both had accomplished what they had come to Fall Creek to do, well, almost accomplished. *Thanks Nathan,* Buck thought to himself about his stay in the jail.

They headed to the wagon and started off back to Four Corners, missing the telegram operator by a half hour with news they were needed back in Four Corners as quickly as possible. The telegram operator offered his thanks to the deputy and headed back to the office to send a return telegram apologizing that he had missed the men.

"Mr. Standish?"

"Yes, Mr. Sullivan?"

"This just came in, thought you'd want to know, Jasper missed Nathan and Buck, said they left bout a half hour before."

"Thank you, Mr. Sullivan," the tired gambler smiled, and he turned and headed to the clinic with the tray of food he'd gone to get.

"Need a hand, Ezra?"

"Thank you, Mr. Tanner, how is he doing?"

"Nothing's changed in the five minutes you been gone, Ezra," Vin said.

"Has it only been that long, seems hours."

"You catch Buck and Nathan?"

"No, they departed earlier than anticipated," he stated as they made there way into the room where JD was, not moving, talking, looking like someone other than the young man they knew.

"You missed them?" Chris stated more than asked, looking at the faces that came through the opened door.

"Yes, by about a half an hour," Ezra said. "Miss Molly said if we needed anything else to let her know, she'll be back with lunch and collect the dishes," Ezra relayed the woman's kindness.

"She's a good woman," Josiah said with a smile, looking to the young man in bed, knowing she was one of the many people of Four Corners that had a soft spot for JD.

"Larabee! Larabee!!"

"What now?" Chris sighed out, and got up from the chair next to the bed and made his way to the door. Making his way from the clinic out into the street where Tom Hansen had dismounted, taking a deep breath to yell the name again.


"Larabee, your boys did a fine job. Lost another sheep last night."

Chris turned to step back and ask Vin, but found him standing next to him as he turned.

"Tom says he lost another one .. You sure you shot the dog?"

"Yeah, she's dead," Vin said , trying not to remember why he knew that.

"I knew I should have known the boy didn't have any idea what he was talkin about, and you... you call yourself a tracker? If that dog's dead you mind telling me why I lost another one?"

"Must be two of them," Vin said softly.

"Then what the hell are you doin' here..get ready and find the other one!"

"Tom, can't do that. I'm sorry."


"Vin, go back up," Chris said, leaving no room for argument. Vin did as was asked.

"What the hell, Larabee! Your men said they'd do a job, they only did half! I want them to finish it!!"

"They ain't coming back up, Tom."


"JD got hurt," Chris said evenly, showing the ever present Larabee calm.

"Well, maybe if your sheriff weren't so young he coulda kept himself out of trouble, what he do? Break his leg again?"

Tom Hansen really didn't know when to keep his mouth shut at times, Chris was tired and his temper was short on a good day. He grabbed Tom by the collar, bringing him to his face.


"He's up there with a bullet in him and torn up from where a wild dog thought he looked a little too much like one of your sheep! I don't know about you, but I consider a man's life worth a bit more than a few sheep, especially that one up stairs! If you'd taken the suggestion we gave you about bringing them in at night we wouldn't be having this conversation at all!!" and he let him go with force, causing him to take a few steps back.

"I suggest the next time you come to our community throwing around accusations of injustice you take into account who you are accusing," Ezra said sternly, Vin had told him Hansen was the one yelling, and knowing how Chris could be at times thought he should be there.

"I'll let you know, if I get the other one," Hansen said, that was as much as an apology as they were going to get, he turned back to his horse and left town.

"JD just woke," Ezra said. Chris turned and they made their way back to the room without asking how he was, he already knew, JD had woken several times in the night.

Chris went through the door, he and Ezra were at his side in seconds without even pausing, to help Josiah and Vin hold the boy down.

"Vin..oh God it hurts..make it stop...Oh God.." JD was on a steady chant, he was in a great deal of pain but know one dared give him anything. With his history, they thought that it would only make things worse. He was thrashing in the bed, trying to escape the pain, but the hands that held him still prevented him from getting away. He knew if they would let him go that he would be able to leave the pain behind.

"'re gonna hurt yourself more..calm down, easy.. He can't take much more of this," he turned to Chris saying the last words, his comforting words so far from reaching his brother clouded head.

"Where's Buck? Let me go..lemme hurts..please let me go!" he cried.

"Son, can't let you go, you need to settle down. Buck will be here soon," Chris tried his hand at trying to settle the boy.

"It hurts..make it stop...please..oh God..Oh GOOOODD!!!!" not being able to stand the pain anymore he screamed out his discomfort, making the ones holding his hands hold on tighter to him and the others fighting back tears of anguish. They had never seen him this bad.

He fought and thrashed for another three minutes, the continuing comforting words from all four men never easing, one picking up when the other couldn't go on. The dark and painless place finally claimed JD back, as his body and mind gave into it.

There was soft knock at the door, Josiah rose stiffly and stretched his tired body and went to the door.

"I brought some lunch and some coffee for you, how is he, Josiah?"

"He's a strong boy, Molly," was all Josiah could manage.

"Let me help you with that," Josiah offered, and took two of the three trays Molly held, she followed him to a small table near the door.

"May I ?" Molly asked.

Josiah looked over to Chris, who nodded. "I'm sure he'd appreciate it."

Molly made her way to the small group, Ezra stood to surrender his 'post'. Molly's eyes filled, her face never showed the emotion she felt.

"I can stay with him, if you'd like to take a rest," a ridiculous thought she knew, but felt she needed to ask.

"Thanks, Molly, we ain't goin anywhere," Vin said, they were all tired and she could tell that no one had slept.

"Maybe while you eat, then," she suggested strongly, they had to eat or they wouldn't be any better than the young man who lay in the bed.

"I think we could manage that, Vin, we'll be right here if he needs us," Chris instructed, Vin nodded, looked back to JD, then to Molly and smiled a thank you.

Molly couldn't help but squeeze the boy's hand as she looked at the sweat ridden pale face. So much energy, always having a smile on his face, always having pleasant things to say, knew how to play a prank on someone; lying so still it, breathing to fast compensating for the fever, so still, too still.

A tear rolled down her face as she remembered him coming into the cafe just the other day with talk of sheep, and wolves and mocking Buck. He deserved more than what he had been getting, it was plain and simple, he deserved better; to be healthy and strong for the rest of his life. As far as she could see, he'd put his time in, it was someone else's turn; not that she wished harm on anyone, it just wasn't fair.

He began to stir again. "Mr. Larabee.." Molly was alarmed, and tried to stand but was stopped by the grip on her hand. The men didn't hesitate and where there in a second.

"Are you okay," Josiah asked, seeing the mixture of concern and alarm in her face.

"Yes, he's just not letting go," she tried to smile.

As JD opened his eyes and the pain came back, and as the scene from earlier began to play out as it had before, he released her hand and she took a few steps back, as the men comforted and soothed. A strange feeling came over her as Chris brought his head up and looked at her, his eyes full of concern and he seemed to ask if she was okay.

"I'm fine," she answered quickly, he nodded and went back to what he needed to do. She again felt odd, like she shouldn't be here, she was witness to something not many, if any, had ever witnessed. How these men, all different, could unite as one for the sake of another. Feeling very uncomfortable, she gathered the breakfast dishes and left.

She made her way down the steps and was about to walk off boardwalk, but a strong voice stopped her.

"Molly, thanks for the lunch."

"You're welcome, Mr. Larabee, I can send something back later as well, I'll send Matthew with it." Not wanting to intrude again.

"We'd appreciate it. I hope he didn't hurt you."

"No, no..just scared me," she admitted.

"He ain't himself, don't hold it against him."

Molly couldn't answer, none of those men in that room were 'themselves', and she nodded and turned to go back to the cafe.


"Will you sit down and eat somethin, you're pacing worse than a expectant daddy."

"Well, dang it, Nate, just that we've got another half a days ride and your sittin on your behind."

"Can I ask you somethin, Buck?" Nathan said with a smile.

"What?" Buck snapped.

"Why is it that when we're in town, all you can talk about is what you'd do if'n ya ever got away by yourself without JD followin, and now that it has happened all you wanna do is get back to town," Nathan laughed out the last part, remarking at the irony.

"Well, Nate, the way I see it is I woulda done what I said I wanted to do, but you see SOMEONE had me locked in a jail cell ALL NIGHT!" he said in an exaggerated anger. " So I figure I get back to town before Mable's brother decides to visit again!" Buck not hiding his big smile.

" this is all about Mabel, not JD?" Nathan asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Of course..I mean yeah, sides JD's still out in the woods with Vin, right?"

"Yup, but I ain't leavin' until you sit and eat somethin'..Mable ain't gonna want nothin to do with ya if'n ya don't have no 'energy'," Nathan smiled.

"You're right! Give me some of that," Buck said as he sat down on the ground and began eating.

Buck and Nathan ate at a casual pace, then broke camp and returned to the rested horses and wagon and headed for the three hour ride that would finally bring them home.

"They back yet?" asked the boy who lay in bed with glassy fevered hazel eyes.

"Not yet, JD, they'll be here soon, it's getting dark and they left early this morning," Vin soothed, stroking the black hair that always seemed to find it way to his face, like the hole in the church's roof never seemed to go away.

"I'm so tired, can't ya let me sleep yet?" he pleaded

"Not for another couple minutes, son. Josiah said ya needed to be up for awhile." Josiah had gone and read some of Nathan's books, they were at a loss to help him. The fever had dropped a bit, and only relieving JD of the fever dreams and the thrashing they would cause. The pain was still there, but being dealt with by JD.

"Buck's gonna be mad," JD let go a tired smile.

"Don't you worry about, Buck," Chris said.

"Ezra, can you do that thing again?"

"That 'thing'?" Ezra teased, knowing he wanted to show him how he'd make a bridge out of the cards, shuffling them in the process. The gambler was trying to keep him awake, Chris held up two fingers indicating two minutes, so he feigned ignorance to stall for time.

"That know..The thing you do.. Ezra, that bridge thing.." JD was getting weaker.

"And which particular 'bridge' are we considering?" Ezra stalled.

"More than one?" JD sighed out weakly.

"Must be millions, JD, I mean heck, there's more than one way to gamble right?"

"So?" answers getting smaller, one finger.

"SO? Well, my dear, young, naive friend, your brother is quite right indeed, you see there are several 'bridges', one gentleman I met used only the red cards, another only the black, and if I remember correctly another used only every other card."

As ludicrous as the tale Ezra was telling, it worked, JD was riveted to Ezra's voice. Knowing all to well that he'd tell him the same story in another two hours, he'd already told JD this particular one four times.

A knock on the door made Chris nod to Ezra, letting him know it was safe for JD to fall asleep; which he did almost immediately. Chris stood from his chair and opened it.

"Molly sent me here with this for y'all, and wanted me to get them others from lunch," Matthew said.

"Thanks, Matty, make sure you tell Molly thanks, too." Matthew nodded and headed out the door.

Chris turned and went to speak when another more urgent knock hit the door. Chris opened it and saw Matthew.

"Matty? Somethin..."

"Nathan and Buck just pulled into town, thought ya might wanna know."

"Thanks, Matty., Josiah," Chris said as the three men made their way out of the clinic, Matthew heading back to the cafe, Josiah and Chris heading to the missing seven.

"Didn't think you'd miss us this much, Chris, I'm touched," Buck smiled, the smile disappeared slowly as he saw how tired and exhausted both of the men were.

"They need you, Nathan," Chris said flatly. Nathan left with Josiah, Buck started to the clinic as well, but Chris stopped him.

"It's JD," Chris said.