"What happened?" Buck asked, really not liking the way Chris and Josiah had looked.

"He got attacked by the dog, he's got a bullet in him and one hell of a fever we been fightin'' ever since he got here," Chris let out all at once.

"Jesus, how long ago he get here?"

"Last night."

"Where's Vin?" Buck asked, realizing he wasn't mentioned, just that he heard Chris say '..ever since HE got here', what happened to Vin?

"He brought him in," Chris said as they began their way to clinic, waiting for Buck to ask how JD'd gotten shot.

"Who was shootin' at them? Vin get hit?" Buck still asked, concerned.

"No, Vin didn't get hurt," Chris answered only the question. How was he suppose to tell Buck?

"How'd he get shot?" Buck asked. Chris stopped and faced his oldest friend, making him stop as well.

"It was a ricochet, bounced off a rock when he took the shot."

"JD's own bullet hit him?!" Buck couldn't believe it.

"No," Chris started, hung his head and took a deep breath, then looked at Buck, "It was Vin's." Chris swore he felt the pain run through his heart as Buck realized what he'd just said.

"Vin?" Buck gasped out in a whisper, surely he heard wrong. Vin never misses a shot..never.

"Buck, Vin's holding on by a thread..he's tired and feeling..."

"Where is he? He ain't up there with him?"


"You left him with the man who shot him? Have you lost your mind?!"

"It was an accident, Buck! The last thing JD needs from you is you getting all over Vin. You got that!" Chris knew it was going to be a fight trying to keep Buck's head on his shoulders. Vin had held up pretty well, he didn't need Buck to undo that.

"Buck, he needs you right now, and he needs Vin..."

"Well, from the way I see it Vin's done enough already!"

"Dammit, Buck, I'm telling you right now, if you can't go in there and be civil to him, I swear... I swear you won't get within five feet of that boy! Vin's already feeling real bad about what happened, your yelling and screaming isn't gonna do a thing for JD! You understand that?"


"YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?!" Chris emphasized.

"Yeah," he spat out, "I got it!"

+ + + + ++ +

Vin's head turned at the sound of the door opening, he couldn't hide his sigh of relief as he saw Nathan walk through it in a hurry.

"How's he doin', Vin?" as he began to examine JD, undoing bandages.

"Not too good, Nate, he's got this fever, he's had a real rough day, been doin' better if'n we wake him up every once in a while, one took the bullet ..out.." he choked out, slowing at the mere mention at what he had contributed to the state his brother was in.

"Look's good, real good," he praised the substitute healer, nodding his head and smiling approvingly at Josiah.

"JD..hey JD..come on son, it's Nathan. How's he been waking up?"

"Not very easy, takes him a bit," Josiah offered.

Hey! JD! Come on, kid, wake up!" Nathan said louder.

"Nate?" came the week voice from the bed, who's eyes were still shut.

"Yeah son, come on I need ya to talk to me," Nathan said with a smile.

"No more tricks, Ezra I'm tired, Vin?" said with eyes still closed.

"Right here, what is it?" he answered urgently.

"They back yet?" the pain not escaping his voice.

"Yeah, Nathan's right here." JD's eyes flew open.

"Nathan? It hurts," JD cried out, hoping he would be finally getting some relief.

"I know it does, I'm gonna see what I can do for ya, but we need to get the bullet out, first okay?" Nathan soothing tones, easing the panic, but not the rapid breathing the fever was causing.

"Just make it stop, please," came the small plea the other three men had heard all night and all day.

"You're gonna have to be real still, can you do that?"

"Oh God, Nathan..just make it stop.." JD answered.

"Ain't ya gonna give him anythin for the hurtin?" Vin argued.

"Not with that fever, the way this stuff works on him, I need to be able to wake him up."

"Okay," Vin allowed.

"Okay..okay," Nathan said, knowing JD could stay still, he was in terrible pain and had been for awhile, taking the bullet out would accomplish easing some of the pain.

"Josiah, Ezra you gonna be able to help me out?" he asked sincerely of the exhausted men.

"Yes, Nathan. What can we do?" Ezra had lost his charm hours ago, knowing he would only find it again in his sleep. The two men went to Nathan in the hall to discuss assignments.

"Vin? Where's Buck? Buck ..was with Nathan..right??"

"Yeah, he is. He's talking to Chris," Vin said.

"Nathan!" JD yelled.

"Right here, what's the matter?" Nathan asked, coming from the hall.

"Where 's Buck?" Nathan was about to answer when he saw the lean man in the door way.

"Take it easy, Buck" Nathan said as he passed him to join the other two in the hall.

"I'm right here, kid, right here," he swallowed the lump in his throat at the sight of JD, he had never seen him like this, never this bad, never in this much pain. He glared at the person he considered responsible for causing all of this.

"I'm here, JD, I won't let you down, no one's gonna hurt you again," Buck said, casting his look to Vin again.

"I..I messed up..Buck. I..messed up.." JD said.

"You didn't mess up, not you JD." Vin hearing every word, began to back away again.

"'t," the small hints not going unnoticed by JD, either.

"Don't what?" Buck asked, not realizing the kid knew that he was blaming Vin.

"Don't..not ...Vin's..fault.." JD began to weaken, his words getting jumbled as he told Buck not to blame Vin and it wasn't his fault, Buck only hearing what was being spoken.

"He ain't gonna hurt you no more, I ain't gonna let him," Buck said trying to curb his anger.

"No!!!! Oh" JD brought his hands to his head hoping he could get his thoughts to match his words.. Buck wasn't understanding him, God he was so tired. He had to tell Buck that it wasn't Vin's fault! The words were coming out all wrong!

Nathan, Josiah and Ezra ran back into the room Chris following as they heard JD cry out. Vin was back sitting in the corner, hearing the same words Buck was. Not understanding JD was trying to defend him to Buck.

"No!!..Buck..not..Vin!!!" he cried one more time, hoping he had said it right.

"He ain't gonna hurt you again, I promise," Buck stated again.

"NO!!!!!" JD screamed out.

"Buck.. Get out! Now!!" Nathan yelled. Chris passing by all the men to get to JD.

"Nathan.." Buck tried.

"Josiah, get him out, now!!" Nathan said.

"What the hell, Nathan? I ain't the one that hurt him!" Buck protested as Josiah took him by the arm.

"Come on, Buck," Josiah said trying to remain calm.

" I ain't leavin'! You let him anywhere near him, Nathan and I swear.."

"Don't say something you're gonna be sorry for, Buck," Josiah said, carrying Buck by the waist out of the clinic, kicking and screaming.

"Ezra," Nathan said.

"Mr. Tanner, Vin. Let's go into the hall," Ezra said softly, taking him by the arm and lifting, Vin never fighting.

"JD..JD..It's Chris, JD, listen, son. JD, I know you're upset, we'll get this straightened out, okay," Chris said, trying to soothe the shattered boy, stroking back his hair as he talked.

"Oh God! right!!" he tried, still crying out, please make Buck understand!

"It was an accident, I know it ain't Vin's fault.. Josiah's gonna make Buck see that.." Chris could see JD relax, and his breathing slow a bit, and the hands come away from his face. Chris grabbed JD's hand, "I know you don't blame Vin. Nathan and I are gonna be right here, let him do what he has to, then we can get everyone straightened out, okay?"

"Promise," came the too tired, too small, too young voice.

"Promise," Chris said.

Buck had escaped Josiah's grip and headed to the saloon. Josiah had made it to the door of the room JD was in and what he saw broke his heart. He took a deep breath and lifted his head to talk to a God he had lost faith in, hoping He still had an ear for him.

"I know you don't dish out more than one can handle, and everything You do has a purpose, but to be perfectly honest; what's going on here, in this room, I'm not so sure how much more that good young man, who wouldn't hurt a soul, laying in that bed can handle; and there ain't many of us seeing any purpose to what's going on. Amen," Josiah swallowed back the lump in his throat, but was defenseless against the tear that had escaped.


"Here we go, JD, you gotta stay still, I know it's gonna be hard, but you been through the worst of it," Nathan tried to convince.

"Just make it stop..hurtin' so much.. I gotta talk to Buck, Chris," JD stressed.

"I know, Buck can wait. Let Nathan get that bullet out of ya, I'm sure you'll feel better real soon," Chris said, as Nathan began to fish out the two day old bullet.

Chris felt the pressure on his hand increase as Nathan started, he could hear the boy cry out when the pain was too intense to ignore, he heard himself talk to a young man he had let into his life and heart, a young man he considered to be more like a son than just a member of the seven, he used a tone that only one young man was privy to, and still the boy cried out. This went on for nearly twenty minutes when the boy's body won out over the fight to stay alert and awake, the hand relaxing and the relentless cries subsided.

Chris let out a heavy sigh of relief, never letting the all too weak hand go, replenishing the cloth with cold water and squeezing out the excess, placing it back to the boys forehead with the other hand, and closed his eyes.

"He did good, Chris," Nathan assured as he began to stitch the bullet wound.

"He's gonna be okay then?" Chris asked.

"Yeah, long as these don't get infected. Josiah did a good job cleaning him up," Nathan tried a smile.

"Ezra, too," Chris let out tiredly, once again the gambler's selflessness showing through.

"Why ain't I surprised by that?" the healer's smile widened.

"We can't loose him, Nate, he's done so much. He thinks he needs us, Nate, he's got it all backwards, we need him more," Chris said.

"Ain't none of us gonna let him go without a fight, Chris, you know that," Nathan reassured.

Chris nodded and turned to Josiah.

"Saloon," Josiah said evenly, with a hint of sadness.

"I should have guessed," Chris said as he made his way to the door.

+ + + + + + +

"Vin, you must know that your brother isn't blaming you, for any of this," Ezra said softly, as they heard the cries from the wall stop.

"You heard what he said to Buck," Vin hung his head.

"I'm not sure what you translated from the broken words of our sheriff, but all I interpreted was a young man trying defend his brother from an onslaught of misguided accusations. Vin... he's worried about JD, Mr. Wilmington has been delivered a shock he has not dealt with, once he learns the circumstances.."

"Circumstances? I shot him, Ezra! There ain't no circumstances! I'm a sharpshooter, Ezra! I missed my shot! I nearly.. I coulda killed him, don't understand.. Shootin'..that's what I do best..and look what happened!"

"I understand fine, Mr. Tanner, I am a gambler, a con man by trade. You don't think I've made my miscalculations? We are far from perfect men, Mr. Tanner, even I have lost a card game or two."

The door to the clinic opened, both men stood and looked to the men.

"Chris?" Vin looked to him anxiously.

"Nathan says he'll be fine, you can go in."

"No, he doesn't need to see me."

"Vin, he was trying to tell Buck he didn't blame you. You got to know that. You think if he blamed you that you would've been sitting with him since you brought him back here? Vin, everyone's tired, think about it for a minute..he needs you probably more than anything right now, he thinks he's made a mess of things and you know how he gets."

"Buck sees me near him.." Vin started, knowing very well, even if the threat hadn't been said, it still stood.

"Once JD talks to him, he'll understand. Go sit with your brother, Vin."

Vin nodded and made his way to JD. He sat heavily in the chair that was at his side, taking the place he had earlier, he took his hand and looked to Nathan.

"He's gonna be fine," Nathan answered the unasked question.

Vin nodded his head and let a tired smile of thanks cross his face, and turned back to his brother as he heard the door shut he talked to the brother, he felt he let down.

"Really made a mess of things didn't I?" he said in a horse, sleepless voice not expecting an answer.

"No," came the reply.

"God, JD, I'm..I'm sorry..I didn'"

"It's okay, not your..fault." he smiled weakly at his older brother, trying desperately to ease his guilt. "Buck's..wrong.."

"I don't know how wrong he is, I was supposed to keep ya safe..I didn't do a great job at that."

"I'm," the smile coming back.

"Yeah, yeah you are, no thanks to me."

"Vin, please...I don't blame you.."

"I know that, I blame myself," Vin said putting his hand on JD's forehead, pushing back the ever present hair.

"Don't..let it go.. I messed up too...didn't stay where ya ..told"

"I shot late, JD, I had a good shot and I waited," Vin finally told JD, he knew he would understand now, it was his fault.

"It would..have hit..the was..too close..woulda gone..through the dog.." He knew it would have, and he knew Vin knew.

"You win, okay? You're right, it woulda gone through," Vin said sincerely, nothing would have changed, except for the dog attacking.

"Good," JD sighed.

"Just don't scare me like that again, I just found ya, little brother. Never was much for family, now I got it and if you weren't here," Vin choked out, his exhausted body not able to hide his emotions, "I don't know what I do, don't think I'd make it without ya. No one here'd be the same," he finished by looking into his brother's sleeping, pain free face; putting his head on the bed still holding JD's hand, he fell into a much needed sleep that his body had begged hours for.

Chris walked into the saloon and saw Buck sitting at the table he himself had occupied for months, doing exactly what his oldest friend was now doing, drowning in a bottle.


"How's the kid?" he asked sharply, not sounding the least bit concerned.

"He's going to be fine, Vin's sitting with him," Chris prepared for the blow up.

"What! You left JD with him alone!! If it wasn't for him JD wouldn't be in heard what JD was saying!! He don't want him anywhere near him!!" and he stood to go take care of what JD wanted.

"Sit down!! Now!" Chris said harshly, getting his friends attention.

"What the hell are you thinking..look, Chris..I know he's your friend..but JD don't want to see him..he scared to death of him..didn't you hear him for Christ sake??!"

"I've listened to him for two days, Buck! Two days! And I heard him cry out for you more than once..and I heard him yell for his brother! I know you were gone, Buck, you weren't here, and that ain't your fault. Vin has been, JD needed him."

"He wouldn't need him if Vin hadn't shot him, Chris," he cried out.

"Vin didn't shoot him, the bullet bounced off a rock."

"He shot late, Josiah told me that much."

"It wouldn't have made a difference, JD told us that. The dog was too close, it would have hit the rock anyway."

"He's the sharpshooter, the hell could he miss?"

"He's also a man, just a man. Men make mistakes, we all have. No one's perfect, and shame on us for thinking Vin is," Josiah said in his deep soothing voice.

"But, JD..he was telling me.." he began but interrupted by Chris.

"He was trying to tell you it wasn't Vin's fault..he heard what you were saying, he was trying to explain, he'd been up too long and the words just got mixed up and didn't come out right. If this was Vin's fault, and JD blamed him, do you honestly think I would let him anywhere near JD?"

"Guess not," Buck said, starting to understand, also knowing that Vin wouldn't have purposely shot his own brother.

"Who's always looked out for him, Buck? You. Vin's JD's brother, and you and I both know how Vin feels about that. It took him months to make JD understand that he wasn't disappointed, you can't your heart know that Vin would hurt him," Josiah said.

Buck nodded his head, "Guess I got some bridges to mend."

"I wish you the best of luck in your endeavor, Mr. Wilmington," the gambler said as he made his way to the table the three men sat at.

"Why's that Ezra?" Buck asked, figuring Vin had taken his words to heart and would be unreachable for an apology.

"Mr. Tanner has fallen into a much needed slumber," Ezra smiled. "one of which I hope to soon have as well."

"I hear ya, brother."

"I think you all need some sleep," Buck stated at what was obvious.


"Vin? Hey Vin?" came the small voice that sounded to be in pain, causing Vin to jerk himself awake.

"JD?..what's wrong? Ya hurtin?"

"Yeah, you been laying on my arm for close to an hour, and it's really startin' to hurt," he let out in a bit of a chuckle.

"Sorry, you want me get Nathan?"

"No, I'm fi.. I'm okay," he edited, knowing how the men he rode with took it when he said he was 'fine'.

"You sure?"

"I'm sure, stop being such a big brother," JD teased.


Both smiled at each other and turned their eyes as the door opened, the smiles turning into frowns as they saw Buck and Chris enter the room, the others close behind.

"Vin," Buck said flatly.

Chris looked to JD and saw the boy was awake, and watching his face show concern for the fact these two were face to face, not knowing what was going to happen. He made his way to the young man and sat in the chair next to the bed, opposite of where Vin had been sitting.

"I ain't leavin', Buck," Vin stood his ground.

"Good, I got somethings to say to you."

"Not here, not now" wanting to spare his brother the agony of a yelling match that may get out of hand.

"Yeah, here and now. Vin.."

"Buck, please..don't get mad," JD pleaded from his bed.

"Just hush up, JD, and let me apologize already, would ya?" Buck snapped.


"Look , as many of ya have pointed out, I have a way of goin' a bit over board where the kid's concerned, like a mom grizzly as Josiah's put it to me. I ain't gonna say it's wrong, but I gotta say I'm sorry, Vin, I know you wouldn't do anythin to hurt JD, it was an accident. I'm sorry Vin, and you ,too, JD."

"Thanks, Buck, ain't nothin you said before that I didn't think of already."

JD relaxed as Buck and Vin talked and accepted the apology, he still hurt a bit, but the pain in his heart and the heaviness of his chest was gone, and he was reminded of why he'd woken up in the first place.

"Vin? Buck? You guys are okay now?"

"Yeah we're okay, kid," Buck said

"Good, cause I'm gonna be sick."

"Can't handle the big emotional stuff, huh?" Buck smiled again.

"No..I mean I'm really gonna be sick." JD said again, looking for help to turn over or something.

"You're serious!" Vin realized, as Chris grabbed the kid and rolled him to his side, just as he threw up.

Nathan took a cloth and wiped JD's face clean, then he and Chris eased him back on the bed.

"Thanks guys," JD said, all his hard earned strength gone from the effort.

"Sorry, JD."

"It's okay, Vin, long as you guys ain't fightin' anymore," he said in a tired voice.

"You better get some more sleep, JD," Vin said again.

"Only if the rest of ya do."

"Not a problem, son. You get to sleep first, then the rest of us can get some, okay?" Chris ordered, more than asked, but it all fell on deaf ears, JD was already asleep.

"You think he knows how soft he's made us?"

"We ain't soft, Chris, he's just made us into a family," Buck smiled out.


"It's been a week, Nathan, I ain't stayin' in bed no more."

"Hey, you still arguing with him?"

"Yeah, maybe having the older brother talk to him might be better."

"You sure about that, Nathan? What I say goes?"

"Yeah, Vin, go ahead," Nathan smiled smugly at JD, who sat back on the bed frowning.

"Okay.. You sure?"

"Yeah..I'm positive," the victorious gleam never leaving the healer's eyes.

"Well, you went through all the trouble of gettin' dressed, wanna get some lunch?" Vin smiled wildly.

"HAH!!" JD jumped from the bed.

"Hey, wait a minute! He needs a few more days! Damn it, Vin, that wasn'tt fair!" Nathan protested.

"You're right, Nathan, big brothers are pretty handy!!" JD walked to the door, still sporting the slight limp from the broken leg and the bruise he still held from the dog bite.

"Sorry, Nate, blood's thicker than water," he winked at Nathan as they made their way out the clinic.

"Brothers," Nathan said quietly, shaking his head, and headed out of the clinic as well.


"Mornin, Mr. Hansen."

"Glad to see you up and about, what are you gonna do about that dog."

"Hey, Chris!" JD yelled to the jail behind him.

"What?!" the jail answered back.

"Mr. Hansen's here and he wants to know what we're going to do with the dog!" JD yelled again, hearing the door opened he turned. "There somethin you wanna tell me?" he asked a little aggravated, he'd thought Vin had killed the dog.

"I did what ya said, Larabee, it got in two nights ago and run off with one," he said in a 'I told ya so' sort of way.

"Seems your dog had a friend, JD, been after his sheep since the and Vin came back."

"Oh. Well.. I suppose we oughta go look for that one, too," JD said, it was the obvious answer.

"Look for what?" Buck asked as he and Vin made their way to the jail, noticing that they were talking to Hansen.

"There's another dog after his sheep," JD stated.

"Me and Chris can handle it," Buck volunteered the two of them.

"What about me and Vin?" JD said.

"All do respect, you've all ready had a run in with one dog..I don't think you can handle another boy," Hansen offered, like he was in charge.

Chris wanted to tell JD he thought Hansen was right, but one look at the kid and he knew there was no way he was going to stop JD from taking down the other dog and maybe Hansen along with him.

"Mr. Hansen, you ever think before you talk?" JD asked innocently but with conviction.

"What's that suppose to mean, Dunne," Hansen let out sharply.

"Well, the way I'm seein it, for someone who wants somethin done you got a lot of nerve comin' in here and tellin' 'ME' what I can and can't handle. We got one of those dogs, we can get the other...and if you don't like the way we did things before, then I suggest you get rid of your sheep, cause unless you go and kill the damn thing yourself you ain't gonna have any sheep left to worry about," JD said proudly, turned and limped away, where to he didn't know..he was so mad at himself for acting bigger than he was. He hated when he did that, never realizing how much of an impact it made with others, including Hansen.

"Who pissed in his coffee this mornin," Hansen asked with a chuckle.

"Well..I'd have to say that would be you mister. You see the sheriff there," Chris pointing to the very unintimmidating person limping away behind him, "well, seems he almost got killed last week cause you was whining 'bout them sheep, and no man likes to come close to dying, not only that, he don't take to kindly to people saying he can't do something," Chris explained.

"I don't care how ya do it, just get rid of that dog!" Hansen said in frustration.

"I'm sure the sheriff's thinkin on it, let ya know what he decides," Buck added to the conversation with a smile, and Hansen left.

"Well, guess I'd better get the kid," Buck began. "JD!!" he yelled, motioning him back over.

"Nathan ain't gonna let him go back there, Buck," Chris said, the voice of reason.

"He ain't gotta know."

"Who says I ain't gonna say nothin," Vin said.

"Yeah, what?"

"You and me gonna go get the other dog.." Buck said proudly.

"No offense, what's wrong with me and Vin??"

"I don't think you should go, JD," Vin said.

"Why? Now don't go getting all brotherly on me, I'm fine."

"Go with Buck then," Vin said. He couldn't take the chance of him hurtin the kid again.

"What? Why? Vin, you and me started this, let's finish it!" JD couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"And take the chance of finishin' you? I ain't gonna let that happen again."

"I ain't goin unless you're goin with me." JD said, hoping Vin understood he had faith in him.

"JD.." Vin began, knowing how much this would mean to his younger brother.

"Look, I was the one who got chewed up and 'I'm' the one who got the bullet, and I want you there. Vin, I trust ya."

Vin sighed, knowing he'd get an okay from Chris, that was a given. Buck was a different story, he looked to Buck and waited for a sign of approval, like a young man who had just asked a father for his one and only daughter's hand.

"You leavin' before dinner?" Buck asked, with a tentative smile that told Vin there'd be no mercy if he didn't bring him back safe this time.

"Thanks, Buck," JD answered for the two of them.

"I got an idea, but everyone's gonna have to go," JD said.

"What is it?" Chris asked.

"Me and Vin go up and see if we can find it, it should be comin' back out tonight. We find it and if we can't shoot it we can chase it out. Let you guys get it," JD said. He looked at them questionably, "Not a very good plan, huh?" noticing the looks on the men's faces.

"Not bad, needs a bit of work. We can work it out on the way," Vin said, not questioning JD's plan, but trying to think of a way to make it better and safer.

"I'll get the others," Buck said.

"You two work this plan of yours out, I'll help Buck," Chris smiled.


The two brothers rode in silence for close to an hour, they would be at Hansens' ranch in the next few minutes. JD turned and looked back at the five other men riding with them.

"I didn't think they'd all come, took a lot of convincing," JD broke the silence.

"They wanna make sure I don't shoot ya again."

"Well, if I get shot again I'll have to think about riding with ya," getting a sideways 'that wasn't funny' look. "Aww come on, Vin, relax. I was just kiddin', you're the one I trust if that other dog shows up, no one else."

"I was right before.. You really don't know when to keep your mouth shut," Vin said with a smile, and urged his horse into a gallop.

"Hey, what's that suppose to mean!" JD smiled back and copying his brother, the five men behind them doing the same.

The group had caught up with two brothers and they arrived at Hansen's ranch a half hour before the sun would set. They met by the porch where Hansen stood.

"So what's this big plan 'sheriff'?" Hansen said etched with sarcasm.

"Mister, I'd show him a little respect, it took a lot of him talking for us to even come out here."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"What Mr. Jackson is trying to say is," Ezra started, and the men couldn't help but smile, knowing that no one could talk in circles and confuse a man more than Ezra. "If it wasn't for our young friend, Sheriff Dunne, there would not be one man here trying to rid you of the vicious canine that, on more than one occasion, has infiltrated your property and pilfered your livelihood."


"He said you oughta be nice to me if you want the dog gone," JD translated matter of factly.

"What he said," Ezra assured at the look that Hansen gave him.

Hansen sighed, "What is it you want me to do?"

"Your staying here with us, we'll fan out in pairs, me and Buck, Josiah and Nathan, you and Ezra."

"What about the other two, Larabee?"

"Vin and JD, they're gonna go find him for you, if they don't kill it we'll find it coming down here," Chris said.

"What makes you think after they shoot at it, it's still going to be coming down here?" Hansen asked.

"Cause that's where we're gonna chase it to," Vin said confidently, urging his horse up the familiar path they had traveled close to two weeks ago, JD following.

JD and Vin had been in the woods for close to thirty minutes, when JD pulled up, Vin looked to him and did the same. They remained silent, as JD turned his head slowly left to right and began back and stopped. He pointed in the direction he had heard the low growl.

Vin nodded, knowing that his brother had heard the dog, and dismounted. JD took a couple deep breaths and did the same. Vin put his hand on his shoulder, knowing JD would be a bit scared; they'd been here once before and if Vin had killed the female, he could only imagine what the male, generally more aggressive, dog would be like.

The horses weren't tied so they could run if necessary as the two set out on foot. JD and Vin carefully walked wide of where the growling and snarls were coming from, both knowing the dog had their scents.

The two men were startled as they heard the dog bark and the horses run through the woods, being chased.

"That worked," Vin whispered.

"Yeah, you think he's gonna back track?" JD whispered back.

"Hard to say, by the time he gives up chasing the horses he's gonna be real close to the ranch."

"Let's hope, I ain't lookin forward to meetin this one anymore than I was the other one."

"Me either, come on."

The two walked in the darkening woods back towards the ranch, watching and listening for any movement. It had been close to an hour, never seeing or hearing a thing, as they finally emerged from the woods.

"Damn it!" Vin said.

"Guess he must have gone back up," JD sighed.

"I guess so, I'll go round up the others," Vin said, not happy the plan had failed.

"I'll get the horses," JD said as he walked the ten feet to them.

"We didn't see nothin after the horses came out Vin, but somethin was definitely chasin them." Buck said, disappointed, too.

"You sure somethin was chasin them?"

"Yeah, why?" Chris asked.

"We didn't see or hear anything comin' out...JD!!" Vin yelled as he ran back to where the horses were, realizing that the dog was waiting.

The men were running, Hansen included, to where JD was. They could see him leading the horses to meet with them. JD picked up his head as he heard his name being called and saw the group running towards him, there eyes were scanning the edge of the woods.

Shit, JD thought, he was still in the woods. JD dropped the reins and pulled his guns, watching the wood line carefully. The horses suddenly bolted in the opposite direction. He's close, JD thought, straining his eyes even more, then he heard it, the growl, the snarl and as he turned toward the barn that held the growl. He dropped his guns as the dog jumped at him.

"VIINNNN!!!!" JD yelled as the dog brought him to the ground heavily.

"JD!!!" several of the men screamed as they saw the dog on top of JD.

JD was holding the dog off by the neck, he had both hands full of flesh on each side of the ears, trying to hold back from letting the razor sharp teeth make contact. He felt the dogs warm breath, that held the smell of dead sheep on his face as the trails of dog spit splattered his head.

"Vin! Shoot him!! Shoot him!!" JD yelled as he quickly saw his brother and the others approach.

"Shoot!" he yelled again as he and the dog fought.

"Get it, Vin," Buck whispered his support.

"You can do this, Vin, you have to..take the shot!" Chris said urgently.

Vin stood still, raising his gun he took aim and readied himself to shoot when he found a clear shot as the two battled on, the dog and JD were rolling on the ground.

Shoot, Vin said to himself.

JD rolled to the ground, he was kicking the dog, doing everything he could think of, rolling on top again, but knowing he couldn't let go and escape.

Vin took his shot.


A loud BANG was heard as JD rolled back to the ground and the dog piled on top of him.

JD kicked the dog off from him and stumbled to his feet breathlessly. The men ran to JD, he stood up and Chris steadied him.

JD looked to his brother. "Why didn't you shoot when I said?" he asked with a smile.

"You were in the way," he smiled back.

"Nice going sharpshooter," Buck smiled from beside the dead dog. Vin nodded his thanks.

Buck turned from the dog, "Hansen, think you can take care of that? We leave now we can make it back to town before it gets real dark,"

"Mabel's brother's back," JD offered.

"How do you know?" Buck asked as the men made their way to their horses.

"Cause I saw him," JD smiled.

"Well.. Maybe he ain't stayin'!" Buck shot back.

"Maybe not, he only had a 'few' satchels with him."

"What? She told me he wasn't comin' back for a month!"

"I think he's here for awhile..heard he's sweet on Molly," JD teased, bursting into a laugh with the other men.

"Why you little shi.."

"HEY! Thats my brother you're talkin about!" Vin yelled as Buck ran after JD.

+ + + + + + +

The men were back into town, JD had gone to bed, Nathan's 'orders', the healer had gone to the clinic, Josiah was at the church, giving his thanks for the outcome of their 'mission', Ezra was at his usual spot involved in a game , Buck, Vin, and Chris sat at a table sharing a bottle.

"Vin.. I just wanted to say, I'm sorry 'bout how I acted, before," Buck said quietly.

"No need, Buck," Vin smiled.

"I was fit to be tied, how can you say that?" Buck wondered, "If you'd done and said what I did to me, ain't so sure I'd forgive ya so quickly."

"You didn't say anythin that I already hadn't said to myself," Vin said, hanging his head a bit.

"I was still wrong."

"I would have done the same thing, Buck, if it was you."

"Here's to another thing JD's taught us," Chris said, raising his glass in a small toast.

"Why is it we try and teach him somethin' and we're always the ones that learn?" Buck asked.

"He's JD," Vin and Chris answered at the same time, neither one hiding the smile.