by Grey

Main Characters: J.D., Buck, all seven

Disclaimers: I don't own any of the characters, except for the ones I made up. This story is purely for entertainment purposes, and no copyright infringement is intended.

Notes: The character of Sam Williams was introduced in my story "Growing Pains", and the events in this story take place after that one. However, it is not necessary to read that story first.

Summary: H/C; J.D. is injured in a contest and is rather grumpy about it.

Size: Approx 110K

J.D. concentrated all his energy on not moving. Last time he had tried, he was pretty sure half the rock-face had crumbled away. He wasn't going to try that again. He might be hurt but he sure wasn't stupid.

He felt his face burn at the irony of that thought. Stupid. Well, not much, anyway. Although he was going to hate having to explain to the others how he had gotten himself into this one. That was, of course, assuming someone found him. He winced at the implied question. Any time now, he thought, his teeth gritted.

The day had started out well enough. Over the last month or so, J.D. had been showing Sam how to track. Sam Williams had moved to the area with his family a couple of months ago, and Sam and J.D. had become friends. J.D. was thrilled to have finally found someone greener than him to hang out with, and he got a kick out of showing Sam some of the things Vin and the others had taught him.

Early this afternoon, they had met in town, J.D.'s horse saddled and ready to go.

"Okay, so you gotta give me at least thirty minutes before you start," J.D. had said, hands on his hips.

"And you gotta wait at least an hour at wherever you're goin' to before you head back," Sam had responded.

J.D. had grinned. "Fine. I'll be sittin' on the porch right over there, waitin' on you when you finally decide to give up."

"I wouldn't start picturing that porch in your head just yet, J.D.," Sam had warned. "I'll betcha anything you want I'll find you near as soon as you stop."

J.D. had cocked his head at that. "Anything?" he asked, the hint of a smile tugging at his lips.


"How bout, you have to do whatever I tell you for two weeks if you can't find me?"

Sam had eyed him. "And if I do find you?"

J.D. had just rolled his eyes. "Ain't like we got to worry about that, Sam."

Sam had glared steadily at him. Finally J.D. had sighed. "All right, if you find me, I'll do whatever you say, okay?"

Sam had nodded, and J.D. mounted his horse. As he rode away, he heard Sam call out, "Enjoy your freedom now, J.D.!"

+ + + + + + +

J.D.'s eyes were closed as he concentrated. Good. Still not moving. Did eyelids count as movement? He wasn't sure, and wasn't sure he wanted to chance it. Well—maybe one eyelid. One little eyelid couldn't unlodge too many rocks, could it?

J.D. tested it out slowly. Very slowly. As the lid pushed open, he could see daylight, and then shapes, and then rocks. And dirt. And—was that?—yeah, that was his foot. What was his foot doing there?

J.D. concentrated again. Okay, his foot was there because he was lying on his side, head dangling over the edge, staring over at his foot which was doing the same. He'd gotten most of his body wedged onto the little ledge, before the edges of it had crumbled away, leaving him with body parts dangling.

He began to feel lightheaded, and realized he wasn't breathing. "Breathe, J.D.!" he commanded himself, and then did so. Very carefully. Okay, that was better. J.D. began to wish he had been a little more obvious with his tracks.


J.D. had ridden out of town toward the east, and then doubled back and headed west. He wove back and forth, not really trying to cover his tracks but not doing anything to make them stand out, either. He cut through a few creeks and over some rocky patches on purpose, just to give Sam a little bit of a challenge.

Truth be told, J.D. would have been okay with Sam finding him. Not that he really wanted to do Sam's bidding for two weeks, but he knew Sam was good-hearted and wouldn't ride him too badly—well, okay, no worse than J.D. was going to ride Sam, if he won. Truth was, J.D. had been getting kind of sick of being the only one knowing less than everyone else all the time. It'd been fun being on the other end of things with Sam.

Not that Sam was totally green; he'd grown up on a farm, and could ride and shoot near as well as J.D. But he'd never ridden with six gunslingers, or survived out in the wilderness, and he had pushed J.D. to teach him some of what he'd learned. Sam was just impressed enough to gratify J.D. into becoming a willing teacher.

Now J.D. wanted to know how good a teacher he really was. He headed toward a stand of trees about forty-five minutes west of town, then wove through them for a little ways. Finding the spot he was looking for, he sequestered his horse behind some thicker brush, tying her to a small sturdy tree, and then walked on foot up a nearly hidden trail. After climbing for a few minutes, the trees suddenly broke and J.D. smiled to find himself on top of the small rise he had come across one day. Neatly hidden behind the little patch of woods, the small clearing—an open ledge, more than anything else—gave way to a spectacular view down across the valley. J.D. settled in, his back against a tree, to wait the required hour before heading back to town.

+ + + + + + +

In town, Sam had spent his thirty minutes waiting impatiently, pacing back and forth in front of the livery. He walked back over to the porch in front of the jailhouse.

"Excuse me, Mr. Standish, but do you got the time?"

Ezra gave him a chilly glance. "Young man, as I examined my pocket- watch for you mere moments ago, ascertaining that the time had reached twenty past the hour, I would assume it is now one twenty- one."

Sam colored and ducked his head, then looked back up. "Are you sure? I mean, can you check? Seems like a bit longer's passed then just a minute."

Exhaling slowly, Ezra painstakingly reached into his inside pocket, withdrawing his pocket-watch. He very deliberately eased open the cover, and raised the watch up toward the light, examining it. He raised his eyebrows, and then glanced up at Sam. "Well, well, my sincere apologies, young Master Williams. It seems I was mistaken."

"Yeah—what time is it?" Sam asked, almost bouncing.

"It is now one twenty-two."

Sam deflated, nodding. "Oh. Well—thanks anyway."

He turned and headed back to the livery, pacing once again before the doors.

As Ezra returned his watch to his pocket, he heard a voice from the doorway behind him. "What was that all about?"

Without turning, Ezra responded, somewhat disdainfully, "Hide and seek."

"Hide and seek?" Vin asked, confused.

Ezra clarified. "It would seem our Mister Dunne has engaged in a—shall we say, a battle of wits with young Sam, who must use all of his newly acquired tracking skills to locate the hidden destination of Mister Dunne. Mister Williams is in the unfortunate position of a required delay of thirty minutes in his departure, while Mister Dunne makes his escape. As you can see, the delay is making Sam rather…impatient."

Vin nodded sympathetically. "Yeah, the waitin' always was the worst part of playin' hide-and-seek."

Ezra gave him a look, doing the closest he was willing to come to rolling his eyes, and then twitched his lips in a wicked smile. "I don't suppose you would care to wager on the outcome of their little contest?"

Vin just gave him a look, and then disappeared back into the jail.

Ezra sighed, and watched Sam pace in front of the livery. He found himself wondering how many minutes had passed since the last time he had checked his watch, and then immediately chastised himself for the ridiculous thought. It was too late, though—the moment the thought crossed his mind, he found himself with an almost irresistible desire to check his watch once more. He held out for as long as he could, finally pulling the watch out and flipping open the face. Checking the time, he felt a slight grin pull over his lips before he could stop it.

"Well?" Sam was standing next to him, his voice impatient.

Ezra stretched the moment as long as he could, looking at Sam impassively.

Sam rocked back on his feet. "C'mon, Mister Standish."

Ezra finally caved. "Well, young man, what are you waiting for?"

Sam looked blankly at him for a moment, then suddenly got it and grinned. "Well, it's about dang time!" He whooped and jumped on his horse, taking off madly toward the east where J.D. had first ridden.

+ + + + + + +

J.D. had been sitting on the small ledge, enjoying the view. He watched the shadows shift slightly, knowing that the hour allotted Sam had passed. He waited a little longer, wanting to give Sam the benefit of the doubt, and was slightly disappointed when he didn't show.

"Some teacher I am," he thought sourly. J.D. wondered what was keeping Sam. He knew he'd ridden across some places where he wouldn'tve left any tracks, but thought he had done a pretty good job showing Sam all that he'd learned about picking up a lost trail.

He stood carefully in the narrow clearing, wincing as he realized his foot had fallen asleep under him. He stomped on his foot, trying to get some feeling back before making his way down the winding trail to where he'd left his horse. As he stomped, he felt too late the gravel sliding under him. As he found himself losing balance, he shifted quickly, trying to throw his weight onto his other foot, and over-compensated, teetering toward the side. His sudden movement dislodged his hat from his head, and, feeling it fall, J.D. leaned back in the other direction once again, grabbing for his bowler. Just as he found himself regaining balance, simultaneously breathing a sigh of relief and cursing himself for being so stupid, the ground suddenly gave way under him.

+ + + + + + +

Sam stood next to his horse at the edge of the creek, a scowl on his face. He had easily picked up where J.D. had switched directions, and had followed the zig-zagging trail toward the woods west of town. He had been feeling pretty proud of himself, grinning as he pictured all the chores J.D. was gonna be doing for him over the next coupla weeks, when the trail suddenly stopped. Cold.

Sam said some words his Ma'd be unhappy with, and crossed back over the creek. He found once again where J.D. had entered, and then scanned across the way J.D.'d showed him, looking for the trail to start again. Nothing.

He crossed back over the creek bed, riding back and forth along the other side, searching for tracks. He was feeling just about ready to explode when he suddenly had a thought.

"Dang that J.D., he came back out again on the other side!" Sam said out loud, with a feeling akin to relief. He felt a renewed spark of energy at the thought that he might still pick up on J.D.'s trail and be saved from losing the bet.

Sam crossed back over to the side where J.D. had entered the creek, moving up and down now along the bank, searching for J.D.'s tracks. Nearly thirty minutes later, he had to admit that he'd completely lost the trail.

Sam sat on his horse for a moment, wiping the sweat off his forehead, his hat dangling off of his back. "Bet J.D.'s sitting on that porch right now, waiting to lord it over me," he muttered. Sighing, he turned his horse and began the ride back to town, trying to picture what J.D. might come up to torture him with over the next two weeks. "Least he don't live on a farm," Sam thought, brightening. Long as he didn't have two sets of livestock to tend to, whatever J.D. came up with couldn't be too bad, right?

+ + + + + + +

J.D. had managed to break his fall on a branch jutting out from a small ledge set against the rock wall. He clutched desperately onto it, just feeling his heart begin to settle a little when he heard an ominous cracking sound. Moving quicker than he realized he knew how to do, J.D. swung his feet upward and onto the ledge, hauling himself up onto it and safety just before the branch had cracked. J.D. lay on his side, breathing heavily and willing himself to calm down.

"C'mon, Dunne, pull yourself together," he commanded himself. He wasn't too successful until he realized that if he didn't figure out some way to get himself out of this, he was gonna have to wait to be found by the others. Which would be followed almost immediately, he was sure, by his explanation of how he had brilliantly managed to fall twenty feet down the side of a rock cliff because of a foot that fell asleep and a falling hat.

Deciding pretty quickly that this was one explanation he could live without ever having to give, J.D. had begun to shift into a sitting position when the ledge he was on started to crumble away. J.D. flung himself down again, wiggling his body back and wedging it as tightly as he could against the wall of rock. The top of his head hit sharply against a jutting stone, and J.D. jerked it forward before he could stop himself, setting more stones to crumbling. He froze, closed his eyes, and concentrated as hard as he could on not moving before blackness briefly overtook him.

+ + + + + + +

Sam rode slowly back to town, not eager to face J.D. in his victory. As he trotted his horse up the dusty street, he could see two of the men J.D. rode with sitting on the porch in front of the saloon, right where J.D. was supposed to be waiting for him. He noted with nervousness that, although one of them was Vin, who had taken Sam and J.D. riding a few times and who Sam liked, the other one was that Mister Larabee. Didn't matter that J.D. assured him that he really wasn't all that scary a guy, if you knew him, or that Sam's Pa even had a drink with him every now and then; he thought Chris Larabee was the most nerve-wracking man he had ever met.

Great. He bet J.D. had already had a good laugh with them about the contest. Speaking of which—where was J.D., anyway?

Sam eyed the porch J.D.'d said he'd be waiting on. 'Bad enough I couldn't find him out there, now he's gonna make me go lookin' for him here, too?' he thought sourly. He dismounted and tied his horse to a post, walking slowly over to the men. He was relieved as he saw Buck exit the saloon and sit at the table; despite his bluster, Buck wasn't nearly as scary as some of the others.

"Hi, Buck," Sam said, stopping hesitantly. "You seen J.D.?"

Buck shook his head. "Ain't seen him since early this afternoon." He paused, and gave Sam a sudden look. "Hey—wasn't he goin' ridin' with you?"

Sam flushed. "Well—we didn't exactly go out together. We were havin' a contest." He gave a quick sideways glance toward the black- clothed gunslinger and flushed. "Guess I lost."

Buck was looking confused. "Whatta ya mean, you lost?"

Sam was turning red with embarrassment. Damn that J.D.—bad enough he had to lose, without the whole town knowing about it. Sam's explanation was clipped. "Had an hour to find him after I left. We were s'pposed to meet back here in town iffen I couldn't find'im." Sam jerked his chin toward the porch with a little grimace. "He was supposed to be waitin' here for me," he said a little disgustedly.

Buck smiled. "Now don't you fret, Sam. I'm sure J.D.'ll be along any moment now."

Sam shrugged. "Guess I'll go have a look around town," he said grumpily.

Sam checked every place he could think of, feeling a little nervous when he had no luck. No one had seen J.D. since he rode off. Sam finally settled down on the steps in front of the jail to wait. He sat for a little while, but his worry over J.D. was increasing. They'd both been real clear on the rules. Sam knew J.D. should've been back by now, if only to claim victory to the bet. Besides, it was getting on near chore-time, and J.D.'d know that Sam had to head back to his farm soon or his Pa'd be fit to bust.

Sam glanced nervously back over toward the saloon. The three men were still sitting there, and now a fourth, the preacher, had joined them. The preacher was a pretty big guy, but Sam had spent enough time with J.D. to learn that Josiah was really pretty gentle. No, the only one of the men that really made him nervous was Mister Larabee. He checked the group again, and was disappointed to see that Mister Larabee wasn't showing any signs of moving.

Sam steeled himself and walked back over toward the group. He stood there for a moment, not wanting to interrupt, but finally impatient.


Buck stopped in the middle of one of his stories, and all four men turned to look at Sam. "What's the matter, son, you didn't find him yet?"

Sam shook his head.

Buck looked at the others, then back to Sam. "What were you two doing?"

Sam's words tumbled over themselves. "Well, he was leavin' a trail for me to follow, and I was s'posed to wait thirty minutes, and then I did and went after him, and he was s'posed to wait for me wherever he'd got to for at least an hour, and wasn't s'posed to go more'n an hour's ride away, and I was pretty sure I had him too, but then I lost his damn tracks—darn tracks," Sam quickly corrected, seeing the look the preacher gave him, "over by the creek bed."

Buck had followed the explanation carefully. "Maybe he's still out hiding."

Sam shook his head vehemently. "Nope—no way he'd miss his chance to beat me back. We had a bet."

"What'd you bet?" Buck asked, curious.

Sam flushed, looking slightly aggrieved. "Well—if I didn't find'im before he got back, I hafta do whatever he says for two weeks."

Josiah stifled his smile, but Buck was looking worried now. He turned to Chris. "I don't like it, pard. Maybe I should go out and take a look."

Vin spoke up. "Where'd you say you lost his trail, Sam?"

"Over by the creek bed—just inside the second set of woods across from the meadow west of town." Sam described the area where he'd lost J.D's tracks, and Vin nodded.

"I know where you mean." He looked at Buck. "Guess I could use a ride, myself—I'll ride out with you, take a look."

"I could show you, if you wanted," Sam offered. He paused, adding, "Guess I'm already late enough for chores, a little more don't matter much."

Chris spoke up now. "You go on home, Sam—Buck and Vin'll look for J.D."

Sam shook his head vehemently. "But Mister Larabee—what if somethin' happened? I can't just…"

Chris cut him off. "Sam—go on home." His tone didn't allow any argument, and Sam hung his head, defeated.

"Yes, sir," he mumbled.

"Don't worry, son," Josiah rumbled. "I'm sure J.D. is just fine—he'll ride out to your place and let you know himself tomorrow."

Sam nodded, then walked back to his horse, mounted, and rode away. As he left, the men turned to each other, the worry they had masked from Sam now showing. Buck was already standing, heading toward the livery, Vin only a few steps behind him.

+ + + + + + +

J.D.'s mind slowly started to clear. Something he was supposed to remember. What was it? Something about…moving! That's what it was. No moving. Concentrate on not moving.

J.D. concentrated all his energy on not moving. Last time he had tried, he was pretty sure half the rock-face had crumbled away. He wasn't going to try that again. He might be hurt but he sure wasn't stupid.

He felt his face burn at the irony of that thought. Stupid. Well, not much, anyway. Although he was going to hate having to explain to the others how he had gotten himself into this one. That was, of course, assuming someone found him. He winced at the implied question. Any time now, he thought, his teeth gritted.

J.D. waited for a few moments, but didn't hear any signs of rescue.

Not wanting to move, but wanting to do something useful, J.D. mentally checked himself for injuries. His head was pounding fiercely, and J.D. thought he might've passed out for a little bit. Nathan never seemed to like that, but J.D. was pretty sure it hadn't been for more than a few minutes, so that couldn't be too big of a deal.

His shoulder felt scraped raw, but didn't hurt enough to be broken. Not nearly enough to explain the throbbing he felt pulsing up him.

He let his mind wander farther down, and couldn't stop the moan as his awareness of his broken ankle and the pain of it hit him at the same time.

+ + + + + + +

Vin and Buck pulled their horses to an abrupt stop at the side of the creek bed, wincing simultaneously as they took in the scene.

"Shoot," Buck said simply, eying the gouges Sam's horse had made all over both banks, as he had diligently searched for J.D.'s tracks.

"Yup," Vin agreed, dismounting and trying to find J.D.'s trail in the mess.

Buck waited silently, as patiently as he could.

Vin walked slowly along the western bank in widening half circles. He crouched every now and then, but each time stood up shaking his head.

Buck was waiting less patiently now.

"Find anything?" he called over.

"Not yet," Vin growled back.

Buck nodded and sat back down. He lasted about ten seconds before he stood and began to pace. Vin continued to methodically work his way through the tracks. He crouched again, looking, and then stood once more, hissing in frustration.

Buck continued to pace.

+ + + + + + +

"Gotta get a grip," J.D. told himself sternly, trying to breathe through the pain. He felt like twin hammers were hitting him, one from each end, his head and ankle throbbing mercilessly.

He focused on his breathing now, Buck's voice echoing in his head so strongly that J.D. wondered for a confused moment if he was really there. 'Just let it go, boy, send it away. Let it pass through you.'

J.D. thought sourly for a moment that it was an easy enough thing to say when it wasn't you being hit with two hammers at once, but felt oddly comforted, just the same.

"Buck?" he whimpered softly, then louder. "Buck? Buck! Anyone! I'm down here!" His voice trailed away as no one answered. "I'm down here," he repeated.

+ + + + + + +

Buck had used up his portion of patience. It wasn't a big portion.

He strode over to the edge of the creek, watching Vin move back and forth on the other side for what had to be the hundredth time.

"Ain't you got anything yet?" he demanded.

Vin shot him a look that would rival one of Chris's, but said nothing.

"C'mon," Buck snapped. "How hard can it be to find one kid's trail?"

Vin was running out of patience himself. "Might help if you took a look yourself, 'stead of pacing your own trail in that bank," he tossed back.

"I ain't supposed to be the tracker," Buck bit out.

Vin glared at him across the creek, Buck glaring back, until finally Buck sighed and lowered his gaze, running his fingers through his hair.

"I'm sorry, pard—it's just that…" his voice trailed off.

Vin's eyes changed almost instantly. "I know, Bucklin. Just hold on—we'll find'im." His eyes were determined as he turned back to the muddy, trod-over ground.

+ + + + + + +

J.D. was hoarse from shouting. His head and his eyesight had finally cleared enough for him to realize that he was—literally—stuck between a rock and a hard place. He couldn't move too much or the ledge would crumble. Only problem was, that didn't leave much for him to do except shout. And hope that somebody heard him.

J.D. felt that familiar helpless feeling sinking into him, pulsing along with the pain.

'Waitin' to be rescued. Again,' he thought disgustedly, fighting—unsuccessfully—the heat in his eyes. If only he could move…then he could get himself out of here. If only…he felt the darkness creeping up, and fought it. If only he didn't feel so dang tired. If only…

+ + + + + + +

Vin's circles had taken him almost to the treeline, when he stopped, crouching down and studying something in the grass. He looked down, then across toward some trees. He stood, brushing his hands off, and turned to look across at Buck. "Got'im," he said, mounting his horse.

Buck rose and followed.

The two men rode silently through the woods, Buck trying to push away the thoughts crowding his brain. The thoughts that translated into the five hundred separate ways that only J.D. could manage to find trouble, going on a simple ride on a summer afternoon. Damn kid—if he found him and he was okay—no, that wasn't right. When he found him, when he knew he was okay, he was going to kill him. No two ways about it.

Vin led the way up a winding path through the woods. "Trail's pretty easy to follow, here," he remarked.

Buck nodded silently, following on behind.

As they came to the top of the rise, Vin paused.

"Looks like he headed on back through those trees, there. Easier to follow on foot."

Both men dismounted. They had just started to tie their horses to a tree when they heard the unmistakable sound of a horse's whinny. They looked at each other, and then Buck rushed toward the sound, Vin following behind. Within moments, Buck found J.D.'s aggrieved- looking horse, chewing on the bark of a tree and looking put out. She whinnied again, stamping her foot, as the men broke through the brush.

Buck rushed over, checking the horse and her surroundings frantically. Far as he could tell, there were no signs of struggle.

"J.D.," he bellowed, turning in a circle. "J.D.!"

Vin had followed, his trained eye quickly taking in the scene, and now he laid his hand on Buck's arm.

"Looks like he went on on foot," he said quietly, pointing down to some prints in the dirt. Without waiting for a response, Vin turned and followed the prints up through the trees, Buck following anxiously behind, yelling J.D.'s name. He lost his breath as the trees suddenly ended, both men stopping short as they hit the narrow clearing which ended in the cliff overlooking the valley. They could both see the signs of disarray in the gravel at the edge of the cliff, and Buck felt his heart stop.

"J.D.!" he yelled, panicked. "J.D.!"

The silence that followed was the most ominous thing Buck'd ever heard.

Vin had moved carefully to the edge of the clearing, lowering himself onto his stomach and looking down. He felt almost lightheaded with relief as he saw J.D.'s still form lying not twenty feet below them, on a small ledge, and then almost immediately shifted to panic-stricken as he took in the stillness, finally returning to some semblance of calm as he realized J.D. must've been conscious enough to get himself onto the ledge in the first place.

"Buck," he said softly, turning his head up. Buck ignored him, continuing to bellow J.D's name. "Buck!" he said louder, and the big man finally stopped.

"Wha—you see something? Whatta ya see, Vin?" Buck's eyes were begging.

"Down there—on that ledge," Vin said simply.

Buck lowered himself down quicker than he should've been able to, moving toward the edge and peering down. Relief and panic washed over him in rippling, simultaneous waves. "J.D.!" he shouted, waiting for the answer. 'C'mon kid,' he thought helplessly.

+ + + + + + +

J.D. slowly shifted out of the blackness once again. He could've sworn he heard something, someone shouting his name.

'Bout time Sam found me,' he thought to himself. Except—well, Sam didn't usually sound that put out. J.D. concentrated, trying to decipher the sounds.

Concentrating—something he was supposed to be concentrating on. Oh yeah—not moving, that was it. J.D. focused on the darkness swirling around him, keeping himself still in the middle of it. Would've been a lot easier without those noises, slamming at his throbbing head.

'C'mon, Buck, gimme a break,' J.D. thought angrily, seconds before the thought actually clicked in his brain.


"Buck," J.D. whispered, trying desperately to open his eyes. "Buck!"

Up above, Buck was pretty sure he'd never heard anything sound so good. "J.D.! You all right, kid?"

'Yeah, course I'm all right', J.D. thought sourly. 'Never better.' But he couldn't keep an edge to the thought.

"Buck?" he called again, trying to concentrate.

The voice came again. "Yeah, kid, it's me. Just hold on."

J.D. held onto the words, his eyes finally focusing again. Shapes—rocks, dirt, and—yeah, his foot was still there, dangling over the edge. But where was Buck?

"Buck?" he shouted, his voice panicked now. "Buck!"

Buck's voice tumbled down now, a soothing litany. "It's okay, kid, we're gonna get you outta there. You just hold on, now—me'n Vin are gonna get you outta there. You just hold still now."

Holding still—yeah, J.D.'d gotten that one down pretty well. He didn't reply, just closed his eyes again.

Up in the clearing, Buck and Vin conferred quickly, and then Vin went back to the horses, returning with a length of rope. Tying one end to the trunk of a tree, Vin moved back to the edge of the cliff.

"Kid?" he called down.

J.D. made a noise that could be taken as a sign of acknowledgement. Vin continued. "Kid, I'm gonna throw a rope down. You think you can grab hold of it?"

J.D. thought of moving, and felt a wave of dark panic hit him. He concentrated on his breathing again.

"Kid?" Vin's voice was concerned now.

"Yeah," J.D. finally called back. "Yeah, I think I can grab it."

Even as he said the words, he saw a length of rope tumble past him. Carefully easing his arm out from under him, J.D. inched his hand forward and finally grabbed at the thick rope, his breathing now choppy.

"All right, J.D.," he heard Buck exhale above him.

"Okay, kid, now I want you to try and wrap it around you. Can you do that, J.D.?"

J.D. tried. He was really pretty sure that he tried. But it was one thing to move his hand to grab the rope—it was another thing entirely to move the rest of his body. The thought almost made him pass out.

Up on the ledge, Buck and Vin watched J.D.'s hand grip the rope, pulling it in and then freezing. They looked at each other worriedly, then back at J.D.

"C'mon, J.D., just pull that rope in and wrap it around you," Buck encouraged, his voice cracking only slightly.

J.D. made no response, but both men could see the rope trembling.

Vin looked at Buck. "Gonna hafta go down after him," he stated.

Buck eyes darted down the side of the cliff, then over at Vin, then back down the cliff. "Got more rope on my horse."

Vin left once again, heading back to the horses, and Buck leaned over the edge, his voice rough. "All right, kid—you just hold on, J.D. We're gonna have you outta there in no time, I promise. You just hang on, kid."

It seemed to Buck like forever, but probably wasn't more than a few minutes, before Vin had returned and secured the second rope around a tree on one end and his own waist on the other. Buck wrapped the slack around his own waist and then braced himself, providing support and feeding out rope as Vin carefully lowered himself over the side of the cliff, leaning back against the rope's hold as he walked himself down the cliff face to where J.D. lay. He took in the blood trickling down J.D.'s forehead and the look of utter panic on his face.

"Okay, kid, you're gonna hafta help me out here." Vin's voice was low, but firm. J.D. tried opening his eyes again.

"Vin?" His voice was hesitant, then stronger as the tracker came into focus.

Vin wedged his feet against the rocks, letting go of the rope tied around his waist. "J.D., I'm gonna grab hold of you. When I do, I need you to grab hold around my neck so I can pull you out."

J.D.'s eyes looked black, and he shook his head slightly.

"I…I can't, Vin. I can't move." J.D. wasn't sure why, but there was one thing he knew and that was that moving wasn't okay. He shut his eyes to close out the fear.

Vin's voice was steady, as he placed his hand firmly around J.D.'s wrist. "Yeah, you can, J.D. I ain't gonna let you fall."

"No, Vin, I can't," J.D. was panicky now. He tried to pull away, and felt rocks crumbling around him.

"Goddammit, J.D.!" Vin's voice was harsh, his hand grasped tightly around J.D.'s wrist. "You open your eyes, and you grab hold of my neck, now!"

J.D.'s eyes instinctively flew open, and he reached out his arm and grabbed. Scared was one thing, but Vin didn't get harsh that often, and J.D. knew better than to argue when he did. As he reached his arm out, locking it around the tracker's neck, he could feel strong arms pulling him forward off of the ledge and then clamping around his waist.

"All right, kid," the voice was softer now, before it became louder again. "Buck! Pull us up!"

J.D. thought he was going to pass out as the rope began to pull, Vin using his legs to help propel the two up the side of the cliff, his arms trying to keep J.D. from banging into the rocks. The twin pains slamming into J.D. felt like they were going to shred him in two before they finally cleared the top, where Buck frantically reached down and grasped J.D. under the arms, pulling him the rest of the way, Vin reaching top moments behind him. J.D.'s ankle slammed against the ground as Buck pulled him over the top, and J.D. screamed just before he passed out.


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