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Wade and Jesse raced down the trail to Doctor Paul Kinder's house. The boy was doing his best to keep up. Jesse had been down this dirt path so often that he felt he could've done it blind. But today, it seemed to take so much longer. His breath was as rough as his strides were as he moved. Dylan's condition as he staggered into the house with Skye's help kept running through his mind.

Jesse wiped the tears that flooded eyes. Stupid, stupid. Cryin' never helped anything. I'm sure mom would find some reason it did though. Dylan just can't... He abruptly halted his thoughts.

Seeing Dylan like that had shocked Jesse. He still felt cold and numb. It was unthinkable to him that Dylan had been taken down like that. Dylan was a rock. Solid, strong. Always there whenever Jesse needed him.

Not like Frankie, his dad. He'd seen that man feeble, falling down drunk countless times. Dylan was more than that, better than that.

But, Jesse thought, Dylan didn't try to take over anyone's place. Didn't try to say he was his dad, even though he was better to him than Frankie ever had been. Jesse wondered when exactly that had happened.

With Skye, he could point to one day. He could say this it the day she rescued me, this is the day she became my mother and this is the day I realized it and called her mom. But he couldn't do that with Dylan.

Dylan had kinda snuck up on him. He was a friend, teaching him, helping him. Then he was more. One day, Dylan had proudly patted his back after Jesse had brought down a rabbit. The way the man had looked at him was like a dad who was proud of his son. Jesse had never felt that before, but he'd seen it. His friends had dads that were proud of them.

Now Jesse had someone proud of him. They didn't talk about it. They didn't need to. A pat on the back, a head nod, and a smile. It was enough. They were so much alike, they understood each other.

A tear trickled down Jesse's cheek. This wasn't fair, his life had just gotten good.

Wade raced ahead of him. Every so often, over his shoulder, he would reassure Jesse that everything was okay. But Jesse had seen Wade's face, could see it now as Wade threw another look back at him. He wasn't fooling Jesse.

Wade ran as fast as he could. He was impressed the boy could keep up, though he could tell Jesse was tiring. But he couldn't slow. His heartbeat felt like a high, solid line from exertion and fear. He couldn't begin to imagine life without Dylan. He wouldn't do it.

The tendons in Wade's neck stood out, he gasped for breath. The shakiness in his limbs had him guessing every step. But he could now see the light from the docs house. They were almost there.

Barreling down the end of the trail, Wade and Jesse startled Aaron who stood watch. Dark skin in the dim light, along with Wade's shortsighted concern, had made him invisible to them.

Aaron lifted, then lowered, the rifle he'd had aimed at them. "Wade?"

"It's Dylan. He's been shot. We need the doc!"

Aaron nodded as he rushed along with them the last few steps.

Wade pounded on the door. The three paced across the empty part of the front porch causing the boards to creak. Wade pounded again just as the door opened. The earthy smell of baked potatoes along with the lighter one of grilled fish wafted through the screen.

One look at Wade and Jesse's face told Paul all he needed to know. Someone was in trouble. He grabbed his first aid pack and slid on his shoes. "What is it?"

"Dylan. Shot," Wade said.


Wade indicated on his own body.

Paul stopped himself from wincing and nodded once. Bre had come up behind him. "Bre honey, get the surgery ready. If I can, I'll bring him back here."

Paul stepped out onto the porch. "I'll take the shortcut back with Wade and Jesse. Aaron, can you or your brother bring the ambulance around on the road?"

"Sure thing, Doc," Aaron said.

"Can ya take the boy with ya, Aaron?" Wade asked, worried Jesse wouldn't make it back down the trail.

"No!" Jesse said, "I ain't doing that." When Wade started to order him, he stood firm. "I ain't, and you can't make me! If I get behind, just go. I'll catch up. I ain't a kid. I haven't been one for a long time now, so don't treat me like one."

Wade reckoned that truer words had never been spoken so he nodded and set off. The boy was more than capable of seeing to himself. He and Dylan had made sure of that.

Regardless of how Wade had thought Jesse would do, as they raced across the yard to the cabin, the boy was right there with them. As the three burst into the house, Wade saw Dylan, eyes closed and paler than Wade had ever seen him before. Skye sat in a chair by his side, one bloody hand still compressing the wound and the other holding a cold washcloth on his forehead. Her head rested on his shoulder.

Blood stained the blankets where Dylan laid and many areas of Dylan and Skye's clothes. Paul scanned the scene. The blood didn't bother him. Once the bleeding was stopped, with rest and liquids, a person would recover. When Skye raised her head, he asked, "Is the bleeding stopped?"

Her eyes tired, Skye nodded. "I think so."

"Okay. Good job. Looks like it was a bit of a battle."

"Yeah, you could say that," Dylan said as he woke and grimaced. His voice was weak. "She was practically standin' on me."

"Well, whatever it takes to keep you going," Paul said, picking up his stethoscope. As Paul started his exam, Skye stepped back allowing him room to work and giving them privacy for any questions that Dylan needed to answer. It hadn't escaped her notice that he was trying to keep the worst from her.

Everyone was quiet as he worked. Jesse made his way over to Skye and put an arm around her. She put one arm around him as she bit on her forefinger of her other hand.

After some mumbled conversation with Dylan, Paul turned to the rest of them. "Okay, here is what we are going to do. Aaron or Curt is bringing the ambulance. When that gets here, we are going to transfer Dylan to that and try to get him to the surgery. If the wound opens again on the way--well, the ambulance is a better place for that then here. Okay?"

There were some nods and mumbled okays. Skye and Jesse had tears in their eyes. Paul looked them all over. "I know this looks bad, and it's not a little thing, but we're going to take care of him. It seems like a lot of blood but it's really not that much. He'll be weak for a while, but he'll be okay."

A bit of tension went out of the room, though worry was still evident on everyone's face. Once the ambulance lights could be seen on the road below, hope lit their eyes.

The surgery went for hours but seemed like days to Skye. She replayed their last moments before Bre had shooed her out of the room. They hadn't said much besides repeating 'I love you' but she had curled up on his good side on that little bed and laid her head on his strong shoulder. Dylan had wrapped his arm around her and pulled her as tight as humanly possible to himself.

Her hands had gripped him as though she could infuse some of her own life force into him. Their eyes had locked and stayed, saying more than any words could. That is the way they had stayed until it'd been time to take him away.

Now she waited along with the others. A sniff or the clearing of throats the only sounds besides the scrape of a shoe on the floor as people fidgeted. Skye held onto Jesse until she knew he was well beyond his tolerance for affection. Now and then, he asked if she wanted anything to eat or to drink. Paul, Bre, and Kelsey were all in the surgery but had made sure everyone knew they could have whatever they needed. Skye drank a little water to appease Jesse but her stomach was too queasy to handle any food.

Finally, Kelsey came out. "Doc is finishing up. He got the bullet and fixed any damage. There was a little bit he said, but he feels pretty confident he took care of it. He'll be out when he's done." Then she sat down beside them.

The quiet room came to life. There was even a smile or two. It looked like the worse was over.

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