Death’s Shadow
   By: Margarett Cassidy
 

Rating: PG 13 for language
Summary: The boys are in the middle of winter and in the midst of danger. What
else is new. Owies and hurt and comfort abound.
Author’s notes: This is just a little snippet to cure some writer’s block, brought on
by zero degree temperatures and snow and more snow! This by far is not one of
our best works, so please don’t judge it as that. We just needed some fic, and
thought you'd be feeling the same way.

Plus, a couple of people had begun to wonder if we may have run off with
some of Santa’s elves or went away with the old year of 98. Nope, we’re here.
Just recovering...... We haven’t forgotten about our other works in progress, Judy.
;-)

Disclaimer: You know the routine. We don’t own them. We’re not expecting
profit. CBS gets it all.

PS:  this has no real plot nor does it connect to any of our other stories. We just
needed smarm! BTW, neither of us know what the hell we were saying using the
Indian dialect in the story, please don’t bother to translate. As always feedback
welcome, but not necessary. We did this one just to amuse ourselves. Also, beta-
what beta.
 

****************************************************
 

J.D. gasped as he squeezed his small frame against the huge frost covered tree.
The frozen bark was still cold to touch, even to his bundled body. He figured
he’d been running full out for at least ten minutes  now, trying to avoid the
attack he knew would be awaiting him.

Most of his muscles ached and his lungs burned from inhaling the frigid air. He
swallowed hard and tried to control his rapid heart but still his breath came in
short pants,sending small white clouds of condensation into the growing
darkness. The young sheriff ran a gloved hand through his now sweat-soaked
hair and chewed his bottom lip nervously.  Should he risk leaving cover to get a
look? What if they were still out there?

With a resigned sigh the sheriff made up his mind and cautiously moved from
behind the large redwood.  At first the stillness seemed a good sign. Nothing
stirred along the tree line and the only sound, came from the softly falling snow.
That is, if snow could make a sound, anyway.

J.D. was just about to head for the more proficient cover of a larger stand of
pines, when he felt the familiar searing sting to the side of his face.  With a
strangled cry, he tried to dodge the next incoming projectile, but his efforts
proved futile as a barrage assaulted him from behind also.

“Gotcha!” Buck Wilmington yelled from across the clearing. “Right in the old
kisser.”

J.D. heard his older friend laugh and looked up  from his position now on his
hands and knees in the ever deepening snow, sure of the gloating sneer he
would find plastered on his assailant’s face.

Instead, what he saw was one Vin Tanner creeping out of the brush behind
Buck,  both hands full of hefty snowballs and a mischevious grin plastered on his
face.However, J.D.’s hopes for revenge were short lived as a deep, serious voice
sounded from behind him.

“Drop ‘em, Cowboy. Or your partner here gets it.”

Chris!  J.D. looked up to see the black-clad gunslinger hovering over him with his
own arsenal of the frosty stuff.

Wilmington whirled around and raised his hands in surrender when he caught
sight of the bounty hunter who had gotten the drop on him. Sometimes the
tracker was so damn quiet , it was spooky.

“So what’s it going to be,” Larabee called out, trying to sound his usual gruff self,
but failing miserably.  “Drop your weapons or the kid becomes a snowman.”

Tanner stopped his stealthy stalk towards Wilmington and seemed to consider
the threat.

J.D. swallowed hard and looked up at Chris before turning back towards where
Vin and Buck still stood frozen. The kid barely contained the giggle that tried to
escape as he thought how similar this very scene seemed to one he’d once
read in a novel. Of course, the bad guys had been holding guns, not snowballs,
but still the similarity was ironic. So, with all the mock heroism he could muster,
J.D. Dunne did what any self-sacrificing  dime-store martyr would have.

“Let him have it , Vin!” he yelled before rolling out of the line of fire.

The tracker’s face lit up instantly and not only did he nail Buck dead on with an
icy bullet, but landed a blow square in the chest of the great Chris Larabee.

J.D. was laughing so hard he didn’t even notice that now all three men were
standing around him, as he lay on his back in a drift of the white stuff.

“Bury him?” Buck asked, with a devlish grin.

Chris looked from Vin to his old friend and then down at the kid , who now only
giggled sporadically. “Bury him,” he affirmed.

“Hey!” J.D. protested as the two older men started packing snow on top of him.
“Vin! Aren’t you suppose to help out here?”

The tracker, who had been motionless until now, shrugged his shoulders, “If you
insist kid.”  But instead of defending his friend against the assault, Tanner joined in
on the fun. He held the sheriff’s feet while Buck bundled the icy mixture around
them.

“Traitor!” the teen yelled before getting a mouth full of snow, as Chris attempted
to bury his arms.

“This from the culprit who intentionally, ‘by accident’, soaked my socks in water
and left them outside to freeze last night?” Vin queried, with a twinkle in his eyes.

“That was Buck’s idea,” the sheriff declared, defeatedly.

Wilmington laughed and added another load to J.D.’s chest, “Tattle-tale.”

“That’s O’kay, kid,” Vin smiled slapping some snow of his own onto the sheriff’s
tomb. “This was his idea, too.”

“Chris!” J.D. practically whined. “I’m freezing.”

Larabee stopped his frenzied piling and looked down at the pleading hazel
eyes. “Hey, I told you this game wasn’t a good idea. But you wouldn’t listen to
me. I even had to hear that speech about you being able to take care of
yourself for the hundredth time, again. Remember?”

J.D. sighed, trying to control his now chattering teeth. “I promise to cook
supper?”

“Never threaten a man who hold’s your life in his hands, kid.” Chris smiled
wickedly. “That’s right up there with no shooting people in the back.”

Buck and Vin laughed at the pathetic look that crossed their young friend’s
face. “Maybe he could just feed and water the horses and clean up the cabin
for the next couple of days?” Wilmington offered. “That should teach him not to
mess with us old pros.”

“I’ll do it,” J.D. chimed in before Chris could. “I’ll even fetch the firewood.”

Larabee seemed to consider the proposal for a moment, “On one condition?”

“Anything!” the sheriff proclaimed.

A small smile tugged at the gunslinger’s mouth, “You forget you ever heard that
stupid dog joke.”

“What joke? “ J.D. stuttered.  Chris nodded and Buck and Vin exchanged grins
before reaching down through the snow to find the kid’s hands to haul him up.

Larabee joined in too and it took all three of them to pull the kid from under the
huge pile they had constructed.

“I wish I would have picked Josiah as my partner,” the sheriff scoffed, throwing
Vin a pitiful look as he shuffled past him.

“Me too,” Buck agreed. “He’d never have sneaked up on me like that.”

The tracker exchanged a knowing smile with Chris before catching up with J.D.
and throwing an arm around the younger man’s shoulders, “Come on, kid. Let’s
get you home before you freeze.”

“As if you care now?” J.D. accused, but couldn’t keep from sounding
light-hearted. Today had been just what he needed. What they all needed.

“I care,” Vin admonished, then leaned closer to his friend. “I’ll even help you
with the firewood.”

“And the horses?” J.D. raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t push it,” Vin playfully shoved his friend on ahead of him. “You did freeze
my socks, after all.”

**********************************************

“That was most definitely one of your more interesting concoctions, Mr.
Jackson,” Ezra Standish observed, dabbing at the corner of his mouth before
depositing his napkin on the plate in front of him.

“Don’t even start with me, Ezra.”Nathan spoke up from his perch near the
fireplace. “It wasn’t my fault the hunting expedition turned into a snowball war.”

Buck bit back a grin as he noticed the blush creeping across Chris Larabee’s
face.

“A man can not live on bread alone, Brother Nate,” Josiah decided to add his
usual wisdom to the moment. “Play is food for the soul.”

“Well, it seems that some of us should be rather full by now,” the gambler noted,
casting a wry glance in J.D. and Buck’s direction. “Since play is all some have
accomplished on this little excursion.”

“That’s why it’s called a vacation,” Wilmington defended. “We came up here to
get away from all the rigors of our everyday life.”

“Rigors?” J.D. laughed. “You have been spending way too much time cooped
up with Ezra.”

“Don’t you have some chores to do?” Buck growled. “Or do you prefer to sleep
outside tonight?”

“Take it easy,” J.D. stood up and held his hands in the air. “I’m going.”

Vin also stood up and nonchallantly made his way towards the mantle where
he’d left their coats hanging to dry. “I could use some air,” he said handing J.D.
his jacket before pulling on his own duster.

“Don’t forget the firewood,” Chris smiled at the two men as they passed him,
heading for the door. He knew the bounty hunter couldn’t let the kid suffer
alone.

Vin merely nodded and stepped out into the frigid night air. “Do you think we
could manage to get ‘his’ socks tonight?” he quipped once the door closed
behind then.

J.D. laughed, “Maybe.”

*********************************

It hadn’t taken the two very long to bed the horses down and head out towards
the woodshed. Of course, they were driven by the bitter wind that had picked
up and the light snow that had started falling again.

“I can’t believe it’s snowin’ again,” J.D. commented as he bent to retrieve the
first slats of kindling.

“It’s been a hard winter already,” the bounty hunter squinted up into the
blackened sky. “ And I don’t think Mother Nature’s done with us yet.”

The sheriff had nearly filled his arms when he looked back up at Vin.  “It was nice
of old Casseopaya to let us borrow this cabin for the week. Who would have
thought she owned places all over these parts.”

Vin remained still, something drawing his attention towards the woods behind
them.  J.D. was use to his friend’s  sudden silence, so he continued to rattle on.
“Yep, I think Casse has taken quite a shine to Buck. She even named her new
pup after him.”

“She named him Buck?” the tracker finally spoke, but continued to watch the
outlying grove of trees.

J.D. laughed . “No. She named it something I’d rather not say at the moment.
But I’m sure you remember the few choice words she had for Buck when he
stole those apples from her orchard.”

“F**k!” Vin whispered, harshly.

J.D. looked up, “That was one of them.”  He started to smile but changed his
mind when he saw the stricken look on the other man’s face. “Vin?”

“J.D., I want you to slowly stand up and start walking to the cabin.” The tracker
kept his voice low and even.

“Why? What’s goin’ on?” the kid didn’t make a move.

Vin’s eyes narrowed and he chanced a glance in the sheriff’s direction. “Just do
it. Now!”

The younger man wasn’t use to the gruff quality of his friend’s voice, so he
thought it best to do as he said. Laying the wood back on the ground, the teen
pushed himself up and took one step towards the cabin. That’s when he heard
it.

A low growl erupted from the darkness beside him about the same time as Vin
shouted. “Run!”

J.D. stopped only for a second, long enough to see the set of glowing gold eyes
watching him, before taking off for the long dash to refuge.  Unfortunately, it was
a second too long and he was no match for his pursuer.  He was sure he saw a
streak of silver before the massive beast plowed into him with a force he had not
thought possible.

“J.D!” Vin shouted, realizing his mistake. There was two of them.

The sheriff felt a sharp pain in his leg and kicked out at the creature now on top
of him. His blow found it’s mark but only seemed to infuriate the animal that now
lunged for his throat. J.D. lifted his arm to protect his face and felt teeth sink into
the tender flesh of his shoulder. He screamed in agony and tried to roll away.
His attacker was not deterred and the kid was sure his limb was going to
be torn from it’s socket when he heard a loud yelp.

Vin stood above him wielding a large stick of wood, which he swung with brute
force again at the mass of fur which had now released the kid.  J.D. watched
the blow connect and heard the breaking of bone just as another blur bolted
from behind the shed, catching Vin high in the back.

“Run, J.D! Run!” the tracker yelled as he struggled with the biggest black wolf
J.D. had ever seen.

The kid was torn. He didn’t want to abandon Vin but he didn’t have his gun.
Neither of them had brought their weapons. So, with a resolve born of fear and
adrenaline , the kid pushed himself up and took off towards the cabin.

He squeezed his eyes shut against the pain shooting up his protesting leg, and
quickened his step when he heard the vicious growls and snarls from the
struggle behind him.

“Buck!” he started yelling as soon as he was in hearing range of the cabin.
“Chris! Help!!”

*********************
Buck tossed his hand of cards on the table and shot Ezra an evil glare. “I swear
you cheated.”

The gambler placed a hand on his chest and looked taken aback, “Me? Cheat
you?”

“You’d cheat yourself in a game of solitaire, Ezra.” Wilmington growled.

The other man started to reply when Chris suddenly pushed away from the
table, where they’d all been engrossed in the fair game of chance, and stood
up looking towards the door.

“What is it, Chris?” Nathan Jackson asked, not liking the sudden pale palor of his
friend.

Larabee held up his hand and tilted his head slightly. He couldn’t explain what
had just happened, but a terrible feeling of dread had seemed to seep through
his skin and embed it’s claws into his heart.  He felt an odd sensation of danger
and then overwhelming fear as his mind screamed for him to move. He had
taken one step towards the door when they all heard J.D.’s call.

“Buck!!”

Wilmington was on his feet in a second and on Chris’s heels as they drew their
weapons and started for the front of the cabin.

J.D. practically crashed into Buck who was first to make it outside once Chris
flung open the door.

“Shit!” the gunslinger  swore as the kid’s leg gave out and both of them went to
the ground. “J.D.?”

“Wolf!” the sheriff said loudly, gasping in lungfulls of air. Hazel eyes sought out
Buck and then Chris who was leaning over the two in concern. “It has Vin,” he
managed to get out between clenched teeth.

Larabee didn’t need to hear anything else as he took off in the direction from
which J.D. had come, Ezra and Josiah right behind him.

The three had only gone a few feet in the whipping snow, when they heard the
struggle.

“Damn it!” Chris swore and started running faster.  The gunslinger stopped in his
tracks when he saw the scene a mere foot or so in front of him.  His bestfriend
was putting up one hell of a fight against a large black wolf; but it was painfully
obvious who was winning.

He heard the click of a gun beside him and turned to see Ezra aiming his
derringer at the animal. “No!” he shouted over the roar of the wind. “You could
hit Vin.”

The gambler looked stricken but lowered his weapon. In an instant, Chris raised
his own gun and fired six deafening shots into the heavens above them.

The great beast released it’s enemy on the final shot but still stood hovered just
above the trackers chest. It’s firy, luminescent eyes raised to meet Chris’s and it
bared it’s teeth, revealing long blood covered fangs.  Larabee held the stare
but nearly jumped when more shots echoed in the night.

On Josiah’s third round the animal gave a defeated growl and turned to leap
back into the darkness. Ezra tried to draw a bead on the creature but the
moonless night and the quickness of his quarry left him no shot.  Still, he stood
ready, watching the surrounding woods as Chris and Josiah made their way to
the too still form of their fallen partner.

*******************************

“Buck,” J.D. gasped as Nathan tore away what was left of the sheriff’s shreaded
pants leg so he could inspect the badly bleeding wound.

“Take it easy, kid,” the older man was having a hard time holding his friend
down, without hurting his wounded shoulder further.

“I didn’t even see it, Buck. Vin tried to warn me, but it was too fast,” the boy was
rambling and it was obvious he was in shock.
 
Nathan made his way around to the other side of the sheriff. “Just relax, J.D.,
we’re going to get you fixed up good as new.” The healer looked at Buck. “Can
you get him inside?”

Wilmington started to nod when they heard the gunfire.  J.D jumped and Buck
instinctively bent over him to protect him from whatever dangers the darkness
held.

“Vin?” J.D.’s eyes were wide with fear and pain as he pushed against the arms
restraining him and struggled to sit up.

“Easy,” Buck breathed, taking the oppurtunity to slip a hand around his friends
shoulder and another under his legs. With some effort he was able to lift  J.D.
before turning back to Jackson. “Go take care of Vin, I’ll watch the kid.”

******************************

Chris holstered his gun and quickly make his way to the bounty hunter’s side. His
eyes fell on a silver and gray lump lying near the tracker and roughly kicked the
body of a the dead wolf out of the way.

“Vin?” The gunslinger knelt by the tracker and gently started to turn him over.
Unfortunately, the younger man must have mistook him for his attacker from
before, because he lashed out with his feet and struggled to get away.

“Vin!” Larabee fought to get a better grip on his friend. “It’s me, Chris.”

Josiah joined in the task and at first Tanner resisted, shouting several obsenities at
his imagined foe but Chris leaned in closer and kept his voice soft, but firm. “Vin,
just take it easy. It’s O.k.”

Suddenly Vin stopped struggling and lowered his arms from where he had held
them protectively over his face.  “Chris?” Blue eyes blinked disbelievingly then
held Larabee’s concerned stare.

“Take it easy, pard’,”Larabee let out the breath he hadn’t even realized he’d
been holding and chanced a glance at Josiah.  The preacher looked almost as
relieved as Chris felt.

“The wolf?” Vin asked with a groan.

“Gone.” Chris answered.

The tracker closed his eyes for a second and inhaled deeply before looking
back up at his bestfriend with a renewed fright. “J.D.?”

“He’s alright,”the gunslinger assured.

“Oh man, they attacked us out of nowhere,” Tanner tried to sit up, only to have
Josiah push him back to the ground.

“Not so fast, my friend. Let Nate have a look at you before we attempt any
heroics.”

“No, I’m fine,”the bounty hunter attempted to push Josiah’s hand away. “Just a
little sore is all.”

“Vin,” Chris warned. “Just lie still, ‘til Nathan gets here.”

“Chris is right,” Sanchez agreed. “You’re body’s still reacting to the fight. You
may be hurt worse than you know.”

Of course Larabee recognized the usual stubborn look that crossed his young
friend’s face and was ready when Tanner tried getting up again.

“Shit!” Vin cussed as wave of pain shot through his arm and radiated down his
left side. “I think that devil broke my arm.”

Chris put a steadying hand on the bounty hunter’s shoulder and for the first time
noticed the dark red patch of crimson staining the side of the tracker’s duster.

“Where else do you hurt?” Larabee asked trying to breathe through the sudden
surge of anger he felt rising from within.  He didn’t want his friend to misinterpret
it.

“Truthfully?” Tanner cradled his left arm against him and leaned into the support
Chris was offering. “Naming places that don’t hurt would be easier.”

Before the gunslinger could reply he heard footsteps behind him and turned to
find Nathan hurrying towards them.  After asking Ezra to go help Buck, the healer
made a direct path to Vin.

“How’s he doing?” Jackson asked, looking from Chris to Josiah, and then down
at the blood-stained snow surrounding Vin.

“Why is it no one ever asks me that question?” Tanner asked with a disgruntled
look on his face. “It’s like I’m not even here.”

“Well, he’s talking more than usual,” Chris offered. “Which is never a good sign.”

“Funny,” Vin looked up to frown at Larabee but flinched closer to the gunslinger
when Nathan touched a nasty looking cut marring the tracker’s neck.

The healer sighed, “Some of these bites are pretty deep.”

“Check his side,” Larabee instructed. “I think its the worst of ‘em.”

Nathan started to do as he said when a haunting howl broke the eerie quiet
around them.  It was joined by others to create a chilling cacophony of morbid
song.

The four men looked at each other. “Maybe, we should take this inside,
Brothers,” Josiah suggested.

Chris nodded and with Nathan’s help, he and Josiah were able to get Vin on his
feet. “Can you walk?” Larabee asked when Vin swayed slightly.

The tracker nodded but looked ready to collapse at any moment. “As long as I
don’t have to dodge any snowballs on the way.”

Chris smiled and carefully helped his friend get started, “I think we’ll save the
rematch for another day.”

***********************************************

“Ow! Buck,” J.D. complained, as the gunslinger gingerly removed the kid’s
jacket.

“Sorry, but we’ve got to get this thing off so I can get a better look at your arm.”

“It's nothin’, I’m okay.”

“Yeah, that’s why you’re bleeding all over the floor,”the gunslinger snapped
,withdrawing his shaking hand and run it through his hair.

The teen reached out and caught the older man’s arm, holding his intense
gaze, “Take it easy, Buck. You’re beginning to scare me, here.”

Wilmington took a deep breath and let it out slowly, “Scaring you? I’m the one
who just lost several years off his life.”

J.D. leaned back on the cot ,where Buck had placed him after they made their
way into the cabin, and smiled, “No one ever said having kids was easy.”

The kid had heard Josiah tease his, sometimes overprotective, friend with that
line often enough.

“Cute,” Buck finally growled and tousled the kid’s hair. “But you know I’m much
too young and goodlooking to be your dad.”

“Younger brother, maybe?” Ezra’s relieved voice startled them as he came
through the door shaking snow from his apparel.  The gambler was pleased to
find the sheriff and Wilmington up to their usual banter and quickly joined them
near the fire place.

“How’s Vin?” Buck asked, ignoring the other man’s jab at his character.

“He’s alive.”

“The wolf?” J.D. asked,  his voice trembling slightly.

“I’m afraid to report that he faired much better than you or Mr. Tanner.” Ezra
knelt on the other side of the youth’s bed. “He escaped.”

The kid’s hand reflexively tightened on Buck’s sleeve.

“But I’m sure he won’t be back,” Wilmington assured, confidently. “The gunfire
probably gave him a scare he won’t soon forget.”

“Serves him right, seeing as how he did ruin my perfect winning streak,” Ezra
winked at J.D. “I think I might have owned your birthright if the big bad wolf
hadn’t decided to rear his ugly head.”

The kid gave him a weak smile and yawned. “I don’t think you’d want Buck’s list
of all the eligible women in the territory anyway,”  he said, his eyes fluttering shut.

“You are probably correct, J.D.,” Standish flashed Wilmington a somewhat
bemused look. “Perhaps, we should get you cleaned up before the doctor
arrives and finds us slacking on his orders.”

Buck nodded and rose to get the water he’d started to boil earlier, when the
door once again opened and Chris and the others came in carrying Vin, who
had lost consciousness half-way to the cabin.

*******************************************
After getting the tracker settled in one of the other beds , it took Nathan several
agonizing minutes to assess the damage done to the bounty hunter.  His task
wasn’t made easier by Chris, who insisted on staying by the younger man’s side.
 
“Well?” Larabee questioned, after Nathan had removed the bounty hunter’s
coat and examined the wounds to thier partners chest and arms.

“His shoulder’s dislocated and some of the cuts on his side go to the bone,”
Nathan sighed and spared a glance in his other patient’s direction. It was one of
those times he wished for four hands instead of two, but Buck and Ezra seemed
to be doing what they could for J.D.’s injuries. Thank God , they weren’t as
severe as Vin’s.

“Is he going to he alright?” Chris’s concerned voice brought the healer back
from his musings.

Rather than answering, Nathan took the gunslinger’s hand and placed it over
the worst of the slashes marring the tracker’s side. “Keep pressure on that to slow
the bleeding.”  Without another word, Jackson stood and crossed the room to
where Josiah was beginning to tear strips from a sheet he’d taken from his cot.

“Soak those in water when you’re finished. We’ll need the lot of them.”

The doctor then quickly strode to look over Buck’s shoulder. “Make sure you
clean that leg. I don’t think we’ll need to stitch it up but we don’t need infection
setting in.”

He turned to Ezra, “I need your help over here for a moment.”

The gambler quickly stood, not liking the dread he heard in the healer’s voice.
The two men made their way back to the injured man’s side.

“Okay Ezra, we need to set this shoulder before Vin regains consciousness. You
hold his upper body and support his head, while I yank his arm back in place.”
Nathan then turned to Chris, who was still crouched by the tracker’s side holding
the blood soaked cloth, and saw the uncharacteristic worry reflected in the
other man’s eyes. Jackson just nodded his head, not knowing what he could say
to take the concern away.

“How’s J.D.?” Larabee tried to distract himself from what was about to happen.
 
“He’s going to be fine. The gash on his shoulder looks pretty bad, but it’ll heal.
He got lucky.”

“Is Vin gonna be as lucky?” Chris was still trying to get a straight answer out of his
friend.

Nathan sighed and sought out Ezra, who had now positioned himself by the
bounty hunter’s head. “Its gonna be a long night but if we can get him stitched
up, and keep the infection under control, I think he’ll be fine.” That was the best
the healer could give at the moment.

“I have faced worse odds in my time and came out victorious, Mr. Larabee.”
Standish offered with genuine sincerity.

Vin never stirred during the procedure and Chris wasn’t sure to be concerned or
relieved, but Nathan assured him that it wasn’t a bad sign.

By the time the healer was finished closing the worst of the tracker’s wounds it
was well after midnight. Larabee didn’t know who was more exhausted, him or
Nathan.

“Why don’t you get some sleep, Nate?” Chris suggested softly, watching the
doctor tuck a blanket around his patient.

“I need to check on J.D.”

“J.D.’s sleeping,” Buck’s weary voice drifted from behind them. Wilmington
placed a comforting hand on the dark man’s shoulder, “We’ll wake you if theres
any trouble.”

Nathan finally surrendered and went to find an empty cot to take his friends’
advice.

Buck pulled a chair up next to where Chris was still sitting on the floor. For a
moment the two were silent, merely listening to the deep even breathing of the
other five men sleeping around them.

“I ain’t never known wolves to attack a man so close to a dwelling.”
Wilmington’s voice was low, but it didn’t mask the anger.

“The harsh weather probably caused a lack of food in the mountains.” Chris
sighed, rubbing at his tired eyes. “Although, I’ve never seen them hunt a man
unprovoked. Especially, in pairs.”

“Yeah, the kid said there was two of them.”

“I figured Vin killed the female we found, but that big black one was different.”

Buck let his eyes travel back to where J.D.’s still form rested, as if the very
mention of the animal would pose some sort of threat.

“Sure scared the hell out of the boy, I’ve never seen him so rattled.”

“Trust me,” Chris took a ragged breath, “he had reason to be afraid.”

****************************************************

Buck wasn’t sure how long he had been asleep, but the startled shout instantly
drew him awake.

“NO! Get away!”

The gunslinger’s eyes took a moment to focus, but when his vision adjusted he
knew J.D. was in trouble. The kid was thrashing about, obviously caught in the
throws of a nightmare. He made his way to the boy’s side, nearly stumbling on
the blanket which had fell at his feet.

“Kid, wake up, your alright.” He soothed, catching J.D.’s arms in attempt to
restrain him.

“No. Vin look out!”

“J.D.!” Buck raised his voice. “Stop it, your safe.” The older man tried once more
to calm the struggle, afraid his friend would do more harm to his already injured
body.

Finally, hazel eyes blinked opened and J.D. gave his friend a confused look.
“Buck?”

“Yeah, its me kid. Take it easy, your just having a bad dream.”

“The wolves,” J.D. started.

“The wolves are gone.” Chris said, walking over to stand next to the sheriff’s bed.
“Everything’s fine.”

J.D. took a shuddering breath and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, before
opening them and asking, “How’s Vin?”

As if on cue, the tracker’s voice sounded throughout the room. “A ta wah neh,
Navarro. He no weh, shan na wey.” The litany of obvious Indian dialect had
everyone’s attention. The men had awoken upon J.D.’s shouts and now looked
even more confused than before.

Chris hurried to his friend and knelt beside the bed. “Vin?” He asked, placing a
hand on the younger man’s forehead. *Damn.* He could feel the heat before
he even touched the feverished skin.

“A ta wah neh, Navarro.” The bounty hunter continued to mumble still lost in
unconsciousness. “Yo na heh na hon nah.”

The tracker reached out and grabbed Chris’s arm and even though his eyes
were open now, the blue depths were vacant. “A ta wah neh, Chris. Navarro yo
na heh.”

“He’s telling us to beware.” Josiah’s soft voice startled Chris. He had been so
attentive to Vin, he hadn’t noticed the big preacher kneeling beside him.
“Something about Death’s Shadow.”

“Navarro.” Nathan joined the others. “Raine has told me legends about him. An
evil spirit that the Indians believe to accompany death on his journey’s to our
world.”

“Navarro,” Vin’s voice didn’t raise but it had become more insistant. “A ta wah
neh.”

“Take it easy, pardner.” Chris comforted, unsure of quite what to do. He looked
to Nathan for answers. “Whats brought this on?”

“One of the forms Navarro is believed to take is a black wolf.”

Josiah nodded. “He’s also believed to be a black panther, or a black buffalo.”

“Damnit,” Chris swore. “What are we gonna do?”

As if things couldn’t get any worse, a blood-curdling howl erupted from outside.

“Buck?” J.D. painfully pushed himself into a sitting position. “What was that?”

Before Buck could answer, a loud thud sounded against the front door, followed
by a rough scratching noise.

“Shit!” Wilmington started to get up, but the boy grabbed his arm.

“Where are you going? That could be Navarro out there!”

Several more howls pierced the silence and Ezra chanced a look out one of the
windows.  “I hate to be the bearer of unfortunate news. But it seems that our old
nemesis has returned with some partners of his own.”

The men quickly went and retrieved their weapons placing themselves in
defensive positions throughout the cabin. Chris went to look out for himself, and
felt a chill down his spine when he came in contact with those orbs once more.

“You don’t think they can get in here do you?” J.D.’s voice was laced with the
nervousness everyone was feeling.

“No way, kid. Their just wolves. They can’t open doors.”

Then a digging noise sounded from above them.

“Can they come through rooves?”

“How many of these monstrous beasts are upon us?” Ezra looked to Larabee for
an answer and maybe a little support.

“The whole god-forsaken pack by the sounds of it.” Josiah queried, glancing at
the others around him.

“What the hell are we gonna do?” Buck asked anxiously.

Vin began to stir, his fever-glazed stare coming to rest on Chris. “Yeha-Noha.”

The gunslinger sighed and put down his weapon.“Well, I’m gonna try and get
Vin’s fever down.” Chris stated matter-of-factly, going to retrieve the water. “I
suggest the rest of you get some sleep.”

“But what about the wolves?” J.D. asked increduously.

“The wolves are hungry, nothing more. They’re not evil spirits, they are animals.
We only give them more power by being afraid.”

“You think they’ll give up?” Buck asked.

“Either that or they’ll go when the sun comes up. Its only a few hours until dawn.”
Chris replied, soaking a cloth with cool water and placing it on his still restless
friend’s head.

“And if they don’t?”

“We send them back to hell where they came from.” Larabee finished with a
deadly growl.

****************************************************

As the sun rose over the mountain and bounced sparkles of light off the snow,
the inhabitants of the cabin began to stir.

“Good morning, Brother Nate.” Josiah said quietly, walking to the window where
Jackson stood vigil. “How’s the lay of the land?”

“Quiet. They must have left about an hour ago.” Nathan turned and looked at
the sleeping forms of the injured men.

“Think we should head for home?” Sanchez asked, also gazing at the
individuals.

“It’d be best.”

“Good morning, gentlemen.” Ezra had arisen and come to stand with the two.

“Mornin’ Ezra, sleep well?” Nathan couldn’t keep the mischief from his voice.

“I see someone has retained their sense of humor in this ordeal.” Standish
couldn’t help but smile also, once again they had faced the devil and come
out victorious.

“How’s a man suppose to get any beauty sleep with you three yammering.”
Buck was sitting on the edge of his cot, rubbing his tired eyes.

“No amount of sleep would help you, Buck.” The voice came from behind him.
“You look awful.”

“Now I told you before kid, that was damn near impossible.” Wilmington turned
to find J.D. wide-eyed and somewhat refreshed. “You doing alright?”

The kid smiled, “I’m fine Buck. Just a little sore.” The two men exchanged a silent
smile and then looked to the last of the seven.

Chris was still perched on the floor beside Vin and seemed to be sleeping, that is
until a voice mumbled his name.

“Chris?” Vin blinked his eyes open slowly trying to gage his surroundings. He felt
like he had been trampled by a herd of buffalo.

“Take it easy, cowboy.” Larabee had risen and taken the chair Buck had left
near him the night before. He spotted the confusion in his friend’s eyes and
quickly placed a hand on his forehead. Luckily only a coolness met his touch.
“Your in the cabin.” The gunslinger continued trying to ease the frown now
growing on Vin’s face.

“The wolves,” Tanner looked around tensely.

“Gone.” Chris didn’t feel like reciting the night’s adventures. He had no intention
of adding to Vin’s distress.

“J.D.?” The tracker tried to sit up.

“I’m okay, Vin.” J.D. was now perched on the side of the cot with Buck.

Tanner stopped his ascent midway when he heard the kid’s voice and sighed.
“Good.”

Chris reached over and pushed him back onto the bed. “Lay still. Everybody’s
fine and we ain’t ready to go nowhere yet.”

Vin gave his full attention to his best friend. He could see the outlining shadows
under his eyes and the haggard look of his clothes. “Are you sure? You look like
hell.”

Chris caught the twinkle in Tanner’s eyes. “Trust me, I look better than you.”

The two men chuckled lightly, until Vin winced in pain.

“He alright?” Nathan had come to stand beside them when he heard the gasp
of pain.

“I’M fine.” Vin stated through clenched teeth.

“He’s still talking quite a bit, but I think he’ll live.” Chris added, his mouth curling
into a grin.

The tracker breathed heavily, giving up.

“Well, when can we leave our humble abode and get back to the bosom of
civilization?” Ezra asked, looking from one to the other.

“Now, would be good for me. I’ve had all I can take of the wilderness. I’d rather
get shot at.” J.D. sighed, rubbing his wounded leg slightly.

“I’m with the kid.” Buck laughed, smacking at the back of the boy’s head softly.

“Looks like we all agree. Josiah, you and Nathan go grab some limbs to make a
travois, while the rest of us pack up.” Chris rose to begin the task.

“And just who is the travois for?” Vin’s voice had dropped dangerously.

This didn’t faze Larabee. “You and from the looks of it, your in no position to
argue.” With that said, they went about their jobs. Chris ignoring the mumblings
from his friend and chuckling at some of the obscenities the younger man was
spouting about him.

*******************************************************

They had been back in Four Corners for about a week. J.D. was still limping
slightly but that wasn’t curbing his enthusiasum. Vin had been allowed out of
bed only a couple of days before. Chris had made sure at least one of the other
uninjured five was stationed with him at all times. He didn’t trust the younger
man to do what he was told.

Tanner had protested heavily, but in his weakened condition couldn’t back up
his threats, so conceded to wait until later for his revenge.

Larabee was doing his evening rounds of the town and had stopped to stare at
the rising moon and ponder their latest adventure. As he watched the glowing
globe enter the sky, he felt a sudden chill in the air.

He glanced at the bustling town around him, but saw nothing out of place, so
looked back to the mountain and stopped.

There, gazing at him from atop the nearest hill, was a black shadow with
glowing embers for eyes. Navarro gave the older man a soul piercing stare and
then as the moon reached its highest point, began a slow, tormenting howl.

Chris felt the challenge in the look and returned one of his own.

“You alright cowboy?” Vin had come out of the saloon and saw the gunslinger
staring off into the woods. He stood watching him for a few minutes and then felt
a need to interrupt the reverance as a sudden feeling of deja vu gripped his
heart.

Chris jerked slightly at Tanner’s touch on his shoulder.

“Yeah,” Larabee gave the younger man a half smile. “Just checking on my
territory.”

Vin frowned at the man’s choice of words but shrugged it off as another one of
the mysteries lying inside the black clad man.

“In that case, how about you buy me a drink at the saloon?” The bounty hunter
shoved the other man’s arm slightly to move him.

“Why should I buy you a drink?” Chris asked amused, as he gave the hill one last
look and saw it was once again vacant.

“For the torture you put me through, making me stay in bed.”

“At least I didn’t assign J.D. to watch you.” Larabee stopped and gave his friend
a manacing glare. “You know how much you love his jokes.”

Tanner shook his head, knowing once again he was beaten. “Alright, how about
I buy you a drink and we call it even.”

Chris hesitated as if pondering the offer. “I knew you would see it my way.”

The End...........

******************************************
Author’s Notes: Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, Cass and Maggie both
adore wolves and visit Navarro quite often. Yes he is a real wolf, living on a
reserve in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Although, we’re quite sure
his name doesn’t translate to mean Death’s Shadow. ;-)