Ezra thought this day would never arrive. It had been three weeks since they had been rescued from the plane crash and they were finally going home. Ezra was looking forward to seeing Denver again. The undercover agent considered the Mile High City his home. It was the only place he felt welcome, surrounded by his friends and a job that he loved. The only thing Ezra wasn't so sure about was the fact they would have to get on another plane to go home. He didn't know if he ever wanted to fly again.
Ezra sighed knowing it couldn't be avoided. Neither JD or Vin could handle the drive all the way to Denver and Ezra wasn't about to go anywhere without them. He smiled remembering his first visit to JD. The young agent was unable to articulate his feelings, but it had been plain from the look in his eyes that he was happy and relieved to see him. It was hard seeing JD like that. He was usually the most rambunctious of the seven. Now, it was an effort for him to get his body to cooperate, even with the most simple tasks. He got a little better every day, but his doctor repeatedly cautioned them that his progress could stop at any time. Buck was determined that that wasn't going to happen until JD was back to normal. Ezra wasn't sure sometimes who was more frustrated, JD or his self-appointed older brother. Ezra glanced at the clock his mother had left for him and knew she would show up any minute. The plane was scheduled to leave at one o'clock, to give the hospital staff time to prep them to be moved.
Ezra tried to scratch his back with his left hand and cursed as he felt the pull of the IV. The damnably stubborn infection in his arm had forced him to constantly be hooked to an IV loaded with antibiotics. They had actually shown him how to administer them himself, since he'd be going home still hooked up to the contraption. The hospital staff had put the IV in his left hand assuming he was a righty, but he was ambidextrous and used both hands equally. He was just relieving the itch when Maude waltzed into the room.
"Good morning darlin'," she said as she made her way to the bed. "I brought you some proper attire for your release."
"Mother, it's perfect," Ezra said as she lay a pair of charcoal Armani slacks with a matching jacket and a dove grey silk shirt across his legs.
"Well of course it is," she beamed. "It's the best money can buy."
"Are Mrs. Larabee and Wilmington ready to go?" Ezra asked as he struggled out of his pajama top.
"They have each gone to their respective patients," Maude said as she helped him undress. "I'm afraid we might have to wait a little longer than expected for Mr. Tanner."
"Why, what's wrong?" Ezra asked in concern.
"Nothing to worry about," Maude assured him as she helped him into the shirt. "His doctor decided it was best to have him heavily sedated for the move. We just have to wait for the drugs to take effect."
"I still don't know how they'll move him hooked up in traction like that," Ezra said sat up and swung his leg over the side of the bed.
"Didn't Mr. Larabee tell you?" Maude asked as she supported his injured ankle. "They put Mr. Tanner in a movable traction something or other. It looks like a medieval torture device if you ask me. All those metal rods sticking into his flesh . . ." she shuddered.
"Yes, most disagreeable," Ezra commented. "Mother if you could turn around."
"I wish to change," Ezra said.
"Silly boy, who used to change your diapers?" Maude said as she held up the underwear.
"If I recall the circumstances correctly, it was probably the nanny," Ezra said as he snatched the boxers from her hand. "Now Madame if you'd please."
Maude gave him an exasperated look but did as he asked. Ezra was able to change and pull on the pants, but not without considerable difficulty. Maude finally turned back around to help him stand as she buttoned his pants and pulled up the zipper. She helped put the coat over his good arm putting the IV bag through first then draped it around his shoulder since the cast wouldn't fit. Once he was dressed she helped him into the wheelchair and he sighed in pleasure at the feel of the expensive suit. Maude helped put on his sock and slipped the Gucci shoe over his uncasted foot. When that was finished she went around the room gathering his personal items. She placed everything in a stylish carry on then handed it to Ezra.
"Where to dear?" she asked as she stood behind him.
"I believe Mr. Larabee might require our assistance," Ezra said.
Maude nodded and pushed him out the door.
+ + + + + + +
Chris waited next to Vin's bed as they cleaned the pins on his leg and arm. Vin hated it. Not only did it hurt, it was a creepy feeling knowing the pins went through his skin and into his bones. He gripped Chris's hand with his eyes closed as the nurse finished his leg.
"All done," she announced and Vin relaxed.
"God, I hate that," Vin complained.
"So do I," Chris said. "But I suppose I'll have to get used to it if I take you in."
"Hopefully these will all be off before I have to move in with you," Vin said.
"Trying to tell me I can't handle it Tanner?" Chris mock growled.
"It's me I'm worried about - you ain't the most gentle person," Vin smiled. "We really goin' home today?"
"Yup," Chris smiled at Vin's eager look. "Buck's down with JD getting him ready and Maude went to help Ezra."
"And I get stuck with you," Vin teased.
"Keep it up Tanner and I'll leave."
"Chris, you know I ain't one to complain," Vin started.
"Don't we know it," Chris snorted.
"It's just that, well, damn it Chris, my leg hurts something fierce when it's moved," Vin reluctantly admitted. "Arm ain't much better."
"I know," Chris said. "So does the doc, and he's decided to give you a heavy dose of pain killers as well as a sedative."
"Damn, that means I'm gonna sleep the whole way," Vin sighed. "Hate the way they make me feel but I ain't so stupid that I ain't gonna appreciate them."
"Good morning Mr. Tanner," Dr. Grady said as he walked in. "Glad to be going home?"
"Yes sir," Vin said. "Can't wait."
"Let's just check you out one last time," he said and moved over to the bed.
Dr. Grady was pleased with his progress. He said the incision from the surgery looked fine and that his arm and leg were healing nicely. The doctor ordered the painkillers and sedative to be given intravenously.
"This will deliver the drugs over a longer period of time," he explained, and then to Chris said, "They'll probably make him somewhat disoriented."
They hooked up the IV and as the drugs diffused into Vin's system Chris could see him relax. Sometimes Vin became rather talkative with certain drugs and this seemed to be one of them. Vin was talking up a storm when Maude walked in with Ezra.
"Ezra!" Vin exclaimed. "We're goin' home!"
"Yes, Vin, I know," Ezra smiled and looked at Chris. "I take it that IV contains a rather potent cocktail."
"Hell, yeah," Vin laughed, then noticed Maude. "Sorry Maude."
"That's quite alright, Mr. Tanner," she said ignoring the fact that he used her first name.
"Everything set?" Chris asked.
"Everything is in order, Mr. Larabee," Maude said. "The three ambulances will be here in half an hour and the plane will be waiting for us."
"A plane," Vin said. "Hey Ez, you gonna fly us again?"
"Not this time," Ezra scowled, not knowing if Vin was under the influence or if he was making a lame attempt at humor at his expense.
He concluded it was the former when Vin blinked owlishly and asked, "Why not? You done it last time."
Chris could see that Vin was unintentionally making Ezra uncomfortable. "Not this time, cowboy," he told Vin softly. "Besides Ezra can't fly the plane with a broken arm."
"Guess not," Vin frowned. "Chris I gotta go."
"We're leaving soon," Chris said.
"No I gotta take a leak," Vin said, unabashed, obviously forgetting Maude was there.
"Aw hell," Chris exclaimed. He knew Vin would be totally embarrassed if he remembered later.
"Mr. Larabee I believe we shall leave you to take care of Mr. Tanner's needs," Ezra chuckled. "Shall we go check on Mr. Dunne, Mother?"
'Yes that would be most agreeable," Maude said as she turned Ezra towards the door.
"I won't forget this Standish," Chris bellowed.
"Chris," Vin pleaded and that was the last Ezra heard as the door closed behind him.
"Mother please don't take offense from what Vin said," Ezra explained.
"Don't be silly," Maude said waving her hand. "Mr. Tanner can't be held responsible for his indiscretion . . . and I do find him rather charming, in an . . . earthy sort of way."
Ezra smiled to himself as they continued towards the elevator.
+ + + + + + +
JD wasn't sure what Buck was trying to tell him but he knew something was going on today. Only a few days ago they had done something to his back and he no longer had to lie on his side. He could now sit up in bed, which was an improvement, and his arms worked better and he hadn't accidentally hit someone - or himself - in a couple of days. If he concentrated really hard he could make his toes wiggle or maybe his fingers, except when he moved his fingers it would hurt. JD figured it had to do with they way they were all wrapped up. Casts. That's what those are. Must be something broken. Pleased as he was, that a coherent thought had actually formed in his head, he quickly forgot it, and continued to watch as Buck moved around the room, putting things into a . . . thing you put stuff in. He couldn't remember the word
"Well, Kid, I don't know about you but I'm looking forward to getting home," Buck said as he packed the gifts and cards JD had received, and the odds and ends they'd purchased to make him more comfortable. "Ezra's ma sure did a good thing getting a plane to take us all back at one."
At the mention of a plane JD got a funny feeling. He didn't know why but he didn't think he would like this plane. JD gave Buck an odd look as the mustached man began pulling clothes out of a bag.
"Well I guess we ain't gonna get a shirt on ya," Buck said as he put that back in the bag. "But I think we can get these sweat pants on now that you don't got that thing in the way," he referred to the catheter that had been removed after Buck had gotten the nursing staff to agree to try just giving JD the opportunity to relieve himself every few hours. There'd been a few accidents, but it was working pretty well, and Buck knew JD had to be happier for it.
" . . .Ra" JD said when he saw Ezra come into the room.
"Hello JD," Ezra said using simple terms. "I'm happy to see you."
JD watched as an older pretty woman pushed Ezra into the room. She sort of looked familiar but he wasn't sure. Buck noticed him watching Maude.
"You remember Ezra's ma," Buck said. JD frowned not sure.
"That's alright, my dear," Maude said patting JD's leg. "It'll come to you. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll check on those ambulances."
"Sure was good of your Ma to do this," Buck said as he sat next to JD.
"Believe me she is getting a good deal out of this," Ezra smiled. "Mother never does anything for nothing."
"I don't know," Buck said. "Can't see what she's getting out of paying for JD and Vin's rehab."
"You have a point," Ezra frowned. "Sometimes Mother astonishes even me."
"Mau . . ." JD mumbled looking at Ezra.
"Yes, JD, Maude," Ezra smiled.
"That's good JD," Buck beamed.
JD wasn't sure why they were both so happy but it made him feel good. He just wished he could talk more.
"How's Vin doing?" Buck asked.
"Mr. Tanner is in a very good mood," Ezra smiled.
"Don't tell me," Buck laughed. "They got him so doped up he's saying anything that comes to mind."
"I'm afraid so," Ezra smiled. "He gave Mother quite a shock."
"I bet," Buck smiled.
They didn't have to wait long before Maude return to inform them the ambulances had arrived. One of the nurses had followed Maude with the gurney for JD. They transferred him to the new bed and tried to make him comfortable. JD gave a little moan when the nurse hit his back by mistake. JD didn't understand what was going on and looked around panicking. Buck quickly moved to his side and stroked his hair until he calmed. JD knew that if Buck was there, everything would be all right.
The ride to the private airport was uneventful and Buck was glad when the ambulance finally came to a stop. They weren't designed to accommodate someone of his size in the back comfortably. When the back doors were opened Buck was surprised at the size of the plane. There was no denying it was a luxury jet. Its sleek outline spoke of speed. A ramp was up against the plane and Buck saw they were already loading Ezra. They got JD's gurney out of the ambulance and started up the ramp. Buck noticed JD was becoming agitated.
"Easy, JD. It's alright," Buck said.
No, Buck, please! JD screamed silently. I don't want to get on a plane!
As soon as JD saw the plane all the jumbled flashes he'd had in the hospital fell into place. He knew he'd been in a plane crash with Ezra and Vin . He didn't remember all the details, but suddenly he knew that was how he'd gotten hurt like. He was sure of the fact that he didn't want to get on another plane. Buck didn't seem to care what he wanted and they continued up the ramp. JD huddled in misery as the gurney was secured in place, and was ashamed when he felt tears rolling down his cheeks.
Buck knew the kid was afraid. "It's alright, JD," he soothed as he stroked JD's dark hair. "I ain't gonna let nothing happen to you little brother."
It was hard for Buck to ignore JD's tears as he tried to comfort him. He had known the kid might be reluctant to get on a plane but they didn't have much of a choice. Buck could tell JD was starting to calm down when he took a deep breath and sighed. He smiled down at him and ruffled his hair.
The interior of the plane spoke of nothing short of elegance. Roomy, plush seats were lined up against the bulkhead instead of in cramped rows. A few had been removed to allow room for JD and Vin, and there was plenty of room for Buck to stretch out his long legs. The floor and walls were thickly carpeted which would considerably reduce the background noise from the jet's powerful engines.
"Hey, Chris, think they'll be a movie on this flight?" Vin asked cheerfully. "Ain't seen a move in awhile."
Buck smiled as he watched them wheel Vin up the ramp. The sharpshooter was cocooned in padding so his leg and arm wouldn't move during the flight. Buck also noticed Chris had covered him with several blankets.
"Hey Buck!" Vin yelled as they secured his gurney next to JD's. "Hey Chris, look it's JD. Where's Ezra?"
"I'm here, Mr. Tanner," Ezra called from where he sat near the front of the cabin.
"I can see this is going to be an interesting flight," a female voice said.
Maude introduced everyone to Gina, Ezra's physical therapist, and also to Michele and Lisa, the two nurses who were accompanying them on the flight."
"Howdy," Buck smiled at the nurses. He'd already tried his wiles on Gina and Ezra had threatened to shoot him.
"Geez, Buck, be more obvious why don't ya," Vin laughed
"Oh I can see he's going to be fun," Lisa laughed as she looked at Vin's medication records.
"Please take your seats for take off," said the pilot over the intercom.
The three women took seats to the right across the aisle from Maude and Ezra. Chris moved away from Vin.
"Where ya goin'?" Vin frowned, no longer happy.
"I have to get buckled in so we can take off," Chris said. "I'll be right over there."
"Alright," Vin agreed reluctantly.
Chris could see Buck was having a similar problem with JD. The kid kept looking at Buck with those big dark eyes of his. Chris knew when JD looked at Buck like that his friend would do anything.
"JD, listen to me," Chris said coming to give Buck a hand. "Nothing is going to happen, alright? We'll be right over there."
Chris took Buck's arm and dragged him over to the seats. Once they were strapped in the flight crew informed the pilot they were ready. They were taxing down the runway within a few minutes. Chris turned in his seat to see how Vin and JD were doing. JD didn't show any outward signs of his fright but Chris could see it in his eyes. The sedative coursing through Vin's veins was keeping him calm but Chris thought he looked pale.
"Come on already," Buck complained. "Turn off the damned seat belt light. ..Oh the hell with it."
Buck got up and moved to JD's side. Chris followed Buck's lead and went to Vin.
"How are they doing?" Ezra asked turning to look back.
"They're ok," Chris said and gritted his teeth as Vin squeezed his hand. "How you holding up?"
"Couldn't be better," Ezra said putting on his poker face.
Chris shook his head knowing it was going to be a long flight. Once the three injured agents realized the plane was fine they began to relax. Chris wasn't surprised when they all finally fell asleep.
"Why don't you gentlemen try to get some sleep also," Michele said. "We can watch them."
Chris was grateful and gladly left Vin in their care. He'd been up late last night settling the bill at the hotel and the hospital. The hospital was the worst since they required so much paper work. Chris put his head back only meaning to doze. He was rudely awakened when he heard Vin scream in pain and felt the plane bounce sharply from turbulence. Chris ignored the 'Fasten Seatbelt' sign and was quickly out of his seat and cautiously making his way to Vin.
"Make it stop," Vin pleaded as Chris grabbed his hand.
"Everything's alright Vin," Chris said. "Just relax."
"Ezra, where's Ezra?" Vin asked looking around wildly. "He needs help. Plane is crashing."
"Shh, Vin the plane is fine," Chris said just as the plane lurched again.
"Oh God that hurts," Vin moaned as his leg was jolted.
"Buck go tell the pilot he has to get us out of the turbulence," Chris said. "I'll watch JD."
Buck was reluctant to leave JD but he knew Chris was right. JD wasn't sure what was going on but Buck knew he was scared. Buck cautiously made he way up the aisle. As he passed Ezra, he saw that the undercover agent was as pale as a ghost and gripped the seat as if his life depended on it. Buck could see he had his eyes closed and wasn't moving a muscle. Buck cursed under his breath and continued to the cockpit.
Maude looked at her son but wasn't sure what she could do to help him. She pried Ezra's good hand off the armrest and held onto it. Ezra squeezed her hand but didn't move. She didn't know what to say to him and just started saying anything that came to mind. "Darlin', did I tell you about the time I pulled off the sweetest gambling run in Monte Carlo . . ."
Ezra had panicked as the plane hit the first bit of turbulence. He'd broken out in a cold sweat, almost paralyzed with fear, unable to do more than grip the armrests of his seat and try to block out what was happening. But when he heard Vin scream, all the images of the crash and their time on the mountain came flooding back, and so did the feeling of helplessness knowing that he couldn't do anything for Vin or for himself.
Ezra was surprised when he felt someone take his hand. Then was even more surprised when his mother started telling him about Monte Carlo. He never even knew she had been to Monte Carlo. Ezra concentrated on her story and knew half the things she was telling him couldn't possibly be true but Ezra didn't care. He'd never been so glad she was there. Ezra opened his eyes and looked at his mother. Maude turned to see Ezra looking at her and she smiled. She patted his hand and continued with her story, taking his mind completely off of his fear. As Ezra began to relax he squeezed her hand as his way of saying thank you. He wasn't even sure if his mother realized what she was doing. Ezra took one glance at her and knew that wasn't true, Maude knew exactly what she was doing and Ezra loved her for it.
Buck made his way back through the aisle and saw Maude talking to Ezra. He was surprised to see her holding Ezra's hand. Buck never though she was the comforting type but he'd been wrong about Maude Standish. Buck just shook his head and headed back to JD.
"Pilot say there's a storm over Colorado Springs," Buck said. "He's gonna swing around to the west and approach Denver from that way. Said it would add another forty minutes onto the flight."
"I don't care," Chris said. "Vin can't take this much longer."
Buck nodded and turned to JD. The kid was just staring straight ahead and ignoring Michele. The dark-haired nurse had been trying to comfort him but, JD wasn't paying attention to her. His fear had totally consumed his attention.
The plane dropped hard and Buck could hear JD whimper as Vin cried out.
"The hell with this," Buck yelled and unbuckled JD.
"Mr. Wilmington what are you doing?" Michele asked as she watched him stoop over and gently lift JD while at the same time trying to balance himself against the sporadic movements of the aircraft. When she realized what he was doing, she moved to help him, lifting the armrest between two seats and creating a spot big enough for both men.
Buck gently positioned JD so that the boy was being held securely in his arms
"OK, now buckle us both down," he told Michele.
She smiled at Buck as she pulled the straps over both of them. She pulled them tight then went back to her seat. JD didn't need her any more.
"Easy, Kid, everything's ok," Buck whispered in JD's ear as he stroked the kid's hair. Buck could fell JD tense as the plane began to bank to the right. "It's alright the plane is just turning. We're okay."
JD turned his head to look up at Buck. He knew Buck was talking to him. He didn't understand most of it, but that didn't matter so long as he didn't stop. He could sense that Buck wasn't afraid, and if Buck wasn't afraid, he wasn't either. He could see that Vin was scared, though, and wanted to help him.
"Vin . . .scared," JD said looking at Buck.
Buck looked down at him, and his face erupted in a huge grin ,at JD's expression of that one simple thought.
"Vin's OK, Chris has him," Buck said. "And I got you."
". . . Ra?" JD forced out afraid for Ezra.
"Ezra's fine too," Buck laughed. "Quit worrying about everyone else."
Buck felt JD relax in his arms and looked over at Chris. He could see Vin wasn't doing too good. The plane had hit a couple of really rough spots and jarred his leg even with all that padding. Chris's lips were a thin line and he looked like he was ready to kill someone. Buck knew that was when Chris was most worried. As the plane began to bank Vin panicked and groaned as he moved his right arm.
"Damn it, Vin, stay still," Chris said.
"Can't breathe," Vin gasped.
"He's got himself all worked up," Lisa said. "He's hyperventilating."
Chris tied to get Vin to relax as she went looking for a paper bag. She remembered she'd brought on a breakfast sandwich from McDonald's and went rummaging in the trash for the bag. She came back and handed it to Chris.
"Put this over his nose and mouth and have him breathe into it," she instructed.
Chris tried to do as she said but Vin wanted no part of it. Chris was finally forced to grab Vin's head and hold it steady. Vin began to relax as his breathing got easier with the bag over his mouth. When he was breathing normally Chris took the bag away and handed it to Lisa.
"I'm going to hook him up to some oxygen," she said. "That should help."
Chris watched as Lisa placed the oxygen mask over Vin's mouth and nose. Vin was breathing heavily and Chris wished he could do the same for Vin as Buck had done for JD but there was no way he could. They had immobilized Vin so securely at the hospital that it was difficult to even get close to him. Chris stood by Vin's gurney and pushed his long hair out of his eyes. The blonde agent noticed there was just enough room on the side of the gurney to sit next to Vin with one of his legs off the side, if he was careful, and so he did. He then put his arm behind Vin's neck and could feel him shaking. Lisa up the dosage of painkiller and then left the two men alone. Chris gently rubbed Vin's shoulder to reassure him while he waited for the drug to take effect. Leaning close, he whispered, "It's okay Vin. Try to relax. I'll stay here with you."
"Bet mine goes to sleep first," Buck smiled.
"I'm afraid you both lose gentlemen," Maude said as she turned to them and smiled.
Gina helped put Ezra's chair in a reclining position and propped his bad ankle up. She then threw a blanket over the sleeping undercover agent.
"Damn I'll never win with two Standish's around," Buck cursed good-naturedly.
Maude laughed and picked up the magazine she had been reading. Buck smiled and looked down at JD. The kid was fighting to stay awake but was losing the battle. Buck carefully rubbed his back below the wound there and JD succumbed to the inevitable.
"Two down," Buck said.
"Vin's not going down," Chris said as he looked at Vin.
Vin had quieted when the plane finally came out of the turbulence but Chris could feel how tense he was. He also knew that it wasn't helping Vin's leg. Chris was just glad the IV with the painkiller was taking the edge off. The sedative didn't seem to have much effect but then again Chris could feel Vin's heartbeat was slow and steady. Chris just stroked Vin's hair as Vin stared off into space, for the first time realizing that the three men had more wounds to heal than just the physical ones.
+ + + + + + +
The rest of the flight passed uneventfully, with JD and Ezra sleeping and Vin alternately dozing and staring into space.
"Two minutes to Denver International," crackling out of the speaker, brought the entire cabin to life, with the exception of the three injured men.
Gina helped Maude to raise Ezra's seat into the landing position. Michele helped a reluctant Buck to move JD back to the gurney. The seats had to be upright for landing, and it wouldn't be easy for JD to sit alone in that position. Buck had hoped JD would sleep through the landing, but that was not to be.
"We're almost home, kid," he tried to reassure him.
"Denver?" JD articulated the simple question plain as day.
Buck couldn't stop the grin that spread across his face."Yep, Denver."
"Mr. Larabee, you've got to get buckled in now," Lisa reminded Chris softly.
"I know," Chris agreed worriedly. "I just don't know how Vin's going to take the landing."
"He'll take it a lot better, if you're not hurt because you were unbuckled during a rough landing," she pointed out.
"OK, just give me a second," Chris agreed and leaned down and spoke, so that only Vin could hear him, "I've gotta go back to my seat now, Cowboy."
Vin's eyes were half open, but didn't appear to be focused on anything. Chris squeezed his shoulder and straightened up. He couldn't even be sure Vin had heard what he said. "I'll see you when we're on the ground," Larabee promised, before turning away with a last gentle pat. Vin didn't move.
Chris could feel the plane begin it's descent, just as he finished buckling in. And, he could hear the panicked whisper coming from the gurney, "Chris!"
Damn! Larabee thought. Hang on, pard. It'll only be a couple of minutes. And, it was only a couple of minutes. But those were two of the longest minutes in Chris's life. Vin was moaning softly, calling for him. Chris knew the sharpshooter wasn't functioning on all cylinders, right now and he shuddered to think what might be going on in that shaggy head.
Larabee didn't wait for the "Fasten Seatbelt" light to go out. The second the plane stopped, he was unstrapping and making his way to the gurney. He put his hand out and Vin latched onto it with his good arm, like it was a lifeline.
"Chris?" the Texan asked hesitantly.
"Yeah pard, it's me," Larabee whispered, not quite trusting his voice yet.
"Wh . . . are we?" Vin managed sleepily. The sedatives had finally taken hold.
"Home pard. We're home."
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