More than One Kind of Hero

by KT

Sacred Heart Hospital was a lot closer to the garage than the CDC and Chris actually got there before JD. It wasn't a hospital the team were familiar with, and thus not a hospital familiar with dealing with Team Seven. He marched up to the information desk and demanded to know if a Buck Wilmington had been admitted. The stunned receptionist took a quick look at the computer and said no. For a moment Chris relaxed, JD had been wrong. Then a horrid thought struck him.

"Ma'am, could you look under the name Bill or William Watson please?" he asked with some trepidation.

Eventually the middle-aged woman at the terminal looked up. "Yes sir, William Watson, admitted at seven fourteen, RTA. He was taken to the ER."

She was about to point out the way to the ER but Chris was already running down the hall. Arriving in ER he demanded to see William Watson, but was firmly told he couldn't. Mr Watson had been taken to X-ray for tests. Chris had just resigned himself to waiting when a pair of uniformed police officers came over to him. Both rested their hands on their revolvers.

"Sir?" the taller one addressed Chris.


"Would you please stand sir, please keep your hands where we can see them." the other asked.

Suddenly Chris was alert to their body language, hostile and wary. He decided the safest thing to do was go along for now. Standing slowly he backed off a little.

"What can I help you with officers?" he asked.

"You were asking about Mr Watson?"

"Yes, I believe he is a friend of mine but I need to see him or his ID to confirm it."

The tall officer reached in to his pocket and produced a wallet in cased in a clear plastic evidence bag. He allowed Chris to see the picture but not touch it. His heart sank as he saw Bucks face look back at him from the false driver's licence.

"Oh Christ," he gasped, and then he looked up at the two cops. "I believe you need to see my ID. I'm gonna get it from my back pocket now."

With infinite care he with drew the leather wallet, opened it and showed it to the two men.

"You're ATF?" one of them gasped, in response to the proffered badge.

"Watson is one of my men, Buck Wilmington, he's been working under cover. I take it you're here because someone found a concealed weapon?"

Just then JD tore into the ER waiting area like a man possessed.

"He's here isn't he, it was him?" He didn't wait for a reply, he knew the answer. "I knew it when it saw, I just knew. Where is he, is he okay?"

"JD, calm down, we don't know anything yet." He placed a calming hand on the younger man's shoulder.

He looked up at the police officer for information the hospital couldn't or wouldn't give them. But they could provide no more, since they had been called by the hospital when they found the gun, and neither officer had seen Buck before he was taken to X-ray. Chris found a phone and called Josiah. He told him to stay were he was until the scene was secured, not to tell Nathan and Vin, and that he would call Ezra when he had something to report.

One hour dragged into two before a doctor and a nurse approached them.

"The officers tell me you’re here for Mr Watson?" the doctor asked.

"No, yes, I mean his name is Wilmington, Buck Wilmington not Watson." Chris quickly explained.

"Very well, let’s go someplace where we can talk." He led them to an unused exam room.

"My name is Doctor Haas. Mr Wat…Wilmington was involved in a road traffic accident."

He stopped a moment to gauge the reaction of the two men in front of him. The young man, who looked like he was still in high school looked distraught, the older blonde man was maintaining a poker face, just.

"He has a bad case of 'road rash' down his left hip, knee, and side. His left arm below the elbow is broken but it's a simple closed fracture, the wrist was also broken, it’s a little more complex but it should heal just fine."

"But…" Chris knew there was a ‘but’, doctors didn't take you to a private room to tell you some one had a broken arm.

"He also sustained a significant head injury."

JD just gasped, as Chris worked his jaw to keep his emotions hidden.

"How significant?" Chris asked.

"He has a fractured skull; now before you over-react," he added quickly. "This is also a simple fracture, it doesn't require surgery and will heal itself. He has had a full CT scan, plus X-rays, there is, so far, no haematoma. However there are some cerebral contusions, and we are monitoring him very closely for any swelling. He has remained unconscious since the accident, and has been intubated and ventilated."

The doctor could see from both men’s reactions that they understood what that meant, and he needed them to understand.

"This," he explained, "Is routine with his kind of injury, as soon as he begins to come round I’m sure we can dispense with it, he may not even remember we ever did it."

"How long?" JD asked.

"Until he comes round?" Haas clarified.

JD just nodded. He knew the doctor couldn’t say, they never did, but he couldn’t help asking anyway.

"There is no way to know, hours, days, maybe even weeks, these things take time and we have no control over it, but if I had to guess, I'd say days, maybe only hours."

"Can we see him?" Chris asked. Since this hospital was not familiar with Team Seven's rather hands-on approach to comforting the sick he was anticipating resistance, but was pleasantly surprised when Dr Haas respond with a huge grin.

"I just knew you were gonna ask that, of course your friend needs to hear familiar voices, I assume you know most coma patients can still hear."

JD suddenly paled, no one had said any thing about a coma, and unconscious was one thing, a coma that was different. He watched as Chris rose and followed the doctor, not noticing JD was still sitting. The nurse, who had come with the doctor but had said nothing so far, did notice. Her name was Sister Mary Grace, she had joined Sacred Heart as novice nearly forty years ago, and reckoned she had seen it all, even war, since in younger more reckless days she had volunteered for a tour in Vietnam.

"Come on son, let's go see your friend, it's really not as bad as it sounds," she placed a hand under his elbow to encourage him up.

JD allowed himself to be propelled toward the door. Sister Mary felt the young man at her side tremble as they walked to the elevator, which would take them to the third floor ICU. She looked across at the other man, his jaw still moving very slightly as he tried to keep himself in check. Whoever the patient was he was very important to both of these men.

The waiting area of Sacred Heart's ICU was a cut above the ones at the other hospitals Team Seven were more familiar with. This one had low, wide, upholstered chairs, placed together so you could lie across them. It was carpeted, the coffee machine was one of the better quality ones and the magazines were no more than a month out of date. It even had a TV and a radio.

The doctor turned to Chris and JD. "Wait here. I'll come and get you as soon as he's settled, okay?"

"Thank you doctor," Chris responded as he turned to JD, and guided him over to the chairs.



"Call Ezra," JD's word's more instruction than request.

"We don't know enough yet," Chris ventured.

"There something going on between them, we all know that, he won't forgive you if you don't tell him first chance you get."

When they finally were ushered in to Buck's room in the intensive care unit, JD felt his guts flip on him, and fought back a familiar wave of nausea. He'd seen friends lying in intensive care before, hooked up to ventilators and monitors before, too many times, but he never got used to it. He was still trying to get his rebellious stomach under control when he realised the doctor was speaking.

"We'll let him rest for a bit, I'm afraid we've been prodding and poking for some time. But in a few hours I'm gonna ask if one of you can stay with him as much as possible, familiar voices, smells, even a touch; it will all help. Is their anyone else who can come?"

Dr Haas really didn't know Team Seven at all, Chris realized, he was so used to the trauma doctors at Mercy who wouldn't have bothered to ask such a question.

"Don't worry Doc, he'll have someone here twenty four seven for as long as he needs it, you leave that to us."

It took Ezra some time to register that it was his phone ringing and some more time to actually pick it up.

"What!" he barked angrily into the cordless receiver.

Once he registered who was on the other end and what was being said he was instantly awake, and on his feet, silk pajamas shed as he walked into the bathroom, still talking to Chris.

"I'm on my way, bye." He hung up and stepped into the shower before it had even warmed up.

Chris had persuaded JD to try and sleep since there was nothing to be done until the doctor told them Buck had had enough rest, but like Ezra who had just arrived, he couldn't sleep. It took the others some hours to safely hand over the running of the case to Team Three; it was after all their case to begin with, now McDonald was under arrest, there was no reason for them not to take it back. Important as it was, it paled into insignificance next to their need to be at Buck's bedside. By lunchtime they were all gathered, and Haas had to admit they made an impressive sight. He persuaded them to all go get lunch while the patient had another CT scan, then they could start to try and help Buck find his way back to them.

Since Buck was going to need someone with him all the time Nathan insisted they draw up a schedule, since there was no point all of them getting exhausted, He bore in mind as he did that it was going to be impossible to get JD to leave the hospital, at least while Buck was still unconscious, and he knew Chris and Ezra weren't going to be that easy to extract either. On their return from lunch Nathan got a chance to question the Sister Mary Grace.

"What is his GCS score?" he asked.

"It's still seven, just as it was when he first arrived, which is good, I mean seven’s not a good score, but he hasn't deteriorated at all." She tried to be positive.

Chris had joined them. "What is a GCS score?"

"Glasgow coma scale, it's a way of qualifying degrees of unconsciousness and coma," Nathan explained.

"And seven isn't good?"

Nathan shook his head. "You and me would score fifteen, the best, three and you're basically brain dead, anything below eight indicates a serious brain injury."

"Oh Jesus no," breathed Chris.

"Young man, I know you are worried for your friend, but you will not blaspheme or take the Lord's name in vain here!" Mary Grace chastised.

Chris looked suitably chastised. "Sorry ma'am, I'll try but you can't expect a man to change the habits of a life time."

"I can and I do, besides, while your friend is seriously ill he needs all of you in a positive frame of mind, no doom gloom and despondency in my unit - is that understood gentlemen?" She was now speaking to all of them. "Around Mr Wilmington you will be positive, supportive, even casual. Do I make myself clear?"

There were muttered ‘Yes ma'am’s’ and ‘Yes sister’s’ from around the waiting area.

As each of them went in and spoke to Buck, Sister Mary Grace caught hold of Nathan.

"Mr Jackson, is there anything we need to know? Only we noticed Mr Wilmington had recently had a BCG inoculation."

Nathan was at a loss, he had no idea why Buck would suddenly get himself immunised against TB. But he was curious, and intended to ask Buck if he got the chance.

Nathan, Vin and Josiah eventually returned to the office to do some of the paperwork the morning's activities had generated. Nathan was instructed to return with Chris' laptop so the others could write their reports at the hospital. When all the activity had died down JD found himself alone in the stark hospital room watching a machine breath for his best friend. It was weird, he thought, because apart from the blue fibreglass cast on the lower part of his left arm Buck look fine. There was some bruising and a graze along his jaw on the left but these were the only visible signs of injury. The grazes, cuts and bruises running down his left side were hidden by the bed covers and a hospital gown.

"Well, Buck, it's me, JD, guess you’re stuck with me for a bit, Chris an Ez are here too, they'll come in later." With that statement his conversation dried up. Normally he had no problem talking to Buck - not talking was the challenge. And it wasn't that Buck wasn't participating in the conversation, he frequently didn't when JD was running off at the mouth. He would add noises of approval or disapproval occasionally, hoping they were appropriate, but he wasn't really listening, let alone taking part. It was just that everything he usually spoke about now seemed so trivial.

Mary Grace had seen this problem before.

"Son he doesn't need you to solve the mystery of life, find the secrets of the universe or bring him world peace. Just talk, it's like a puppy, it's not what you say it's the familiarity and tone of your voice he needs. I take it he is familiar with your voice?"

"Oh yes sister, we share an apartment, he's always telling me I talk too much, but he can talk up a storm himself. And you wouldn't want him around here when he's pis… sorry, when he's mad 'cause he does have a colourful way with language, if you get my meaning, sister?"

"You can say pissed, I'm not gonna faint you know. And yes, I can believe he has a colourful vocabulary. Since he is sharing with you I take it Mr Wilmington is single, and I wager he is fond of the ladies?"

"It's Buck, Sister, he don't really like people calling him Mr, unless he don't like them, and he'd like you. And yes, he does like women, and they like him."

"Right. So now I know him a little, why don't you tell him about me?" she suggested.

JD grinned. Sister Mary Grace was one clever nun, and he proceeded tell Buck all about her. Despite his desire to stay as close as possible to Buck, JD was just to tired to talk for more than two straight hours, so when his voice stared to go hoarse Ezra took over. He started to give Buck a running commentary on his last trip to Europe, including detailed descriptions of every gallery, museum and mansion he had visited. Two hours proved to be the most anyone, even with regular water, could talk with out a break. Since JD was still asleep Chris took over from Ezra. Periodically nurses or even doctors came and checked on the patient, but his responses remained the same. He never opened his eyes although his pupils continued to dilate normally, the only sounds he made were incoherent groans and grunts in response to pain, but with an intubation tube down his throat that was about all anyone could do. In response to pain, either the mild pain when the doctor pressed down on his thumbnail or the more unpleasant pain when the nurses changed the dressing on the worst of the road rash on his hip he flinched and tried to pull away. Both Haas and Nathan assured the others this was a good sign.

Come the evening the other three returned, having eaten they persuaded the others to go and eat while they watched over the stricken friend. It was coming up for half two in the morning when it happened. Nearly twenty hours after the accident Buck moved his right arm. Nathan was reading to him at the time, a civil war action adventure Josiah had purchased. Nathan had to admit he was enjoying it, despite the hero having the unlikely name of Starbuck. Putting the book down he rose to stand by the bed, and watched to see if he really had detected the movement he though he'd seen a moment ago. Sure enough the right hand moved slowly, it came across his chest as Nathan pushed the call button.

"Buck? Can you hear me, it's Nathan," he called softly.

Buck seemed to become more agitated, his hand rose to the tube in his throat and he tried some what ineffectually to pull it out, Nathan just caught him in time as a nurse arrived.

"It's okay Buck, we know you don't like it," she soothed. "I'm going to call the duty doctor and see if we can get it removed, but you mustn't try to pull it out yourself."

The nurse looked up at Nathan, who nodded his understanding placing a strong hand over Buck's which was still making feeble efforts to reach the tube. When the doctor arrived Nathan was still trying to calm a very agitated Buck with his voice, while holding down his right arm. JD and Josiah had joined him. Ezra had reluctantly agreed to go home and get some sleep; Vin had virtually manhandled Chris back to his place for the same reason. JD looked on alarmed as the doctor began to work, not entirely believing Nathan's assurance that what was happening was good.

The doctor was satisfied Buck’s level of consciousness had risen high enough for the intubation tube and ventilator to be removed. It wasn’t as easy as it could have been as Buck didn’t seem to be able to respond to the doctor or Nathan's commands to breathe out when necessary, but it was eventually accomplished. Buck coughed a few times, took the ice chips the nurse placed on his parched lips and seemed to relax back on to the pillows looking for all the world as if he were just asleep. His breathing was a little shallow but it was regular and even. Despite the efforts of his friends and the medical staff they got no more response from him. So Josiah took over from Nathan and continued to read, the lights remained on even though it was still the middle of the night.

Much later Josiah was getting just as involved in the book as Nathan and didn't notice the change in the patient he was reading to. Buck's head rolled a little until he was facing Sanchez sitting on the right side of the bed. His eyes opened very slightly, but the light hurt his eyes, so he closed them again. He was thirsty so he tried to ask Josiah for a drink, but he couldn't make any recognisable sound come out. Eventually during a pause in the narrative Josiah heard the strange incomprehensible sounds coming from the bed.

"Buck?" He stood so he could lean over the guardrail of the bed and get closer to his friend. "Open your eyes, Buck come on open them!" he commanded, while pushing the call button.

Buck could hear him, but he wasn't about to open his eyes again, it hurt too much, he tried again to say this but nothing resembling English came out no matter how hard he concentrated. So he just shook his head slightly. The nurse came in response to the call button, Sister Mary Grace who had just come back on duty, JD and a rather groggy Nathan following her. Josiah quickly told them what had happened, and Buck's responses. Mary Grace sent the young nurse to get a doctor and told the men to step back or get out.

"Now come on handsome," she chided. "I know you understand me, I need you to open your eyes, it's no good shaking your head at me, just open them."

But the only response was some more incomprehensible sounds.

"Oo rit," Buck muttered.

She sighed, even inappropriate words or cursing would have been an improvement, but unintelligible sounds were not a good sign, especially if he wouldn’t open his eyes. JD came forward, he had only just heard what his friend had said but he reckoned he knew what Buck was trying to say. He leaned over the bed and whispered in Buck’s ear, in response Buck nodded slightly. Then JD walked across the room to the light switch and tuned the dimmer right down, next he switched off the light over the bed. The others watched him curiously, as he returned to the bed.

"And just what was all that about young man?" asked the nun from the gloom of the now dimly lit room.

"Well if you lot had been listening you would have heard Buck tell you it was too bright in here," he explained. "Buck? Come on I turned down all the lights, you can open your eyes now, it's safe, come on open them, let Sister Mary see why all the ladies love your eyes."

The eyes in question slowly opened, Buck was ready to shut them quick if the pain came back but the soft dim light in the room was tolerable so he opened them all the way, blinking slowly as JD came in to focus eventually.

"Hh…ay…ee," he slurred.

"Hi your self," JD responded with a grin.

Bucks eyes scanned the room, seeing nothing he recognised, a look approaching panic came over his pale strained features.

"It's okay, you were hit by a car, this is Sacred Heart Hospital, " JD explained, mindful that Dr Haas had told them there was a good chance Buck wouldn't remember much if anything of the day before the accident. The memory loss might be temporary but it was most likely to be permanent.

Buck seemed to relax a little, but JD could see he was scared. "You hit your head, and you've been in a coma, but you’re awake now so we're gonna let the doc look at you okay?" JD had seen Dr Haas come in and stand patiently waiting for JD to reassure his friend.

Buck followed JD's gaze to the genial looking man in the white coat approaching his bed.

"Hello Mr Wilmington," he began, only to have his patient frown at him instantly.

"I believe," Sister Mary interjected. "That Mr Wilmington prefers to be called Buck, isn't that right?"

JD introduced the good nun to his bemused friend. "This is Sister Mary Grace Buck, I told her you don't like being called Mr much, right?"

Buck nodded slightly his eyes going back to the doctor. He could feel something wasn't right with his left arm and tried to lift it to get a better look.

"I ish a..m oo?" The inflexion on the end of the tortuously produced sounds indicated it was a question, but doctor and nurse both looked blank. Buck could hear himself, he knew it was wrong, but he just couldn't make the sounds he wanted.

"Why is you arm blue?" JD checked his translation with is friend, unable to workout why no one else could understand what Buck was trying so valiantly to say, it was clear enough to him.

Buck nodded a small smile to indicate his relief that at least JD understood him.

"Your arm was broken in the accident, it isn't serious, it's blue 'cause it has one of them fibreglass casts on it, alright?" Buck nodded. "And you got some scrapes, grazes and bruises down you left side, feel 'um?" Buck moved his left leg a fraction, a sharp pain stabbed his hip, and he nodded at JD again.

"Und u…m," Buck managed to say.

"No you don't sound dumb, now I think we should let he doctor check you out." With that he stepped back to let the doctor in.

JD made his way over to where Josiah and Nathan were standing. As he stood in front of Josiah to watch and if necessary translate he felt a pair of huge hands come to rest on his shoulders; shoulders that were trembling. Then softly in his ear he heard. "You did well John Dunne."

The doctor's exam found not only the speech dysfunction and light sensitivity but also a notable loss of fine motor control in the right hand and some loss of movement in the right foot.

"How are you feeling right now Buck?" Haas asked.

"I…d ed uss," Buck managed.

Mary Grace looked up at JD for a translation; quite how the young man understood what his friend was trying to say she wasn't sure.

"Tired, head hurts." JD translated.

"I don't doubt that it does, I'll increase your pain meds. If you want to sleep go ahead, but we are gonna need to take you down for another CT scan, so don't worry if you wake up some place strange, Mary Grace will be with you the whole time."

Buck needed no second bidding to sleep, he relaxed back into the soft pillows, turning his head to the right, his right arm, complete with IV line, drifting up so that his hand rested beside his face. JD recognised this a typical Buck sleep position. He was indeed deeply asleep almost immediately, and slept through the whole CT scanning procedure. Once returned to intensive care he woke briefly, to hear the doctor tell him it would be some time before he could give Buck any answers. Then he went back to sleep for most of the day. Sister Mary Grace eventually persuaded the others to leave, with the exception of JD. Some how she managed to exert a degree of control over the seven that no other hospital had ever managed.

Come the evening, they returned just in time for supper. Buck was sitting up albeit with the support of the bed and lots of pillows. Despite the pain medication flowing through the IV line his head hurt so much he didn't want to do much more than sleep, but having slept all day he was now unable to find the escape he needed, and on top of that the pain was making him nauseous. The hospital food wasn't bad looking, meatballs, pasta, garlic bread, ice cream, and he felt he could manage the ice cream, but was sure he couldn't hold the small spoon that came with it, either in his casted left hand or the uncooperative right. He sure as hell wasn't going to eat ice cream with his fingers in front of his friends or let anyone feed him; so he just tuned down all the food.

Ezra watched the right hand as Buck made surreptitious attempts to make the fingers and thumb touch. He got closest with the index finger but even that slid past the thumb to come to rest top joint to top joint, the middle finger got to within half and inch but the last two got no where near. Ezra glanced at the left hand, the cast made gripping with that hand near impossible, but he reckoned buck could get the index finger and thumb on that hand together, just. And with that Ezra got an insight into Buck's predicament, and an idea.

They were all waiting for the specialists to finish analysing the CT scan. No one had actually told Buck the details of the accident, everyone assumed someone else had done this, and despite wanting to know, Buck didn't have the energy to try to convey his enquiry, talking took to much effort. Finally Dr Haas came back in frowning at his patient’s untouched food.

"I have to ask you gentlemen to leave, while I speak to my patient," he announced.

Buck shook his head. "Ay s…s…ay," he announced.

"You sure Buck?" JD asked.

"What?" asked the doctor.

Before JD could speak Ezra spoke. "I believe Buck wishes us to remain here with him."

"Is that right Buck?" Haas asked, Buck nodded in response, and then turned to smile at Ezra, appreciating someone else understood his painful attempts to communicate.

"Very well."

The doctor took them through the CT images, he showed them all the cerebral contusions, and explained that, as expected a degree of swelling had developed around some of them. He told them he hoped and indeed believed it would dissipate naturally, without need for neuro-surgery.

"It is the swelling, which is causing the right side weakness, and loss of fine motor control, the light sensitivity and speech problems," he explained.

"Ish on…a et e..t..t?" Buck asked, looking to Ezra for help.

"Sorry, I am as yet not fluent in 'Buck', perhaps Mr Dunne can translate?"

JD grinned as Buck turned imploring eyes on him. "Is it gonna get better?" Buck nodded with a small smile, trust the kid to understand him.

"Yes, as the swelling goes down the symptoms should fade."

"Completely?" Chris asked, knowing what he would want to know if it were he.

"Hopefully, but I can't give any guarantees." Haas explained. "Once you’re feeling stronger we’ll arrange some therapy and that will improve things, I guarantee. But in the meantime your going to have a killer headache, I’m sorry but I can’t give you any more medication than you’re already getting, with luck the worst should be over in the next twenty four hours."

Once the doctor had gone no one knew what to say or do, since Buck couldn’t hold even a basic conversation it was hard going, and an uneasy silence descended. Buck's eyes lit upon the book on the nightstand, judging by the title and the picture on the front, this was the book he had some memory of Josiah reading to him. With some effort he got his hand to land on the book, turning his eyes to Sanchez.

"You want me to read some more?" he asked. Buck nodded.

It passed the time easily enough; Ezra was pleasantly surprised to find the hero of the book while a northerner was fighting for the confederacy. Buck lay back to listen, closing his eyes in a vain attempt to ease the pain in his head. As it got late Chris took over reading. Several times they had thought Buck had drifted of to sleep but every time the reader stopped his eye opened again. They read all night and into the small hours of the morning before Buck drifted off to sleep, finally finding relief from the daggers of pain in his head.

Over the weekend things did improve slowly. On Saturday afternoon Buck was moved to one of the general care rooms. It was a double room but Buck was the only occupant, leaving the other bed conveniently free for the others. He was still refusing to eat, he would drink, using a straw and holding the container in both hands, but he wouldn’t eat. Everyone took this as a sign of continuing nausea, since the doctor had warned them of this but Ezra suspected something different, and at around six on the Saturday he put his plan into operation.

"I don’t doubt Mr Wilmington refuses the meal, personally I fail to see how anyone can be expected to convalesce with only this swill to sustain them."

"Aw come on Ez it ain’t that bad," Vin said tucking in to the food Buck had firmly rejected.

"On the contrary I believe that meatloaf, gravy, mashed potatoes and green beans, not to mention, apple pie are definitely not going to encourage our stricken friend to eat." Ezra cast an eye at Buck who was looking puzzled. "I will return with something more acceptable to your palette Mr Wilmington." And with that he left.

This unexpected development provided some amusement for a while as the others tried to guess what Ezra would bring.

"I reckon he’ll go to that French place on the corner, near where he lives," Vin suggested.

"But he said it would be something Buck likes," JD pointed out. "You don’t go much for French do you?" he asked.

Buck shook his head; no, he definitely didn’t want French. In fact he didn’t want Ezra to do this at all, he wasn’t going to embarrass himself in front of them but he didn’t want to reject Ezra’s offer to help, still the others would no doubt eat it if he didn’t.

"No I reckon he’ll go for the steak house on the way out to Chris’ place." Josiah suggested.

"Oh God no not steak, please," Buck silently implored.

"No, too far, ‘sides it don’t open for an hour yet," Chris explained. "No I reckon he’ll go Chinese. You like Chinese right?" he asked Buck, who nodded slightly. Chinese wasn’t a bad option he decided, he could eat them little dumplings with his fingers, everyone did that.

Buck drifted into a light sleep while the speculation continued in the room. Only the sound of Ezra returning woke him. He was surprised to find he was as curious as the others to see what the southerner had brought, and equally as stunned when a huge McDonalds bag landed on the table in front of him. Buck’s stomach growled as Ezra unpacked McNuggets, fries, coke, milkshake, ketchup, and barbecue sauce. Finger food, all of it, simple, tasty, not too messy, bad for you but full of the necessary calories. Standish regarded his friend with some apprehension, hoping he had got this right, if Buck really wasn’t eating because he was nauseous this was the last thing he would want. As he watched a grin spread across Wilmington's face, and a blue-casted hand began to pick up nuggets and fries greedily.

After the much needed and appreciated repast the guys read to him some more before Buck fell asleep again. This time Sister Mary Grace and Chris both ganged up on JD and made him go home for the night. Vin had wanted to stay but thought better of it, if Buck woke he would need distracting and Vin didn’t think his reading was up to the mark, so in the end it was Ezra who lay out on the spare bed and got comfortable.

The bed certainly was more comfortable than the usual plastic chairs or hard floor Team Seven usually slept on while keeping vigil in a hospital but still sleep eluded Standish. There was no getting away from that hospital smell, or the very particular feel of a hospital bed. Ezra lay there in the dim gloom of the night-lights, listening to Buck's gentle snores.

"We are two of a kind my friend," he thought as he listened. "And I never would have though that of all of us I would find myself becoming like you of all people. We both acted without thinking, and we are both paying the price, let us hope for both of us the price is temporary."

The more he thought about it though the more it didn’t seem so odd. Single mothers, both of whom had used their natural assets to get what they wanted, both of whom imparted to their offspring their particular philosophy of life, raised them both. Of course Maude’s philosophy was, trust no one, kick ‘m when they're down, never give a sucker an even break and loyalty means nothing next to hard cash. While Buck’s mother’s appeared to be, accept everyone, judge no one, live life as if tomorrow was your last day, protect the weak and loyalty is everything. Two more diverse philosophies it would be hard to find, although both women had, at least by example, taught, "Do what you have to survive, whether on not society or the law approve of it."

Ezra speculated about what a meeting between these two very strong, very independent women would be like. Fiery, he decided if Maude was doing or saying anything against Buck or even JD. He would like to think the opposite was true, but in all seriousness he couldn’t see any situation under which Cindy Wilmington would turn on him or any of them, unless she was protecting her son. Calculating, if either wanted something, or conspiratorial, if both needed their sons to do something. There would be jealousy too, from Maude, the two women were of an age but Cindy wore it better, and fine looking woman that she was Maude was never the stunner Cindy had been and still was.

Ezra feigned sleep as the night nurse came in to check Buck’s vitals, and left with out waking him. Perhaps because the nurse seemed so unconcerned, or perhaps because Buck’s breathing became deeper and slower as he drifted in to an even deeper sleep, Ezra relaxed enough to doze for a while. He awoke when he heard the sound of a trolley on the other side of the door. Remembering his plan of yesterday he slipped out into the corridor to tell the orderly Mr Wilmington would not require breakfast. Some two hours later Buck finally woke, Ezra called the nurse and then made a private call himself while the nurses and doctors attended to Buck. Returning to the room he was greeted by a smile.

"I take it your meeting with the quack went well?" he ventured.

"’Es," Buck replied, that was easy enough to translate.

"Headache improved?"

"’Es ‘ett…er."

"But not gone," Ezra speculated.

Buck shook his head, but then pointed to the lights. Only then did Ezra realise it was noticeably brighter in the room than the day before, not as bright as it could be but it was a significant improvement.

"Better and better I see."

Just then Buck’s stomach rumbled very audibly. "Hungry?" Ezra asked. Buck nodded.

"Well have no fear, breakfast will soon be here." Ezra regretted saying it as soon as he did.

"God how embarrassing, rhyming couplets at nine AM." He cringed inwardly, but he changed his mind when he heard Buck laugh, something he hadn’t heard in a long time, much too long a time he realised. Just then an orderly appeared at the door with a large brown bag.

"Delivery for Mr Standish?" he enquired.

The bag proclaiming its origins to be ‘Mo’s Fine Patisserie, Delicatessen and Contract Caterers’ contained coffee and juice for two, and an impressive array of bite sized Danish pastry, pan-au-chocolat, and muffins.

"The juice comes with a straw," Ezra explained. "I hope the coffee container is manageable?"

In response Buck used both hands to hold the insulated container to his lips and sip the nectar therein, before returning ravenously to the pastries before him. They were both still eating when the rest of the team came in. On seeing all the food JD and Vin made a beeline for it only to have their hands quickly and painfully slapped away by Buck, who glared at them.

"’Ine!" he growled.

"Really you two are incorrigible," Nathan scolded. "Didn’t you get enough sugar with all them doughnuts you ate on the way here, now you want to take a sick man’s breakfast as well?"

"Yeah," Buck agreed.

JD froze where he was, giving Nathan puppy dog eyes of pure innocence, and turned slowly to Buck.

"Say that again," he instructed.

"Ot?" Buck asked.

"Say what you just said to Nate again."

Well he reckoned the kid had a good reason for asking so he did it. "Yeah."

"You said a real word, you said 'yeah'," he announced with glee.

Before even Buck could react, Ezra started up. "Oh for heavens sake, 'yeah' is not a word."

"Yeah 't 's," Buck stated firmly.

"I am not belittling Mr Wilmington's achievement, but you cannot call it a word, you just can't."

"What's not a word?" Came a voice from the doorway.

"Ol' Ez reckons 'yeah' ain't a real word," Vin explained, in his lazy Texan drawl, as he tried once more to sneak a pan-au-chocolat, only to be slapped away again this time by a heavy cast, producing a yelp.

"Well I would have to agree with…Ez? It's not an English word, it's a colloquialism."

"There!" Ezra announced, walking over to the tall young woman as she entered, extending his hand. "Ezra Standish, at your service ma'am."

"Emma Beach, speech therapist, pleased to meet you."

Ezra turned to the others. "You see gentlemen, a speech therapist, so she would know."

"'F I ay 't 't's 'eel," Buck stated firmly.

Emma walked over to her patient. "Let me see if I got all that. 'If I say it it's real'. That about right?"

Buck nodded, pleased someone else understood him.

"Hey you can talk Buck," Chris stated with some surprise.

The team called it 'Buck speak', Buck himself called it 'squished brain speak'. So far only JD was fluent, although Ezra was improving.

"Well I've been listening to it for several years now," she explained. "You must be Mr Wilmington, although I'm told I'm to call you Buck, is that right?"

"'Es." He held out his right hand and they shook, she noted the weakness in the rather haphazard grip.

"Well Sister Mary Grace told me you needed my services, so here I am. So if you gentlemen would give us some privacy?" She expected them to leave instantly but instead she watched as they looked to Wilmington for confirmation, he gave some gesture so subtle she almost didn't see it and they left instantly.

The team waited outside. An hour later Sister Mary Grace arrived with another woman who let herself in while the nun came over to the team.

"Good morning gentlemen, that was Miss Stewart, one of our best physiotherapists, " she said by way of explanation.

"I have been at divine services on this Sabbath so close to Christmas. I hope you gentlemen have also have also visited the Lord's house today?" She knew damn well they probably hadn't but it never hurt to make men squirm.

"Indeed ma'am it was most uplifting," Josiah said softly.

"Sadly no Sister, but these two, " Chris indicated Vin and JD. "Worshipped at the altar of sugar on the way over here."

She laughed, not just at what Chris had said but also at the flushes that rose in the cheeks in both the young men in question.

"Ma'am, therapists don't usually work on Sunday do they?" Nathan asked.

"Well no, but when I mentioned who it was, well after what he did, they were both very happy to come in. I'm guessing he will respond best to pretty female therapists?"

"Indeed yes I think you could say that." Nathan affirmed.

Emma Beach came out of the room half an hour later.

"Anna is giving him a massage, if he can stay awake for all of it I'll be very surprised," she announced with a smile. "It was a long session, and he's tired, but we have made progress, he has some exercises to do and we'll both see him tomorrow." She was about to go when she turned back. "He's only supposed to do the exercises for five minutes in every hour today, don't let him over do it," she warned.

The rest of Sunday morning and early afternoon passed quietly, Buck slept until one. Ezra provided lunch; they finished reading the book. Not because Buck needed distracting but because everyone wanted to know what happened. It was around four thirty, while Buck was back down at radiography having yet another CT scan, that JD suddenly leapt up.

"Oh God!" he cried.

"What?" asked a startled Vin.

"Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve."

"Well I think we all know that JD," Chris pointed out.

"But Buck's gonna be here all Christmas, so we have to bring Christmas to him, and we haven't done anything about it. You know how he feels about Christmas, look at this place."

The room had been decorated, but only in the most perfunctory and very tasteful way. Buck wasn't into tasteful Christmas decorations, he went for volume and colour, lots of colour.

"We certainly cannot expect him to eat Christmas lunch prepared by the moronic minions of the hospital kitchens," Ezra pointed out. "I will arrange lunch for seven?" he asked, looking at Nathan.

"Yeah, seven, Rain's going to see her sister, we're gonna get together for New Year’s."

"Excellent, mother is in Europe, Mr Tanner, Mr Dunne were you expected at the Wells household this festive season?"

"I'm seeing Casey for New Year as well. Vin?" JD explained.

"Saturday; I said I'd go over next Saturday."

Hasty plans were than made about who was doing what, JD said he knew where all the presents Buck had brought and wrapped were hidden except for his, but Chris just winked and said not to worry about it. JD would also pick up all the cards both opened and unopened from the CDC, and all Buck's favourite decorations. More decorations would be purchased, although Nathan drew the line at a real tree in the room, artificial would have to do. None of them stopped to ask the hospital if they minded, they were Team Seven, no one stop them looking after one of their own! Since Ezra's part of the plan involved one rather long phone call to Mo he was the one designated to stay behind at the hospital. Mo hadn't been happy with the request, he was fully booked with catered lunches for Tuesday, but a bit of cajoling, and Ezra promising to pay over the odds, won him over.

When Buck returned, he was surprised to find only Ezra lounging on the bed, flicking though the TV channels, finally stopping on a movie.

"The Italian Job, Mr Wilmington, have you seen it?" he asked once Buck was back in bed.

Buck shook his head.

"You will enjoy it I promise you."

"'Ere eyes?" Buck asked suspiciously.

"Where are the guys?" Ezra asked, Buck nodded to confirm Ezra had understood him. Ezra noted his speech was definitely improving.

"Well you know places to be, things to do, they'll be back. Come on let’s watch the movie." He lay back to watch but suddenly had a thought. "Buck I'm sorry I forgot about your headache we don't have to watch TV."

"'S ky."

"You are sure?"


Despite the headache Buck did enjoy the movie, he especially liked the ending, but when it was over he quickly fell asleep again. This gave Ezra a chance to make a number of calls and check on the progress of 'Operation T7 Christmas' as JD called it. Come the evening, and a meal shared by all of Chinese dumplings, mini spring rolls, prawn crackers and won-tons, with not a fork or a chopstick in sight, Josiah produced the next book in the series about the civil war. Buck was grateful, although he was improving his headache wasn't yet up to more TV. As it became clear Buck was getting tired they made to go home.

"' 'ay ish it?" Buck asked JD.

"Sunday, it's Sunday."

Wilmington's eyes went to Ezra; he wanted to be sure he would keep his appointment in the morning. Ezra gave a slight shake of the head.

"Do it Esh, oo prom…ish…d."

The others watched the exchange with fascination, clearly this was connected to the mysterious Las Vagas incident, and maybe they were going to finally learn what happened and why Buck had been so protective of Ezra for the last month and a half.

"That promise was given under different circumstances," Ezra returned.

"A prom…ish ish a prom…ish."

"Very well." Buck wasn't going to give up and Ezra couldn't stand seeing him struggling to get the words out any longer. "Tomorrow then." With that he left. Buck watched him go, regretting he had been forced to use emotional blackmail to get Ezra to do the right thing.

"Ite eye's," he said quietly, while looking at the bed covers.

Taking the hint but disappointed that they were not going to find out any more everyone said good night except Chris who was going to stay this time.

Monday, Christmas Eve dawned bright and clear and frosty, with the promise of snow later. The others were due to arrive as soon as Chris gave them a time, Buck was scheduled for another CT scan, and this generally took an hour at least.


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