When You Need Me
Disclaimer: Not mine not making any money.
Authors Note: This story is a direct sequel to Sally Craggs story Rescue.
A synopsis of the story follows this note. This story draws on the scenario set up by Jean in her fantastic stories Second Childhood, The Fishing Trip, Painful Memories and My Protector, which can be found at:- http://www.geocities.com/ipcatz/library.html and also at Lady Angel's M7 Archive http://lalibrary.net/m7/index.html . The story contains spoilers for all these stories except The Fishing Trip.
All the guys are involved but you have to be patient for the last three to turn up, but they all play an important part in the story. This story has been proofed by my mate Kerry, thanks pal.
Size: Approx 130 K
Rescue by Sally Craggs - Synopsis
Buck, JD, Chris and Vin are at the Brighton farm when little Melinda falls into the swollen creek. Buck manages to get her to safety just as a wall of debris filled water from a broken beaver dam washes him away; Vin pulls him unconscious from the torrent. Quickly regaining his senses he is joined on the bank by the others and Melinda who has arrived with her mother and siblings on a wagon.
"Come on now Mr Wilmington, we have to get both of you back to the house and dry you off," Mrs Brighton said briskly, as a diversion so she wouldn't have to think about what had just happened.
"Well?" Buck looked at the little girl in his lap. "Think we should do as mom says?
Melinda nodded solemnly, but did not remove herself from Buck's lap until she had given him another hug. Chris extended his oldest friend a hand and helped haul him to his feet. That was when it first hit him, the fact that the river had done some damage. Buck's ribs protested the sudden movement, there were gonna be some bruises on his legs too, he could feel them now he was putting weight on them, his whole right side hurt as he straightened out, sharp shooting pains that came so fast he almost didn't have time to mask them. But, being the man he was, he hid the pain from the others, he did not want to upset the children, especially Melinda, and he did not want Mrs Brighton feeling guilty. So he made sure his smile was in place and he made a conscious effort to walk normally as he headed to the wagon, Melinda walking beside him, gazing up at her hero.
Once at the house, Fay Brighton turned to the bedraggled gunslinger standing dripping on her front porch, just as lightning split the sky, followed by a mighty thunder crack. Everyone jumped, Melinda and Barry squealed in alarm. Then the rain came. Pounding on the roof, running in small cascades off the porch.
"Well looks like youre stuck here for a bit - there'll be flash floods on every creek between here and town," she pointed out. "Mr. Wilm..." she began.
"Please ma'am, call me Buck," he said it with a smile but his voice had a slight tremble as the cold and the shock began to set in.
"Alright Buck, if you insist, but we have to get you out of them wet things and warmed up, come on man - take off them boots and come in," she instructed.
Having taken care of their horses and the wagon team, the others came running for the cover of the porch, just as Buck shuffled inside in his stockinged feet.
"You lot are welcome too, but no muddy boots in my house!" She pointed to the neat row of boots outside the door, where Katie was currently placing Buck's neatly in line.
She instructed Buck to go into her and her husband's room and get undressed. Mr Brighton was at a nearby farm looking to buy a new heifer, and was now as trapped by the flash floods as they were. Unfortunately, her husband was considerably shorter and slighter than Buck, and none of his clothes would fit the big gunman. She suggested that he could either wrap himself in a blanket or, since he looked a mite worn out, have a nap in the bed while she rinsed and dried his things. Buck had naturally told her not to worry about him, but she insisted, and he was too cold and uncomfortable in his heavy wet clothes to protest further; disappearing into the bedroom just before the others came into the house.
Depositing the wet clothes outside the door Buck, increasingly weary and sore, slipped between the cool crisp sheets and gratefully relaxed into them. Mrs. Brighton took Melinda away to get her out of her wet things and then began to wash out the wet clothes before hanging them around the range to dry. Vin, Chris and JD watched the torrential rain, and discussed how long it would be once the rain stopped before they could return. Once the wet clothes were dealt with Fay began to prepare lunch, she hadn't expected to be feeding four hungry men as well as herself and the children, and it took some doing.
Finally the meal was on the table, since Buck had not stirred Chris volunteered to go and get him. He found the big man sprawled on the bed sound asleep, to Chris he looked a little pale but he had just nearly drowned so he wasn't surprised. He came closer and went to pull the covers a little higher noticing an ugly bruise already spreading across Buck's chest. Chris shook his head, his old friend was going to be very sore when he woke up, but not yet - and he didn't have the heart to wake him.
"Mrs. Brighton ma'am, could you save some for Buck? He's dead t' the world I don't like t' wake him yet." Chris explained.
"Of course, for the man who saved my baby girl, anything," Fay's admiration for Buck had grown rather than diminished since the morning.
By late afternoon the storm had still not passed, and Chris was forced to consider they would have to sleep at the ranch. JD had admitted he could milk a cow and gone with Barry to see to the stock, Vin was on the porch watching the rain and the lightning. Chris joined him, watching the rainwater run down past the barn and on to the fields, where eventually it would find its way to the already swollen creek.
"Ya thinking of stopping the night?" Vin asked.
"Yup, can't see us getting to far in this, 'sides Buck needs the rest, hasn't stirred once, guess that river knocked some of the stuffing out'a him."
"I guess, well barn's dry enough at least," Vin added, knowing there was no room in the house for three men to sleep. "I'll go check on Buck, if he's awake he'll be mighty hungry."
+ + + + + + +
"Well?" Chris asked as Vin came out of the bedroom.
Vin smiled, "Curled up like a baby still sound asleep."
Chris nodded and turned to go back outside then he stopped and turned back to Vin right behind him.
"Yeah on his side; why?"
In all the years Chris had known Buck he almost never slept on his side, always on his back, usually with his arms and legs going an all directions. True Buck could sleep almost any place, under almost any conditions, but ideally, such as now, in a big, soft, clean bed he would be on his back, just as Chris had seen him before lunch.
+ + + + + + +
He pushed past the startled tracker and into the bedroom. Buck was indeed on his side almost on his stomach, curled up, his back to the door. Vin followed his friend into the room, which was now getting dim as the light faded, except for the lightning flashes. As Vin stood in the doorway Chris bent over Buck. His colour was definitely unnaturally pale, his face somehow too still and his breathing a little too fast and slightly irregular. Chris looked up at Vin, worry etched on his face.
"Light the lamp and bring it over here, shut the door and pull the drapes," he instructed.
While Vin did this Chris tried to rouse the pale gunslinger, with no success. Once he had the light, Chris put a hand on Bucks forehead, it was cool - even cold, and clammy, but beaded in perspiration, he pushed down the bed clothes, mindful that Buck was naked under the covers he did his best to protect his friends dignity, but he needed to check him out. The bruising he had seen earlier now covered almost all the right side of Buck's chest spreading down and around his side to spread across his lower back and abdomen, it was deep bruising too, strong purple, black and blue in colour. Chris lay his hand on his friends chest, he could feel the unstable fractures under his fingers, and he felt Buck shudder slightly.
"I know you're cold pal but I gotta do this," he explained to the unconscious man.
He laid his hand with infinite care and gentleness across the bruises on Buck's back, which radiated heat, the shuddering became an involuntary flinch, then he repeated the same operation laying his hand on Bucks discoloured stomach. This time it was more than a flinch, as Buck tried desperately to escape the pain that lanced up through him to his confused and fogged mind. But the attempt to flee just brought more pain, as the sudden movement activated every raw nerve. He moaned, his breathing became more ragged, a frown of pain spread across previously still features. Chris replaced the covers, and moved to his legs. More ugly bruises marred his legs especially the backs of both calves. Chris looked up at Vin.
"We need Nathan," Chris stated.
Vin knew it but there was just no way to get him there, to attempt to cross the creek was suicide for man and horse.
Chris knew it too. "How long?" he asked.
Vin shrugged. "If it stops rainin' right now an' don't start again, this time tomorrow I might be able to git across up stream of what's left of the beaver lake."
Just then lightning illuminated the room, the deafening thunder came almost instantaneously, the storm was a long way from spent and everyone knew it. It would be two days before they could get help, if they were lucky. As if in response to the storm Buck groaned. Chris turned back to his friend.
"Come on Buck you 're gonna have to wake up for me now, 'cause I gotta know where your hurting an' how bad," he lay a hand on Buck's cheek. "Come on partner, wake up for me, I know your tired, I know it hurts, but your gottta be strong and wake up."
He was rewarded with a fluttering of eyelids and deep blue eyes, clouded with pain looked up at him. But such was the expression, so distant and distracted that Chris feared that his conscious state was an illusion.
"Buck - can you understand me?" Chris asked.
The big man nodded imperceptibly.
"Yer gut hurtin'?"
He indicated yes, then frowned some. "Chris," he whispered. "M' legs hurt."
"I don't doubt it pal, you got some bruises I'm tellin' you, what about yer head - ya got a headache?"
"Some." He closed his eyes.
"Buck you just rest easy. I'm gonna talk to Vin for a bit alright?" He got no response.
Chris and Vin moved to the corner of the room and spoke in hushed tones.
"Well he's definitely in shock, and I think he's bleeding on the inside," Chris stated, unable to keep the fear out of his voice.
"What ya' wanna do?" Vin asked, equally concerned.
"I'm tryin' t' remember what Nate does for shock, warm, we gotta keep him warm, he makes us drink if we're in shock." He looked across at Buck, "I don't know what else to do," he said hopelessly.
"Ya gotta tell JD," Vin said even more quietly.
Chris had almost forgotten JD, how was he going to tell their youngest that his 'big brother' was so ill he could easily die, and even if Nathan could help, they were cut off from him or any other form of help? He knew he had to, but the prospect was daunting. Yes, JD hero-worshipped him, was attached to the others, he depended on Josiah to keep him centred, but to Buck he was devoted. Buck offered the emotional support a lonely boy had needed when he first came west, with Buck he could let the mask of manhood slip, it was to Buck he had confessed his real age, it was Buck he turned to when he was hurt and scared, it was Buck who held him in the night when the nightmares came.
"You find Mrs. Brighton, I'll tell the kid," Chris instructed.
JD was at the back of the house in his slicker, helping young Barry to carry the milk inside. He looked up to see Chris watching him, looking actually JD couldn't read the expression, it wasn't one he had ever seen before from the notoriously stern leader. As he got closer, he realised the expression was the same as Ezra's a poker face, Chris was hiding something. As soon as he got the three pails inside the house, JD stepped back out to Chris, leaving Barry in the kitchen.
"What?" he asked.
Damn, the kid's getting good, thought Chris. "JD it's Buck," he said slowly.
"What about Buck, has he woken up?" JD speculated.
"Well yes, but he's hurt; more hurt than we realised probably more than he realised."
A look of panic spread across the young easterner's face. "How hurt?" he finally asked.
"Well I ain't Nathan but I reckon he's bleeding on the inside, he's in shock, and a lot of pain," he explained trying to keep a neutral tone.
All Buck had admitted was that he was hurting, but he had volunteered the information about his legs, to Chris this spoke volumes. It was rare for Buck to admit he was in pain, in Chris experience it was unheard of for him to volunteer information about his injures unsolicited. That had frightened Chris more than his friend's physical appearance.
Fay Brighton was horrified by Vin's description of Buck's condition. She hurried to check him herself, she did not have Nathan's skills, but she had been born and raised in the county, had born and raised three children of her own in the wilderness, all healthy and fit, no mean feat.
Buck had slipped back into the deep, still unconsciousness that had slowly and silently overtaken him as he slept, without even waking him. Pain brought on by Chris' exam had brought him close enough to waking that finally Chris' familiar voice had dragged him the rest of the way. And then the pain had hit, he was too weak to yell or scream, but on the inside he was doing both, it was like no pain he'd ever experienced, his guts were on fire, his chest felt as though a huge knife was being thrust in to him every time he breathed and his back throbbed incessantly, discharging showers of hot needles with every beat. Yet he wanted to tell Chris his legs hurt, the pain was negligible compered to the pains in his torso, but if he could feel it he knew his back was still working. He didn't think Chris understood but he didn't have the strength to tell him.
+ + + + + + +
Fay Brighton leaned over Buck, alarmed at his condition; she lay a practised hand on his forehead. In his feeble attempt to get away from the pain of Chris' earlier exam Buck had rolled more on to his back, despite the injuries there. She pushed the cover down off his chest, but didn't go past his waist, she turned to Vin.
"What other injuries have you seen?" she asked
Vin explained about his back and legs, she frowned never taking her eyes of Buck. Finally she nodded, as much to herself as to acknowledge Vin. With infinite care she slipped her hand under the unconscious man's sweat drenched neck, and then spoke to Vin.
"When I lift his head you slip out the pillows," she instructed.
Vin thought momentarily about asking why, but since he didn't have a clue how to help his stricken friend, he was forced to trust this lady who seemed to have some idea at least. He obeyed, Buck made no response to the gentle movement.
"Right, now place them under his legs, as high as you can manage." Now Vin had to question her.
"My father was cow kicked, we didn't have no doctor in our town but we had this woman, birthed the babies, doctored to the town like Mr. Jackson 'cept she was old. She said to raise the legs above the heart, keep him very still and give him lots to drink, her special mix," she explained.
"Did it work?" asked Chris from the door, JD standing behind him.
Fay looked down at Buck. "To start with he was the same then he began to improve some, but he had a cough, and a chill and that finished him," she admitted sadly. "But 'afore that he was getting better, stronger, less pain " she affirmed.
"Buck can't die!" JD breathed in horror.
"No, not while we can do anything in our power to keep him with us," Chris affirmed. Then he turned to Fay. "What do we have to do?"
In the next half hour the heavy blanket was replaced with a light warm quilt, two blankets were rolled and covered with sheets and places either side of the patient to reduce the chance of him moving and hurting himself further. Finally Vin had been despatched to boil and cool some water, and JD sent to feed the stock with Barry. He didn't want to go but Mrs Brighton insisted, saying the storm was spooking the horses so it would be better if someone they knew tended them. Once alone with Buck and Chris she produced a thick folded towel.
"Well Mr. Larabee now the children are out, do you want to do this or are you going to let me?"
"We have to get him to drink; drink lots, and what goes in comes out, he can't be moved and he can't lie in wet sheets."
Chris hadn't thought about that, he was still thinking when she spoke again.
"I done this for Pa when I was 17, I got a husband, a son, 4 brothers an' 8 cousins, I ain't gonna see anything I ain't seen before, an' from what I hear Mr. Wilmington ain't exactly the shy type," she stated matter of factly.
Chris nodded his approval for her actions, and watched while she quickly and as discreetly as possible placed the towel under Buck's loins then replaced the quilt. She told him to stay with Buck while she got the rest of what they needed. When she returned with Vin they were carrying another pillow, two more towels and a bottle. This bottle was made of clear glass and the top was covered with a thick layer of muslin tied on firmly with string. It appeared to contain water.
"Old Ma Watkins special recipe," she explained, "two tablespoons sugar, two teaspoons salt to one pint water."
With that she covered the pillow with the towel and with Vin's help slipped it under Buck's head. Then she settled on the edge of the bed by his head, with great tenderness, small towel in hand, she curved one arm around Buck's head to gently cup her hand under his chin, then she held the bottle close to his lips.
"Now Buck y' gotta have a drink, so I'm expecting some co-operation here," she said in her best mom voice.
Then she tipped the bottle so that a single drop fell through the muslin and on to his lips. No reaction, the liquid ran down his cheek where she quickly wiped it away. Chris watched her work from the other side of the bed, Vin was leaning up against the wall by the door. It took ten tries before he reacted, his lips parted the liquid dribbled in and he swallowed.
"My, I never knew a man so reluctant t' drink," she chided softly.
Just then they heard JD coming back in, even before Chris could react Vin slipped out of the room. Chris listened as Vin soothed JD, forcing him to help Katie get supper on and watch the children, then he returned to watch Mrs. Brighton work to get the life saving fluid into Buck. He only swallowed one drop in four, and only very slowly. She looked up at Chris.
"We're going to have to do this all the time, you take over for a bit while I see to my young uns, then we'll take it in turns, all of us."
That was how they did it, the three friends and the farmers wife never left the patients side, as well as keeping an eye on the children, not that that was hard, so worried were the children about their hero they never strayed from the house unless sent on an errand. The storm continued to rumble on, it was further away but the rain did not let up, with each extra hour of rain the chances of getting Nathan out to the farm receded. They gave him as much fluid as he would take, gently, drip by drip, and by morning he was swallowing one in two. Fay and Vin made a second bottle as the first began to run out.
Fay had gone to bed at one, mindful she still had children to care for in the morning. Vin had stayed with Buck for the second part of the night while Chris slept on the floor. JD sat on the far side of the bed he and Vin taking turns, holding and controlling the bottle, which was tiring work, he was the only one who hadn't slept at all. There was no point any of the others trying to persuade him to so Chris had decided to leave him till he dropped off naturally.
Come the morning there were children to be cared for, food to cook and stock to be fed and milked. JD was forced by Chris to help with the yard work while Vin rode out through the still steady rain to check the creek, up and down stream. By the afternoon Buck had quit swallowing at all, Fay washed his face with some warm soapy water and they let him rest. Once she and Chris were alone she replaced the towel, Chris was horrified to see it was blooded.
"This happen to your Pa?" he asked, almost afraid to know the answer.
"Uh-huh, not as bad though." She looked back down at him. "He's younger than Pa, maybe that will help."
She discreetly hid the offending object as JD came in. Since Buck seemed to be resting he just sat with him. To begin with he sat on the side of he bed, then he lay slightly and eventually, hand intertwined with Buck's, he fell asleep. That was how Chris found him, half on half off the bed, he lifted the young man's legs up on to the bed so he could rest safely alongside his 'brother'. He was still asleep beside Buck, one hand in Bucks, one arm reaching out, brushing against Buck's hair, when Mrs. Brighton came back in. She observed the two prone dark headed men in the gathering gloom of the evening, for Chris had not lit the lamp yet.
"They look like brothers," she commented.
"They are, in every way that really matters," Chris explained, then he continued. "Don't judge Buck by what you see and hear, it's not the real him, well not all of him. This man..." he looked down at his oldest friend, " is the most good natured, kindest, gentlest, most open hearted man you or I will ever know, and without him that boy will never make it to manhood."
"I would have to say courageous too, and I don't doubt what you say, but he is also the worst kind of scoundrel," she added.
"Mrs. Brighton; youre a married lady so I'll speak plain," Chris said ominously. "No woman went to Buck's bed other than willingly, none ever came away other than happy, that I've seen, certainly never in tears, if he knew he had got any of them in trouble he would stick by them, he never pays for it and he never deflowers. And one day, when he finds the right woman he will be the most devoted and faithful husband and father you ever saw."
She looked on as he spoke, taking in the man's deathly grey white pallor, shallow uneven breathing and uncharacteristic stillness. She could not approve of his lifestyle, but she would not change him, and she would not let him die, she just wouldn't!
"You look tired Mr. Larabee, go and rest, it'll be another long night." He knew she was right, with one last look at the two men on the bed, he left.
+ + + + + + +
Buck was aware of very little, what awareness he had was only internal, pain, thirst, cold. He had no awareness of surroundings, or people. Little by little however, he had been able to slake his thirst, instinctively swallowing the drops of moisture that fell on his lips, but it was tiring and eventually he had to give up the fluid his body craved and rest. Now he was waking and the thirst was even stronger. Through luck or instinct or divine intervention, the moisture returned with his awareness.
"Now Buck, lets have another go at this, that's it open your mouth, good boy," Fay cooed softly as she tried to get the big gunslinger to drink again. This time it was easier - he seemed to swallow every drop. Although the lamp was now alight, the room was still poorly lit, and she did not see when the patient's eyes slowly opened, and he gazed bleary eyed and confused into the face leaning over him. As he watched she continued the soft litany of encouragement.
"Thats it, and another," she encouraged. "I bet you were a good boy for your mamma, go on drink up, what did she call you I wonder, now now, don't spill," she chided softly as one precious drop went unswallowed and ran down his cheek where she dried it. "Let me think, I reckon you were Bucky, yes definitely a Bucky." He did not have the strength to keep his eyes open for long but he remained aware of her voice for a long time and even when that awareness slipped away he remembered it.
JD woke slowly, he could hear Mrs. Brighton's voice, the tone, speed and cadence were all familiar. The sound of a mother nursing a sick child, he listened as she soothed, encouraged, praised and even gently chided. As he opened his eyes he could see that Buck was drinking more strongly, swallowing every drop. He had been watching for some time, mesmerised by her voice, when he heard his name.
"There Bucky, young JDs up and awake, you gonna be as good for him as you been fa' me?" As if in response, Buck swallowed the next drop hungrily.
JD sat up and settled himself on the bed by Buck's head and began to drop the life saving fluid into his brother. He could not say the things she had said but instead repeated to Buck what he always said to him.
"Come on Buck, I'm here with you - youre safe and everything is going to be fine, we're together and our mamma's are watching over us."
Vin had spent much of the day with the children, Katie was old enough to take care of many of the domestic tasks, and in truth was happy to, it kept her occupied and she felt she was being helpful. Barry could do some chores around the farm but not all, and little Melinda was too small to help much, too scared by what was going on to amuse herself, and just followed whatever adult was around. Vin wasn't good with children, yet they liked him, which he found surprising, but he did not know how to treat them, so resolved to treat them like small adults. It didn't occur to Vin that this was precisely why children liked him. He just got on with the work, getting the children to help as much as possible and teaching them as he went along.
By late evening every one had eaten except JD, and the children were in bed, because they had slept during the day Chris and JD were going to take the night shift, Vin would take over around dawn. Once JD had been coaxed away to eat, Chris and Fay once again replaced the towel, both relived to find less blood.
In the middle of the night while JD was making coffee for himself and Chris, Buck's eyes once again opened. He looked up at Chris who had taken a break from feeding his friend to rest his arm.
"Oh Chris - why did ya' go an' git killed too?" he asked in a voice that was breathy and barely audible.
Chris looked down shocked at the sudden voice, then so elated on hearing his friend he almost didn't take in what he had said.
"Buck? Buck - you hear me?" Chris couldn't believe he was awake, much less speaking.
"Chris why? Without you who's gonna look after the kid and Ez?"
Chris finally understood, Buck thought that he was dead, and therefore Chris must be as well. He got off the bed and knelt down so he and Buck could look eye to eye more easily, but he had to gently guide his old friend's face so they were looking at each other. The pain, physical and emotional visible in his face, broke his heart. So good was Buck at hiding pain of all kinds that when it became visible, naked and unfettered, it was some how more shocking.
"Buck - you're not dead and neither am I, we're at the farm, remember? You rescued the little girl, you got hurt in the river but you're not dead, we're not dead," he stated firmly.
"Yes we are Chris, we're both dead an' in heaven, you just don't know it yet," he stated firmly.
"No Buck, no - you're hurt, hurt bad - but you're not dead."
Buck's head shook slightly. "Chris, Ma was here, I saw her, I heard her, she came to me she held me an' called me Bucky, I just didn't think heaven would hurt so bad."
Chris felt lost, how would he convince Buck it was not his mother who had tended him and he was not dead. While he thought on this he heard Buck gasp, a look of horror came over his face.
"Oh Chris - what if we're in hell? Chris - heaven shouldn't hurt, what if its hell? No! Chris why'd God send Ma t' hell, she was a saint she didn't deserve to go t' hell, she couldn't help it, no Ma, no!" He was becoming distressed.
Chris looked up to see JD standing in the doorway two mugs of coffee in his hands, looking confused.
"JD get Mrs. Brighton, now, go!"
JD put down the coffee on the floor and ran for the other bedroom where Mrs. Brighton was sharing a bed with her eldest daughter. He pulled open the door and crossed to the bed, relived to find both mother and daughter were in long nightgowns. He shook the farmer's wife roughly, calling her name. Eventually she was awake enough to realise what he was saying and followed him to the bedroom. The commotion had woken Vin who met them at the door. Chris put his hand up to stop them coming in, and then much as he hated to do it, he rose from the floor and came to them, leaving a restless Buck.
"Vin, JD don't come in! He thinks he's dead, he thinks I'm dead, he can't see you two or he might think you're dead, if he thinks that - especially you kid - I don't know what will happen. Ma'am he thinks youre his Ma, since she 's dead and she came to him...you understand."
She nodded silently, trying to work out how best to prove to Buck he wasn't dead. She closed the door behind her and moved to the bed.
"Buck?" she asked, trying to ascertain if he was aware of her. She got no response, then she thought of something. "Bucky come on, look at me," she encouraged.
She was rewarded as his eyes slowly opened. She had never really looked at his eyes, now she could see they were blue not brown as she had previously thought, but a deep midnight blue, that now radiated pain, even despair.
"Yes dear, I'm here."
"Ma I'm sorry, it ain't right, you don't deserve t' be here, why did God punish you? Maybe I deserve t' go t' hell but not you Ma not you."
"Listen to me Bucky, listen!" she cut across him quickly as she realised just how distressed he was. "You're not dead, I came to you because you needed me, don't you know I'm always watching you?" She had no idea if she was saying the right things, she was going on instinct.
"I always thought so, I'm not dead?"
"No my love, you're hurt, and you have to concentrate on getting strong, getting better for JD, for your little brother, he needs you." She watched as he began to relax.
"Ma, will you stay with me 'till I'm all better?"
"I'll stay while you still need me," she assured.
"God didn't send you to hell did he Ma? He didn't punish you?"
"No, I'm with Jesus, don't you worry." She had no idea why he would think God would punish his mother, but he needed to know she was in paradise, then she remembered something else he had said. "And when your time comes, a long, long time from now, you'll be with me again."
"Is Chris dead?"
"No love, he's just fine, worried about you though."
"I gotta tell Chris my legs still hurt but 'm tired," he stated.
"Well I'll tell him, you get some sleep." She had been holding his hand, now she reached up and lay a hand on his cheek, as he visibly relaxed some more.
"Say hello to Sarah and Adam for me." His voice was so quiet now it was all but inaudible.
"I will, don't you fret now, just sleep," she soothed as he slipped back in to unconsciousness.
Once she was sure he was resting quietly, she stepped outside.
"Well?" JD asked.
"I think he believes he's not dead and Mr. Larabee's not dead, he seemed convinced God had sent his mother to hell, why would he think that?"
Vin looked puzzled, JD and Chris who knew the answer, looked at the floor and both shrugged.
She continued. "He wants me to tell you," she looked at Chris, "that his legs hurt, and he wanted me, or rather his mother, to say hello to a Sarah and Adam, does that mean anything?"
Chris said nothing, he just brushed past her into the bedroom. She looked at the other two for answers. Finally JD spoke.
"Sarah and Adam were Chris' wife and son, Buck was very close to them." He didn't offer further explanation, hoping Mrs. Brighton would work out the rest.
Chris sat beside the bed, the whole incident had taken only ten minutes but it had used up every scrap of energy Buck had. Now he rested silently, quite still, his breathing shallow and slightly fast, but as Chris sat there he realised it was regular. Before it had been slightly irregular, Chris wondered how long had it been like that, why had he noticed it now? The answer came in the silence in the room, it had stopped raining.
"Oh my old friend, no matter what your Ma did to earn a living, she raised you; she was a good mother, so she could never go to hell. And you won't either, you're too good a man, better than me, better than almost any I ever knew or ever will know."
He looked up as the door opened and the others came in.
"Is he alright?" JD asked tentatively.
"I think so, he's breathing better, I think. It's stopped raining," he stated.
The others all raised their heads slightly, suddenly noticing the constant drumming of the rain was gone. Fay moved forward and gently lifted the covers from Buck's legs, they were black and blue with bruises, especially at the back, but as she rechecked them she found no broken bones, and his knees and ankles didn't appear to be significantly swollen. She replaced the covers frowning at her patient.
"Now why do you want Mr. Larabee to know your legs hurt? Can't hardly hurt as much as the rest of you?" she asked.
It had been puzzling Chris as well, whatever it was - it was important to Buck. Vin came closer, pulled back the covers from his friends feet, then he looked around the room, and seeing what he needed he pulled Mrs. Brighton's hatpin from the cushion on the dresser. Then he returned, and as the others watched he pulled the sharp point up the sole of first one then the other of Buck's feet. Each curled in as he did it. Finally Vin looked up.
"An Injun' medicine man showed me that, it means his legs is still working, he can still feel 'em, I reckon he's trying to tell ya' his back's not broke."
Chris looked at the tracker and then back at Buck, he nodded to indicate he agreed. Buck had walked from the river back to the wagon, and then into the house, so why would he think his back was broke, he wondered; unless he was in so much pain he couldn't but help think something was broke.
"Vin you reckon you could find some of that bark Nathan uses for pain?" Chris asked.
"I'll go first light, check the creek too," the Texan affirmed.
Vin returned to bed, as did Fay, and with a little persuasion, JD lay himself alongside Buck and drifted back to sleep, leaving Chris with the unconscious Buck. He was too weak from his recent exertion to drink, so Chris just watched. Even in the warm glow of pale lamp light he was hideously pale, his moustache only emphasised how pale, his skin was almost translucent, and yet Chris believed he looked a little better. Without disturbing JD he carefully pulled down the soft covers, the bruising had, if anything, intensified, but it had not spread significantly. Buck was still producing blooded urine and he took the opportunity to deal with the practical side of that, but there was less blood than before, and that had been less than the first time. As he ministered to his friend he noticed him shiver, apologising he replaced the covers as quickly as he could.
When Vin came in just before sun-up, Chris was asleep slouched in the chair beside the bed. Vin checked on Buck and then carefully woke JD.
"He's gotta start drinking again, you think you can get some of this into him, with out waking Chris?"
Vin handed JD a fresh bottle. The younger man pulled himself up so he was sitting beside Buck. As Vin watched he fell back into the familiar routine. It took several goes but once he had got Buck to swallow he drank steadily if a little slower than before. Satisfied, Vin left on his mission.
+ + + + + + +
The day dawned sunny, the land smelt good, washed clean. Vin would normally have relished this kind of day but not today, he galloped to the creek bank, the water swollen to almost bursting point, rushed past at breakneck speed, it was dark with silt and full of debris, too full to attempt a crossing. He headed up stream, to where the shallowest crossing was normally found. There was nothing he would have liked to do more than to cross and gallop on to town and get Nathan, but there was no chance, he and his horse would never survive the attempt. Reluctantly turning away he went in search of the bark Buck needed.
He was back at he farm within four hours, sadly reporting that even if it didn't rain again it would be the small hours before he could cross. He and Katie brewed tea from the bark, they boiled it and strained it three times to produce a form of concentrated tea, then they added some to the next bottle of sweetened, saline solution. It was now mid morning and JD had ceded his place to Fay, Chris had been persuaded to go to the other room and stretch out on a proper bed.
JD was sitting on the porch getting some much needed fresh air, the sun was welcomingly warm, without the heavy oppressive heat that had preceded the storm. After checking on Buck and handing over the new medicine Vin joined him. The children had finished their chores and naturally gravitated to the adults.
"Mr. Vin?" Melinda asked.
"Yes Miss Melinda?" She liked that. "Is Mr. Buck gonna die, is it 'cause of me?"
Vin stared at her, aware that the others were listening and that he had heard JD catch his breath at the question. Vin saw no reason to lie, but he had to phrase it right.
"Well - I don't think he will die, I think if he were going to die he would have by know, but he is very, very sick and we all have to work very hard to help him get better, all of us have something to do," he explained. "Even you three. Katie has been doing your Ma's job, feeding us and looking after you, helping to mix the medicine, Barry has been doing your Pa's job looking after the farm."
"And me? Have I been helping?" Melinda asked.
"Yes you have been helping, you help by being a good girl, and doing as youre told, and being quiet," Vin explained.
Melinda took all this on board, then she remembered her original question. "But it is my fault isn't it, 'cause I fell in the river?"
Vin didn't know what to say, and seeing this, JD stepped forward and knelt beside the distressed child.
"Buck got hurt 'cause the beaver dam broke, you didn't choose to fall in the river, you didn't make it rain, you didn't break the dam and even if he had known he would get hurt, he would still have helped you," JD explained with pride, knowing it was true.
The little girl looked at the young sheriff trying to decide how she felt. "Can I see Mr. Buck to say I'm sorry he got hurt?" she asked.
"When he's a bit better honey, but for now you just have to go on helping, being a good girl," Vin said kindly. "All three of you have to just go on just doing what you've been doing, so we can help Buck get well."
The tree children regarded him solemnly, Katie stood up and came around to stand in front of Vin.
"We will, you can count on us." Then she looked down at Melinda. "Come on - you can help me make the pastry - I'm gonna make an apple pie."
All three children trooped inside, as JD returned to his seat in the sun beside Vin. "You handled that very well," he complimented.
"Didn't do too bad yourself."
Chris woke and came into the bedroom, and immediately Fay Brighton outlined what she thought needed doing, and it was something only the two of them could do. They worked together, a fast and efficient team. When JD stepped back in to the room he was amazed at the transformation. The drapes were back and the window open, flooding the room with warm sunlight and fresh air. The smell of stale sweat and urine had been replaced with the familiar smells of soap and of the farm outside. Buck he been shaved, his hair washed and brushed, his legs had been lowered except for a single pillow under his knees to keep the weight of his battered calves, head raised a little higher on an extra pillow. As JD took in the scene he realised Buck was still pale but the grey pallor was gone. Chris was sitting in the familiar position with the bottle in his hand delivering the life giving and now pain reliving fluid.
"Watch," Fay instructed.
JD turned to the patient, as he watched Chris stopped the flow of fluids, after only a few seconds Buck's head craned up a fraction, is lips working to find the fluid he craved. Chris didn't make him wait long, a smile as big as the Grand Canyon split JD's face. He knew Buck wasn't out of danger, he wasn't even conscious yet, but he was reacting, moving, and he looked so much better.
"There, see that Buck? You made young JD smile," Fay cooed, convinced Buck could hear her.
JD gently placed himself on the bed on the other side of Buck to Chris. "Hey there Buck, I was gonna say you look awful. Now I know you reckon that ain't hardly possible, and you know you don't look so bad now, it would be better if I could see your eyes, but I can wait 'till your ready."
Buck was aware of the pain, even though he was now getting some pain relief; it had a negligible effect on his pain. The broken ribs were healing, but they ached, throbbing in time to his breathing, the pain in his side and stomach burned constantly, and still the needles of pain attacked his back. The pain in his legs was receding but he clung to it as a lifeline. He was aware of his thirst, but now it was being slaked, sometimes he had to seek it out, but the moisture he craved was there and he was no longer cold. Every now and again he was aware of voices, they came and went, he couldn't make out the words, he only half recognised some of the voices. When he did hear the voices he wanted to answer them, but he just didn't have the energy. More than that he was oblivious too. There was just blackness, everlasting pain filled blackness. He wanted out of the blackness he wanted light, the voices some how promised light, so he tried to concentrate on them, tried to pull them to him.
All through the day Buck drank steadily, JD never left his side, if he wasn't delivering the moisture he was beside him talking quietly, his hand intertwined in Buck's. He talked about anything and everything, like Mrs. Brighton he spoke as though Buck could hear and even see. As the sun went down he described the sunset.
"Will you look at that, beautiful, God sure knows how to paint don't he?" he said, looking up through the window. They were alone, Chris had gone to get a full bottle, Buck had become distressed briefly at the ceasing of fluids, but had calmed quite quickly. JD looked down at Buck whose head he was cradling in the crook of his arm, his other hand resting on Buck's shoulder. Indigo blue eyes stared back at him. JD 's first impulse was to shout for joy, shout in relief, but just in time he stopped himself.
"Hello there," he said quietly, smiling, giving the shoulder a gentle pat. "I've missed you, just lie still for me, look at the sunset." He pointed at the window.
Buck's eyes followed his finger, JD watched as the slightest of smiles appeared on his friend's face. JD's heart soared, Buck was seeing what he saw, he was reacting to it as he did. Then he realised that meant Buck was aware, not confused as he had been before, he tried to think what Buck would be asking if he had the strength. He squeezed the shoulder in reassurance, Buck's eyes returned to him, JD could see the pain all too easily, but also trust.
"The river, it hurt you, the hurt kinda snuck up on you while you were asleep," he explained. "Mrs. Brighton, she knew what to do, now you have to be very still, rest, do as you're told, I know it ain't easy. Chris an' Vin are here as well, an' as soon as the creek goes down we're gonna get Nathan out to you." He looked for some sign he had been understood, Buck's eyes moved from him around the room and then to the door. "We're still at the farm," JD said hoping it was the right answer, but Buck managed a slight frown. "The little girl?" Buck closed his eyes once, now JD understood. "She's just fine, bright as a button, you'd never know she'd had a fright."
The door opened and Chris re-entered. Buck's eyes moved to him and then followed him as he came to the other side of the bed to JD.
"See? I told you Chris was here, look who decided to join the party Chris." JD beamed at his leader and hero, proud to be the one to give him such good news.
Chris looked down, he gasped in surprise, when he had composed himself he dropped into the chair by the bed, laying his hand on top of his friend's.
"You are one tough cuss Buck Wilmington, you know that?" He was distressed to see a small frown form on his friend's face. "I just mean aw hell, you took on a whole river pal and you beat it!" Chris explained with pride, softening his tone he asked. "Your legs still hurt?" Buck blinked slowly once, which Chris took as a yes. "And that's a good thing, right?" Again Buck indicated yes. "Took us a while to work that one out, it was Vin figured it in the end, might have known that mangy tracker be the one to figure your crazy thinking."
Chris suddenly remembered the bottle in his hand. "You thirsty pal?" He was surprised at the strength of Buck's reaction, he nodded and blinked, a look of pleading crossed his face.
"Here JD, you do the honours," he said handing the bottle over the grinning kid.
Buck's eyes followed the bottle of light tan liquid as it was passed over him to JD, then brought close to his mouth, before he realised there was liquid on his lips and he had swallowed, it was pure reflex. It took two or three drops for him to register the taste, then he frowned.
"Nathan," he said clearly.
"No - it was Vin made the tea and added it to Mrs. Brighton's medicine," JD explained.
"Damn Texan," his voice was quieter, but his eyes brighter.
"Don't knock it, this little bottle's been keeping you alive for the last three nights." Chris explained. "And you're gonna keep on drinking 'till you can sit up and eat for yerself," anger was creeping in to Chris' voice.
As always he was finding it impossible to handle his emotions, fear, relief, love, and resorting to aggression, the one emotion he understood.
"Chris!" JD hissed a warning, seeing confusion in Buck's expressive eyes.
Chris looked back at his oldest friend. "God I'm sorry, I er I," he stood up suddenly, turning away.
"Worried," Buck said clearly.
Chris looked back, he finally nodded. "Drink for me pal?" he added.
"Tastes bad; didn't say I wouldn't drink, too turseeee," Buck replied slurring the last word as his grip on consciousness began to fail.
JD went back to dropping fluid on to his lips, and despite his recent exertions Buck swallowed, even though his eyes were clearly getting heavy, he had the energy to breathe a 'thank you', before finally slipping back into the blackness.
Buck didn't want to go back to the blackness, it was scary, lonely and cold, he wanted to stay in the light, with his friends, with JD, but try as he might he just didn't have the strength to hold off the black clouds as they invaded his vision. For a while he could still hear JD's voice, but he got fainter and more distant until he was gone.
"Buck, come on Buck, drink for me," JD pleaded, but to no avail. He looked up pleadingly at Chris.
"I reckon he's just tired out kid." He felt his friend's neck. "Good pulse, bit quick though."
Buck rested still and unreachable for the next few hours. At around two am by the light of a full moon, Vin and Chris set out for the creek, Vin was determined to cross, but Chris was equally determined he should not risk his life recklessly. Buck would, he knew, not want him to, and would never forgive himself if anything happened to Vin.
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