by Hombre

Disclaimer: Boys belong to others. Why can't they be mine? Medical information is from the following book: Mosby's Paramedic Book by Mick Sanders but should not be taken as absolutely correct. This story is for Judy, Sandy and Clara. Hope you like it. Thanks for all those emails!

The six men made their way through the snow to the cabin they were staying in for their vacation. They had just finished skiing and had worked up an enormous appetite. Buck slammed through the door noisily, laughing and shouting at his friends who were following behind. He suddenly remembered the seventh member of their group was asleep on the couch inside and he looked over to his friend and saw that they had woken him up.

"Sorry, Vin. Didn't mean to wake ya. How do you feel?" the ladies' man asked apologetically.

"Okay." Vin rubbed his eyes wearily with the heel of his hands while sitting up and putting his head in his hands.

"You sure? You don't look well," Chris commented. He thought his friend looked a shadow of his normal self. The sharpshooter had been ill and hadn't eaten much over the past few days. He was spending most of his time either laying on the couch or puking his guts up in the bathroom and hadn't had a chance to enjoy a much needed vacation.

"I'll be alright but I don't think I wanna drive home tomorrow. Can you take me back in the jeep, JD? I'll try to catch up on some sleep on the way home," Vin asked.

"Sure, I'll drive you home, Vin. Just don't puke, will ya?" JD asked.

"I'll try not to kid, but no guarantees."

Nathan walked over and sat down next to Vin and felt his brow. "You're still quite warm. I knew we shoulda gone home earlier. It ain't nice being sick away from home. Do ya still feel nauseous?" the medic asked sympathetically.

"Yeah, but not so much. Only when I've had somethin' to eat and as you know to your cost, I puke straight away. I don't reckon I coulda faced the journey home any earlier, Nate. Traveling would just have made me feel worse." Vin rubbed his stomach as he spoke and sighed.

"Have you taken yer medicine?" Buck asked.

"Na. Been asleep."

"I'll get you some and then you can get some more rest." Nathan patted the invalid on the shoulder and rose to go in search of his pills. Nathan had managed to get a prescription for the sharpshooter but he didn't think the pills were really helping him because he usually vomited fairly soon after taking them.

The medic came back with the bottle in his hand and passed two of the tablets to Vin with a glass of water. The rest of the men took off the numerous layers of clothes they were wrapped in and sat down around the room to keep their sick colleague company.

+ + + + + + +

The next morning the men rose early to get ready for the trip home. They let Vin stay in bed while they got the vehicles loaded with the luggage and equipment. Chris walked into Vin's room and looked down at the man curled up under the covers. He looked so comfortable and restful that Chris hated to have to wake him, but they had a long journey ahead of them and needed to get going. He sat down on the bed and rubbed Vin's back and called his name. The sick man shifted under the covers and groaned as he opened his eyes. He put a hand up to his head and sighed.

Chris narrowed his eyes as he studied his friend intently. "Are you alright? Do ya want somethin' to eat before we leave?" he asked.

"Na. Couldn't eat a thing. Anyway, I promised JD I wouldn't puke in the jeep so I'd better not."

"He was only joking, Vin. You should eat and drink something. What about some cookies?" Chris cajoled hoping that the sharpshooter's sweet tooth would persuade him to eat those at least.

"Okay, but nothin' else."

Chris helped Vin get up and dressed because he still felt dizzy and had no energy whatsoever to do it himself. When they were ready, the blond man led his friend outside and sat him at the table.

"Jeez Vin. You look awful," JD exclaimed.

"Mornin' to you too, kid," Vin said tiredly.

"I have to agree with Mr. Dunne. Are you sure you're up to the drive home? It's a long way if you're feeling nauseous. You would say, wouldn't you, if was too much to contemplate?" Ezra asked in a concerned tone.

"I'll be alright once we get going, Ez. I always feel worse in the morning."

Chris passed him a few cookies and a glass of water to take his pills with. Vin ate slowly although he looked ready to throw up any minute. "Perhaps we can split the journey. We could find a motel tonight and go the rest of the way tomorrow," the blond suggested as he eyed his friend worriedly.

"Good idea, pard. We passed a lot on the way here. There's bound to be one with a free room even if we all have to squeeze in together. It could be rather cosy," Buck laughed.

"See how you feel when we get on the road, Vin," Nathan said.

"Sure. Whatever," Vin replied as he rose quickly and made his way to the bathroom where his friends could hear him throw up. Chris shook his head and walked along to wait outside the door until his friend emerged looking pale and shaky.

"Be sensible, Vin. Shall I try and arrange for us to stay here a bit longer?" Chris asked.

"I'll be alright. They were fully booked here anyhow. We can stop nearer home like you said. I'm really sorry, Chris. I know I've ruined the vacation for the rest of you."

"No, you haven't. I'm just sorry you haven't been able to enjoy it. You really needed a break after the last case. Take some more time off when we get back. Are you ready to go?" Chris asked, knowing that Vin wouldn't change his mind. Vin nodded and followed Chris outside to join the others.

The men split up and walked to the vehicles they would be traveling in. JD took Vin to the jeep and put him in the front seat and belted him in before going round to the driver's side. He looked over at his passenger and saw that he was already falling asleep.

"Do ya mind if I listen to some music on the way home, Vin?" the kid asked.

"No. Go for it, JD. I can usually sleep through the rubbish you listen to," Vin smiled and yawned before wriggling in his seat to get comfortable and closing his eyes as JD turned on the radio.

Chris drove out first and the others pulled in behind him to form a convoy. Buck and Ezra were with Chris while Josiah and Nathan traveled together. They had driven for about an hour on snow covered roads when Chris pulled over. The other vehicles stopped behind him and waited while the blond got out and walked back to Vin's jeep. He went to the driver's side and tapped on the window. Chris stood and blew into his cupped hands as he waited while JD wound his window down so Chris could talk to him.

"How's Vin?" Chris asked as he leaned in through the window.

"He's been asleep all the way."

"We'll stop overnight somewhere. Let me know if he feels sick 'cause we can stop sooner if need be," Chris said

"Sure Chris," JD answered as he wound the window back up and Chris walked back to the Ram. The convoy pulled onto the road again with tires fighting to maintain a grip on the slippery surface.

JD and Vin were at the back of the three-vehicle convoy. The kid looked over at his companion after another hour had passed and he noticed Vin shift in his seat. The sharpshooter did not open his eyes but sighed and settled down again. JD moved his gaze back to the road and saw a movement out the corner of his eye. He quickly turned his head and saw a deer running close by the side of the vehicle. The animal suddenly changed direction and swerved to cut across in front of him. JD cursed as he tried to avoid the animal and he felt the jeep's tires skid on a patch of ice. He tried not to use his brakes too hard but he felt his steering wheel lock up. He desperately attempted to regain control but the deer hit the vehicle side on and he found the jeep heading for the edge of the road. He shouted at Vin to wake him up as the jeep went over the edge.

Chris looked in his rear view mirror when something caught his eye and he said, "Shit," forcefully and pulled the Ram off the road as fast as he dared.

"What's the matter, Chris?" Buck asked, looking behind them when he saw where Chris's gaze was aimed.

"A deer just hit Vin's jeep and it's gone off the road," the blond answered as he hurriedly got out the vehicle. He flagged Nathan down, but knew that the medic had also seen what had happened. All the men followed Chris as he ran to where he had seen the jeep disappear from sight.

He looked down the slope and saw the vehicle rapidly heading toward a frozen lake in the valley below. "Bloody hell. Get a rope Josiah and call an ambulance," he shouted over his shoulder as he started to slide down the incline after the jeep.

"Better make it two ambulances, Josiah," Nathan said as he thought of the jeep's two occupants.

Chris knew that if the jeep went in the lake it would be disastrous. Not that he could stop it with his bare hands. He looked up from his downward slide and saw JD throw himself from the jeep while shouting at Vin to get out as well. The blond man switched his gaze to the jeep's other door but Vin did not appear.

"Oh shit. Vin get out," he shouted frantically. He watched in horror as the vehicle flipped over onto its side after hitting a hidden obstacle and continued inexorably toward the lake. It skidded onto the icy surface and the black clad man heard the ice crack and saw the jeep start to sink. He heard his friends coming behind him but there was nothing they could do.

Buck ran over to JD and sank to his knees beside the youngster. "JD? Can you hear me, kid?" he called, as he frantically checked him for injuries.

Chris, meanwhile, stood at the side of the lake and shouted desperately, "Vin! Vin!" at the top of his voice.

+ + + + + + +

When the jeep left the road JD had reached over and shaken Vin roughly while continuing to call his name. The jeep bounced and threw its occupants around but JD managed to get his own seatbelt undone after a bit of a struggle. He turned his attention to undoing Vin's for him. The sharpshooter had woken but he was still groggy and didn't realize the seriousness of the situation.

"Vin? We gotta get out the jeep now! Do ya hear me?" JD shouted. The kid continued to try to release Vin from the seatbelt but the damn thing wouldn't move. He looked up and saw the lake rapidly approaching. Jesus! What do I do? he asked himself. I can't leave Vin in here to drown. He put renewed effort into undoing the seat belt and it eventually came loose.

"Vin, get out now," he shouted as he leapt out his own door. He looked back but didn't see Vin obey his order. He landed heavily and the air was forced from his lungs. He couldn't move or breathe and he passed out.

Vin, meanwhile, was thrown round the inside of the jeep as it hit something and turned over. He reached for the door handle but the door was bashed in and wouldn't open. He wasn't sure he would have been able to open it if it had been in working order anyway. As the jeep was now on its side he would have to push the door up to open it and he didn't think he had the strength to do it. The other door had slammed shut after JD had leapt out and the jeep was now resting against the ground on that side so he had no way out there. He looked out the windshield and watched as the jeep slid onto the lake's icy surface. He heard the ice break beneath him and felt the jeep sink downwards. He desperately pushed against the door but it wouldn't budge. He didn't dare unwind the side window as it would let the water rush in. He saw the water start to enter the vehicle through the bottom of the jeep and his foot became submerged it. The water kept rising and he started to panic. He totally lost control and started pounding on the door while crying hopelessly.

"Help me Chris. Please help me. I don't wanna drown."

The jeep turned back up the right way as the ice it had been lying on slid out from under it. Vin crawled over to the door on that side but couldn't open it. The water reached his mouth and he tried to get higher up in the seat although he knew it would only give him a few more seconds. He took several breaths before inhaling one deep breath that he held for as long as he could. He looked around the jeep for something to knock out the windshield or to cut through the soft top with. He couldn't get out the plastic rear window because the jeep was piled high with luggage and his way was blocked. By the time he thought about unwinding the side window now that the water level was higher, it was too late. The water now totally covered him and he couldn't hold his breath any longer. His lungs forced him to open his mouth and breathe in water. He closed his mouth again instinctively but started to choke and he could do nothing but give into his fate.

+ + + + + + +

Chris started stripping off as he watched bubbles rise to the surface of the lake. Nathan caught his arm and pulled him away.

"Chris, you can't go in after him. It's too cold," the medic pleaded.

"Do you want him to fucking die? I don't give a shit if the water's freezing. We can't just leave him to drown. You can if you want but I'm not going to. Get yer hand off me before I knock it off," Chris shouted frantically as he continued to strip off down to his shorts.

"Chris, please don't do this," Nathan begged. He turned to Buck for help but the ladies' man was concentrating on JD and didn't look up.

Josiah arrived with a rope and heard the argument going on between his two friends. "Tie the rope round me Josiah so I don't get lost beneath the surface," Chris ordered, ignoring Nathan's request.

Josiah did as he was told although he agreed with Nathan's opinion. He didn't want to lose two friends, but he knew Chris would never forgive himself if he didn't even attempt to save Vin. He tied the rope tight and kept hold of the loose end. Chris walked to the edge of the hole in the ice and eased himself into the water. The coldness took his breath away but he ignored it and he dived below the surface.

Nathan shook his head at Chris's mulish behavior and turned to Ezra and said, "Stubborn bloody fool. Get some blankets will ya, Ez? There should be plenty in the vehicles."

"Right away, Mr Jackson," the undercover agent said as he ran back up the slope. Events had occurred so fast, he was still in a daze.

Nathan went over to Buck and JD and knelt beside them. "How is he?"

The ladies' man had the boy in his arms and was rocking him back and forth as the kid cried his heart out.

"He was winded but he's just upset he couldn't get Vin out. Might be suffering from shock too," Buck answered.

"I shoulda got him out. He was asleep and didn't know what was happening," JD said with a faltering voice.

"You did what you could, son," Nathan said.

The medic reached out and rubbed the youngster's back before rising when he heard Ezra coming back down from the vehicles. He walked over to meet the man and took a blanket from him. He walked back to Buck and put a blanket round JD's shoulders.

"Why don't you take him back up to the Explorer, Buck. It'll be warmer and he doesn't need to be here," Nathan suggested.

"Okay." Buck picked JD up in his arms and carried him back up the slope.

Nathan walked back over to the lake just as Chris broke the surface. He looked cold and shivered uncontrollably. "Give it up, Chris. You'll only kill yerself too," the medic said.

"No Nate. I'm not stopping. While you're talking, Vin's drowning."

"He's been under too long, Chris. He can't possible survive."

"Shut up, Nate, just shut up," Chris shouted, not wanting to believe what the medic was saying. He turned his attention to Ezra and Josiah. "I need something to cut through the jeep's soft top. There's already a tear in it from where the jeep turned over but I can't rip it any wider. The doors are bashed in so it's the only way to get him out quickly."

Ezra put a hand in his pocket and pulled out a Swiss army knife. He ran over to Chris and held it out to him. "Will this suffice?"

"Thanks Ez," Chris said before plunging back down below the surface. The water was very murky and he had difficulty finding his way back to the submerged jeep even though it was only six feet down. He started to cut through the material with Ezra's knife. It was hard work and he only just made inroads into it when he had to resurface for another lungful of air. He filled his lungs and went down again. He discovered his limbs were beginning to succumb to the cold and they took longer to obey his brain's commands. He made a final effort and cut a cross shape in the roof and he plunged inside. Some of the luggage was floating around and he had to push it out of the way to get to his friend. He pulled Vin free and looked at his face and saw no signs of life. Shit. Don't you dare die, Chris shouted in his head. Chris turned round quickly in the small space, cursing at the many obstructions in his path and threaded his friend through the hole. He squeezed himself out too and grabbed hold of Vin under his arms and dragged him to the surface.

Josiah had been keeping a close eye on the water's surface and saw an uprush of bubbles. Two heads bobbed up and he reached down and pulled Vin out while Ezra reached in for Chris. The blond man was shivering and his teeth were chattering incessantly. Ezra stripped him of the last of his clothes and wrapped him in a few of the blankets he had salvaged. He dried him off as best he could and made him put his sneakers back on, so at least his feet would be covered and warm. The sneakers had been under the pile of Chris's clothes and had kept a bit of heat in them.

"Keep him warm Ez, but don't move him," Nathan instructed. "See if you can find something waterproof to sit him on so he's not on the snow."

Ezra turned and shouted to Buck up at the top of the slope. "Can you bring down some of the waterproof coats?"

"Sure." Buck gathered an armful of their ski jackets and hurried back down the slope after making sure JD was alright to be left alone. Once he'd put the coats on the ground for Chris to lay on, he hurried back up to the vehicles. Ezra sorted through the coats and found a padded jacket and an all-in-one ski suit. He took the blankets from Chris's body and put the ski suit on him instead. He then threaded the blond's arms into the coat and pulled the hood up round his head. The clothes were lovely and warm as they'd been inside the heated vehicles and not in the luggage racks on the roof and Ezra hoped they would warm Chris up better than the blankets.

Nathan's attention was now fully focused on Vin. The man looked waxy white and appeared not to be breathing. Nathan looked at his watch and saw to his astonishment that half an hour had passed since the jeep had first disappeared from the road. He knew he would be fighting a losing battle in saving his friend's life, but if acted fast he might be lucky. Josiah had already stripped the man of clothes and had wrapped him in lots of blankets and dried him by patting him gently. Ezra handed him some of the coats to put on Vin, as well as some more dry blankets.

Nathan knelt down quickly and felt for a pulse and then listened to see if Vin was indeed breathing. He was out of luck on both counts. He turned Vin onto his side to make sure there was no water or obstructions in his mouth before putting him on his back again.

"Josiah? Help me with CPR. I'll breathe and you do heart compressions," Nathan ordered. He tilted Vin's head back and pinched closed his nostrils and then began breathing into his friend in rotation with Josiah doing heart massage. After a while the two men swapped over positions and carried on with their task.

Chris watched the two men battling to keep his best friend alive. He lay enveloped in Ezra's arms as the undercover agent tried to warm his boss up with the help of his own body heat. Ezra could feel Chris shivering and he hugged him closer to his chest. It was comforting to have hold of another human. He realized he could have lost three friends and he sincerely hoped he wasn't going to lose any at all.

Minutes passed and the sharpshooter gave no sign of wanting to breathe on his own. Thirty-five minutes in total that the man could have been lifeless, Nathan thought. It may well be too late but he wasn't giving up. He knew of cases where people, young ones especially, had survived after being submerged for the same amount of time. He certainly didn't want to be the one to pronounce his friend dead. He would leave that for a stranger to do, if it had to be done at all.

Chris heard the sound of sirens in the distance and he looked up the slope to see Buck get out of the Explorer and put his arms in the air to flag the vehicles down. The ambulances pulled up and one lot of medics made their way cautiously down toward the group of men they could see below while the others stopped to treat JD. The medics coming down the slope carried several bags and had a portable stretcher rather than a trolley with them. They wouldn't be able to get a trolley up and down the hill so they left it in the ambulance until they could get their patient up to the rescue vehicle.

"How long was he under?" one of the men asked Nathan when they eventually reached the group in the valley. The man knelt down beside the sharpshooter and checked him over thoroughly while he asked questions.

"Half an hour," Nathan replied, as he wiped a hand over his face wearily.

"How long have you been doing CPR?"

"Five minutes. He wasn't well before this either. He's been sick for the past few days," Nathan added.

"Okay. We'll take over. Who else needs attention?" the man asked.

"Chris pulled Vin out of the water and he's probably hypothermic too. I'm an EMT. I can help you if you need me," Nathan offered.

The paramedic continued checking Vin over and they resumed CPR while trying to make sure he didn't regurgitate any of the water he'd swallowed. They worked for another five minutes and one of the medics suddenly swore and quickly turned Vin over onto his side as liquid seeped from his mouth. The medic wiped Vin's mouth and turned him back over and began breathing into him again.

"Do ya think he'll be okay, Nate?" Josiah asked apprehensively.

Nathan said. "He's got severe hypothermia, Josiah. He's stopped shivering which is not good."

The second paramedic started to administer warm, humid oxygen in the hope they would start to get Vin's temperature up. The hospital Vin would be transported to was quite some distance away and the sooner they started with warming him up the better. Nathan walked back over after checking on Chris.

The paramedic looked up and said, "Can you lay out the stretcher and put some blankets on it?"

"Sure." Nathan did as he was told and called out when he had finished.

"Okay. Let's get him up the slope. The sooner we get him to hospital the better. We'll have to go sideways, I think," the paramedic instructed his colleague. The two men lifted Vin very gently between them and placed him on the stretcher. They made their way slowly up the slope along with the second ambulance crew who had come to take care of Chris after finishing their treatment of JD.

Vin was laid on top of the trolley in one ambulance while Chris was put in the other one with JD. That vehicle then set off to the hospital with Buck accompanying his two friends on the journey.

In Vin's ambulance one of the paramedics continued with CPR while his colleague attached Vin to an ECG machine to monitor his condition. They started a warm saline drip as well to help heat the man up internally after taking his temperature. He was still well below the norm for a human to be.

Nathan watched silently as one of the paramedics used a defibrillator to try and jump start Vin's heart when the CPR didn't seem to be having much effect. The sharpshooter was shocked three times with no success.

"Okay. Let's get moving." The man started CPR again while his colleague moved to the driver's seat. Nathan sat down at Vin's head and helped with the CPR by administering the oxygen while the paramedic did heart compressions.

Ezra and Josiah ran back to the remaining vehicles and followed the ambulances to the hospital. They drove for about twenty minutes before they pulled into the nearest town. They parked and hurried into the hospital foyer and sought out Buck. Ezra spotted him and put a hand on Josiah's arm to get his attention. The two men walked over to the ladies' man and sat down beside him.

"How are JD and Chris?" Josiah asked.

"JD's very shocked and upset. He wouldn't calm down and they had to sedate him in the end. Chris went all quiet on me and wouldn't say a word. He was shivering like hell, but they seemed to think he only had mild hypothermia and should be okay. They were gonna warm him up when they got here," Buck said wearily. He sat sprawled in his chair with his legs stretched out before him. He looked worried and dejected.

"Vin still wasn't breathing when we left. I can't believe how quickly it all happened," Josiah said quietly. "Where's Nate?"

"He went through to help with Vin."

Josiah looked up and saw the medic returning and Josiah noticed he looked exhausted and upset. "Nate? What did they say?"

"They're trying to warm him up and get his heart going. Jesus, I don't know if he'll survive or not. I've heard of someone who was literally dead for an hour and they brought them back without any ill effects," Nathan said, trying to sound positive. He sat down next to Ezra and the undercover agent put a hand on his back and gave it a rub.

"You did everything you could, Nathan. We couldn't have asked any more from you," Ezra said.

"Thanks, Ez."

The four men sat back to wait for more news. Ezra watched the ebb and flow of people through the doors of the hospital. He always found people-watching fascinating and it certainly helped keep his mind off the reason for him sitting in the hospital. He started counting the number of people entering but he found his mind wandering and thinking of Vin. He was very fond of the sharpshooter and couldn't bear to think that he might be dead at his young age. He found his eyes brimming with tears as he went back over in his mind what had happened and Josiah looked up and saw him wipe his eyes.

"You okay, Ez?" he asked concernedly.

"Yes, fine. Sorry." Ezra also had another reason for being upset but he wasn't going to say anything to Josiah about it at the moment.

"No shame in showing you care, Ez. It's no good bottling up yer feelings and trying to be strong just for appearance's sake," Josiah said as he patted Ezra's knee, unaware of the man's inner turmoil.

+ + + + + + +

In the emergency room they were using all their skills to try and revive Vin. If Vin had been submerged in warm water the paramedics wouldn't even have bothered trying to save him back at the lake. As it had been freezing water, they'd known that Vin stood a better chance of survival so they had done all they could to resuscitate him at the scene.

Vin was being warmed both internally and externally and his temperature was being taken every few minutes to see if he was getting near his normal temperature. It was getting close and the doctor tried to jump start Vin's heart with a defibrillator as he hadn't responded to CPR. The medic increased the voltage twice after having no success. Suddenly the monitor by Vin's side beeped and the screen showed a blip. The line continued on across the screen and started to show erratic spikes and then settled into a regular rhythm.

"Thank the Lord," the doctor said as he checked Vin over fully to make sure he was really back in the land of the living. It had been well over an hour since Vin had been pulled from the water and the doctor had been on the verge of giving up.

He left instructions on Vin's care and then took off his surgical gloves before walking out of the room to find Nathan. He hurried out into the foyer and saw him sitting with three other men. They all looked up as he approached and Nathan got to his feet anxiously.

"Is he.....?" his voice faltered and he couldn't finish the sentence.

The doctor smiled and said, "We very nearly gave up on him but we've just got him breathing and stabilized. I can't say how long it will be before he regains consciousness. He's in a critical condition and we'll have to see if he's been affected mentally. It was a good job it was freezing water he was in as he stands a better chance of not being brain damaged. He's still quite cold but he's shivering now which is a good sign. Shivering will help to warm him up and hopefully he'll be back up to his normal temperature soon. I can let one of you sit with him if you like."

"Ez? You go. We'll wait and see how Chris and JD are," Josiah said as he put a hand on the undercover agent's elbow and pushed him to his feet.

"Ezra? If he wakes up, he's likely to be quite upset. Near- drowning is a traumatic experience and he'll remember every detail of it," Nathan said.

"I know."

Nathan frowned and wondered what Ezra meant. He would have to ask the man later when this crisis was over. Ezra followed the doctor along the hallway nervously and walked into the room where Vin was laying motionless. Ezra could hear the ventilator pumping air in and out of the sharpshooter's lungs but the sound of the steady beep-beep of the heart monitor was comforting. He went up to the bed and put a hand on Vin's arm. At least he looks alive and has a little more color in his cheeks, Ezra thought to himself. The doctor pulled a chair over and indicated for Ezra to sit down. He sat but kept a hand through the guard rail so he could keep his hold on Vin.

Meanwhile, back in the foyer another doctor had arrived to tell the three waiting men about Chris. Buck stood up and the doctor addressed him directly. "Mr. Larabee is back to his normal temperature. We'll keep him in overnight just to watch him and make sure he doesn't develop any complications but he seems fine. He's suffering from shock and is a little quiet."

"Can we see him?" Buck asked, feeling relieved.

"Sure. Follow me."

"We're still waiting for news on one of our other friends. Can you find out how he is for us too?" Buck asked.

"What's his name?" the doctor asked.

"John Dunne."

"Okay. I'll come and find you when I've checked." The medic turned away and went in search of news.

The three men went along to where he had indicated Chris was and they entered his room quietly. The blond man shifted his eyes in their direction but didn't speak. He looked pale and upset and he quickly averted his eyes from his friends.

"Hey Chris," Buck said quietly as he approached his friend. "I thought you'd like to hear that Vin's breathing again and seems stable for the moment."

Chris didn't reply and Buck sat down next to him and put a hand on his shoulder. "Are you okay, pard?"

Chris nodded but kept his eyes averted from his friends. Buck patted his shoulder comfortingly, knowing that Chris was trying to keep his emotions in check. Buck knew Chris had believed Vin to be dead even after all his efforts to save him. Chris had let Vin into his heart and the ladies' man knew that if the sharpshooter had died, it would have destroyed his best friend. The blond was very careful who he allowed into his life and he always tried not to get too attached to them in case they were snatched from his grasp by death. He usually kept people at arm's length but Vin had got through his guard somehow.

The two other men pulled up chairs and sat quietly while they waited for the doctor to return with news of JD. Buck wondered to himself, Who should I sit with? My oldest friend is in need of comfort but the boy I could call my son is also in need of my help.

Josiah looked over at the ladies' man and could see he was deep in thought. He had an idea what the man was thinking about but he didn't want to ask Buck, if he was correct in his assumptions, in front of Chris. The big man turned his head as he heard the door open and saw the doctor enter.

"Mr Dunne is in shock but otherwise seems fine. He's got a few cuts and bruises where he threw himself from the vehicle but nothing serious. He can go home tomorrow."

"Go to him, Bucklin," Chris said quietly. He knew Buck would be worried about the youngster.

Buck turned his head and studied his friend intently. "Are you sure? I can stay if you want me to."

"He'll be alright with us. Won't ya Chris?" Nathan said. "Go on Buck. JD needs ya."

Buck rose and followed the doctor along to the kid's room. He walked in and saw JD curled up on his side with his back to the door. Buck walked round the bed so he could see if JD was awake before speaking. He saw that the youngster had his eyes closed so he sat down and put out a hand and stroked the boy's head gently. JD stirred and opened his eyes slowly. They focused on Buck and the ladies' man watched as they filled with tears.

"Come on, JD. Everything's alright, son."

"Vin's dead," JD hiccupped as he clutched the pillow tightly.

"No he ain't. The doctor got him breathing. He's still poorly but we hope he'll pull through. Ezra's with him so Vin'll have to wake up sometime soon to tell him to shut up. You know what Ezra's like in a quiet room, he'll still talk even if he's on his own. He likes to hear the sound of his own voice and he sure as hell could talk the hind leg off a donkey."

JD smiled faintly and closed his eyes again.

"That's right, kid. You catch up on some sleep." Buck patted his back and settled back in his chair to watch over his friend. What a week, he thought to himself. Vin had really had a rotten vacation what with him being ill and now this to cap it all.


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