Old Foes

"RNLI" Alternate Universe

by KT

Part 13
JD had almost reached the bow and found nothing. There wasn't much to search, just the corridors around the holds, and storage areas. He reached the bow and found a door ajar. The space inside was filled with the anchor cable. Sweeping the dark space with his torch and finding nothing JD was about to leave when he heard a small sob.

"Hello?" he called hopefully. Stepping in again he listened and then followed the sound. "Hello," he said more softly looking down into a small hollow made by the chain. "Come on, let's get you out of here."

JD bent down and extended his hand. From what he could see the boy was thin and dirty but otherwise unharmed, he was however crying and clearly terrified.

"Hey, it's okay, I'll help you, come with me and we'll be safe." JD logically knew the boy couldn't understand what he was saying but he hoped he sounded reassuring and friendly. "Come on, let’s go." With that he took hold of the boy’s hand and gave it a gentle pull, but the boy shook his head and pulled back.

If necessary JD was prepared to hit the boy and sling him over his shoulder but only if he really had to.

"Look," he tried again, squatting down so as not to be looming over the frightened boy. "I can see you're scared. Why are you so scared I wonder, did you lose your family in a fire? I know what it's like to be scared, to be alone and lost. But it gets better, it does. You'll find someone, a friend, someone to take care of you, things will get better, but first we have to get out of here. I know you don't know what's going on and you don't know what I'm talking about, but you have to come now. We're going to get out of here and I'll take you to meet my friend Buck." He took hold of the boy's hand again and gave a little tug, this time the boy came, his fearful eyes locked on JD. "See, Buck is my best friend, he's like my brother. He's had a rough time lately, well so have I, but I think it was worse for Buck. He trusts people, and I think it hurts him very deeply when they let him down. She betrayed him; to Buck, betrayal is the greatest sin. But I won't ever do that to him. God, I hope he knows that. He makes me feel safe, with him around I always feel there is nothing I can't face." He turned back to look at the boy he was leading back along the dark corridor, and smiled. "Feeling better?" The boy smiled weakly. "I know I'm rattling on, but look, all we have to do is turn that corridor and go up the stairs and we're there. Okay?"

"Okay," the boy said tentatively.

"Okay - right - the one word that is universal, come on." With that JD tugged a little harder and lead them on.

Just then there was a huge bang and the ship seemed to rise up before pitching forward. More bangs could be heard, a screeching and ripping of metal, followed by a strange popping sound. As the two now equally terrified boys turned the corner a fireball confronted them.


"Beth uffach?" Vin breathed.

"Remember me boy?" Corvanich asked.

Vin stood still, his torch beam illuminating the face of the man in front of him. "I ain't likely to forget you that's for sure. So this is where you have been hiding is it? I might have known a sick bastard like you was responsible for this."

"Responsible for what?" Corvanich asked innocently.

"You and your crew would have left them people to die, Y cythraul!"

"Now I have no idea what you just said, but I'm willing to bet it wasn't very complementary, back off Corporal, back off and don't cause trouble."

Vin couldn't believe what he was hearing. Back off? Why would he back off now? He had been given a second chance at bring a dangerous and ruthless killer to book. True, he wasn't about to shoot him but that didn't mean he wasn't going to turn him over to the authorities, he remembered that Chris had said a Navy ship was on its way to them. Instinctively he raised the hatchet he had taken from Larabee.

"You're coming with me," he snarled at the man in front of him.

"Oh, very caveman, very 'wild man of the mountains', but I don't think so." With that the former warlord pulled a pistol from the back of his waistband and levelled it at Vin.


When the flames finally reached the fuel tanks the inevitable had happened. Luckily only one tank had a significant quantity of fuel in it. The explosion ripped through the stern of the ship, shooting flames high into the air and out over the sea. The force was strong enough to breach the rusty hull and the Nero was taking on water and settling by the stern rapidly.

The last remaining immigrants on deck were galvanised into action - some even jumped. The sudden movement of the ship threatened to push the St Nicholas away from the hull just as a woman was crossing from the ladder to the deck, only Buck's instinctive reaction saved her from falling between the two.

"Ezra?" Nathan bellowed up to Standish who was sitting astride the rail, assisting people over the edge. Ezra looked down at him a look akin to panic on his face. "How many more?"

"'Bout five, shit that was…" Ezra stammered to a stop.

"Yeah. I know…very, hurry will you."

Ezra gave an exasperated look, as if to say 'what do you think I'm doing?' then realising Nathan was as scared as he was and just gave the doctor a thumbs-up.

Chris was calling Vin and JD on their personal radios, and getting no reply from either one.


JD stopped and stared at the flames that now blocked their exit. He felt the hand of the boy behind him begin to slip away, as the terrified boy instinctively retreated from the flames. Quickly tightening his grip he pulled the boy back to him.

"I'm scared too, but we have to stay together. If we don't get out of here Chris will be mad as hell and trust me you don't want that!" The boy looked at the fire-illuminated figure who had hold of his hand. He didn't know who he was, or what he was talking about but he was there, he wasn't very old but he seemed so strong and confident, he decided to trust him. JD felt some of the tension leave the boy’s frame.

"Here," he handed the boy the torch. "Stay here, okay? Here." He placed his hands palms down in front of him to emphasise his point.

"Here?" the boy tried, looking hopeful.

"Yes!" JD said enthusiastically. "Here, yes."

With that he turned back to the fire. It was actually spilling out from a ruptured pipe. JD thought from the size of it, it was a ventilation pipe, the flames were being sucked along by the same draught that kept air flowing. It seemed ironic to JD that on a ship were most everything seemed faulty or broken or just plain missing, the ventilation in the hold inspection space, of all things, worked! Nothing else seemed to be on fire, just the end of the dangling broken pipe. What would Buck do? he asked himself. The answer was clear and without stopping to think, he flattened himself against the wall and edged as close as he could get to the pipe and grabbed it. Shoving with all his might he pushed it up.

"Quick boy!" he shouted. "Go! Go on through." He indicated with his head at the same time. For a moment he thought the boy would bolt, he tried to will the boy the courage to move, and in the end it worked. After only a second, a second that felt like an eternity to JD, he ducked his head and ran under the flames. He then stopped and turned the torch back to shine on JD.

Counting to three in his head, JD suddenly gave the pipe a shove to one side simultaneously ducking and running the other way. He made it, but suddenly the boy was shouting and gesticulating, grabbing at his sleeve and pointing at his back. It took JD a second to realise his protective clothing was on fire! The boy didn't hesitate he helped JD as he frantically stripped off his clothes and left them smouldering, as the two of them now ran for the stairs. In his haste to get out JD forgot his radio was still clipped to his coat. He didn't even hear Chris' voice calling him. The closer they got to the stairs the thicker the smoke became. Already the ship's list was detectable, especially as they climbed the stairs. Emerging into the sunlight, black faced, coughing and spluttering, their eyes streaming, they stopped to catch their breath.

"JD!" Chris shouted when he spotted them, covering the short distance to them in only a few strides. "Christ, kid, are you okay?" Instinctively he ran a hand over JD's shoulders and back as the teen coughed and spluttered, still bent double.

"I'm fine, what happened?" JD asked finally standing up.

"The fuel blew, didn't you hear me calling?" Chris suddenly realised JD had lost his coat.

"Oh sorry, my radio's still on my coat." JD looked up at Chris defiantly. "No way am I going back for it."

"Of course not, why did you take it off?"

"It caught fire." JD looked around and then back at Chris. "Is Vin back?" he asked.

"No, and I can't get hold of him. Look, you go to Ezra, the three of you…" He indicated the boy standing close to JD. "… get off the ship, I'm going to look for him."

"We split up, he went to starboard, moving forward, I'll come with you," JD offered.

"No, you get off now."

JD hesitated for a second then nodded, heading toward Ezra with the boy close behind. Chris suddenly realised JD had said his coat had caught fire, keen eyes inspected the boy as he ran away from him. As far as he could see JD was unharmed, and reassured he took his radio again and called Buck on the ship.

"I hear you Chris, I can see the kid, where's Taffy?" Buck responded, worry evident in his voice.

"Don't know, I'm gonna look for him. Buck back off, take her to a safe distance, you've got too many casualties on board. That's an order Buck," he added for emphasis.

Wilmington hesitated. It went against the grain to strand, however temporarily, men on a doomed ship. But Chris was right, both the Nero's lifeboat and the St Nicholas were over-laden, he had the Y tethered astern. There was just no way he could move fast if he needed to. Glancing behind him he sighed and then responded.

"Ay Chris, I'll go as soon as Ezra finally makes it on to the deck. And Chris?"


"Be careful."



The sudden crackle of the radio and Chris voice asking Vin to call in made Corvanich jump.

"Don't answer that, don't even touch it," he ordered.

"Nervous?" Vin asked calmly. "How the hell do you think you're gonna get off this death-trap? And…" he continued before the man with the gun could respond. "Don't think you can get rid of me and then slip off with the immigrants. We knew there was a second crewman unaccounted for someplace, they're looking for you."

"No doubt, but only you know who I am." There was a menace in his voice that was truly chilling, as his finger tightened around the trigger. "You my brave, but foolishly honourable, friend will be ‘lost in action' as they say, when this ship, which has served me well, and is, never fear, well-insured, blows herself to smithereens."

"I wasn't," Vin said steadily.

"Wasn't what?"

"Afraid it wasn't insured, never crossed my mind."

"Oh but it should, Lloyds of London, a very great institution, to whom I am most grateful, believe me. It is time to end this, pleasant as it has been talking to you, I must be on my way. Back up!"

Vin moved backwards very slowly - never once did his torch beam leave Corvanich's face. As he moved, he felt with his foot behind him, he couldn't afford to trip now, though in truth he couldn't see how he was going to get out of this. They moved into a wider corridor, Vin still backing away from the gunman.

"Goodbye, Corporal."

The very second he began to pull the trigger the whole area shook. There was a deafening thunderous boom, and flame, smoke and debris exploded in the space behind Corvanich.


Chris moved down the stairway, calling both on his radio and out loud all the time. The ship was settling by the stern rapidly, ankle-deep water was now lapping at the base of the stairs. At this rate the flames might be doused before they reached the holds. He moved down the starboard side, sweeping his torch beam form left to right, checking every recess. When he passed a cross corridor he almost stumbled over JD's abandoned coat and saw, felt and heard the hiss and pop of the flaming broken vent pipe. He stared at it for a second or two, mesmerised by the flame and silently thanking every God he had ever heard of that JD had survived what was obviously such a close call. The smoke was thicker further away from the open stair hatch, which was sucking it out like a chimney so it wasn't hugging the roof Chris ducked down closer to the floor, he coughed and his eyes began to stream as he groped his way along.

The increasing heat and a glow through the black smoke told him there was more flames ahead. The further forward he moved the thicker the smoke became, his torch beam was reflecting back off it like headlights in the fog. Thus it was that he felt rather than saw Vin. The first thing he encountered was Vin's helmet - he was lying down, his head facing the stern, unmoving and unresponsive. Chris reached forward to Vin's neck and try and find a pulse, only to find his hand was shaking too much. Laying a hand on Vin's cheek, which was cool and clammy but not cold, he took a deep calming breath and tried again. Finding a pulse was the part of his first aid training Chris always found the most difficult. He was always very grateful he didn't have to do it on a real person in the exam, at least the resuscitation dummy had a pulse so strong he could have found it in boxing gloves! He amazed himself that he had found a pulse very quickly, but then it was very fast, almost racing.

Remembering his training, he ran his hands over his friend's body and found a huge amount of blood on and around Vin's left thigh but no bone protruding, no debris on top of him, and apart from the leg he seemed to have no other injures.

"Okay mate, it's time to get you out of here, I don't have time to get you a back-board or even a collar, so I'm praying your back's okay," Chris explained to his friend, as he pulled him up onto his shoulder in a fireman's lift, grateful it was Vin and not Buck or Nathan he was trying to carry through a smoke filled, listing ship.

The water level had risen in only the short time he'd been there with Vin, he was now wading through the water, the deck below him pitching down alarmingly. He was already panting as he began to climb his way up the stairs, forced by the list to use his free hand to aid his assent.


Chris had been too occupied and too breathless to call the boat on the radio and tell them what was happening. As he finally emerged on deck, he realised he had no way to get an unconscious, bleeding and shocky Vin safely off the ship, he had been assuming they would swim for it. So he was both amazed and grateful to see Nathan and Ezra running to meet him.

"He's bleeding Nate!" Chris called as he allowed Vin to slide of his shoulder on to the deck.

Jackson dropped to his knees beside their stricken crewmate and made a quick assessment.

"Nothing to be done now," he announced. "I need him back on the boat, we can strap him in the bosun’s chair."

Chris had forgotten about the bosun’s chair Vin had rigged, it certainly make getting him of the boat much simpler. Chris was grateful the others were there but also cross with Buck for disobeying him, until he saw the lifeboat a safe hundred meters away.

"How the hell…?" he suddenly asked, but stopped when Ezra pointed over the side. When Chris looked over himself he saw the Y inflatable tethered below. "So where are the crew?" he asked Ezra, who was pulling the bosun’s chair in so they could tie Vin into it.

"Don't ask," Standish advised. "Just don't ask."

With Nathan in the boat to receive him, Chris and Ezra gently lowered Vin to the safety of the waiting boat and the ministrations of Doctor Jackson. Chris was the last to leave, only just making it off as the poor old Nero gave a terrible shudder and dropped suddenly. She was now at an angle of almost thirty-five degrees, her bows clear of the water. As they sped away Chris watched anxiously as Nathan examined Vin's leg, his frown of concern turning to one of shock. It wasn't a change that was wasted on Chris.

"What? What have you found?" he asked.

"He's in shock, most likely due to blood loss, he may also have a concussion, and he's inhaled some smoke." Nathan looked up. "Unless there are injuries I haven't found he should be okay, he'll be in hospital for a bit, but hopefully he will be fine."

"And?" Chris prompted.

"I need to check the wound first, but there is something odd about it."

"What? Odd how?"

"Chris, I don't know. When I get him on board I'll know more." he stated.

Chris knew there was nothing much Nathan could do in an open boat but he was too worried to stop his subconscious doing his talking for him. He knelt down beside Vin and took his pale hand. "You hang on in there mate, you hear me." He squeezed Vin's hand. "Don't you quit on me."

They reached the lifeboat and several of the rescued immigrants sitting on the forward deck came to the side to help lift Vin abroad. JD was standing there, but not helping. At first Chris couldn't understand why, then he saw that both JD's hands were swathed in bandages, he stopped in the wheelhouse while Vin was taken below.

"Chris is Vin…?" Buck began.

"He'll be okay, Nate says he'll be all right," Chris stated. It sounded like a litany, almost as if, he said it often enough it had to be true. "How long before the Navy get here?" he asked.

Buck ducked his head and pointed over Chris' shoulder through the window behind him. Chris looked around. In his haste to get Vin to safety he hadn't even noticed the huge grey form steaming toward them.

"Great, call them up tell them to come pick up Vin and Nate," he instructed. "They must have a sick bay and maybe a doctor."

"They do, ETA fifteen minutes, they will launch their helicopter to pick up urgent cases, as soon as Nate asks for it, and yes he knows that." Buck waited for Chris to assimilate the information.

"Sorry," he finally said. "I should have known you had it all covered, I'm just so…I can't…"

"I know, don't sweat it," Buck assured.

"What's the matter with JD's hands?" he finally asked.

"Burns, kid was so high on adrenaline he didn't even notice until we got him on board. Nate says they're not too bad, but he's rubbed them raw so they're gonna need some looking after, but he's fine. The pregnant lady is okay, no sign of labour, some of them are malnourished and a bit dehydrated, a few have minor stomach upsets, but apart from that everyone's okay."

"So where did you put that miserable bunch calling themselves a crew?" Chris enquired.

"They went for a little swim," Buck stated with a grin. "We gave them new life jackets and a nice life-raft to hold on to, and it's a lovely day." Buck put on an innocent face. "The Navy will pick them up. Once I told the skipper about what they did, he seemed very keen to get them into his brig," he added gleefully.

"Chris?" Ezra put his head into the wheelhouse.

"What?" Chris responded with out looking around.

"I need some help stowing the Y."

"Oh, yes, okay I'm coming."

"What do you reckon?" Buck asked.

"About what?" Chris enquired.

"Reckon the sea 'll get her or the fertiliser?"

All three men looked over at the Nero, now perilously close to slipping under the waves but with flames still all too obviously licking all around her. Suddenly there was a huge explosion, a plume of flame shot several hundred feet in the air and the Nero vanished below the waves in two separate pieces.

"Well that would seem to put an end to that debate," Ezra stated calmly.

"You could stay that," Buck added.


By the time the inflatable was safely back on the roof of the wheelhouse, the Navy vessel was standing off their port side. JD, who was royally pissed that he missed seeing the ship explode called Chris down to see Nathan and Vin, he also informed Buck that the Navy should send the helicopter now.

Chris went over to where Vin was stretched out in the survivor's cabin. He looked better, even with his leg dressed, an oxygen mask and an IV in his arm.

"We need to get him up on deck for air lifting," Nathan explained.

Chris nodded.

"And Chris…"


"That leg wound… it's a bullet wound. Someone shot Vin."

Part 14

The sound was familiar, a low hum with a certain echo quality to it, there was that familiar vibration too. Then there was the smell, that never to be forgotten smell, a mixture of paint, Brasso, machine oil, sweat, and disinfectant.

Vin tried to work out what was going on. Clearly he was in sick bay, but for the life of him he couldn't remember which ship he was on. And he'd been having the weirdest dream about leaving the Marines and joining the lifeboat service. He'd dreamt friends and a town and a series of rescues, and a nightmare in which he came face to face with Corvanich again. Deciding this was all too much to take in he resolved to slip back onto the darkness.

"Vin?" Chris stood up and leant over the narrow hospital bed in HMS Hero's sick bay. He had detected a slight change in his friend's condition. Just as the doctor assured him he would, Vin began to show signs of waking. "Come on mate, open your eyes for me."

Chris looked up to see Surgeon Commander Torrance walking toward him.

"Vin, come on, wake up and say hello for me," Chris encouraged.

Now Vin was confused. He had thought Chris and the others were part of his dream, but Chris seemed to be on the ship with him. There was no way to avoid it now, he would have to open his eyes and sort it all out. It proved to be more difficult than he thought, but eventually he managed it. Squinting in the sudden bright lights he focused on the fuzzy form looming over him.


The voice was definitely Chris', of that he was sure.

"Chris?" he tried to say, the trouble was his throat felt like it was full of broken glass and there was something over his mouth. His hand came up and he tried to pull the oxygen mask off his face, only to have Chris pull it back.

"Leave it, you took in a lot of smoke, you need it," Chris advised.

Smoke? Vin tried to remember what had happened. The ship, fire, Corvanich and the gun. Suddenly his eyes were wide open.

Chris left his hand over Vin's. "It okay, you're safe now. You're on a Navy ship, in the sick bay, we're going to airlift you to Helston soon, okay?"

Chris was coming into focus now, finally reassuring Vin that he hadn't dreamt him. He nodded his understanding. Then his eyes flashed to the man standing the other side of the bed.

"That's the doctor, he's gonna check you over now, then we'll talk." Chris stood back to let the doctor work.

When Vin had first arrived he had already responded to the IV Nathan had started and the oxygen. Torrance had found no head injury, so concluded Vin's concussion was due to the explosion within a confined space. Since Vin was found well forward of the main fire area, Chris had concluded that something similar to the flaming broken pipe JD had encountered had caused the explosion that had knocked Vin out. Whoever had tried to kill him must have died on the Nero. No one except the boy JD had found and the lifeboat crew themselves had left the ship after Vin and JD went below.

Whoever it was, and Chris had to conclude it was the ship's master; they had paid for their crime. He had considered the person might have swum off the ship before she was destroyed and slipped onto the over crowded lifeboats. But Buck and Nathan had been too well-organised. As each immigrant came aboard Jackson had made a note of their sex, approximate age, approximate height, build and some other defining feature, such as missing teeth, pierced ears, scars, striking clothing, something that would identify that person. Everyone disembarking the lifeboat for the frigate was checked against this list, Nathan had had the foresight to use his medical marker to write the number of each person’s description on their wrist, which speeded things up. The final count was one hundred and nineteen men, women and children, the youngest of which was only seven and seven crew, who weren't saying much. No one was unaccounted for.

The doctor was telling Vin about his injuries, he had just told him he'd been shot.

"Mr Tanner, do you remember being shot?" he asked.

Vin shook his head, then before either of the men standing beside him could stop him, and he pulled the oxygen mask down.

"Where is he?" he rasped out.

The doctor went to put the mask back, but Chris stopped him. "Who Vin? Where is who?" Vin frowned at him. "JD?" Chris ventured. "He's fine, on his way home."

Vin shook his head and then started to cough a painful raspy cough. Torrance put the oxygen back for a bit, until Vin pulled it down.

"Corvanich," he rasped out. "Stefan Corvanich, where is he?"

"Is that who shot you?" Chris asked.

"Yeah, did you find him?" Vin asked.

"No, he's dead, you were last person off the boat, it blew up, he must be dead," Chris assured.

"Did you see the body?" Vin asked.

"No, like I said the ship blew up," Chris explained.

Vin dropped back against the pillows. Corvanich was ruthless, intelligent and determined. If there was no body, Vin couldn't be sure he was dead.

"That's enough for now," Torrance stated. "Vin?"

"Mmmm." The oxygen mask was back on and he had his eyes closed.

"You're going ashore to hospital now, alright?"

Vin nodded weakly. He was very tired all of a sudden.


By the time the lifeboat was back in harbour Vin was in the air and on his way to Helston. Nathan insisted JD go to the cottage hospital to have his hands properly dressed. So while Orin Travis drove him there the others turned the boat around and refuelled her. Then Buck joined Nathan as they set out to find out how JD was doing. When they got to the hospital, Nathan showed Buck to the staff rest room while he went to find JD. His colleague Doctor Walker-Smith had just finished applying specialist burn dressings and giving JD a course of antibiotics as a precaution.

"Ready to go home, JD?" Nathan asked.

"God, am I ever!" he stated with a heartfelt sigh.

"Good," Doctor Walker-Smith stated. "Now you need to rest, nothing else, I'll do you a doctor’s certificate for work, alright?"

JD nodded.

"Take your tablets once every eight hours, don't miss any and finish them all, keep your hands dry and come back here tomorrow to get the dressings changed," he instructed.

"Come on JD, let's find Buck and go home." Nathan pushed the bottle of tablets into JD's pocket and put an arm over his shoulders stirring him toward the door.

They found Buck stretched out across three chairs apparently asleep. Nathan smiled, he had no doubt Buck was in need of sleep but he couldn't sleep there. Crouching down he shook the wide shoulders before him. He got no response. "Come on Buck, time to go home, mate." He shook more strongly; still no response.

"He can sleep through almost anything, 'cept his pager," JD advised.

Nathan turned his head to JD and raised and eyebrow, then smiled. He took out his own pager and set it to test. The shrill beep sounded, and he put it next to Buck, who didn't so much as twitch. Nathan quickly turned it off and took hold of Buck's wrist to take his pulse.

"JD, go and get Doctor Walker-Smith," he instructed.

"Nate, what's wrong with him?" JD asked, the panic in his voice clear.

"JD just go, now!" Nathan barked, sending the teen running.

"God, Buck, what have you been doing to yourself?" he asked the inert man.


In no time at all JD found himself pacing back and forth outside the examining room while the two doctors and at least two nurses were in with Buck. Eventually Nathan came out, and before he had even got the door shut, JD was in front of him demanding to know what was going on.

"Calm down JD," Nathan instructed. "Buck is suffering from exhaustion and dehydration, his blood sugar was so low it was almost non-existent. Now I need you to think back, when was the last time you saw Buck eat or for that matter drink? Because he didn't eat or drink on the boat today that I saw, he said he'd had breakfast this morning, did you see that?"

"No he woke me up, he was already dressed, and he took Mac out when we got back from the island run, so that was, what – half-four, maybe even five?"

"Right, what about yesterday?"

JD shook his head." I was at work all day and we were out all night, didn't see him eating then, did you?" Nathan shook his head. "And he was missing for the two days before that, and I wasn't home before that," JD hung his head. "Oh God Nathan, the night I left he was up all night cleaning the kitchen and the night before that he was up with me when I got sick."

"He most likely didn't sleep much the night after you left, and while he was … wherever he was," Nathan ventured.

"Very likely," JD added.

"So he hasn't slept more than a few hours, for the best part of a week, and he hasn't eaten or drunk much either," Nathan looked back at the closed door. "I wonder if he's got the same virus you and Inez had, if he hadn't eaten much he wouldn't be vomiting for long, but he would dehydrate and he wouldn't feel like eating."

"Well I guarantee he wouldn't tell us if he was feeling sick," JD pointed out.

"Great, big, stubborn idiot!" Nathan suddenly fumed. "I bet that’s it, I bet he's been throwing up, why else would he turn down breakfast? Damn! Come to think of it, he turned down tea twice while we were out, why the hell didn't I notice?"

"Nate you know he can't help it, after everything that's happened he wouldn't want to be a burden - as he would see it, especially with Josiah still not fit. Will he be alright?"

"We have him on IV's and a heart monitor, blood sugar that low can cause heart problems … even strokes." JD looked panicked. "Don't worry, so far it all looks good, he may be a stubborn, stupid, idiot, but he's very tough, stubborn, stupid, idiot."

"Yeah I know," JD agreed with a grin.

"I'm going to order an ambulance and send him to Helston, with any luck he should be able to go home day after tomorrow, which means you'll have to go back to Josiah's till then," JD frowned. "Because of your hands, there are some things you aren’t going to be able to do for your self."

"Inez will be there," JD pointed out.

"You take a moment to think about that one JD, while I call the ambulance."

"No!" JD called.


"Why can't he stay here, at this hospital? If it's only two days? Please Nate, he hates that hospital," JD pleaded.

"JD this is a very small cottage hospital, we're not set up for this kind of case."

"But you have the monitors, you said he was doing okay, please, for Buck, please," JD turned on the 'puppy dog' eyes as he pleaded with Jackson. "Anything is better than Helston, I mean I know it's a good hospital, but he hates being there, he really, really hates it."

"Oh very well, but only because it is Buck, and yes, I know how he feels about the hospital. The trouble is we only have one free bed."

"Thanks Nate." JD suddenly had a vision of Inez helping him do his fly's [fly] up. "Oh!" he gasped out loud.

"You figured it out, did you?" Nathan asked.

JD nodded, turning bright red.


Vin was taken into radiography when he arrived at the hospital for a CAT scan, which proved clear, and then into surgery to make sure the bullet wound was properly cleaned and tidied up. When he was released from recovery he was moved to a side ward, where he would get some privacy. It had taken a battle of wills between the ward sister and Chris to get her to agree to this, but he knew that, shy as Vin could be, the last thing he would want was to be on an open public ward. Although he had recovered well from the anaesthetic, between recovery and the ward he'd fallen asleep, not even stirring when he was transferred to the bed. Because of the smoke inhalation he was still on oxygen, although now it was via a nasal canula. When Chris sat down beside him to wait, Sister Penhaligan gave way gracefully and even brought him a cup of coffee and some chocolate Hobnobs.

Eventually, as he was contemplating eating the last biscuit a hoarse voice brought his attention back to the man in the bed.

"That a Hobnob?"

"Maybe," Chris responded.

"You wouldn't begrudge a dying man a Hobnob, would you?"

"You're not dying," Chris pointed out.

"You're not the one with the headache and the daggers in his leg and the throat like sandpaper, so give with the biscuit," Vin croaked.

"Sorry, your not allowed one, Doctor’s orders, soft food only, until your throat is better." With that Chris bit into the last chocolate biscuit, and while Vin's attention was on him, he pushed the call button to summon the nurse.

"Yer lying Larabee, you just wanna deprive a dying man of the last biscuit." Vin countered.

The door opened and Sister Penhaligan came in smiling. "Mr Tanner, good to see you’re awake, do you think you could eat something?" she asked brightly.

"I could have eaten a Hobnob but someone ate them all," he moaned bitterly, as she raised the bed so he was almost sitting.

The senior nurse smiled to herself as Vin glared at Chris, who was just finishing the biscuit with evident relish.

"Oh I think you might regret that, your throat's still very inflamed," She explained good naturedly. "How about I bring you something more suitable, won't be a tick." With that she was gone.

When she returned she had a large bowl of chocolate ice cream with her. Instantly she had Vin's undivided attention.

"Now you realise, this ice cream has been prescribed on medical grounds," she explained. "And is only for the patient." She turned her glare on Larabee. "Visitors are not permitted any."

Vin couldn't help it, he began to laugh, which hurt his throat and turned into a cough. Once she had handed him a glass of water, Sister Penhaligan, pulled up the table and set the ice cream down with a small teaspoon. "It'll help your throat, I wasn't kidding about it being on doctor’s orders, only take small amounts at a time, and don't," she emphasised, "…get any on the canula."

Vin grinned at her; there was a lot of Nettie in Sister Penhaligan. "I promise Sister, not a spot."

By the time he had eaten all the ice cream, not even letting Chris run a finger around the bowl, Vin was getting sleepy again, his drip had been removed and the oral painkillers were making him dopey.

"Go home Chris, I'm fine," he instructed sleepily.

"Okay, but I'll come back tomorrow, the others too most likely." Chris took a breath. "The cops are going to want to talk to you about the shooting. About this man Corvanich."

"Can't tell them anything about him," Vin stated.

"Can't, don't want to or aren’t allowed to?" Chris asked.

Vin for a long time said nothing, but finally admitted it was because he wasn't allowed to. "Sometimes," he began. "…a soldier has to decide who is the greater master, duty or humanity. Sometimes his decisions come back to haunt him."

Chris regarded his friend, who was rapidly losing his battle with sleep. He had no doubt that given the choice Vin Tanner would make the right decision, no matter what the personal cost.

"I'll be here, run some interference for you."

"T'anksss," Vin slurred, all but asleep.

"Sleep well mate, see you in the morning."

The only response was a gentle snore.


Only when both doctors were happy Buck's blood sugar had risen enough for him to be safe from the danger of heart problems or a stroke and he was adequately re-hydrated, did they move him to the only free bed the hospital had. Nathan had warned JD that Buck might wake up as the IV's in both arms did their work, but most likely, given the very little sleep he'd been getting, he would just pass from unconscious to asleep and then sleep for hours, twelve at least. JD was thus persuaded to go to Josiah's house for the night.

Buck was sure he was dreaming, but it was more like a nightmare, one he'd had more than once, so he decided to close his eyes and it would all go away. They weren't there; he wasn't where he seemed to be, it wasn't happening. With that he closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

JD had slept well and returned early to the hospital, his hands had been re-dressed and he was now sitting in a comfortable chair beside Buck's bed. The tall man now only had one IV line in his arm and was lying on his side, sleeping peacefully. By late morning it was a good seventeen hours since he had collapsed. JD had made friends with all the other patients on the ward, who in turn were looking after him, not allowing him to do anything with his burnt hands. Nathan and the others had all looked in on him and Buck. Chris called and spoke to Nathan and they had exchanged information about their stricken crewmates.

JD was reading the latest addition of 'Computer World' when he looked up at Buck to find he was being watched.

"Hello," he greeted.

"Hello," Buck returned, more than a little confused as to why he had a drip in his arm and why JD was watching him.

"How do you feel?"

Buck took a moment to think about it. "Hungry? I think."

"Good, Nate will be pleased."

"JD, am I in hospital?"



JD explained briefly, admonishing Buck for neglecting himself. Buck of course at first protested he hadn't been ill, and then that he didn't want to let anyone down.

"Chris says you don't have to play this weekend," he finished, referring to an up-coming cricket fixture.

"Well that was nice of him," Buck commented sarcastically. "JD?"


"Did the docs give me any drugs, you know, stuff to make me sleep or anything like that?"

"To make you sleep! No Buck, I don't think so, you didn't need any help sleeping, why do you ask?"

"'Cause I had the weirdest dream while I was out of it."

"Oh yeah? What was it?"

"I was surrounded by pregnant women, everywhere I looked, there were pregnant women! I'm telling you kid it was scary," he admitted.

JD could barely suppress a smirk. Then looked up at the rest of the eight-bed ward.

"Morning Buck!" seven female voices chorused.

"What the hell?" Buck rolled over to view the rest of the room, and when he took it all in his eyes bulged. "Oh …my …God!" he breathed. "What the …where am I?" he stammered out.

"Maternity, it was the only free bed," JD explained. "It was my idea," he added brightly.

"What!" Buck exclaimed, suddenly sitting bolt upright and instantly regretting it; his head swam and his vision blurred at the edges. "Oh God," he moaned, then he sank back down on to the pillows. "You’d better explain that, boy," he demanded from the bed.

"It was the only free bed and …well …it was this or Helston, and I knew you would want to be here rather than there."

"Well you got that right, thanks JD, I appreciate the effort."

"Vin's in Helston though, but Chris called and he's doing fine."

Buck grimaced. "God, how could I have forgotten about him, what kind of a friend am I?"

"A sick one, just like him, stop worrying about it." JD patted his shoulder reassuringly with one mummified hand.

Buck relaxed a little and rolled over to face his friend again,

"Thanks JD, I couldn't face Helston again just yet. So how long do I have to stay here?"

"'Till tomorrow."

"And how long have I been here?"

"Just since yesterday."

"So it's tomorrow, I mean we were on the boat yesterday."

JD frowned, "Yes, I suppose so."

"So when are you going to see your father off?"

JD was amazed Buck even remembered about his father. "Um, well it was about ten minutes ago, his train I mean, he must have gone by now," he admitted.

"Well, why are you here boy? Shouldn't you have been there?"

Hazel brown met midnight blue.

"No, no I shouldn't, I had somewhere else to be …a family commitment." JD's words hung in the air between them for a moment, before he went on. "Family commitments are more important then those given to strangers, don't you think?"

Buck smiled, not a huge grin, just a soft reassuring smile.

"Yeah JD, I do think that, you're right - you've been right a lot lately, and I haven't always listened. Family should trust each other, don't you think?"

"Well, maybe at least give each other the benefit of the doubt?"


The End

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