by LT

Disclaimer: Don’t own ‘em, wish I did. Not makin’ any money, wish I could.

Thanks to MOG for the playpen. This one’s for Katy.

The young man sat in the waiting room, a sea of people milling around him. He never saw or heard any of them, lost in his own pain and misery. His best friend lay in the emergency room with two doctors and four nurses tending to his injuries. They would not let him stay with his friend and thus, he was alone with his thoughts and guilt. He had paced the crowded area for awhile but he found too many obstacles to concentrate on his journey of self retribution. So he sat and rewound the tape of the past four days, playing the horrible weekend over and over and over.

"JD, son, are you all right?" The baritone voice of the ex-preacher carried to the miserable youth’s ears.

JD Dunne looked up to see the big man towering over him. Tears that had been welling in his eyes for hours suddenly found their way down his cheeks. He was no longer alone, and for that he was truly thankful. He scanned the room for his other team mates but didn’t see any of the others he considered family.

"I’m fine Josiah. Where’s everyone else?"

"Nathan’s parking the car and Chris and the others are right behind us. How’s Buck?" A woman with a little girl who had swallowed a quarter moved so the big profiler could sit beside his friend. He put a comforting hand on the lad’s shoulder.

"I don’t think he’s critical but they’ve been working on him for a long time now. Oh god, Josiah, he hates me and it’s all my fault. What a mess I made of Christmas and now I’ve drug you guys into it too. I’m so sorry for screwing up Christmas for everyone." The tears fell faster.

"JD, you didn’t screw up Christmas and I sincerely doubt that your mother hen hates you. Why would you even think that, JD?" Josiah turned slightly so that he could see the face with the long dark bangs covering half of it.

"Cause he hardly spoke to me on the trip back and that was before I wrecked his truck. It probably can’t even be fixed. Now, he’s gonna hate me even more," he said dejectedly. He dropped his head into his hands, not daring to look at his friend.

"Now, son, it can’t be all that bad. Why would Buck hate you? What could you have possibly done to think that man would detest you, his little brother. You know he would do anything for you!"

"That’s just it, Josiah, he did what I wanted to do and it turned out to be a disaster. Everything went wrong and now, he won’t even talk to me. Now he’s lying in there with doctors pokin’ all over him, probably cursin’ my name. And I don’t blame him one bit."

"Why don’t you tell me the abbreviated story, JD?"

"Well, I guess I could. A couple of weeks ago, I found out that Casey was goin’ skiing with some of her friends. She said I couldn’t come along as it was ‘just the girls’. I guess I got a little upset and I talked Buck into goin’ with me skiin’. I had heard of this ski weekend where there were going to be a whole bunch of airline attendants up at Big Bear Lodge. He doesn’t care that much for skiin’ but the women interested him so he finally said yes. I booked us a room using our two names for this weekend. We were gonna drive up on Saturday and come back today in time for dinner with you guys out at Chris’s.

"When we got there, we found out I had gotten the wrong weekend. It’s next weekend that the stewardesses are coming. This weekend was, uh, a gay couples get together. I guess when I gave Buck’s and my names, the guy at the lodge thought we were part of it and didn’t tell me any different. Well, you can imagine how pissed off Buck was. Josiah, six guys hit on him the first night!"

"The next day, we went up on the trails and first thing he did was break his ski on a buried stump. He fell head over heels about a hundred feet and landed in a deep snow bank. He had to walk down the rest of the way, wet and cold. He was really pissed when he got back and one of the guys asked if he wanted to sit in the Jacuzzi with him and his friends. He spent the rest of the week end in our room, nursing the start of a cold."

"This morning, just to get away from his grumpiness, I went skiing. He told me he wanted to leave at two so we could drive in the daylight and beat the snow comin’ back. He was lookin’ forward to Christmas Eve and bein’ with you guys. You know how he looks forward to that every year. Anyway, I got lost on the trail and didn’t get back until 2:30. I still had to change and grab something to eat. It was three when I got ready and he was already throwin’ things into the truck. I was hurryin’ to get in the truck, tryin’ to balance my hot chocolate when I slipped and fell."

Josiah tried to stifle the chuckle that had been building with each detail. Buck at a gay couples get together, that was hilarious and then to have guys hitting on him! Josiah tried to gather himself for the lad’s sake. "Well, JD, he couldn’t have been mad because you fell."

"Yeah, he was, See, I kinda threw my suitcase into his legs when I went down and he crashed, his knee got caught beneath him and he slid under the truck. It took three of us to pull him out and in the process, his brand new down jacket kinda ripped. It’s ruined. Eventually, we got him to the first aid hut and the paramedics were laughin’ at him cause they had never heard of anyone getting’ hurt packin’ to go home. His knee was swelling up and they wanted him to go to the hospital for x-rays but he refused. He kept sayin’ all he wanted to do was go home. He said Nathan could check him out. So, they wrapped it with an Ace bandage and helped him back to the truck. It was his right knee and it was hurtin’ pretty bad so he couldn’t drive. I had to." He stopped his tale and shook his head.

Josiah was puzzled. "’What’s wrong with you driving, JD?"

"Buck’s truck had a bench seat. Always says it’s so the women can snuggle with him when he’s getting’ lucky. Wasn’t so lucky this time. I had to pull the seat up to drive and Buck’s knee smacked the dash. He ended up havin’ to sit with his legs stretched out by my feet, kinda sideways. He couldn’t even fasten his seatbelt. He was miserable, Josiah. He just closed his eyes and refused to talk to me. By now, it was after four and already getting’ dark. Then the snow started."

"About an hour into the drive I commented that we would never get back for supper. He almost snapped my head off, sayin’ "And whose fault is that? We’ll have to take the shortcut." Well, I asked what shortcut and he told me to take Highway 103 through the state park. We had to pay ten bucks to get into the park and the ranger told us to be careful, no one was around ‘cause it was Christmas Eve, like I didn’t know that."

"It was awful dark in the park and the snow was fallin’ real heavy. I could hardly see in front of me. We had been drivin’ for about half an hour when, right in front of me was a deer. I swerved and Buck slid and his foot hit the gas pedal. We hit an icy patch goin’ pretty fast and the next thing I know, we’re bouncin’ through the trees and crashed into a ravine." Fresh tears spilled from the ATF agent’s eyes. He wiped at them with the back of his hand. Josiah saw the blood for the first time.

"JD, are you cut?" The older man searched for a source of the blood.

JD stared at it for a minute and then replied, "It’s Buck’s. Because he didn’t have a seatbelt on, he … he went through the windshield. He was cut pretty bad. He was unconscious and bleeding and I know it hurt him for me to pull him out of the truck but I had to. We couldn’t stay there, the truck was almost ninety degrees into the ravine. God, Josiah, I was so scared."

Suddenly, a black storm flew into the waiting room, followed by three other grim faced men. They headed straight for JD and Josiah.

"Where’s Buck, JD? Is he all right?" Chris Larabee glared at the young man and JD shrank down in his plastic chair.

Josiah pulled the young agent close to him and looked up at his boss, Buck’s oldest friend. "He’s still back in emergency, Chris. JD was just telling me about the accident. It was an accident, JD, nothing else."

Chris turned his attention to the reception desk to get some answers on his friend’s condition. Vin, Ezra and Nathan sat down by their youngest team member. All were silent, waiting for JD to say something.

The dark haired youth glanced at each one and then hung his head again. "I’m so sorry, guys. I ruined Christmas for all of you, especially Buck."

"JD, Christmas is just one day of the year. It’s no big deal. As long as you and Bucklin are okay, that’s all that matters. Don’t you know that?" Vin laid his hand on the young man’s knee and gave it a friendly pat.

"Mr. Tanner is right, Mr. Dunne. We can celebrate the birth of the savior any time we feel like it. As long as we are all together, that’s all that matters." Ezra looked up as Chris returned to his ‘family’.

"The nurse is gonna go get the doctor. She says Buck is considered serious but not critical. Are you okay, JD?" Chris knelt in front of JD, concern now replacing the anger and fear of earlier.

"Yes, I’m fine. It’s Buck that’s hurt and it’s my fault, okay? Everybody got that?" JD angrily fired back at them.

"JD, nobody’s blaming you for an accident. Buck’s gonna be fine so just calm down." Nathan had caught sight of the blood on JD’s hands. He knew the boy was distraught, the adrenalin pumping through his veins again now that the others had arrived.

Josiah wanted the young agent to focus on something positive. "Son, how did you get Buck out of the truck and ravine?"

JD turned slightly to the oldest member of the group. "When I pulled him out of the truck, I could see that I was hurting him. I didn’t want to hurt him any further so I got his ski jacket …"

"His brand new down jacket?" Ezra asked in shock. He had been with Buck when he bought it and knew how much the mustached agent had liked the coat.

"I’ll share the details with you later, Brother Ezra. Go one, JD." Josiah warned the con man not to pursue the matter further with a wilting look.

"Yeah, his brand new coat that I had already ruined. I wrapped it around him as tight as I could and then pulled on the sleeves to get him out of the ravine. I had to stop the bleeding so I got some bandages from the first aid kit and put snow on the cuts to get the bleeding to slow down. His head was covered with blood. Anyway, the cell phone wouldn’t work there in the park so I got out some sweatshirts that I had brought along and used the ski poles to make a stretcher and then tied that to my skis with the shoe laces from Buck’s ski boots and my gym shoes. I got him loaded on and then I pulled him back the way we came. I finally found a camp site and a pay phone where I called for help. Buck never woke up. I think he really hurt his head bad." JD slowly shook his head, remembering the blood and the pale face when they brought his ‘big brother’ into the hospital.

"JD, you probably saved Buck’s life with your quick thinkin’ so stop beatin’ yourself up. Let’s just wait and see what the doctor has to say, okay." Chris was impressed by the young agent’s quick thinking under the circumstances.

A young man in green scrubs arrived behind Chris. "Are all of you here for Mr. Wilmington?"

Six men jumped to their feet and faced the young doctor. "How is he, Doc?" Vin got in first.

"He should be fine with a lot of rest. I’m not a very religious man but I’d say that Mr. Wilmington got a Christmas miracle. I understand that he went through the windshield. Lucky for him, someone thought to put snow on the wounds or he would have bled out. He’s got a severe concussion and is unconscious but he’s not showing signs of any brain damage. He’s got three severe lacerations on his head, one right by his right eye. We’ve called in a plastic surgeon to close that one so he doesn’t have a bad scar. She should be here soon. He also suffered a broken clavicle and four broken ribs. His knee will need surgery but that doesn’t need to be done right now. All in all, I’d say that he is one lucky man."

Chris felt a weight drop from his shoulders. "Can we see him, Doctor?"

"Let’s wait until he’s settled in his room. He’ll be going to ICU once Dr. Cleamons is done with him. He’ll only stay there until he wakes up and we see there are no complications. We’re a small hospital, guys, not quite as strict as some bigger places. I think we can squeeze one or two of you in with him if you want. I’ll have a nurse tell you when he’s going up. Anything else I can help you with?" The doctor smiled at the six men before him. He was glad he could deliver such good news on Christmas Eve. The damage could have been far worse.

"Yeah, Doc, is there a motel around close. Looks like we’ll be spending Christmas here." Josiah smiled at his fellow agents.

Forty-seven hours later, Chris Larabee sat in a darkened cubicle in the Intensive Care Unit. The room was lit only by the small TV with the volume turned way down. The lights of the monitors glowed in holiday colors. It was in this light that Chris first saw the flicker of Buck’s left eyelid.

"Come on, Stud, it’s time to wake up. You’ve been sleeping long enough." He stood over his old friend and waited. He was rewarded with the smallest of slits showing from the dark blue eye. "It’s okay, Pard, the lights are all off." Chris was well aware of the shooting pain overhead lights could cause when you had a concussion.

Buck looked cautiously around, trying not to jar his pounding head. "Where am I? Looks like ICU."

"You got it right the first time, Pal. How ya feelin’?" Chris took Buck’s hand and squeezed slightly. His right arm and hand were bound to his chest to keep the collar bone from moving, plus it protected the broken ribs. Buck’s head was wrapped in bandages, including the right side of his face. His right leg was suspended to try to reduce the swelling in his knee.

"One big ache. What happened? Is JD all right?" Buck slowly turned his head to face his old partner.

"He’s banged up a little but he’s just fine. Never admitted to the hospital which is a minor miracle. Your truck is totaled, you went through the windshield, and JD pulled you about a mile and a half on skis. You got a concussion, busted collar bone and ribs, and a screwed up knee. You got out of it pretty easy, Buck. Ya got some nasty cuts but lucky for you only one’s on your pretty face and the doctor did a real good job on that one."

"We were tryin’ ta get home for Christmas. Guess we didn’t make it, huh?" Buck squeezed Chris’s hand back.

"Nope, Christmas was yesterday. Don’t matter none, as long as you and the young ‘un are okay. We’ll celebrate Christmas along with your home comin’."

"Where is JD?"

"At the motel. Nathan threatened that if he didn’t go to the room and take a shower and sleep, he and Josiah were gonna hog tie him and carry him out of the hospital. He stayed by your side for the first forty two hours. He felt awful guilty about the accident but the road was icy and the truck slid when he swerved to miss the deer. Course, your foot on the gas didn’t help. He did real good, Pard, probably saved your life."

"He’s a good man, Chris. Lucky to have him around." Buck grimaced as a wave of pain shot through his side.

"Ya want me to get a nurse and somethin’ for the pain, Buck?" Chris knew how bad busted ribs could feel.

"Nah, just wanna sleep …" And with that Buck was back in the black depths where pain was minimal.

The next time he woke up, JD was in the chair previously filled by Chris. He smiled down at his ‘big brother’. "Hey there."

"Hey yourself, Kid." Buck bit his lip against the pain.

"I’m awful sorry about everything Buck. What a mess I made of Christmas. I almost killed you." The young man dropped his head down on his chest, refusing to meet Buck’s gaze.

"From what I heard, ya saved my life. Ya sorry for that?" Buck wanted to reach out to him but couldn’t because of the IV tubes.

"What? No, I meant the weekend up at the lodge, your knee, your jacket, not making it to Chris’s for Christmas. Plus I totaled your truck. Christmas really sucked, sitting here waiting for you to wake up."

"Boy, are you okay?"

"Yeah, I’m fine." JD whispered solemnly.

"That’s all I ever want for Christmas, JD. I just want you and Chris and the others to be fine. I want us to be together but it don’t have ta be on December 25th. Christmas is family and celebratin’ another year of health and love. I’ll be up before ya know it and we’ll get together out at Chris’s then, okay?" Buck smiled his room lighting smile.

"And that smile is all I want. Thanks bro. I love you."

"Me too, Kid."


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