A Hand of Friendship

by KT

Disclaimer: Not mine, not making any money.

Author's Note: This Thanksgiving fic was originally written for a lyric wheel and in its original form, posted at the M7 Lyric Wheel site. I'm not American so I have shied away from too many Thanksgiving traditions, since I don't know much about them. The accident described is based on a real event. Tex is also real. My thanks to Helen for proof reading this re-write for me.

It was a freak accident, everyone said so. The fire fighters, the paramedics, the police … it was just a freak accident.

+ + + + + + +

November had been clear and frosty so far and promised to make Team Seven's traditional turkey shoot more enjoyable than the last one. There had been some dispute among the team as to whether something you had only done once before could be a tradition, but Vin, Buck and JD insisted it was, and none of the others had the energy to argue. The previous year Ezra had stated if he was coming for Thanksgiving, it had to be fresh wild turkey, properly hung, because nothing else was worth eating.

To this end, Vin suggested they cut out the middleman and shoot their own. A hunting weekend was quickly arranged, despite Ezra protesting that this was not what he had meant. That first weekend it had rained solidly. JD had gone with Vin to actually shoot the two turkeys, while everyone else remained inside drinking and talking and setting the world to rights. This time everyone had gone shooting except Buck, who had developed a cold and spent the whole weekend either sleeping, sniffing, or coughing and complaining bitterly that none of them understood how he was suffering.

By Sunday afternoon, Vin had bagged two good-looking turkeys and everyone had at least one grouse or partridge to their name.

It was late Sunday evening by the time they set out for home and it would be gone midnight before they made it back to Denver. The birds were loaded into the back of Chris' Ram; he had supervised this himself, insisting on numerous waterproof layers to protect his vehicle's interior. With him travelled Vin, Ezra and Josiah. In Nathan's old station wagon JD sat up front and an increasingly miserable and grouchy Buck stretched himself out as best he could on the back seat. Nathan was keen to get Buck home and into bed and was about twenty minutes ahead of Chris when it happened.

The blue Ford with its two weary and one sick ATF agents on board headed into the underpass from one end, and a truck carrying a large steel container of the kind that usually travels on the decks of cargo ships entered from the other. Just as they passed each other the truck suddenly veered off and hit the wall of the underpass.

+ + + + + + +

JD was asleep, Buck was lying on his side not asleep but wishing he was. Nathan was driving and hoping he could stay awake long enough to get home safely. He just about registered what was happening but he had no time to react. As the truck mounted the curb and slammed into the wall, the container lurched, bounced and then toppled. It landed on its corner edge on the car dead centre. It was as if some giant had attempted to split the car length ways with a cleaver. The huge metal box rocked for a second and then rolled a fraction to come to rest with just one corner on the far wall of the underpass, and one long edge embedded in the car.

There was a strange moment of silence once the screeching and groaning of metal had ceased. JD had been lurched awake as the car slammed to a halt and his world crumpled around him. The car's lights had failed as the engine had been almost sliced in half, and now only the orange glow of the streetlights illuminated the scene. JD was aware he couldn't move much, but he experimented to see what if anything he could move. His left arm was pinned to his side, but he couldn’t move his left shoulder without a blinding stab of pain, so he stopped trying. He could move his head to the right and down but that was all. His left leg was pinned but the right was okay. The window next to him was gone and he was covered in blood where some of the glass had lacerated his right arm - which was also free - his shoulder and the side of his head. JD's exploration of his injuries was interspersed with yelps and sharp intakes of breath, the only sounds that punctuated the silence.

JD had no idea what had happened, why the car had folded in on him, and why, despite his calls, no one answered him. He didn't let his mind dwell on the possible reason for this. He told himself it was because they had gone to get help or were merely unconscious, he would not allow himself to believe anything else. With difficulty he managed to pull his cell phone from his jacket pocket. Then, with only one hand and fingers slick with blood he managed to turn it on and dial 911. The wretched machine just told him there was no signal.

"Shit!" JD exclaimed out loud, looking up at the solid concrete roof of the underpass. "God, please let someone come, let Chris come soon," he said to the silence.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was driving cautiously and safely as usual. Even Nathan found his driving irritating at times, but Buck had counselled them on numerous occasions, that only a real emergency would persuade Chris Larabee to break any traffic law for any reason. He approached the underpass a good twenty minutes after the accident. His three passengers were dozing as he slammed on the brakes.

"Jeez, Larabee! What's the matter now!" Vin exclaimed, trying to rub the soreness out of his chest where the seat belt had caught him.

Chris said nothing; he just stared ahead. Ezra looked up between the seats.

"Are we h… oh, dear God!" he exclaimed.

For the first time Vin looked up, and as he took in the scene his breath caught in his throat as he heard Josiah offer up a prayer. Then he bolted from the vehicle running toward the wreck. Ezra followed close behind, closing on him as he suddenly stopped short. Chris had a hand on the door handle when Sanchez's bigger hand landed on his shoulder.

"I'll call for help, you get the first aid and the flashlights from the back," he counselled.

Chris nodded and with more composure got out and opened up the back and retrieved the necessary items.

"Do I want to look?" Vin asked himself, just as Ezra came to stand beside him.

"Come, Mr Tanner, we have to know."

Vin nodded and jogged forward.

They came to the driver's side. Nathan was slumped over the wheel, the roof of the car bowed down just inches beside him, the door bent out and the glass shattered. Like JD he was cut on the window side. Vin slid a hand in to search for a carotid pulse, finding it a little slow but there. He nodded at Ezra, who ran around the car and was then forced to crouch low to find his way to the passenger side. He saw JD was conscious but looking dazed, vacant and bloody.

"JD?" he said in as normal tone as he could manage. JD seemed not to respond. "Mr Dunne, do you hear me?"

JD's eyes moved toward the sound of Ezra's voice and he gasped, causing a shudder of pain.

"Ezra…you're here," he managed to breathe out. "Get me out, please Ez, just get me out," he requested desperately.

"I can't JD, but help is coming, soon, just hang on, they're coming I promise," Standish tried to sound confident.

"God Ez, I can't get the others to answer me are they alright?"

"Nathan hit his head on the steering wheel but he's alive. We haven't found Buck yet, but we will." Ezra wished he had more information for JD about his surrogate big brother, but he wasn't going to lie to him.

+ + + + + + +

Chris arrived with the flashlights, explaining that Josiah had to run to the entrance of the underpass to call for help. Handing the first aid kit to Ezra, he began to search the back of the car for some sigh of Wilmington. It didn't take his observant eye long to spot Buck … or rather his hand. It was hanging limply from below the buckled and half flattened passenger door behind Nathan. The gap it protruded from was barely big enough for Wilmington's sturdy arm, and only his hand and wrist were visible. Nothing else of him could be seen; the whole back of the car was just buckled roof and container.

Chris dropped to his knees and took his old friend’s hand in his and began to try to find a pulse. Even before he did the hand stiffened and tightened on his. Chris crouched even lower so that his head was in line with the opening.

"Buck, can you hear me? It's Chris."

"Well I didn't think it was Santa." Came the sarcastic but very welcome reply from somewhere inside the wreckage.

"Good to hear your voice too."

"Christ Chris, what happened? I can't move or see, not at all, are the others okay?" Buck's voice, thick with cold and congestion, was somewhat muffled.

"Well I don't rightly know how, but a container fell off a truck right on top of the car." Chris was at a loss as to how explain it better. "JD's conscious, Ezra said he didn't look too bad, but he's very scared."

"Join the club," Buck commented.

"Nathan's unconscious but his pulse is stable." Chris chose to ignore the rare admission of fear.

"How long, Chris?" Buck's voice had changed, the fear was all too evident.

Chris knew what he was asking; how long before they got him out, and he wished he could give him an answer. All he could do was tell him what Ezra had told JD, that help was coming as soon as possible. He assured him that the others were alive and JD was still conscious. As he was doing this Josiah came up to report that the emergency services were indeed coming. Then he took the first aid kit around to help Ezra, dress some of JD's numerous wounds, and give him the word that Buck was alive and talking.

+ + + + + + +

"JD?" Ezra spoke quietly and, he hoped, comfortingly. "I am going to do something about some of your injuries, try to stop some of the bleeding, alright?"

"Ez, what about Buck?" JD asked, unable to keep the rising panic out of his voice.

"We have found him, he's trapped like you but he's conscious and Chris is with him, alright?"

"Yeah, I guess, are the fire trucks coming soon?"

"Very soon, now I'll try to be gentle but you are bleeding rather profusely."

With that Ezra tried to remember all his basic first aid training and do something about the worst of the lacerations on JD's arm, shoulder and head. For his part JD flinched and gasped but did not protest. Ezra had to cut away most of his shirt to apply the pressure bandages to the wounds that didn't have glass in them, and by the time he was done JD resembled a mummy.

"Ezra?" he finally asked when Standish was done and the pain had died down again.


"Is Nate awake yet?"

"No, not yet, but Vin is with him and he is stable, now you just sit very still for me JD and help will be here before you know it."

"Not much I can do but sit still, is there?"

+ + + + + + +

Vin was also talking to his patient as he used what was left of Larabee's first aid kit to cover the worst of Nathan's injuries. Even though Jackson was unconscious he spoke softly, worry and fear deepening his accent considerably, as indeed it did Ezra's.

"Now Nate, I hope 'm doin' this right. Ain't had much opportunity t' practise. Most times it's you doin' it t' me, guess I should‘a paid more attention. When you come around you gotta promise not t' move much, 'cause ya ain't got a lot a space here and I don't want ya destroyin' m' handy work bangin' in t' stuff."

With infinite care, callused fingers eased a pressure dressing over a long laceration to Jackson's powerful bicep and tightened it. Blood began to discolour it almost instantly and he applied a second one on top of the first.

"Now Nate, don't go doin' that. I ain't got a never endin' supply of them things like you. Guess there's hundreds in your trunk? Yeah, bet there is, but we can't get to 'um, and believe me…" He glanced up at the precariously balanced container above him nervously. "you don't want us t' try."

+ + + + + + +

Chris remained with Buck, sitting on the wet, cold asphalt holding his oldest friend's hand and talking to him. Normally neither of them would be caught dead holding another man's hand in public, but this situation was anything but normal. The bulk of the container made it difficult to communicate from one side of the car to another. Josiah had taken over staying with JD while Ezra ran back and forth with messages. Standish also checked on the driver of the truck, reporting he was dead. Ezra speculated that he had had a massive heart attack or stroke at the wheel, since he seemed uninjured and the truck’s cab hardly damaged.

+ + + + + + +

The fire truck and ambulance arrived simultaneously, filling the confined space with noise and light. And while Ezra strode to meet them, all three agents watching over their trapped friends informed them help was at hand. Vin had noted that Nathan was showing signs of coming around. He had groaned when Vin tightened the double pressure bandage on his arm as it was quickly becoming saturated and he didn't have another to add to it. Josiah quietly talked to JD, keeping him calm and stopping him drifting too much as shock set in, causing him to shiver.

The rescue would be lead by a battalion chief by the unlikely name of Tex Mitchell, who wasn't even from Texas. A sturdy, compact man with jet-black hair and dark brown eyes he quickly sized up the dangers and the difficulties, putting in a call for extra appliances and equipment.

In the half hour that followed there was a flurry of activity, a paramedic checked all three casualties, although all they could do with Buck was check his pulse, which Chris knew was distinctly shocky, but so far still strong. The fire fighters decided they could get JD out relatively quickly. A bolt pin from the container impaled his shoulder, the one he had been unable to move without pain, but apart from that he could be moved quite easily once the door was cut away. As the rescue team got to work on this, others surveyed Nathan's predicament.

The structures that held both Jackson and Wilmington prisoner were the very ones keeping tons of steel container from crashing down on them. Just cutting them away wasn't an option. The paramedic who came to check on Buck was called Carrie; she was in her early thirties but looked much younger. Sitting herself next to Chris she took the pale and increasingly cold hand from him.

"Hello Buck, my name is Carrie," she announced as she felt him flinch as the strange hand held him.

But at the sound of a soft young female voice he relaxed.

"You have a lovely voice darlin', what are you doing way out here in the middle of the night?"

"God Buck don't you ever stop flirting!" Chris thought to himself.

"Well, I'm a paramedic and I'm out here to take care of you."

"That's right nice of you, Carrie. Your hands are warmer 'an Chris'."

Carrie finished taking his pulse and, in response to his compliment, or maybe just because he needed it, she rubbed her gloved thumb across the back of his hand. It seemed to have the right effect, and he relaxed a little more.

"Mmmm, that's good," he commented.

"Buck?" Carrie needed more information.


"Can you tell if you hurt anywhere?"

"Er, nowhere, everywhere, I don't know," he seemed genuinely unsure. "Sorry I don't seem to be much help."

"It's all right, can you tell me what position you’re in?"

There was silence for some time.

"Buck are you still with me?"

"Yeah, honey, I'm just trying to figure that out for you. On my back," he finally stated.

"What about your arms and legs?" she encouraged, needing as much information as possible to give to the rescue team.

"Well, you got my right arm darlin' but the left … it's kinda under me, and my legs … they’re all squished up I guess, but I can't figure out where exactly."

"You're doing great Buck, don't worry about it. I'm giving you back to Chris now."

+ + + + + + +

She left the two of them to report back to Tex, Ezra at her side. She was concerned that his breathing was already ragged. Ezra explained about Buck’s cold and about Nathan's concern and insistence he not come into work on Monday. But what concerned her most was the fact that Buck was on his back. If he lost consciousness he could easily choke and die in minutes and there would be nothing anyone could do about it.

"Was he coughing today?" she asked.

"Yes, in fact increasingly so," Ezra confirmed.

"Damn. I'm gonna put in an IV for the shock and put a pulse monitor on him, but without knowing anything else about his injuries there is little else I can do, I don't have to tell you Tex, we need to get him out ASAP."

As if to emphasise her point about the urgency of the situation, just as she was returning with the IV Buck was struck by a coughing fit. Unable to suppress it, it sent agonising shock waves of pain through him, radiating out from his chest. As she took his hand from Chris, she could hear his breathing coming in shallow painful gasps.

"Buck, it's Carrie again, just breath slowly, try to breath deep not shallow, it is probably going to hurt more but it's important, can you do that for me? Just concentrate on your breathing and while you do I'm going to put in an IV, and that should help you feel better. Okay?"

Still unable to talk properly he squeezed her hand. Finally, after what to Chris seemed an eternity his breathing slowed and became deeper.

"Oh Christ, that hurts," he admitted. "Carrie honey?"


"About them injuries you was asking about."


"I think I busted some ribs."

"Anything else?"

"My legs seem to have gone to sleep."

"Okay, now this," she tried keep the concern out of her voice as she clipped the pulse monitor to his finger. "Is so we don't have to trust Chris' nursing skills when it comes to keeping an eye on your vitals, because I'm going to have to leave you with Chris so I can help move your friend JD, is that alright?"

"Just take care of the kid for me, Carrie, I don't trust him with many folk, so do it right"

Unsure what to make of this statement she looked at Chris, who just smiled and told her silently that he would explain later.

+ + + + + + +

The fire fighters working to free JD used cutters to remove the centre of the door but leave the frame. Each jolt and vibration sent a shock wave through JD right to every injury. But he remained stoically quiet, never once asking them to stop and give him a breather. They had offered, all he had to do was squeeze Josiah's hand and they would stop. It had taken some ingenuity to find a way for the big man to stay with his young friend without being in the way. Finally Josiah had stretched himself out on what was left of the hood, the container inches from his head, and taken JD's hand through the shattered windscreen. The firemen had protested and then quickly backed down when faced with the immovable object that was Josiah Sanchez, opting instead for giving him a hard hat. Much as JD wanted the extra pain to stop, he knew it would only be temporary relief and worse still delay the rescue of his friends.

Finally the bolt was the only thing left holding JD in place. There wasn't enough room for him to hold on to Josiah while it was cut, but Sanchez remained where the young man could see him and maintain eye contact.

"Okay Agent Dunne, I'm gonna cut the bolt about two inches above your chest, it will need to be removed in hospital, so don't try and pull it yourself," the fireman cautioned.

JD looked at Josiah, taking strength from his presence, his look of calm. Finally he nodded. "I understand," he assured in a quiet raspy voice. "Just hurry, will you?"

+ + + + + + +

Although they were alone again, the noise of the cutting equipment being used to get JD free drowned out any conversation. Chris held onto his friend, knowing he was feeling every one of the vibrations being sent through the tangled wreckage. He was reassured by the constant blinking and quiet beep, beep of the portable monitor beside him.

Finally the noise stopped and Chris heard JD cry out as he was finally lifted clear and onto a stretcher.

"JD!" Buck had heard and recognised the call instantly.

"It's okay, remember I told you they are getting him out now, Ezra will be along to tell us what is going on any second now. He really is quite a good gofer, you know."

"I resent that sir!" Ezra fumed. "I am NOT a gofer!" he reiterated as he came to Chris’ side.

"Yeah, ya are, but a very elegant one. What's going on?" Chris got back on track.

"Young Mr. Dunne is free and on his way to hospital. The very charming Carrie informs me he has some nasty lacerations, a puncture wound to his shoulder but no head injury or spinal damage that she could detect, but of course the hospital will do a thorough check. She said to tell you she will make sure only the most 'trustworthy folk' tend to him."

"Thanks Ezra, how's Nate?" Chris and Ezra gave a collective headshake. Trust Buck to be thinking of others at a time like this.

Vin had been following all this while keeping watch over Nathan. He was increasingly anxious. Buck was living Vin's worst nightmare. Trapped in a tiny space, in the dark, unable to move, barely able to breathe. Just being under the leaning container in the dark underpass was driving him crazy. Usually he could keep his claustrophobia under control, he could spend hours in some small roof space with his gun with no problem, but there he always had a way out. It was the concept of being trapped in a small space that terrified him. He knew if it had been him in the back of Nathan's car, he would be having a panic attack by now. He longed to be someplace very open, for there to be nothing above him but sky. But much as he longed for it, he would never abandon one of the team in a crisis.

"Nate's doing good, Buck" he called over. Chris looked up detecting the slight tremble in his voice, and seeing in his best friend what others would probably miss, the merest hint of real fear in his clear blue eyes, even in the odd artificial light of the street lamp and emergency lights.

"You hear that, Buck?" Ezra asked, breaking the brief moment of silence between leader and sharpshooter.

"Yeah, thanks Vin."

Chris looked pointedly at Ezra. "Vin why don't you let Ezra keep Nathan company for a while, you go see what Mitchell has planned next," he suggested.

Ezra took the hint instantly and stood to replace Vin. Vin gave the slightest of head nods to Chris and yielded his place to Ezra; it was good to move about again and have something active to do.

+ + + + + + +

JD tried to convince the paramedics he was okay to go and see, or at least talk to Buck, but they and indeed Josiah would have none of it.

"Son, the best you can do for him is be a good patient, so he knows you're alright, that you aren't something he has to fret over. You know what he's like." Sanchez was walking beside the stretcher and resting his hand on JD's undamaged knee as he spoke. "He needs to concentrate on himself right now and he can't do that until he knows you, and Nate, but especially you, are safe, can he?"

"I guess," JD admitted reluctantly. "But honest Josiah, I do feel okay now, now I'm out."

"Kid you feel better because you have an IV in your arm counteracting the shock and dehydration and because they pumped you full of painkiller. I should think by now you feel like you could walk on water, but you can't, try and sit up, let alone stand and you'll fall flat on your face." He looked up at the paramedic on the other side of the stretcher. "Right?"

"It's true son, we have ways of making you feel better, but it's just an illusion, sorry."

Just then Vin ran up to see him off as he was loaded into the ambulance.


"Yeah JD? No le' me guess, I'm to tell Buck you're expecting to see him at the hospital, no doubt flirting with all them nurses, very soon. Ya need him, so he better be there, and yer with him in spirit if not in body - that 'bout it?"

"Yeah," JD admitted hesitantly. "Yeah that's about it, thanks Vin."

"No problem kid, you two is easy t' read, I reckon Buck would say, if he was here, that is. 'Don't fret none kid, I'm coming, I don't aim to leave you, there's too much you don't know yet. Too much trouble you haven't found yet, but you will and then you'll need good ol' Buck t' pull you out of it. See you there kid, save some of the pretty nurses for me'."

JD couldn't help it, he laughed, which send dull stabs of pain up into his shoulder, where two inches of steel still protruded. But Vin did a mighty fine impersonation of Buck; it sounded just like what he would say. As he was being lifted into the ambulance, JD watched Vin as he took a deep breath and walked back to Chris' side, then his vision was blocked by the bulk of Josiah as he climbed in beside him and the doors closed.

+ + + + + + +

Mitchell informed him he was going to stabilise the container and then get Nathan out, it wasn't that he was unconscious and therefore theoretically a more urgent medical case. Carrie had made it clear how much danger Buck was in, it was that there was no way to get to Buck with Nathan in the car. Already jacks, of the kind usually used to support ceilings during construction work, were being placed under the container.

"I'll have to ask you gentlemen to move away now, this is dangerous work and I can't risk extra lives," the fire chief explained to all of them.

Chris looked over his shoulder at the dark fireman with a full Larabee glare. "I ain't leaving him," he stated.

But Buck had other ideas. "It's okay, Chris, I'll be alright, get where it's safe, no point us both..." his voice trailed off.

"God!" Chris fumed. "You can be so stubborn! If it were one of us would you leave? If it was JD you'd have cuffed yourself to the wreckage rather than leave him. Why do you expect us to do less for you?" Chris anger at Buck's apparent disregard for his own needs was fuelled by fear and he knew it, but he just couldn't stop. "You always do this! Well sometimes buddy, you have to put number one first, even if you don't want to it's an order, your boss is ordering you to put your needs first!"

"Fine!" Came back a surprisingly strong voice from the wreckage. "I need some quiet time, without my BOSS pawing my hand, okay!"

"No it ain't okay and I ain't leaving and besides..." So wrapped up in his fear-fuelled rage was Chris that he didn't hear Buck beginning to cough again.

Vin suddenly dropped lower so his head was in line with Buck's hand.

"Shut up Chris," he snarled; swatting Chris' hand away from Buck. "Buck, remember what Carrie told you, breath slow and deep, even when ya' coughing think about breathing slow and deep," he coached.

Slowly the coughing subsided, and they could hear ragged, shallow, uneven breaths, eventually these slowed to a more even, deeper rhythm but it was alarmingly wheezy.

"Better?" Vin asked eventually.

"Thanks." Was all Buck could manage but it was heartfelt.

Tex Mitchell was keen to get on with putting jacks under the container and get Jackson out.

"Gentlemen, I can see one of you is going to stay whatever I do, so make up your mind who and the rest of you step back." His tone was not that dissimilar to Chris' in full 'scary as all hell Larabee' mode, and it had the desired effect.

"I'm staying," Chris stated darkly.

No one argued. Vin was secretly happy. If Buck had asked he would have stayed, but given a choice he was going to take it, and get out form the confined space. Mitchell seemed happy, and gave Larabee a hard hat to wear. Chris wondered what use it would be if the several tons of steel above them did fall, as far as he could see they'd all be crushed like bugs instantly, but he put it on anyway. He kept up a running commentary as the jacks were put in place; every now and then he would make Buck reply to questions thus ensuring he was still conscious.

The only way they were going to get Nathan out was to cut away the buckled door, steering column, and a section of the dashboard. This would be no easy extraction. The door came away quite easily, then the steering wheel was cut away in small pieces, it was when the section of dashboard was moved that the container moved.

Nathan groaned and shifted. Buck, his hand gripping Chris' in a vice-like hold, screamed as something that had been pushing on his hip suddenly moved downward, producing agonising pain. He had been breathing quite well. In the long two hours it had taken to secure the container and cut away the wreckage from Nathan he had found a peaceful place in his mind, where he could block out the rising panic, the pain and the feeling that he was slowly suffocating as it became more and more difficult to breathe. There was a degree of sensory deprivation lying there immobile in the darkness, only Chris' voice and the constant pain gave him a sense of connection, yet part of his mind had found peace. The sudden pain destroyed that peace and he began to gasp, his wheezy breathing became ragged again.

"Slow and deep, remember." Chris reminded him.

"Well...I would...if I coul...d...fucking...breath at...all!" Wilmington gasped out.

"Breath through the pain."

"Why don't...you say...some...thing useful...instea...d of spouting plati...tudes!"

Chris ignored the angry words born of pain and fear and continued in steady measured tones.

"Platitudes indeed, you've definitely been spending to much time with Ezra."

"I ain't dumb you...know I...went to...collage!"

"I know, I'm sorry, but it's still true, you have to make yourself breath slower, just imagine your lungs expanding and contracting slowly, in and out, very slowly." Chris had lowered his voice and slowed his speech even more.

"Damn you La...rab...ee."

"Later, first you stop talking and just breath, that's an order Agent Wilmington."


"I said no talking just breathing!" Chris snapped.

Finally after what seemed like an age Buck was breathing more evenly, it was a long way from 'slow and deep' but it was better.

"Thanks Chris," Buck said finally.

"No problem, pal."

+ + + + + + +

Although the container didn't move again, there were several more sudden jolts that made Buck grunt and hiss as he tried not to yelp out loud. Once Nathan was out he was whisked off to hospital with Vin in attendance.

The extra pain of being moved had helped to finally pull Nathan back to consciousness. As the ambulance pulled away he groaned and his hand came up to the oxygen mask the paramedic had put on.

"Leave it Nathan," Vin warned, taking the large hand in both of his. "You just practice what ya always preachin' Nate. Do as yer told."

Nathan's eyes opened and for a second he just stared at Vin, blinking.

"Mr Jackson?" the paramedic asked.

Nathan's eyes moved to the new voice.

"Sir, can you see me okay?" In response Nathan blinked again, finally he held up his hand and shook it slightly.

"Okay, so it's a bit blurry?" The paramedic guessed. Nathan nodded. "Double vision?" This time he patient shook his head. "That's good, just rest, we'll be there soon."

Nathan turned his eyes back to the blurry figure he knew was Vin from the bright red shirt and the sound of his voice. With a surprisingly strong grip he reached out and took Vin's wrist in his. He was trying to speak, but his mouth was dry and the oxygen mask muffled what he did say. Vin nevertheless understood perfectly. He leant forward and lifting the large hand off his arm and holding it, he quickly explained.

"There was a crash, a container fell on the car. JD is most likely at the hospital by now, he's a bit banged up, but nothing serious, just cut 'n bruises mostly. Buck's still in the wreckage, though now yer out it'll not take long t' get him out too, I reckon. He's trapped but he's been conscious the whole time a' talkin' t' Chris. Okay?"

Nathan tapped his chest.

"Yeah they know about his chest, but like I said he's awake an' talkin', okay? So you just rest, ya hear me?"

Finally Nathan seemed to relax a little, he closed his eyes in an attempt to ease the pain in his head.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra had remained behind at the wreck site and continued to keep Chris informed as to how the rescue was progressing. He, much against Tex' wishes, followed Carrie back to Chris’ side. Carrie changed to drip. Chris watched, alarmed that the job needed doing at all; it meant Buck had been trapped there far too long.

"Hey Buck," Carrie called cheerfully as she worked. "It's me again,"

"Hello darlin'." Despite the words there was no life or humour in the voice.

She checked the pulse monitor. His pulse had slowed which was good, but was still weak and she noted with concern just a little irregular, it wasn't enough to be a danger yet but it wasn't a good sign.

"Buck, I'm gonna talk to Chris for a bit, Ezra is gonna stay here, okay."

She walked over to Tex with Chris, to find out the fire fighter’s next move. He explained that although he could remove more of the car they were going to have to lift the container a little. This was going to be accomplished with special jacks usually used to lift whole houses; two were on the way.

"How long Tex, I need an estimate, " Carrie asked insistently.

"This is all new to me," he admitted. "I've never heard of an accident like this, we're all learning; but," he looked them both in the eye. "I'd reckon on hours rather than minutes, guys."

Chris looked over at the car. "He's getting tired, I don't know is he can take much more."

"Well it's what he has to do, and you have to keep him awake and focused. Can you do that?" Carrie asked.

Chris nodded, as he returned to the car. While the house jacks were being adapted, it was relatively quiet. Ezra had withdrawn with Carrie on Tex' orders.

"Buck, you still with me?" he asked.

"Like I've got someplace else to be."

"Pal, did I ever thank you?"

"For what?"

"You know for what, for what you did for me, for saving me from myself."

"Probably, I can't remember."

"That means no. Thank you, Buck Wilmington, for being there for me. You know, apart from Sarah, you're the only person who has ever been totally honest with me."

"Vin," Buck added.

"Well maybe him too, but he couldn't have done what you did."

"Yeah he could."

"No I don't think so, don't get me wrong, Vin is my friend."

Buck snorted at this simple dismissal of what everyone knew was more than a mere friendship.

"Well okay, he's my best friend. But..." He tried to grasp the right words. "Well Vin has trust issues."

"Oh it's Vin who has trust issues," Buck said sarcastically.

"Alright I have trust issues as well," he admitted. "But you didn't, you trusted that whatever I did, or said, it was the booze and the grief and the rage, but not me. And you took it and dealt with it 'till I could deal with it myself."

"It weren't nothing Chris, it's what friends do."

"It sure as hell was something, and there are precious few friends who would or could do it. And I want to thank you for that unfailing honesty, then and now. I may not appreciate it, I may shout and threaten and growl and..."

"Glare," Buck supplied.

"I do not glare, I ... convey my point with non-verbal communication."

"Hah! Now who's been around Ezra to long? Chris, you glare at people, face it, you do it very well too."

"Yeah? Well whatever, the fact is you're always honest; well, about the big stuff," he corrected himself, remembering all the many evasions and half truths Buck told to hide his or one of the others mistakes, pranks, and constant failures to complete paper work. "I rely on that you know," he continued. "I know if I'm talking crap or doing something dumb you'll tell me, even if no one else will."

Suddenly Buck began to cough, it was a hideous, hacking cough that made Chris' eyes water just to hear it. He didn't try to tell him to breathe this time, breathing was clearly all Buck could be thinking of. Eventually the coughing subsided.

"Christ...tha...that...hurts...oh...Jesus!" he gasped. "Chris?"

"Yeah," Larabee replied with some trepidation.

"I don't...think...I can...do...this any...more."

"Oh yes you can!" Chris wasn't going to let him give up, not now. "You're not a quitter Buck, you never quit! How many times have you told me that? I used to get so sick of hearing it. You'd stand there in whatever hellhole bar you'd found me in, with that ... that damn look on your face; all stone cold sober, calm and patient. I wanted you to quit on me so much, because then I could finally quit on myself, I was so angry with you for not giving up. I may not remember all of it but I remember enough. I remember shouting at you to leave me alone,

I remember calling you every foul thing in creation, even accusing you of terrible things, and you just stood there and took it. Even when I pounded on you, you just took it, you never retaliated. Don't think I don't know how much self-control that took. You didn't give up even when you were hauling my scrawny ass back to your place just so I could puke all over it! All you have to do now is stay awake and breath. That's nothing, that's a walk in the park for a stubborn cuss like you."

"I'm too...tired...it...it...hurts," Buck gasped out.

Chris lowered his voice. "I know it hurts, I know you're tired and I know I'm spouting platitudes, but you can't give up now, please, Buck. You never quit on me and I'll be damned if I'll let you quit on yourself. Just keep doing what you've been doing, the firemen will get you out soon, I can't..."

"Fire fighters."


"They're called...fire... fighter's now... some of... them... are...are girls now."

"Really?" Chris feigned ignorance, desperately hoping this was a turning point and not just one of Buck's legendary diversions when people were getting to close to something he didn't want to discuss.

"Mmmm....one of...my...best fant...a...sies." He didn't finish but Chris could well imagine the fantasy.

"Does this mean you're going to breathe slow and deep for me now?"

"Try...ing to...Aw hell!" he suddenly exclaimed mid sentence.

"What's the matter?" Chris asked anxiously.

"Nothin'" there was a hint of embarrassment.

"Buck tell me."

"Hell Chris, it's... embarrassing."

"What is?"

"I had ...well I had ...an 'accident'," he admitted shamefully.

Chris didn't find it amusing or embarrassing, in fact he fully sympathised with his friend's predicament.

"Pal, you've been here for hours, with all that coughing I'd have been surprised if you hadn't. Especially considering how much Nathan made you drink today. "



"Don't tell ... the others."

"Never, you have my word on it, never."

"Thanks Chris."

+ + + + + + +

The jacks were in place and one of Tex' teams was about ready to remove the driver’s seat, there was a slight shudder, which produced a breathless whimper from Buck and it was gone. In an instant Carrie was back beside Chris. She poked her head into the driver’s side space; finally she could see Buck, or some of him. His head and one shoulder were visible, the twisted metal of the car's roof was less than and inch from his face, his left arm pinned back under him.

"Hi Buck, it's Carrie." He couldn't move his head to look at her, but she saw his eyes move to her, and a small smile appeared on his alarmingly pale face.

"Good...to...see you," he managed.

She noted with concern that blood was trickling down from his forehead.

"Did you hurt your head in the accident?" she asked, alarmed that he might have a serious head injury.

"No ... when I ... I cough."

She then realised that, since the wreckage was only a fraction of an inch above his forehead any sudden movement was bound to result in impact. There was little she could do apart from being able to ascertain he was probably running a high fever, and get some oxygen to him, although she couldn't get a mask on she held it as close as she could get.

"I don't want you talking any more, Tex says I can stay here for now, so all I want you to do is breathe."

It took another hour to release more of the wreckage and jack up the container a vital two inches. Removing the passenger seat had made it possible to check on Buck's legs, which were, as he had told them, twisted up under him. And another hour for them to be ready to pull him free. Fear, pain and fatigue had eroded Buck's usual resolve to never let his friends know just how much he was hurting. So much so, that as his legs were finally released, and full circulation was suddenly restored, he let out a howl of agony. Once he was finally pulled free he took a second to smile at a very worried Chris, before giving up the fight to embrace comforting, pain-free unconsciousness.

+ + + + + + +

Chris paced in the waiting area of the hospital's ER as Ezra went in search of more information on JD and Nathan. When he returned some forty minutes later he found Larabee exactly where he left him, wearing a hole in the floor.

"Chris?" Ezra tapped his boss' shoulder to get his attention.

"What!" Chris snapped before he realised who it was. "Sorry, how are they?"

"Remarkably well, considering," he reported. "Mr. Dunne has a puncture wound to the shoulder but it is not very deep, other than that, just cuts and bruises, he has a fine collection of stitches. The doctors want him to stay until tomorrow, he did lose rather a large quantity of blood." He looked down with some sadness at his blood-stained sleeves and cuffs. "Mostly on me," he commented, mainly to himself with due resignation. "Mr. Jackson is awake if a little woozy still, and distinctly er 'unwell'."

"Concussion?" he asked, seeking conformation.

"Just so, and like JD lots of cuts and bruises, they want him to say until Tuesday, for observation, because he was out for so long."

Chris knew all too well how 'unwell' you felt coming around with concussion.

Ezra paused a moment as a thought struck him.

"They were lucky...we were lucky," he stated quietly.

Chris remembered the sick feeling in his gut the first time he saw the wreckage, the sudden sure thought that no one could have survived. He nodded his agreement, and was only pulled from this dark memory by Ezra speaking again.

"They are in the same room, I believe Mr. Tanner took some time to convince the staff, but common sense won out in the end. Everyone is most anxious to hear about Mr Wilmington, I promised I would return with information."

Chris informed him there was still nothing for to report. It was another hour before a petite woman in blue scrubs came out to speak to them.

"Hello, I'm Doctor Ryan, are you here for Mr. Wilmington?" she asked.

"Yes," they replied in unison.

Smiling she continued. "You'll be pleased to hear he's doing better. He has four broken and two cracked ribs. Two of the fractures are misaligned and he is on his way to surgery to have that corrected, but it's a minor procedure, otherwise they're clean breaks, and there was no damage to any underlying organs. His shoulder is dislocated; we will reduce it while he's in surgery. He has a cracked pelvis…" Fresh alarm flashed across Chris. "Don't panic, it's only a crack, very painful, but it will heal on its own without any intervention. And of course he has a fine collection of cuts and bruises. The circulation in his legs is back to normal, there were no fractures, though I suspect he has some torn and pulled muscles. We don't expect any complications, though he will be weak and unsteady on his feet for a while. That and the pelvis injury means he's not going to be going anywhere very fast for some time. Now he does have pneumonia, but it isn't too advanced yet and he's breathing better since we drained his chest and put him on oxygen. His heartbeat on arrival was somewhat irregular but it's settled now."

"Will he be okay?" Chris just wanted to hear her say it.

"Yes, he'll be fine; lots of rest, antibiotics and he'll be fine in no time," she assured.

"How long?" Ezra asked.

She shrugged "A week here, two or three weeks convalescence, then he should be able to go back to work - but only desk work, it depends."

"Depends? Depends on what?" Chris asked.

"Broken ribs are a nasty complication to pneumonia, that's why we want to keep him for a week, just to be on the safe side."

"But he will be okay?" Chris still needed reassurance.

"Yes, he will be, but…"


"It must have been very scary, trapped like that, the paramedic told us all about it. And well… I've heard about you lot. Hell, every doctor in this place has head about you lot! I know you stick together."

"And your point is?" Chris' hackles were rising instinctively.

"He's a man."

"You noticed that."

"Hard to miss! The point is he's going to need time to get over this, not just physically, and he probably won't admit it… if he's having nightmares and such." She stopped unsure how to continue. The truth was she had been there when Buck had briefly regained a measure of consciousness, he was scared, disorientated and in pain. There hadn't been time to offer any comfort or reassurance before he slipped back in to the blackness, but the fear had been there and she wanted his friends to understand.

Ezra stepped in front of Chris. "We understand doctor, we will be at his side when he needs us, whether or not he admits to this need or not. Thank you doctor, we are most grateful. When can we see our friend?"

"He'll be in surgery for about half an hour, then recovery. Someone will come and get you when he's been settled in a room."

With that she left them.

"A week," Ezra commented.

"So?" Chris asked.

"He'll miss Thanksgiving," Ezra pointed out quietly.

"Damn," was Chris' only response.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stepped into the room Buck occupied next to JD and Nathan's. Dawn had come up bright, clear, and frosty. But the room's blinds had been drawn against the sunlight giving the room a soft, warm, orange glow. Buck was asleep; the deep, heavy, dreamless sleep of the heavily sedated, and the doctors had said he would most likely sleep for the rest of the day and the coming night. He was on oxygen and propped up so high he was almost sitting. Beside him, machines monitoring his breathing and heartbeat blinked reassuringly. Chris stood beside his oldest friend, noting that while his left arm was secured to his side to protect his newly reduced dislocated shoulder, his right arm, complete with its IV line, was stretched out above his head.

Chris reached over and grasped the extended hand, smiling slightly as Buck's big hand closed around his.

"That's okay pal, I'll be here as long as you need me, it's the least I can do," he said quietly. "God knows you stuck by me in the worst of times. You kept me in one piece while I sank as low as I could go, then, when I was ready, and not before, (I'll never know how you knew) you lowered a hand to help pull me back up. You can be aggravating, annoying, irresponsible, reckless, pigheaded, over-protective, juvenile, crude, unbelievably stubborn, and brutally honest, but you've always been a friend to me."

He stood there, in silence for a long time, until he realised he was being watched and turned suddenly to see JD standing in the doorway.

"How long have you been there?" he asked.

"Long enough." JD shuffled forward on stiff, sore legs to the other side of the bed, to look down at his best friend, roommate, and surrogate big brother.



"You know how you guys say I look like I'm about fifteen when I'm asleep."

Chris looked up and smiled. "You do, sometimes even younger."

"I know, most people do - God, Vin looks like a college kid when he's asleep. And I guess Buck does too, but he also looks different in another way."

He was clearly struggling to articulate what he was trying to explain.

"When he's asleep he looks, I don't know, more grown up. I mean, Buck's not the most mature person in the world normally, and sometimes I forget how old he is, but when he's asleep he looks more serious, more grown up, like you can see all the things he's seen and done, the things he doesn't talk about."

Chris looked back down at the sleeping man and realised JD was right, without the grin, the loud jovial voice and ready laugh, Buck, while looking younger despite the oxygen mask and the battered forehead, also looked more worldly. A life that had rarely been easy was more clearly etched.

"JD, does he ever talk to you about those 'things'?"

"Occasionally, you know Buck, he's too concerned about everyone else to ever talk about himself, but just occasionally, usually after a few too many late night drinks, he lets me see the other side."

"I'm thankful, I wasn't a very good friend in that area, I took a lot and didn't give much back."

"Chris, you're talking as if you two weren't friends anymore."

"Oh we'll always be friends and I know if I go off the rails he'll pull me back again, but I can't be the kind of friend he deserves, needs, and you can. He'll let you in; he never let me in. It was as if he always knew he'd have to support me one day, so he couldn't rely on me to support him. He kept that part of himself back. If he gives you an opening take it, use it, he may not like it but he needs it, as much as any of us."

JD nodded watching his best friend sleep, unable to remember Chris speaking so openly or so eloquently about his relationship with Buck before. Most of the time their shared past had too many ghosts in it for either man to want to dwell there long.

+ + + + + + +

JD was allowed home on Monday. Still very stiff, and with his arm in a sling it was determined he couldn't go home to the apartment alone and so went to stay with Chris at the ranch. The next day Nathan was able to return home to Rain. By Thursday, the big day, everyone was at the ranch, except Buck, who was making good progress and had insisted Thanksgiving went ahead as planned.

As well as Team Seven, Rain, Nettie and Cassie had joined them, Mary and Billy were at the Judge's house. Usually Buck did much of the cooking, he was actually quite a proficient cook although his repertoire was a little limited, but roast turkey was a speciality. This year Nettie was in charge. By mid-day everyone was there except Chris, who had gone to see Buck, promising he would be back by lunch. JD had been in first thing, until Buck chased him out telling him to 'Damn well go to the ranch and have fun'.

JD had tried to obey but it just didn't seem right somehow. They laid the table, put out all the accompaniments, the wine, beer, coke and waited for Chris to return so they could eat. JD was considering how much they had to be grateful for this year, he was all too aware he and the others could so easily have died that night. He was still deep in thought when the front door opened and Chris stood there grinning.

"What?" asked Vin, ever attuned to his best friend, and knowing instantly something was up.

"Hope you've got room for one more 'cause I got an extra," he said, still grinning.

Just then Buck appeared in the doorway, his arm was still strapped down, and he was limping heavily because of his cracked pelvis and stiff leg muscles, but he was walking in under his own steam, albeit with a cane.

"Jesus, Buck!" JD exclaimed, "you look like shit."

Buck did a fairly good imitation of a Larabee glare. "What have I told you about that, kid?" he growled.

"Whatever," the young man responded, "you still look like shit, but damn it's good to have you here, did they let you go?"

Chris shook his head. "Day pass only, I have to have him back by tonight and we are on strict orders not to wear him out, so, let’s get sat down and eat before Buck falls down."

Once the food was on the table and everyone was seated they linked hands and Josiah said grace. He thanked the Creator for the bounty of the earth, for peace and for bringing JD, Nathan and Buck safely home, then he concluded.

"Finally Lord, we thank you for friends, for the strength and companionship of our friends, for their love, support, guidance, honesty and steadfastness."

"Amen," they all responded with one voice.

"Oh yes Lord, Amen to that," Chris added under his breath.

The End

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