The Call of the Wild

by Annie

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What the hell was taking so long with Vin? Ezra sat staring down the vacant clinic hall, a stray pencil he'd found in his good hand tapping absentmindedly against his thigh, much to the annoyance of both men flanking him. They scowled but he paid them no attention, more intent on watching the emptiness of the hall before him. His shoulder and neck had finally reached a point of somewhat blessed relief, and he found if he sat leaning just a little off to one side, and cocked his head just so, he could maintain a comfortable enough position. For now, anyway.

But, while the pain was becoming tolerable, the waiting was not. Seemed like he'd been sitting for hours, body now molded to the hard plastic chair, waiting and waiting...waiting for Vin to hurry up and get out here so they could all leave.

What the hell was going on back there with Vin?

He wanted to rant at someone. He wanted to call out that he'd been here quite long enough thank you, and wasn't it time they were all released so they could be on their merry way?

The pencil tapped faster against his leg.

He wanted to rant. Or scream...or better yet even, maybe just hurl something at someone. Someone like the nurse who'd purposely rammed a needle in where no needle ought to be rammed, sorely damaging a particularly delicate area he was convinced she chose not because it was the appropriate spot, oh no, but purely out of plain meanness. All because he'd wrestled a tiny bit with her over his jacket and she'd sort of got clipped in the chin. It wasn't like he'd intended to strike her, heaven's no. He'd never purposely hit a woman, ever, even one that was really a troll only masquerading as the fairer sex. He would never.

He'd merely been trying to retreive what was left of his jacket, but apparantly the wicked witch of Boobe had other ideas in mind.

He'd lunged, she'd lunged... An accident. That's all it had been. She said he'd been trying to escape her ministrations...he'd denied that was true, although the thought had crossed his mind, not that he'd admit it, and then the ogre had looked to him with the most sinister of expressions and next thing he knew he had a needle plunged as far as it could go into...well...into the fairest flesh she could find on his derriere.

And she'd looked just so damned smug about it all, too. Worse part was, it was all for naught. The jacket, his beautiful soft as butter, cashmere lined suede jacket would never be the same again. Never.

All thanks to the injury he'd sustained while traipsing through the complete wilderness where he had no business whatsoever traipsing....

All thanks to Mssrs. Tanner and Larabee who all but...but...kidnapped him to come out here.... All thanks to Buck Wilmington, the very person who somehow became conviently deaf when the word no was involved. Buck.

He looked to the pencil tapping against his leg, looked to Buck, looked to the pencil again, and, even as he was telling himself not to...watched as it went sailing through the air. Dead center on target, too.

My, wouldn't Mr. Tanner have been proud.

Buck flinched from being struck in the chest by some pointed ground-to-air missile and turned to burn devil eyes into his assailant.

"Hey!" he protested, a hand to his chest and a knowing stare fixed on the culprit.

"Oops," Ezra said, doing his best to look woefully apologetic, and actually pulling it off for a second. "Sorry. Dropped it."

Buck glared at him, the second having passed. "Dropped it, my ass, and you can just put them big ol' 'Vin eyes' away. You don't fool me. I know you were aiming at my head."

"Was not." Not the most mature response, Ezra knew, but all he could manage at the moment. And if he'd wanted to hit Buck's head, then he would have hit Buck's head. He wasn't that bad a shot and it wasn't that small a target.

Buck scowled and grumbled but Ezra didn't listen. He was beginning to feel a bit hazy anyway, not quite as sharp as usual, due thanks to the medication he'd been given. His rear end twinged with distinct memory.

And it wasn't anger he really felt toward Buck, anyway... just annoyance. Okay, annoyance bordering on irritation bordering on, well, anger. All right, maybe he was a teeny bit angry.

Thing was, if Buck hadn't pressed, hadn't absolutely refused to take 'no' for an answer, hadn't managed somehow to get Chris and Vin to get him out here--and the fact he was out here still made his head spin--then he would be at home. Home asleep in his own down-feather bed. Home asleep and happy....

But no. No, here he was instead, coerced into joining this insane wilderness trek disguised as some harmless fishing trip, totally against his better judgement because he knew, he just knew not to go into the woods with Vin...and now his arm was completely immobilized and weeks of therapy were staring him in the face.

And he was tired and sore. Had lost his prized jacket--and apparently Mr. Larabee is totally clueless to what a 'seam' might be--and then, to top it all off like one big ol' fuckin' --pardon the French wherever you are, mother dear--cherry on a sundae, he gets shot at point-blank range in the rear end with a goddamn needle.

He wondered if Vin was faring any better.... And kinda hoped not.

Ezra glanced up again at Buck who continued to rub where the pencil point struck. "Sorry," he offered softly, and decided he really did mean it. He sighed.

Must be the drugs.

"Sure, Ezra." Buck told him, pocketing the pencil. "It's all fun and games 'til somebody loses an eye."

"Well, in the event that might happen, I'm sure here at Boobe you would get the best of medical care and treatment. Never fear," Ezra said. "the boobs are here."

"Knock it off."

Ezra and Buck both turned to Chris because, when Chris Larabee growled, people listened.

The white of the wall reflected the most unnatural glow of the fluorescent lighting overhead, and Ezra found himself staring at Chris and thinking how the man looked particularly green and not just a little bit ghastly. Combine that with the scowl that had taken over his features during the last hour, and it was a wonder the staff hadn't called the authorities. Larabee looked like many miles of bad road...or bad trail, as would be this case.

Of course, Ezra realized, he most likely looked as awful. What that beast of a nurse had done for him in the way of cleansing him hadn't been much, just a wash off the grime that covered his shoulder area. He still had mud and various debris clinging to most of him. Some disgusting glue-like substance had dripped into his hair and whatever he'd stepped in earlier still clung to the bottom of his shoe--his imported Italian just the right shade of leather shoe. And for God's sake, he'd even picked a bug--a bug!--from off his person.

It was time to go. Mr. Tanner and the others might be used to sleeping in the wild with vermin and assorted other vile creepy crawly things, but he was not.

No, he most certainly was not.

So...just what in the hell was taking Vin so long?

"Get the hell off, Ezra," Chris growled again then, or at least, Ezra thought it had been only a moment later. But now it vaguely dawned on him that his mind had drifted away without first letting him know, and apparently his body had followed right along, because...because...

Good God, how had his head slipped down upon Chris Larabee's shoulder?

Buck slid into the seat next to Ezra and, upon hearing Chris's deep growl, slipped an arm around the slighter man and eased Ezra over to lean against his own chest.

But Ezra shook himself aware, seemingly embarrassed to find he was nearly in Buck's lap now. "I'm fine, thank you," he said, pushing against Buck and pulling himself upright, his eyes blinking a rapid staccato.

"It's okay, Ez. You're fading fast," Buck reassured him, but Ezra wouldn't have it...

"I'm fine, I assure you."

"Fine. Look at yourself, you're dead on your feet."

"I'm alright, really."

Buck stared at him for a long second. He spoke softly. "Suit yourself, Ez. But y' know, I been told I make a pretty fine pillow."

Ezra blinked away the dryness of his eyes and sat up straighter, staring into Buck's blue eyes. Embarrassed, he looked past the man. "I'll keep that in mind."

What the hell were they doing with Vin back there, anyway?

Sharp clicks echoed down the small hallway and he turned to watch a woman approach. She stopped in front of them. Buck rose to meet her, suddenly awake and oozing with charm.

Ezra couldn't watch.

"You all are waiting for a Vin Tanner?"

"That we" The woman wasn't wearing what the nurses had been, so Buck took a shot in the dark.

"Office manager," she corrected him. "Will Vin be out soon?" Chris asked and hoped to God the woman would say in a matter of seconds. He was exhausted and his foot was throbbing a harsh beat.

"Soon, I think," she said instead, adding, "I believe the doctor is finishing with him right now. I'm really here about the vehicle parked outside. It's a truck. A very bright truck."

Buck smiled and nodded his head. The truck. Paying off already. "Why, that's mine, darlin'. Something, ain't it?" She smiled back at him. "Oh, it certainly is something." Buck turned to deliver a smug look to Ezra, then turned back.

"It's also blocking me in," she added, "and it's time for me to get home."

Ezra stared at her with complete envy. "So, you need me to move it, then."

"If you don't mind."

"Not at all." Buck moved aside so she could pass first. "After you."

Ezra and Chris watched the pair walk down the hall and disappear around the corner. They both then turned back to the emptiness that surrounded them.

"Think he'll manage a date out of this?" Ezra asked.

"Not if she has any sense," Chris replied.

Buck returned minutes later, a frown replacing the smile that had so broadened his cheeks.

"Let me guess," Ezra told him, "turned you down flat."

"Truck is flat."

Ezra and Chris exchanged puzzled looks. "Say again?"

"Flat. I got a flat. Flat tire. Don't ask me how, don't ask me when, but there it is. I walk the woman out, show her my new pride and joy, and she points and says, 'is that supposed to look like that?' Flat. Flat. Flatter 'n' a pancake flat."

"So...fix it," Ezra said, frowning. Shades of familiarity were creeping down his spine. As if living this nightmare once a lifetime was too much, he was offered it again in less than 24 hours. Broken down transportation. Why did this have to happen now?


"And, pray tell...why not?" This was NOT happening.

Buck closed his eyes. "'Cause, the spare installation package wasn't ready yet when I picked up the truck. I've got an appointment to have 'em put it in Tuesday, which is when the part that's missing will be in to the dealer's."


"Yeah. You know, the day we go back to work. Never thought there'd be a chance in hell I'd wind up with a flat. Ironic, ain't it?"

Chris leaned forward, hands rubbing his temples. He'd like to just club Buck flat with his cast.

Ezra sunk down in his chair. Staring...just staring up at the vacant ceiling.

"I'm sorry," Buck pleaded, suddenly feeling like the biggest boob at Boobe. "It's...."

"It's déjà vu," Ezra whispered, shivering deeply as he closed his eyes.

"Just call a service." Chris refused to look up because if he did he'd have to kill Buck on the spot.

"Can't," Buck said again softly, noting no one would meet his eyes. "Office manager told me there ain't a thing open in this town until tomorrow morning 'cept the convenience store down the road. And wouldn't y' know, there ain't AAA out here, either. But, hey! We could call an' get us all a burrito!" It was a joke...but nobody was laughing.

It dawned on him it was a good thing that these two were on some kind of medication that dulled their senses, elsewise, this time he would have a pencil stuck in his neck. Permanently. Well, on to the good news....

"Nurse who worked on Ezra said she'd give us a ride back to the cabin. Knew right where it was, too, that's a plus, ain't it?" He assumed neither man was too in love with that idea right now since neither would look at him. "Said she'd call in the morning and have Vin's Jeep gassed up and towed or driven out there to us, too. We can use that to get around 'til I get my new tire put on...assumin' there's a service place around to do it, and then we-"


Buck looked up expectedly. "Yeah, Chris?"

"Just..." "Yeah?"

"Just...shut the hell up, Buck."

+ + + + + + +

Ezra couldn't help it. The words just ran freely through his head, which, he supposed, was better than the images of the dead Wilmington that had been racing through there previously.

Still, though...he was beginning to feel a bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

There's no place like home.

Hours and hours and hours they'd been here at the, of Boobe. It sounded like a horror movie....

There's no place like home.

And it was. Treatment and needles and flat tires and waiting and waiting and waiting for Vin...

There's no place like home.

Ezra could not fathom what in the world would take so long to examine one fairly small sharpshooter. He groaned aloud. It was never going to end.

"Is Mr. Larabee still here?"

Ezra's eyes shot open just as Buck stood. Now what?

Buck watched as a young man, a very young man--no, kid, really--approached from down the hall. The doctor? Chris and Ezra hadn't mentioned a sixteen year old had treated them.

"Mr. Larabee?"

"He's here," Buck began and pointed to Chris who looked to be half-asleep, the medication hitting hard, "but he's a bit out of it right now so I guess I've become what you might call the keeper of the flock." This kid looked even younger than JD. He was a doctor? Was that even possible?

"Ah, you must be then..." Buck watched the child pause and check his clipboard.

"Mr. Wilmington?"

"The one and only," Buck grinned, then beamed at Ezra and added a wink.

"To which I can only add, praise be," Ezra muttered and wished he really could poke out Buck's eye.

The doctor stood stiffly. "I'm sorry about your truck, Mr. Wilmington, though Estelle did say she'd offered you all a ride out to your cabin."

Buck nodded.

"Okay, then," the doctor continued, "Well, I've just finished with Mr. Tanner. He'll be coming out in a minute, the nurse is helping him dress--"

" he loves that," Buck cut in, grinning and winked again toward Ezra.

"That eye bothering you?" the doctor asked seriously. Ezra snorted.

Buck began to chuckle as well, then stopped as he turned back toward the doctor, noticing the young man was just staring blankly at him. Did this guy have a sense of humor?

He sighed. "So, he-Vin-is okay, right?"

"Mr. Tanner--and Mr. Standish and Mr. Larabee--will all be just fine if they take it easy and are careful."

"That's askin' a miracle," Buck quipped. The doctor didn't even crack a smile and Buck gave up.

"Yes, well. Mr. Tanner does have a concussion. I've kept him a while for observation, but he's not serious enough for me to keep him any longer. Enough so, however, that he needs to get plenty of rest and not overdo."

"Not overdo." Buck committed that to memory.

"He's likely to have trouble remembering things...remembering recent events, such as those that brought him here. He is and still might remain somewhat confused for a bit. If this confusion continues, or seems to worsen, have him come back or get him to his own doctor right away. And actually, he ought to see him or her when you all return. I understand you're on vacation?"

"I wouldn't say that," Ezra scoffed.

"Oh. Business, then?"

"Well, it certainly hasn't been pleasure." Ezra just wanted to get home.

"Anything else?" Chris asked groggily from where he sat. Now that he knew Vin was okay, he just wanted to get somewhere and shower. Shower for hours. Shower for days. The nurse had washed his leg and foot well enough, but the rest of him still felt, still was, filthy. Shower for a week, maybe.

"Mr. Tanner's going to have quite a headache. I gave him something for that for the present, but it will persist. I'll give you a prescription for him that should take care of the pain. He may tire easily, want to sleep more. None of these symptoms should last, but, if they do or seem to worsen, again, get him to a doctor. For the next eight hours or so, you'll need to watch him. If he sleeps, awaken him every two to four hours. I gave you a list of what to watch for. Basically, if he seems to be acting out of the norm, have him get checked out."

Buck looked at the boy-doctor. "Out of the norm."

The doctor looked at Buck as though he was purposely being obtuse. "As in not normal."

"Define normal," Buck said.

"Normal for Mr. Tanner."

Ezra scoffed. "And therein lies the mystery."

The young doctor stared a moment at the men facing him. He didn't understand them in the least and was fairly sure he didn't want to. He'd seen and released both Standish and Larabee...and that had been event enough. Dealing with Mr. Tanner had just frayed him to the quick. He wouldn't be sorry to see them all leave.

Lord, his mother warned him about taking a job out in the sticks. "Alright then, gentlemen, then if you have no more questions..."

"We can all go?"

"Please." Yes, go. Please go. "You all must be exhausted."

"And you aren't keeping anyone overnight?"

The doctor's eyes roved over the two obviously tired, very dirty men reclined back into the red plastic chairs. His nurses had given him an earful about these men. The sly one had even had some sort of physical altercation with Estelle. He didn't even want to imagine that. Now, it was late and he was tired, too. Keeping them overnight? "Thankfully, no," he said aloud. He turned to walk away, stopped again by the light pressure on his arm.

"Just wanted to say thanks, Doc. They all, uh, give you a hard time?"

The doctor shook his head. "You have no idea."

Buck grinned. "Oh, I think I might."

+ + + + + + +

The lights in the small room had been dimmed, and for that he was grateful, but he still felt sick to his stomach, still had the most intense headache, still could only squint against the pain beating its neverending percussion behind his eyes. His head was screaming bloody murder, his back was hollering a banshee's shriek, and his neck was bellowing loud enough to scare the glare off a Larabee.


Still, every time he set to rise up off the exam table, he found himself lurching to one side or the other, his balance completely off center, all of which combined was making him dizzy enough and nauseous enough to want to lay down and never get up again for the rest of his life.

He wondered if he could get pizza delivered.

A noise at the door and he slid weary eyes to watch the nurse as she entered, blinking a few times to clear his vision while he followed her movements around the small room. She smiled at him and he tried to do the same in return, but it was hard. His eyes felt tired and sluggish, a dry ache set deep within their sockets. And everything he looked at seemed to be surrounded by a misty halo. Not so bad as it had been, but enough not to want to keep his eyes open any longer. He glanced at the nurse a quick moment more, then closed his eyes and let himself drift away for a bit, tired enough to not care where the nurse was or what she was doing...

Until hands touched him and his eyes snapped open.

"How are you doing, Mr. Tanner?" the nurse asked, already writing things down on his chart even before he answered. She smiled down at him with genuine concern and he found he liked the warmth of her eyes.

"Been better," he told her honestly, wincing when the hammer in his head struck a particularly heavy blow.

"Is that medication you were given helping at all yet?"

"Some," he admitted and the haze around him seemed to part just a bit.

"Okay." Her hand lightly squeezed his shoulder. "We're going to get you a bit cleaned up so the doctor can get a good look at what's under all this dirt you've been rolling in. I hear you and your friends went on a rather interesting nature hike this evening."

She smiled again and he found himself taking a liking to this nurse, and he realized the sound of her voice set off something deep within him. "Texas," he stated softly and she beamed.

"Can take the girl out of Texas, but..."

"That twang will haunt forever," another nurse chimed in as she entered the room, and they both laughed.

Vin nodded then choked back a groan when the slight move sent a wave of nausea running through him.

Maybe he'd forget that pizza for now.

Texas placed her hand against his forehead. "Rest, honey. You'll feel better in a bit."

"You'll feel lots better once we chisel off some of that mud, I'll bet," the other nurse offered, busy gathering items at the counter area and handing them off to Texas. Vin watched the two of them for a moment, then let his eyes close again. He exhaled tiredly.

"This needs washing," a voice commented softly, surprising Vin that she'd crept close enough to him without him realizing. Texas. She was hovering over him, her fingers gently beginning to pluck a few leafy bits from the tangled locks and his eyes shot open again as she did. His hair. She was running fingers through his hair, brushing it back, to the side, pulling out twigs and leaves, and so he nodded, not knowing what to say and more than half-afraid she'd go ahead and just start shampooing away without even asking him if he minded.

And he minded a lot. Even when he went for haircuts--and he did get haircuts, though Larabee constantly insinuated otherwise, because, hell, it'd be down to his waist if he didn't--he still barely tolerated having someone else fool with his hair. Just wasn't something he could stand for more than a few minutes.

"Thirsty," he blurted out, hoping to distract her and because he really could use a drink, and thankfully, her fingers stopped.

"I'll get your water."

He sipped lightly and then lay there, watching the two nurses do whatever it was they were doing. Not Texas, but the other, a woman with eyes that sparkled even in the dim of the room, came over to take his vital signs. Blood pressure, pulse, temperature. He figured she was the one in charge. Every once in a while Texas would joke and call her Mom, even though their ages proved that an impossibility, so he assumed she was the boss. She was gentle though, this mom. No clinical detachment here. She touched him skillfully yet with the warmth of true compassion. Speaking to him softly, her voice filled with an honest concern when she asked him what had happened. Did this hurt...was this sore...did he need anything before the doctor came in...

Her hands tenderly eased the shirt from his back as she helped him sit up, then drifted lower to unbutton and unzip the top of his pants and peel them slightly apart. And had he been in another frame of mind, hurting less, and thinking more clearly, he might just have protested being so exposed, or at least felt a bit more mortified at being handled so casually...maybe even dying from some sort of embarrassment when she began to wash the dirt and grime from his skin from head to open zipper, all better see the damage done. But he was tired and feeling fuzzy and damn, the warm water was just so incredibly soothing.

It trailed slowly over his chest, easily erasing the build up of filth and clearing a path over his skin like a snowplow through a drift. He inhaled, finding he rather liked the faint herbal scented lather, it reminding him of something Nathan or Rain might have on hand. Rain experimented with all sort of herbal mixtures. She even had one that smelled of peppermint, he recalled, supposed to rid the world, or someone's house anyway, of rodents.

Whatever this was the nurse called mom was bathing him with smelled marvelous. Not medicinal or too like a hospital, which is what he'd expected, but soft, like a candied powder. He watched with a strange sort of detachment the woman's delicate, yet strong hands wring the sponge into the pan of water, and then the other nurse, the one who liked his hair, Texas, moved to her side to take over.

"I've got it," she said to 'Mom' and Vin caught the brief, silent exchange as the one in charge handed bathing duties over to the other. Poor woman, he thought, suddenly feeling terribly self-conscious. Must be hard to have to tend to patients' basic needs. His needs. He could never do what they did. Still, even as unpleasant as the task must surely have to be, nurse Texas began to bathe him as though it was the nicest thing she'd done all day.

He watched as she concentrated, his eyelids drifting to half-mast as what energy he had left simply drained from his body. She was giving his skin her utmost attention and he suddenly found himself hoping like hell she wouldn't begin to tackle his hair like she'd threatened already. And wouldn't you know just as the silent plea crossed his mind, here came 'Mom' with a comb with which she began to thread through the knotty mess.

"Doctor will see you soon," she said and lifted out some leaf and twig shrapnel caught up in the tangles.

"Don't gotta do that," he whispered to her, and then winced. Even speaking made his head pound.

She smiled down at him, sparkling eyes and all. "It's okay, honey. That's what we're here for. We'll just help this along some, though it's really too bad we can't do a more thorough job for you here." She'd said that with such honest sincerity that he blushed. The other nurse--Texas--then patted his hair and finished drying him with the towel in her hand. The nurses down in Denver General could sure take a lesson or two from these two.

Then again....

The two women moved back to the sink with their supplies, chatting softly, and Vin closed his eyes, feeling drowsy and about as bone-tired as he'd felt in some time. He was drifting and he knew it, but didn't much care, letting the aches and pains in his body fade with the sleepiness overtaking him.

And then he heard it. That word! That dreaded word! They'd been talking—no, whispering—and then they'd said it...and then they... Well, he damn sure thought he'd heard a giggle. And he knew he heard that word.

Catheter! Had they really said...catheter?

He just had a bump on the head for God's sake! One tiny, little bump with only a headache to show! What the hell kind of place was this, anyway?

What the hell could they be thinking?

You didn't just go around inserting things at one end when the damage was clearly at the other.

Even he knew his head from...from...from that!

Well, hell. Chris and Ezra damn well best be okay and ready to hit the highway, because concussion or not, if either one of these two came near him with one of those things--Texan accent and warm eyes nothin'--he was going to up and bolt like a bat out of hell and he didn't care who the hell he ran over to get through the door!

He warily waited, body tensed and ready to spring, ready to flee at even tiniest glimpse of the dreaded object...the merest reference to the device from hell...just one mention and he'd show them how fast a man with a concussion could move, damn straight.

But it didn't happen. Thank God. He heard them laugh again over something else as they left the room, 'Mom' telling him again the doctor would be with him in a minute. So figured he'd just been hearing things. Hearing things, that was all. What a relief.

Just hearing things.

Man with a concussion could imagine all sorts of things, he reckoned.

He closed his eyes and tried to relax as best he could after such a scare, and for the first time ever found himself wishing the doctor would just hurry the hell on up and arrive and do to him whatever it was he was going to do because he could not get out of there soon enough.

The nurses laughter drifted in through the closing door and Vin shuddered.

Nope, he could not get out of there soon enough.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra had stood about all he could stand. Bad enough half his upper body was held tight and immobile, arm throbbing, neck aching, shoulder on fire even with the meds he'd been given. But here he was, too, stranded in some godforsaken clinic out in the middle of absolute nowhere and relying on rescue by the same evil amazon so called nurse beast woman bent on doing her utmost to 'needle' him at every opportunity, and in more ways than one. He rubbed his rear where the reminder of her jab still stung the most.

"Got an itch there?"

Oh, leave it to Buck to find something amusing about his misery. He turned to the man leaning against the wall. "Shut. Up."

"Huh. Eloquently put, Ez."

Ezra gave him a finger tip of an imaginary hat and looked down the hall, sighing heavily and loudly when neither hide nor overly long hair of one Vin Tanner filled the still empty walkway.

What in the name of God could they possibly be doing to the man?

He shifted in his seat for the umpteenth time, and tried in vain to find a comfortable position and not nod off himself, though the pull of the medicines was becoming harder to resist. Last thing he wanted was a repeat of the scene where he woke up, head in Chris's lap.

He sat up straighter and stifled a yawn, glancing over at Chris by his side and doing a double take at the sight of his boss, their leader, one of, if not the most, deadliest men he knew--the man who could glare the man off the moon if need be--half-asleep, dazed. And drooling.

Oh, to have a Polaroid.

And Buck, who had complained non-stop for at least 45 minutes about his having a new truck with a flat tire and no spare, had finally decided to grace them all by shutting up about it, and now stood leaning against the wall of the waiting area. Ezra hoped he would keep quiet, not wanting a replay of the earlier embarrassment when Buck had tried to become charming and irresistible to the very limited admin staff by hitting on those unlucky enough to pass by him as they were leaving for the evening.

"Now, what's that guy's name this place is named after, again?" he'd ask them, "Edgar R....", and Ezra would slide further down in his chair.

"Boobe." Had been the reply, and why was it Buck found that amusing every single time someone with breasts uttered that word?

"Boobe. That's right. With an 'e'. I remember now."

The woman would then begin to smile, and then Buck would say it, making Ezra cringe every time…

"So, come here often?"

And the nurse would get that look and just when Ezra figured she'd laugh in Buck's face or, at the very least, and if she had any brain whatsoever in her head, rush out the door screaming, more often than not the woman would laugh, playfully slap back at Buck for using that old tired line, and then laugh some more, Buck joining in on the joke.

Perfectly charmed and perfectly charming.

It was all so revolting.

"Lord, I am just so mortified for you," Ezra told him.

Buck eased off the wall. "Oh, hell. I'm just havin' some fun." He turned to look at Ezra sitting there with a scowl. "Something you ought ta try sometime."

"I happen to have plenty of fun in my life."

Buck's eyebrow raised. "Really?"

"Yes, really," Ezra said, not a little indignant to have Buck sound so incredulous. He had fun, dammit, just not usually when he was injured, exhausted, surrounded by morons who he'd thought his peers, and left for hours in the middle of a backwoods clinic waiting on a sharpshooter who was apparently never coming. "A plethora of fun, actually."

"Tell me, Ez," Buck began, slipping into a chair and giving Ezra his undying attention because at this point there was nothing much else to do, "what is it you do for fun? What do you do when the suit comes off? It, uh, does come off, doesn't it?"

"Yeah," Chris mumbled, head back and eyes closed, "and underneath is yet another suit."

Buck grinned and ran a finger down Ezra's good arm. "That right? Y' got a stuffed shirt underneath that stuffed shirt?"

"What 're you up to, Buck," Chris asked, sitting up and wiping a sleeve across his chin. He lightly scratched where skin met cast and then closed his eyes, letting his head fall back to rest against the wall, "you so bored now you're askin' Ezra to strip?"

Ezra was about to protest out of sheer annoyance how he wasn't wearing a suit now, if anybody'd care to notice, and how he could be a veritable barrel of fun, thank you very much, when a movement in his periphery caught his eye.


Chris shifted a bit more upright, grimacing when his leg protested the movement, but intent on the approaching wheelchair. He peered at Vin.

Vin held up a hand to shade his eyes, the flourescent lighting in the hall bright enough to make him wince. He peered through his fingers at his friends, scanning and taking in each injury, each bruise, each exhausted and dirty face. He stared at Chris's cast, tracing his eyes along the man's body up to his face and catching the other man's similar scrutiny.

"You look like hell," both he and Chris said simultaneously.

Buck snorted. "Damn, Vin. We thought maybe you'd found a better offer than us," he said, his eyes drifting from his friend in the chair to rest on the more than lovely nurse standing behind it.

"Wanna say that a little louder there, Bucklin," Vin mumbled, a hand back to shading his eyes as he winced from the sound of the man's booming voice, "think I might got a brain cell or two left you ain't blown yet." His headache had eased some, but clearly not quite enough.

Buck ignored him in favor of gaining the attentions of the nurse. She gave him a brief reminder of everyone's medications and possible adverse symptoms to watch for, and he found himself smiling through the discourse. "Hey. Lemme guess. Texas, right?"

Ezra groaned. "Oh, good Lord. They just appear out of the woodwork!"

"Gentlemen," a deep voice announced and heads turned to the large woman standing near the door offering out keys like bait dangling from a line. Estelle. "Your rescue is at hand."

Ezra frowned, rubbing at his rear once again as he slowly followed the others toward the door. "More ominous words, I have not heard."

+ + + + + + +

One wouldn't think traveling by car back to the same cabin that seemed miles away by foot would take as long, much less twice as long...but it was that way as far as Ezra was concerned, every foot of mile, every slowly traveled minute, every inch of asphalt road.

Seemed he'd been trapped in the tight confines of the car for...well, at the very least forever if not longer. And how was it, anyway, he managed to end up in the front seat sitting right next to that woman--that ogre--that beast.

Nurse Estelle. He peeled open an eyelid and glanced at her profile as she drove. A shudder slid down his spine. Somehow, it had to be Buck's fault, because most certainly it wasn't his own.

No, he'd just been slower to get off the mark what with the handicap of an immobilized shoulder and wrenched neck, and with Buck practically shoving the other two into the back seat faster than the wink of an eye, he'd been pretty much left to fend for himself. Both Chris and Vin had been completely pliant from the meds they'd been given and uttered up protest none at being so manhandled in what, Ezra thought, was complete character reversal. All of which led to the only empty seat being front shotgun, right next to that woman.


Not that he hadn't been feeling a whole lot of woozy as well from the meds...just, he liked to retain as much control over his composure and decorum as humanly possible in every situation.

Man was not an animal, after all.

So, the two dishrags, Buck and he had stood and stared at the vehicle, or as much as Chris and Vin could with eyes half-mast, Chris leaning heavily and crookedly on a crutch, Vin swaying more or less in one place, and Buck centered between them, a firm grip on each man almost as though afraid one or the other might just float away.

Ezra had stood stiffly off to the side, watching as though in a fog, and had he been a bit more aware he'd have noticed immediately the slight jockeying for position Buck had managed--but before Ezra could even have uttered a sound of protest, Buck had ensconced himself and the two compliant comrades into the back seat leaving him to crawl gingerly into the front, leaving him seated right next to that evil shrew.

She eyed him, he eyed her, the bug-eyed witch, and then sighed heavily and let his aching head fall back against what he hoped was relatively clean upholstery.

"And so we're off," she'd said. Ezra had nodded, agreeing and mumbling, "Some of us more than others," as he'd closed tired eyes and let his head roll along with the car's faltering, sluggish movements, those of the proverbial tortoise.

She'd awakened him minutes later it seemed, and he realized as well that the car was slipping into a parking spot.

"You need supplies?"

"Supplies?" He felt as though he was swimming through sludge.

Estelle huffed. "Food. Toilet paper. You know..."

Ezra thought for a moment, his head a bit less groggy as he recalled not wanting to have to grace the great outdoors ever again.... "Yes...toilet paper..."

He blinked his eyes and found Estelle just staring at him, her eyes even somewhat concerned maybe, and then realized he must have drifted. With a hitch, he sat up a bit straighter and gave a nod that merely reminded him how much his neck and shoulder hurt, and thought about what she'd asked. "Yes. Come morning we'd be most appreciative for supplies. If it's not too much bother, of course."

She motioned toward the small store. "No problem, hon, I always stop here on my way home. It's the only thing open this late, but it's not bad for a mini mart at the local gas and go. You can get milk, eggs, orange juice, donuts. They have a few frozen food items, too, I think."

"Slim Jims," a voice in the back weakly demanded.

The nurse nodded. "Yes, they have those."

"Lord, don't tell him that," Ezra groaned. "We'll take one of everything else you mentioned, however."

The woman held out her hand and waited.

And Ezra waited.

Not so amazingly, no one offered up even a measly dime. In fact, soft snores began issuing up from the back of the car at the precise moment they pulled into the mini mart's parking lot.

Ezra sighed. Sleeping. Right. Like he was that gullible.

He felt Estelle's eyes on his face and reached in a pocket, offering up a twenty along with a deep exhale. "Coffee, black, too, if they have it...and a can of Kona to go. A large can." A man needed his comforts, after all, and come morning, he knew he couldn't do without coffee. He'd have asked for a good bottle of brandy, too, but it was doubtful the local Hicksville mini-mart would sell anything in the way of alcohol. Besides, with the medication everyone was taking, even the beer Chris and Vin no doubt had packed would be off-limits. Coffee right now looked to be the only saving grace.

His shoulder and neck ached horribly, and a quick and painful glance to the back seat reminded him of why he shouldn't be making moves that way--though it also gave him a brief glimpse of his supposedly dozing comrades.

Chris was leaning against the rear door, eye closed and legs outstretched across the laps of the others. And Vin was mostly limp against Buck's side, his shaggy head drooping onto the other man's shoulder, and it looked as though a long trail of spittle was attached from his lips to Buck's shirt. Surprisingly, Buck didn't seem to mind. Or maybe it was just he hadn't noticed Vin drooling on him. His head was lolled back, mouth open. Ezra wondered if he really was asleep.

"Someone owes me royally for this little episode," Ezra commented, his own aching head turning back to settle once again on the headrest.

"Was only a few bucks, Ez," Buck mumbled, not even cracking open an eye.

"Tightwad," another mumbled. Ezra would swear the voice had belonged to Buck as well, but it was spoken so softly he couldn't be sure.

So much for them being asleep.


"Tight?" he scoffed, "I'm the one just financed this little repast to be--you'll be thanking me in the morning--and anyway, I wasn't referring to the money at hand. I was speaking of this entire wilderness fiasco."

Vin was following along best he could, rousing some to hear words and voices that sounded mostly like they were spoken underwater. He had a definite head full of cotton thing happening, skull pounding, and somehow had begun drooling without even realizing. He swiped a hand across his mouth and shifted best he could off of Buck's shoulder, squinting against the pain behind his eyes. "Vacation's just gettin' started, Ezra."

Ezra's eyes shot open, but he remembered not to move his shoulder. "Just getting started! Who said that? Vin? Are you insane?"

Buck chuckled. "Haven't even spent a night in that cabin yet, Ez, and you're ready to throw in the towel...all over a little mishap."

"Mishap!" Ezra was aghast. "Must I remind you of the disastrous, near fatal trek we have just suffered through those treacherous woods--oh, but wait! You weren't there, were you Mr. Wilmington? No, that's right. I believe while Messrs. Larabee and Tanner and I were fighting for our lives as we struggled valiantly through that vast and terrible jungle, you were safely ensconced inside that ostentatious behemoth of yours, driving up to the cabin, air blowing full blast while listening to soothing music and no doubt enjoying a...a...a double latte."

"Caramel machiotta."

"Well, that's just vile."

"What th' hell's a car'mel what?"

"Dessert masquerading as coffee," Ezra explained to Vin, "and it just proves my point."

Buck chuckled. "Point?"

Ezra's brows drew together and he let loose a sigh. "Well...I'm sure I had one when I started..."

Buck laughed outright and Ezra bit back the scathing remark just surfacing as the nurse, Estelle, returned to the car. She sat down, the entire car lurching forward, and thrust two large bags of items onto Ezra's lap.

"My coffee?" he asked hopefully yet despairing at the obvious absence of a tell-tale cup-to-go in her mammoth hands.

"They didn't have any made. I told 'em not to bother and got you water instead."

"Water?" He did notice she was holding a large bottle of soda for herself.

Estelle gave a half-smile. "You need it. Besides, caffeine won't help you sleep later and you all need rest." She cracked open her own bottle and took a hefty swig.

Ezra stared at the woman as she downed half the bottle of dark soda. "I assume you don't heed your own advice."

"What? Oh this," she held up the bottle and smiled, taking another large swallow, "I always finish my shift with a large DP. Habit. An' I just love the bubbles, they tickle my--" She sneezed. "Oh, damn."

"Problem?" Ezra grimaced, wiping disgustedly at his own pants as overspray lit upon them.

"Well, if you must know, every time I sneeze I pee just a little."

Ezra was so horrified, so stunned, his brain went completely dead and then Estelle was laughing and saying how embarrassed she was that she'd just said that at all and Ezra could do nothing but stare out the window in complete horror and try not to think about the dampness over his pants.

Good Lord, couldn't a huge hole open up and just suck her right down?


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