Going Home

by Niteowl

The first story in the Going Home Collection

Old West - Civil War Era A/U

Captain Chris Larabee could not remember the last time Sergeant Buck Wilmington was this quiet, this still - and it really worried him.

“Come on, Buck. Wake up, and I mean now,” Chris whispered quietly. “We gotta go home.”

The doctor had already been by today, his only comment was to shake his head sadly as he moved off to another of the many cots that occupied the Infirmary tent. Chris sighed, remembering the words from the doctor’s earlier visits: ‘… head wounds are like that… we’ve done all we can… it’s all up to him and the good Lord now…’

“You are not going to die here. Do you hear me, Buck Wilmington? Not after all this, not when it’s finally over.” His voice cracked, but he finished his thought. “You are not going to die for me!”

Three days of watching and waiting and worrying finally took a toll on Chris. He took his friend’s limp hand in his and slowly let his body drift forward until his head lay on the bed. One hand was still holding onto Buck’s, the other arm pillowing his head.

Night fell and both friends slept. It was almost morning before something woke Chris. Something was moving close by, pulling on his free hand. He slowly raised his head and opened his eyes, letting them adjust to the dim moonlight giving way to the early light of dawn. Suddenly he sat straight up and smiled. Buck was stirring, weakly trying to pull his hand free from Chris’s.

Chris gently let go, then stood and stretched, finally taking his eyes off his friend to glance around the room. He spotted a water pitcher on a table nearby, and walked over to it. He picked up a tin cup, rinsed it first before filling it and drank it down in one quick swallow. Then he brought both the pitcher and cup with him back to Buck’s bedside, filled the cup with water and placed it on the floor within easy reach. Buck was still again, so Chris sat back down. After a moment, he reached out and touched Buck’s shoulder, gently shaking the sleeping man.

“Buck,” he whispered, keeping his voice low out of courtesy to the other patients nearby. He was rewarded with a toss of his friend’s head and a soft groan. “Come on, Big Dog. There’s still a world of women out there you haven’t tried your charms on. Come on, that’s it.”

Buck’s pale face turned toward Chris’s voice, his eyes closed tightly and his brows knit in a frown. Finally his eyelashes began to flutter and slowly opened. Buck’s midnight blue eyes met Chris’s green ones. “C-Chris?”

The sound wasn’t much more than a croak, but to Chris it sounded wonderful.

“Where…?” Buck started, but his voice cracked and he licked his dry lips.

Chris picked up the cup and leaned over Buck, putting his free hand behind Buck’s neck, propping him up just enough to allow him to drink.

“Easy – easy -” he chided as Buck tried to swallow too quickly and sputtered, spitting the water out and down his chin. Chris used the corner of the sheet to wipe up the water, almost laughing out loud. He brought the cup back to Buck’s lips and helped him drink more slowly. After a few small swallows, Buck sighed and leaned his head back heavily on Chris’s arm. Chris lowered him back onto the pillow and watched as Buck’s eyes closed again. After a moment, they opened again.

“Where are we?” Buck asked.

“Infirmary,” Chris replied quietly.

“You all right, pard?” Buck asked.

This time Chris did chuckle out loud, shaking his head. “I think I’m supposed to ask you that, Buck? Do you remember what happened?”

Buck started to shake his head in reply, but his body tensed and Chris could see the pain in his eyes. He took hold of the other man’s hand again, giving him something to focus on.

“Easy, Buck,” he said, “You’ve got a nasty head wound. You’ve been out most of three days.” He watched as the wave of pain ebbed and the big man’s body relaxed again.

Buck looked back up at his friend again, just barely nodding to show he understood.

Chris caught Buck’s eyes with his own, finally saying what he had waited three days to say, but spent the better part of that time wondering if he’d ever get the chance. “Do me a favor next time? Just tell me to duck - DON’T get in front of a bullet for me,” Chris finally said, his eyes showing the pain he still felt every time he relived the memory and how he felt thinking how close he’d come to losing his friend. “Damn, Buck. Don’t you EVER do anything that stupid again, you hear me?”

Buck swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded, overwhelmed by the genuine concern he could hear in Chris’s voice. “Think I could have a little more water?” he finally asked. Chris helped Buck raise his head again and brought the cup back to his lips. This time he slowly drained the entire cup. “How long ‘til you have to be at muster?” he asked, looking down at some imaginary spot toward his feet. He didn’t want Chris to see how badly he wanted him to stay, but the way he was raised wouldn’t allow him to ask.

“No more musters,” Chris replied. “No more reveille, no more fighting.” At his friend’s look of confusion, Chris grinned. “Lee surrendered. It’s over, Buck. We can go home.”

Buck’s surprise was tempered by his weakness, but he managed a genuine Buck Wilmington grin. "You're not kiddin' are ya?"

Chris shook his head and smiled wider. “Leave it to you to sleep through the end of the war,” he teased.

“Yeah, well I think I would’ve enjoyed it more if I’d had company,” he shot back. With a sigh, he settled back into the pillow. He closed his eyes again, and for a moment Chris thought he had drifted back to sleep. But he opened them again, finding Chris still there. “Ya know what, Chris? Home sounds like a real good idea. How soon can we get started?”

“Not until the doctor says you’re ready,” Chris replied with a shake of his head. Buck frowned, but before he could argue, he yawned and closed his eyes again, this time falling back into a peaceful sleep.

Chris brushed a stray lock of dark hair out of his friend’s eyes, then stood with a groan and stretched. Somewhere in camp he could smell bacon frying. He headed out to find the mess tent and breakfast. He decided he could probably talk the cook into fixing some broth for his wounded friend. Buck was going to have to get his strength back, while Chris would have to begin to plan their trip home.

The End
Next… Ezra’s Story

Feedback welcome at: niteowl911@bellsouth.net