A Walk in the Woods

by KT

Josiah tried to believe what Billy-Ray had told him, that he was not a young man fighting in a foreign jungle, but an old man - to young Josiah anyone over thirty was old - who was a federal agent. At the time it had seemed so real, so logical, the sounds and smells all around him backed up the story - but, it was hard to dismiss what he knew. He knew he was a marine, he knew he was on patrol with his friend Billy-Ray. Just how the two of them came to be detached from the rest of the men he wasn't sure, but it didn't alter what he knew. And if he was in the jungle alone, he couldn’t just sit there.

Carefully he pushed himself up, the blackness was not total, he could perceive shadows, blacks, greys, and lighter greys. Feeling his way from tree to tree he set off to find the rest of his unit. The canteen was left behind as he moved away from the protection of the stream, heading deep into the forest, further and further away from help. He barely noticed the warm stickiness that trickled down his leg as the wound reopened. Having dismissed what Buck told him as an apparition of the future, he was content to dwell on the comforting thought that, if he was having visions of his own future, he was at least going to live through the war, so his fumbling blindly through the jungle wasn't that scary. And it seemed to be a good future, he was a federal agent, not that he was one hundred percent sure what the ATF did, but Buck had seemed like an all right kinda guy. He stopped, 'alright kinda guy' where had he heard that before? Somewhere…someone said it…someone young… he was talking about…no it was gone. Josiah shook his head in a vain attempt to get his thoughts in order, but all that happened was he felt sick and the pain in his head spiked.


"What's that?" Vin peered into the distance, Larabee was out of sight, had been for over an hour, but his eagle eyes had picked up movement. Something was moving to the side of the fire road.

He and JD had filled the car with gas, and purchased sandwiches, sodas and snacks. Then they settled down to eat, sitting on a small grassy mound near the fire road turn off, Vin facing the road, JD the gas station. By now JD had eaten all his food and was lying back, apparently asleep in the sun, but actually watching the 'enemy' from under the brim of his cap.

JD resisted the urge to sit up and look around. "What d'ya see?" he asked trying to keep his voice low.

"Not sure yet, it's movin' kinda weird what ever it is." Even to Vin what he was looking at was only a distant dot, if it hadn't moved he wouldn't have seen it at all. Suddenly the dot went down. Vin sat up taller.

"What?" asked JD.

"Don't know, I'm gonna investigate, stay here, watch them two, I'll call you if I find anything."

Vin got casually to his feet, he then walked lazily up the road, hands in his pockets, the very image of a man going for an afternoon stroll. Once he was further up the road Vin broke into a jog, something felt wrong to him, some inner force told him to hurry. As he got closer to where he thought he had seen the - what ever it was, he slowed.

"Hello?" JD answered his cell phone.

"'S me JD, don't let them other fellers see any reaction - ok, no matter what I say, you don't react - promise me," Vin insisted.

"Why? What have you found?"

"JD you gotta promise me."

"Okay, okay I promise, what is it?"

"It's Buck an' he's in a bad way, I called 911 and Chris…"

"I'm coming."

"…no, you stay there, watch them guys, send the cops and the ambulance when they arrive, you got that?"

It took a while for JD to answer, he was fighting every instinct in his body that said 'go to him, he needs you, you're family'. "Okay Vin, I'll stay, call me, please, let me know how he is?"

"Sure kid."


Vin was kneeling in the deep ditch, the unconscious form of Buck Wilmington in front of him. When he had found his friend he had feared the worst, Buck was lying on his side, unmoving, filthy and bloody. But when he reached him he could both see and hear the rattled laboured breathing, the tremors that ran through the abused body as he shook with fevered chills. Everything in Vin said gather him up, hold him close, show him he isn't alone, but he didn't. Nathan drilled into them over and over again, don't move someone more than is necessary to preserve their airway and keep them from further harm, especially if you don't know the history of the injures or illness. So all Vin did was pull off his shirt and place it gently under Buck's head. Then he made the calls to Chris, JD and 911.

"Hang in there Bucklin, helps coming, don't you die on me, Chris ain't gonna like that, you wouldn't want ol' Chris mad at me would you?" He wasn't even aware that he was running his long fingers through the matted, sweat soaked hair. "Just hang on a little longer for JD, he's waiting for you, he needs you, I need you."

Minutes ticked by, five, then ten, he turned at the sound of footsteps running up behind him to see Chris pounding down the road. "What the hell?" Chris gasped as he slid to a stop on the road above the ditch. "Oh Buck," he breathed as he moved more slowly to kneel beside his oldest friend. "what did they do to you old pal?" Imploring forest green eyes looked up into sky blue.

"Don't know Cowboy, but he's burning with a fever so it didn't just happen today."

Chris forced himself to take in the injuries he could see, the swollen and deformed right shoulder alone were enough to sicken him. "Shit!" he cursed so low it was more of a hiss.

"Take a look at his feet," Vin said softly.

Chris turned his head, and wish he hadn't. "Ah hell, someone is gonna pay for this," he added darkly.

"Yeah." Vin looked up at his friend. "You seen any sigh of Josiah?" he asked.

"None, he say anything?" Chris asked looking back down at Buck.

"Nothing." Vin looked at his watch, it had been fifteen minutes since he called 911. "Damn where are they?" he asked, more to himself than to Larabee. He speed dialled JD.

"Yeah?" JD answered instantly. "How is he? Have you found Josiah?"

"He's the same JD, we haven't found Josiah. Can you see the paramedics yet?"

There was a pause. "Wait I think I hear a siren, hold on… yup cops coming up the road, I'll call you back." With that he was gone.


JD stood up and still keeping an eye on the two men in front of the Chevy, he moved toward the approaching patrol car. Pikes Crossing didn't boast a sheriff's office; this single patrol car had to come from the next town down the valley, the ambulance from even further. Before JD could intercept the patrol car, it stopped at the gas station and the uniformed officer got out and approached the two men he had been watching. JD's stomach pulled itself into a tight knot as he saw the three men greet each other as old friends, he saw the two watchers shrug, clearly the deputy was asking them if it was them that called.

Shit! JD thought, Gonna have to play this cool.

"Officer," he called. "Over here."

The man turned to him, not bothering to remove his dark aviator glasses as he ambled over. JD didn't miss the way the two men were suddenly very alert, watching what was going on very closely.

"You the one who called?" the deputy asked as he approached.

"Not personally, my brother called, he found our brother. Up there…" He gestured up the fire road. "he needs an ambulance, how long before it gets here?"

"Ambulance it coming, but it'll take another fifteen minutes, then it's an hour to the hospital. Your brother hurt bad?"

JD wasn't sure, bad enough or Vin would have let him talk to Buck, or even try to get him back in their own car.

"Yeah pretty bad, can you get an air ambulance?"

The deputy - who's name badge proclaimed him to be Deputy Liam Porter - shrugged. "Yeah, maybe, if he's bad the Bar F ranch have a chopper, it can be here in minutes, their usually willin' t' help out, it'll be the quickest way."

JD's stomach felt like a small inner volcano was erupting inside it. The last thing they wanted was Buck on a Bar F chopper. By now the deputy had beckoned to the two men.

"These fellers here work for Bar F," Porter explained.

"No, no he's not that bad, we can wait for the ambulance," JD said a little too hurriedly. By now the two 'cowboys' were standing behind the lawman, and before he could stop Porter had explained the situation. Instantly the two men said that of course their chopper would be happy to help. "Really we'd rather wait for the professionals, thanks but no thanks," JD assured.

Clearly the two men knew who it was they had found.

"Don't seem right Liam, we can get the poor guy there fast, done it countless times, we'll call the chopper in anyway." One of the 'cowboys' broke away and headed back to their truck.

"I told you we'll wait!" JD called after him.

"What’s wrong with you mister?" the other man asked. "Don't you want t' help your brother?"

JD had said they were brothers to deflect the watching cowboys, hopefully ward off their suspicions a while longer, now it didn't seem such a good idea. Just when he was wondering how to handle it his cell phone rang.

"Chris?" JD answered, recognising the incoming number instantly.

"Is the ambulance here yet?" Chris asked with undisguised anger.

JD backed up to put some distance between himself and the watching men. "No, still fifteen minutes out, the local deputy sheriff - we may have a problem…" he went on to explain the situation. "Sorry about the brother thing, it seemed like a good idea at the time, I know, I know, famous last words, but I didn't know what to do, it just sort of came out, and I …" JD was rambling, fear and worry was eroding the self control and maturity he had learned in his time with Team Seven.

"JD," Chris cut in. "stop, it's okay, I would never be ashamed to be thought of as Buck's brother or any of you guys for that matter. Get the car up here," He looked around, taking in how narrow the road was and the deep ditches either side of it. "Can you back it all the way up?"


If anyone ever wondered why JD was the only member of the team Ezra was happy to have drive his precious Jag, all they had to do was watch the young man back the rental car up the hard packed gravel fire road. The car stayed dead centre and was travelling almost as fast as it could in reverse gear. The deputy and the other two men had voiced misgivings but hadn't stopped him. The Bar F man had called for back up and with the deputy on their side, were confident of getting the injured man - assuming he was one of the fugitive federal agents - on to their aircraft.

Nathan wouldn't like it but they had to move Buck. He had been walking, so it was unlikely he had a spinal injury, and as far as Chris could tell no unstable fractures except for his shoulder. When the three of them picked him up. Buck groaned, his fever flushed features twisted into a grimace of pain. Forcing themselves to ignore their 'brothers' discomfort they positioned him across the back seat. He couldn't lie flat, he was too tall, they daren't bend his legs, even under the loose fitting, torn sweat bottoms, they could see how swollen his left knee was, so they sat him up against the far door, JD knelt beside him, keeping him safe, talking softly all the time. The car bounced over the rough roadway, each jolt eliciting a moan or grimace from the injured man.

Once they reached the town, they found the road blocked. Chris sat for a moment beside Vin, who was driving, then he got out and stood behind the open car door.

"Get out of the way!" he yelled a the deputy sheriff, whose car blocked the road.

"Mister, I don't know what is going on with your brother there." He gestured at the car behind Chris, "but it don't seem right that you turn down a free flight to the ER. And until I know what is going on, it's my job to make sure he gets the best care."

Just then any further conversation was drowned out by the descent of the aforementioned helicopter. It landed in the open flat land opposite the gas station, and Greening stepped out.

"Liam, good to see you buddy," he greeted jovially. "everything okay with you and the fine Sally?"

"Yes sir Mr Greening, she's getting bigger everyday, keeps saying the doc's have it wrong an' it's twins."

Chris took in the way the two men interacted. There was no way Porter was going to believe these men were responsible for Buck's condition. He also noted the way the two other men now moved to stand behind the newcomer, flanking him on either side, about one pace back. The ranch could have more men there soon, though probably not before the ambulance arrived but he still had to find Josiah. He had called the FBI office in Sacramento, agents and state troopers were on the way, they would surround the ranch - discreetly - and await orders. The one thing he didn't want, no matter how much he wanted retribution for what had been done to his friend, was another Waco style siege. In his heart he didn't think it would come down to that, these guys had no quasi-Messiah figure leading them, as far as Vin and JD could tell there were no families involved, yet Waco hovered over all such operations like a vulture.

"So the casualty is in the car?" Greening asked casually.

"Yes sir, but his brothers don't want him flown out, they want to wait for the ambulance," Porter explained, gesturing to Chris.

Greening turned to Larabee. "Surely you want the best and swiftest care for your brother, I promise we are used to doing this, let us help him." He began to walk toward the car, the two men following.

"Stop!" Chris ordered. Such was the force of his voice, indeed his whole personality, that all the men did stop. "He's my brother and I will say what is best - that…" He gestured to the helicopter, "is not an air ambulance, I want my brother transported in a fully equipped ambulance air or land."

Greening took a step forward. "I assure you again, we are fully equipped, just what are you trying to achieve by delaying your own brother's treatment?"

By now a small crowed had gathered, and it was clear they thought Greening was right and Chris wrong.

"Bar F saved my brother mister!" a young female voice shouted from the crowed, "you can trust them."

"Come on mister they can have him in hospital in no time," someone else called out.

The situation was rapidly getting out of hand and Chris knew it, time to swing some federal muscle. He called the deputy over and showing him his badge said.

"I'm a federal agent and I'm in charge."

"Now look here…" Porter started to say.

"No, you look here boy, you do as I say, don't…" He pulled back his loose over shirt to show his gun. "…make me get ugly, are we clear here." Just then Vin also got out of the car and after fixing the young lawman with his own glare turned to face the small crowd.

"Um well," Liam Porter had only been a deputy for a year, he had never had to deal with a federal agent. Somewhat lost he turned back to look for guidance from the former army officer behind him. Greening was the public face of Bar F and a well-known figure in the local community.

"No son, don't look at him, you look at me." Chris' voice made him turn back. "He's just a civilian, we, you and me, we're the law here. I have very good reasons for what I'm doing, and I would never, ever, hurt my bother, trust me. You move these folk on, this ain't no spectator sport, you call for some back up and you find out how long before the ambulance g…"

"'S here cowboy," Vin called softly, his keen eyes picking up the red and blue flashing lights approaching from behind the crowd.

Chris didn't even bother to hide his relief. "Thank God," he breathed before turning back to Porter. "You know what to do, so do it, that is your job - 'Serve and Protect' right?"

"Yes sir," the young man said softy then he seemed to gain courage and pride, he stood taller and squared his shoulders. "Yes sir," he announced firmly, as he set off to clear the crowd out of the path of the approaching ambulance.

As he strode toward the crowd, Greening moved to intercept the young law officer. "Liam what are you doing?" he asked.

"It's government business Mr Greening, you'll have to move back." For the first time ever he didn't call Greening 'sir' and the omission didn't go unnoticed. Greening shot a look at Chris that was pure venom.

It didn't take long to load Buck into the back of the ambulance, both paramedics working to stabilise him and make him as comfortable as possible for the trip. They were all but done, JD was watching from the door of the vehicle, Vin forced himself to turn his back on his friend and keeping an eye out for trouble. As the driver exited the rear, ready to get in the cab and set out for the hospital, Chris placed a hand on his arm.

"Not yet, I have to speak to him." Before anyone could stop him Chris was in the back of the ambulance. "Buck?" he called softly. He had taken in the IV in his friends left arm and the oxygen mask. Somehow with some of the grime removed, the injuries - the bruises, cuts and scratches - were more visible, he actually looked worse than when they found him. His gentle words got no response, hating himself for what he was about to do, he tapped Buck's cheek, and spoke more forcefully. "Come on Buck, speak to me," he implored.

Buck could hear someone calling him, the voice was familiar and safe, he sensed the urgency in the voice, so he tried to reach it, he tried to respond. Every breath had to fight its way past the molasses that seemed to fill his chest, the pain was receding, but the further it went, the more difficult it was to think.

"Buck!" Chris called, he shook Wilmington gently. Finally he got a reaction, a groan and a frown of pain.

"Sir, stop that, this man has to get to hospital, you're hurting him." The paramedic grabbed Chris arm.

Instantly Chris' head snapped around, the glare that he drilled the poor man with was enough to make him remove his hand instantly, but he didn't stop his protest.

"Please sir, let us take him to the hospital, you can speak to him when he's stronger, he's hurting enough right now, what ever…"

"Look, he may be hurting, but our friend is still missing, he's the only one who can tell us where he is, and as much as he hurts now, it'll hurt ten times worse if we don't find our friend in time!"

"Mister," Vin called softly from the doorway. "He won't harm him, just give him a moment - okay?"

The paramedic, looked from his patient back to the man standing over him, finally he nodded.

"Come on Big Dog, come back to me here," Chris tried again.

Big Dog? Only Chris calls me that. Must be Chris calling me, must be important. Buck made another effort to reach the voice calling him. As Chris watched anxiously his oldest friend fought an inner battle to overcome the drugs in his system, the exhaustion, shock, fever and pain. Eventually his eyes fluttered a few times and finally opened. The pain was all too evident, those normally twinkling midnight blue eyes were dull and red rimmed. Just looking at them made Chris feel guilty, but what he told the paramedic was the truth, whatever physical pain he was in now, would pale into insignificance next to the mental anguish he would put himself through if they didn't bring Josiah safe home too.

"Hello pal, glad you're back with us," Chris greeted softly. "you're gonna be just fine, don't worry, but I need your help."

Buck tried to answer, to say Chris always had his help, but his own fatigue and the oxygen mask defeated him. Chris gently lifted the mask away.

"Josiah, do you know where he is?" he asked.

Instantly Buck's eyes darted past Chris and around the ambulance's interior, his distress at not seeing his friend all to clear.

"Where did you see him last pal?" Chris asked, trying to keep eye contact with the distressed man.

"Stream…" that was all he got out before a series of hacking coughs overtook him. The paramedic moved to re-enter the vehicle, but Vin stopped him, JD stopped the driver with no more than a look. Chris put the oxygen mask back and waited for the coughing to end. Finally it subsided and Buck nodded weakly at Larabee. Understanding instantly, Chris once more removed the mask. "Follow the stream, up. He's hurt. Vin…Vin can find him."

"Okay, don't worry, Vin'll find him," He cocked his head toward the Texan at the door. "Right?"

"Sure 'nough Bucklin, I'll bring the big guy home, don't fret none," he assured.

Buck was fading, but as Chris pulled the oxygen mask up he stopped him with his left hand. "Tell 'im Billy sent you, Billy-Ray, tell him…he thinks, he…" With that his eyes closed and Chris pulled the mask back.


Josiah had been walking for hours, or that was his perception, he had walked in a large circle and was now about two hundred yards from where he started. Vin had had no difficulty back tracking Buck's trail once they found the stream crossing the track. He found the canteen but no Josiah. By now the light was fading. Vin found the trail, he even found the blood.

"Well?" Chris asked.

"I c'n follow him but…"

"But what?"

"This is a blood trail. Easy 't follow even at night," he glanced at the lengthening shadows. "But he's limping, badly, see here…" he pointed at a mark on the ground. "he's dragging his

left leg, so he'll walk in a circle, everyone walks in a circle, if'n ya don't have a point of reference."

"I know."

"Yeah, but if'n yer limping, you walk in a much smaller circle, with the bad leg on the inside, if you get me?"

Chris did. "So you reckon you can work out where he is, or is gonna be?"

Vin was squatting on the forest floor, scanning the land, trying to get a feel for the topography. Finally he pointed out to his left.

"That way," he announced.

Much as Chris wanted, indeed needed to have everyone at the Ranch arrested, he daren't make any move until he knew where Sanchez was, and they had him in safe.

The two men walked carefully into the wood where Vin had indicated. Suddenly Tanner held out his arm.

"Hear him?" he whispered.

"No," Larabee admitted, unable to pick out one sound from all the others.

"There," Vin pointed.

"Josiah!" Chris called.

In reply to this a shot rang out, cutting through the canopy above them. Instantly both men ducked.

"Josiah, it's us, Chris and Vin," Larabee called out.

"Very clever Charlie, but I don't know no Chris or Vin, first the Huey, now this, I'll give you this, your accents are better."

The two younger men looked at each other, totally mystified as to what their friend was talking about.

Then Chris remembered Buck's warning. "Josiah Billy sent us, Billy-Ray," he called out.

Josiah stopped. Where's Billy? he wondered. Billy went to find help, he remembered. Maybe Charlie captured him?

"How'd I know you're who ya say ya are? For all I know ya captured poor Billy," he yelled.

"What the hell is he talking about?" Vin hissed.

Chris just shrugged, Buck had tried to explain something about Sanchez's state of mind, but what? Charlie, who was Charlie? As far as he knew Sanchez wasn't close to anyone called Charlie, the team weren't close to anyone called Charlie, and who the hell was Billy-Ray? Chris decided to wing it.

"Josiah - Preacher - my name is Chris, I'm a friend of Buck and Billy, they are waiting for you."

"Prove it."

"I'm gonna stand up now, okay?" There was silence. "Don't shoot me, I'm on your side, remember." Chris handed his gun to Vin. "If you have to bring him down, just don't kill him," he instructed.

"I can't shoot Josiah!" Vin protested in hushed tones.

"You do what you have to do to keep us all safe," Larabee hissed back at him. Slowly Chris stood up, hands now up but held out at his side, palms up. "See Josiah, it's me - Chris." He could just see Sanchez, a dark figure, just visible in the deep shadows, partially hidden behind a large conifer.

"I told you, don’t know, no Chris."

"Okay, but you know Billy-Ray, don't you?"


"Billy told Buck, and Buck told me, where to find you."

Josiah wanted to believe this man, if he could see him he would know if he could trust him. His head hurt so much it was hard to think, blood loss was making him light headed.

"Describe him," he instructed Chris.

"I've never met Billy, I told you Buck told us where to find you, Vin tracked you."

Buck? Billy said he was Buck, he talked about a Chris and a Vin. "What does Buck look like?" he finally asked.

"Well he's tall, he's got dark hair, blue eyes, women seem to think he's handsome, 'bout my age."

Now that was confusing. If Buck was a vision of the future no one but Sanchez would be able to describe him, not even Billy, but here was Chris describing him perfectly. That meant one of two things, either this was all another illusion or what Billy told him was true.

"What are you?" he asked enigmatically.

"What am I?"

"Yeah, what are you - soldier, marine - what?"

"Oh I see, um I'm a federal agent, ATF."

"From Denver?" Josiah asked, suddenly feeling very vulnerable and alone.

"Yes from Denver, me and Buck and Vin and you, we are all federal agents from Denver, and there are others…"

"The kid, the southern dandy and the brother?" Josiah ventured.

"Yes, JD, Ezra and Nathan. Will you trust me now?"


JD paced back and forth in the ER at the hospital. He had wanted to follow Buck into the exam room but they wouldn't let him. He tried all the things Chris and Buck did to the hospital staff in Denver to make them see things Team Seven's way, but it didn't work for him like it did them. He'd been there for hours and hadn't received any information about Buck or heard from the others. Suddenly the doors burst open and a stretcher was wheeled in, Vin flanking it looking worried, he too was turned back at the swing doors to the exam area. Just as he was about to try and 'ah shucks' and 'ma'am' his way past the nurse JD came up beside him.

"Save it, it don't work on her - I tried," he advised.

"Damn, what's the word on Buck?"

"None, he's been there for hours and no one will say anything, how's Josiah?"

Vin explained about the bullet wound and the head injury. "He can't see JD, and he thought he was back in Nam."

"Shit! Do they think he'll be okay?" JD asked

All Vin could do was shrug.

The two of them settled down to wait, Vin explained that Chris had stayed behind to secure the ranch and its personnel. An hour later and both men were ready to tear the place apart, when a doctor came out to find them. She was a small Japanese woman in her forties.

"Are you gentlemen here for Mr Wilmington and Mr Sanchez?" she asked.

They both stood and answered in unison "Yes."

"Let's sit down, shall we." She indicated the chairs behind they had just vacated. "I'm Doctor Tomoka, I'm the senior ER attending. Mr Sanchez has a superficial leg injury, it will need to be closed with sutures, but that’s all, he also has a head injury, this is causing pressure on his brain resulting in blindness and confusion, he is on his way for a scan and then to surgery. The area of swelling is actually quite small and the operation in neurological terms quite minor,"

"But," Vin supplied.

"As with any brain injury there is no way to know what damage has been done and what, if any, long term or even permanent effects this damage my have."

"So he might always be blind, is that what you're saying?" JD asked.

"Yes, that possibility does exist."

"And Buck?" JD pressed, almost afraid to hear the answer.

"Mr Wilmington suffered multiple traumas - do you know what happened to him?" she suddenly asked.

"Not for sure, no," Vin admitted.

"My guess would be he was tied up and beaten, he has rope burns on both wrists. His back is badly bruised, especially the kidneys which suffered significant trauma, resulting in internal bleeding, however this does not appear to require surgical intervention at the moment. He has numerous other cuts and contusions, including the loss of a tooth, the worst being to his feet. He was barefoot when you found him?"

"Yeah," Vin confirmed.

"He must have been walking that way for some time, there are numerous cuts, scratches and blisters, some are infected, most are full of debris, they will need to be cleaned out under anaesthetic. He has some ligament damage to the left knee and that too will need surgery in time."

"What about his shoulder?" JD asked.

"I was coming to that. The collar bone is broken, this appears to be some hours, maybe days old, the two bone halves have moved around a bit, thus the massive swelling, which has effected the circulation to the rest of the arm and impeded chest movement on the right side. The ortho surgeon will put a plate in to stabilise the fracture and help the bone to bridge the gap where the bone has splintered. These splinters have to removed, a major nerve and numerous major arteries run through the shoulder there is no knowing what damage they could do or… have already done." She looked up into the face of the young men beside her and then at the slightly older friend, there was more bad news, she hated to add to their obvious concern. "He also has pneumonia, some of his ribs are cracked, that and the damage to his shoulder have impeded the expansion of the right lung, it thus filled with fluid. This infection, combined with the infected wounds on his feet, and the loss of blood from the internal injuries, have seriously weakened him. The surgeons will have to balance what they need to do and his strength."

"But he'll be okay - right?" JD asked, anxiously.

She had vowed long ago to be honest with both patients and relatives, it wasn't always an easy vow to live with, but she was woman of principle.

"I can't promise that, pneumonia is always serious, combined with blood poisoning and his other injuries, but… he's a big strong man and he seems to have lots of good friends pulling for him," she added with a smile.

"Not friends," Vin corrected. "Family."


By the time Chris arrived both his friends had returned from surgery and were in intensive care. Vin sat beside Josiah, and JD was, where Chris knew he would be, beside his 'big brother'. There had been some brief unpleasantness when the staff tried to insist on the rule that only allowed visitors in ITC within strict limits and strict hours. However some soft talk by Vin and a fretful Buck calming instantly when JD placed a hand over his and spoke softly to him, persuaded the staff to let the two agents stay at their friends bedsides. Chris was filled in on their conditions and informed the others that everyone at the ranch was, they hoped, in custody or under guard. Once he knew the facts he called Denver and told Nathan what was going on, of course he wanted to join them, but Chris needed him to stay and 'hold the fort'. He then called Ezra, he too wanted to come immediately, but he still had two days to go on his course at the academy to teach, and Chris made him stay, promising to call daily with an update; he had given the same promise to Nathan.

Josiah's leg injury was hidden under the bed clothes, the surgery sight was at the back of his head, it was small and had only a small dressing on it, so lying on the pillows, his head slightly raised, it wasn't visible. He was on a ventilator, because that was standard practice for his kind of injury, and being kept artificially unconscious to give his brain a chance a to recover. All his tests had come back with the best possible results and the doctors were optimistic. Vin sat, slouched, beside him in a high back chair with arm rests, Californian hospitals were a cut above Colorado ones in the visitor comfort stakes, he was dozing, his feet, still in his cowboy boots, crossed at the ankles as his legs stretched out under the bed.

JD, in a similar chair, sat up attentive, watching for any sign of conscious. Buck was propped up at almost ninety degrees, his injuries all too visible. His right foot was propped up, supported on soft pillows, his left leg was elevated to help reduce the swelling around the knee, both feet were a mess of sutures and dressings, swollen and discoloured. His right arm was secured with his hand resting on the opposite shoulder with a wide soft bandage, the pristine white dressing over the large surgical incision stood out against the livid bruising that marred most of his right shoulder, chest and upper arm. Another dressing covered the point where the chest drain tube entered. The tubing led to a bottle that hung under the bed, which filled with noxious looking greenish-yellow fluid. The oxygen mask covered much of his pale face, which was beaded with perspiration, drips and lines seemed to go into every possible vein. Monitors beeped in time with his heart, another monitored his lungs.

Chris came and stood on the other side of the bed. He watched the way his friend's battered chest rose and fell shudderingly with each fought for breath. JD watched as Chris picked up his friend's right hand and examined the raw rope burns on the wrist.

"They tortured him, didn't they?" JD asked darkly.

Chris nodded. "Looks that way, yup. Don't know who, thought." He looked up into JD's hazel eyes, seeing the same need for vengeance that burnt within him, reflected there.

"We gonna get 'um?"

"Yeah kid, we're gonna get 'um, no one does this to one of us and gets away with it, especially not to Buck." Chris was meant to be even handed, and he was, but they all knew how close he and Buck had been and how much they still meant to each other. Chris owed Buck, owed him more than he could ever repay.


After two days the doctors began to reduce Sanchez's sedation and dependence on the ventilator, he responded instantly and by the end of the third day he was breathing on his own and showing signs of coming round. It had taken some persuasion and self control on Chris' part to ensure that the three of them rotated the duty of watching over their friends. He made sure that while two sat at the bedsides, one rested. Vin agreed reluctantly. JD had not wanted to leave Buck's side, neither did Chris, but if he made JD do it he had to as well. It was Chris who was at the big profiler's side when he finally opened his eyes. Pressing the button to call the nurse, Chris stood and looked down in to confused pale blue eyes.

"Hello," he said softly to the older man. "welcome back."

The eyes moved past Larabee and around the room, which to Chris at least meant he could see something. The eyes came back to Chris and a frown appeared, his lips opened, they moved but no sound came out.

"Here," the nurse who had appeared, passed Chris a small cup of ice chips.

"Thanks," he acknowledged. Then using the spoon that came with the cup, he offered Josiah a few ice chips to suck.

"Thanks," Sanchez finally croaked past his dry scratched throat. "What…?"

"Hospital, we brought you in three days ago, you have a head injury and another to your leg - do you remember what happened?"

Josiah didn't, he tried to remember, images came to him, disjointed and unrelated, they made his head hurt, it throbbed, sharp pain stabbed through the back of his skull. The pain forced him to close his eyes. Feeling helpless Chris stepped back to let the medical staff do their work. After that Josiah slept for many hours. In all this time Buck had been mostly unconscious, he occasionally opened his eyes, one of them was always there, but he didn't seem to know they were there. Fourteen hours later Josiah woke again. This time Vin was beside him.

"Hello again," Vin greeted with a smile.

"Hello?" Josiah tried.

"Want a drink?"

"Um yes, that would be nice." Once Vin had helped the big man to drink half a glass of iced water, he rested back on the bed. "Thank you brother." Vin's face broke out in a huge grin. "What?" asked Josiah.

"You called me 'brother'," Vin explained.

"So? I always call you 'brother'."

"Yeah, I know, just good to hear it again."

Josiah's eyes move to the bed next to him, he blinked a few times, then frowned. "Is that Buck and Chris?" he asked.

"Yup, Buck's sick, but he's getting better, can you see him okay?"

"He's a bit fuzzy, but yeah - any reason I shouldn't see him?"


JD came back into the intensive care unit to see Vin standing back from Sanchez's bed, watching the doctors around Sanchez, Chris was standing close to Buck's bed, also watching. Once he was assured that Josiah was doing well, he moved back to Wilmington. He was improving, his lungs were clearer, the swelling around his shoulder had gone down some, his feet were also less swollen, but it was a slow process. The fever had yet to break, despite the powerful antibiotics he was receiving. The doctors said it wasn't unexpected, he had multiple infections and had been very weak before they started to treat him.

As JD sat there he realised he was looking into his friends deep blue eyes. "Hi," he greeted, and just as he had done several times before in the past three and a half days, he stood, wiped down the sweat drenched forehead, lifted Buck's head and helped him to sip some cool water. But this time, unlike all the other times, Buck responded.

"Thanks JD." The voice was only a whisper, but the use of his name made JD grin from ear to ear.

"You're awake!"

"Um yes?" Buck thought that was obvious, his memories of the events that lead him to be in hospital flooded back, his eyes darted around the room.

"He's over there," JD supplied, "he's gonna be fine." He watched the relief wash over Buck's face. A face where fatigue and pain was all too evident, he had lost weight in the week since he was dragged from his bed in the night, making him look even more gaunt.

In the next few days both men made steady progress, the events that led up to their admission to hospital were discussed, Josiah remembered nothing between searching the ridge for a suitable place to descend and waking up in hospital. His eyesight improved rapidly, the headache took longer to disperse. Buck also made progress, but more slowly. The two men shared a room. This had also taken some time to arrange, but by the time Vin had worked his 'shy boy' magic on the younger nurses, JD had done is 'little boy lost' act on the older women and Chris had glared and bullied the men, no one was ready to deny the three protective friends anything.

Buck didn't take too well to the news he was going to need several more operations. More bone fragments had to be removed from his shoulder. His knee needed corrective surgery and a skin graft on a particularly bad injury to the side of his right foot, where it had been necessary to remove so much infected tissue, that the bone was exposed. But these procedures had to wait until he was stronger, which just added to his frustration. Frustration that was doubled because he was confined to bed, or a wheelchair, until he could bear wait on his foot and use crutches to support his left knee and he couldn't do that until his shoulder healed.

That bad news was followed by more bad news. Chris brought in pictures of all the men arrested at the ranch, Freeman and 'the Major' weren't among them, they'd slipped away.


It was two a.m. and Buck was wide-awake, the doctors prescribed sleeping pills but he hated them and would only pretend to take them. His whole body ached, he was no longer in the kind of pain he had been in the forest, nothing like it had been in the cellar, but yet he hurt, it was a deep, nagging everlasting pain that made it difficult to relax or concentrate. He hated the whole process of being sick, he hated being dependent, he hated that he needed people not the other way around. Buck Wilmington had spent his whole life trying to help his fellow human beings, for him to be the one who needed help was an anathema, it eroded at his self worth and his self confidence. If he couldn't help people, if he wasn't there with a broad shoulder and a comforting word what use was he to his friends, would they even need him anymore?

"If you took the drugs it would be a lot easier." The sudden voice from the darkness made him jump. In the pale blue night-light he could only make out Sanchez profile. The two of them had ganged up on the others and made them leave, at least for the night, so it was just the two of them.

"Don't like 'em," he muttered sullenly.

"Me neither, but they do help."

"So why ain't you asleep?"

"Said they helped, didn't say I took them."

Buck lay back against the pillows staring up at the dark ceiling.

"Buck, I need to know what happened, after I hit my head, I need to know and only you can tell me. I mean, how did I get shot?"

Buck had been half expecting this but he wasn't looking forward to it. "You tried to help me, we were coming down a steepish slope. I was losing my balance, you steadied me, then slipped yerself. You fell back and hit the back of yer head, reckon you were out for about two minutes. After that you, well you were…that is… you were…"

"Buck just say it, verbal diplomacy is not your strong suit."

"You started t' act weird, it took me a while t' work it out, but you thought you were back in the war - in the jungle."

There was a long silence, finally Sanchez said. "Ah. Is that when I went blind?"

"No, not then, that happened later, the next day - I think - you woke up blind."

"I still don't know how I came to be shot," Josiah prompted.

"They had a chopper, it caught you in the open."

"So I gather, I remember the chopper. I also remember us staying under cover the whole time, so how did I come to be out in the open?" Silence greeted him. "Buck?" More silence. "Please what ever it was, I'm not going to blame anyone, I just need to know - please."

Buck took a deep breath and then stifled the hiss of pain that threatened to escape. "You thought it was a medical evacuation chopper - at least I think that was what you thought it was - you ran out to greet them. I'm sorry, I couldn't stop you. You were too quick, too strong, I …"

"Buck stop, it wasn't your fault, I'm sorry if I scared you." Sanchez could hear the remembered fear, in his friend's voice all too clearly. "On the contrary, I should be thanking you. You saved my life, you saved me from myself."

"I did what I needed to do, that’s all. Can I ask you something?"

"Sure, always, you know that."

"Who is Billy-Ray Scott?"

Now it was Sanchez's turn to be silent. Buck didn't press, he just lay back and waited. Finally the former Marine spoke.

"Billy-Ray is - was - my friend during most of my first tour. He was a boot - straight out of boot camp, just eighteen - who joined my unit just after I made corporal. He was from Chicago, chip on his shoulder the size of Illinois. He was a brother - that means he was …"

"Black, I worked that bit out."

"Yeah. Hated all white men, but we found common ground, enough to call each other friend. He'd had a tough life, I used to think my life was tough 'till I met Billy. I had lived all over the world, I'd seen grinding poverty, but Billy wasn't just materially poor, he was emotionally poor. He lived in a country that treated him with contempt, that belittled his culture and denied him justice, while all the time dangling justice in front of him like a prize he could never achieve."

"What happened to him?" Buck asked, not at all sure he wanted to know.

"He was killed, we got ambushed, there was a fire fight, he took one in the face, died instantly." Buck had a sudden and sickening mental picture of a young black man, his face destroyed beyond recognition. "He was nineteen, his whole life was spent in a ghetto or that hell hole, what kind of life was that?" There was nothing Buck could say. "Did I… did I talk about him?"

"Not exactly, you thought I was Billy-Ray."

"You know after Billy I wasn't that close to anyone again, 'til I joined the team. Coming together with you guys, gave me back something I thought I had lost the day Billy died."

There was another long silence, then suddenly Sanchez was standing beside Buck's bed.

"Are you meant to be up?" Buck asked.

"I get a bit dizzy but I'm okay," he eased himself down into the chair habitually occupied by JD, "- not like you."

Buck felt that old fear grab him in the guts - laid up and useless, and therefore not needed.

"Buck Wilmington don't you give me that look - and I don't need light to see it, I know you, remember? I know the way you think, and I am not going to let them discharge me and leave you thinking the way you are."

Buck bristled. "What makes you think you know how I feel?"

"You are thinking that since you're laid up, you're no use to anyone and therefore not needed, useless, a burden. You hate it that JD keeps coming, you think he does it because it's expected, that you’re an imposition." He stopped, giving Buck the chance to deny it, though he knew Buck wouldn't lie to him, they had passed that stage long ago. "Well," he finally prompted, "was I right?" Getting no reply he pressed on. "It's not true, we've been here before Buck Wilmington, you are more then just a broad shoulder and a helping hand. JD comes here because he wants to, he had an argument with Chris yesterday, while you were in x-ray, Chris wanted him to go back to Denver with Vin, but he refused, JD hero worships Chris, he's scared of him too, but he stood up to him - for you. Do you really think they don't know what you did, that you protected me, that you didn't talk."

Buck said nothing, he found it hard to look at his own actions, to see them as anything other than his job, nothing he did was - to him - 'above and beyond'.

"Let me ask you something. When JD was hurt last year, we had to practically drag you out of the hospital, you would have been there 24/7 if we had let you - why?"

"Well," Buck started, not understanding why Sanchez didn't understand. "He was hurting, and miserable and …well no one likes being in hospital, he needed company and a champion against all them needle stickers."

"Right, did you mind doing it, was it a chore or an imposition?"

"'Course not, I wanted to do it, it was good to see him getting better."

"Exactly, so what makes you think you're so special, that you’re the only one that feels that way?" There was silence. "Well? I'm waiting - are you so unique, so different?"

"No," Buck finally admitted, "I ain't no one special."

"That is where you are wrong, you are very special, which is why we all want to help you get better, and no one minds doing it, just as you don't mind helping us." He heard rather than saw Buck yawn. "Now I don't know about you but I'm getting sleepy so I'm going back to bed, and I don't want to see anymore of this nonsense - do you hear me young man?"

Despite himself Buck smiled. "Yes Dad," he said with a grin.

"Oi watch it, boy! I'm not that old!"

Josiah was back in bed when Buck spoke again. "I'm gonna get him - you know?"


"That bastard who did this to me, I'm gonna get him."

"Yeah - I know."

The End

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