Full Buck Moon

by Beth Green

Characters: Buck, Vin

Rating: PG, for language

Author's Notes: The title comes from the fact that the full moon for the month of July is known as the Buck Moon. Despite the title, this one's not just for laughs. This is dedicated to the memory of the real-life “Lorazepam Sam.” Thanks to JoyK for her encouraging words. For those who lament that I neglect Vin in my stories, I've included Vinjury along with my usual Buck-bashing in this one. Happy reading!

Even at the best of times, Buck Wilmington was no fan of hospitals. The sights and smells alone were enough to convince anyone with an ounce of sense to turn around and head for the nearest exit. However, this was certainly less than the best of times, and turning around and leaving was not an option. Buck shifted restlessly in the narrow vinyl chair, attempting to find a comfortable position in a seat that seemed to be designed for someone the size of, say, a midget rather than a full-grown human being.

Finally giving up on the chair, he stood. His body wasn't too fond of that action. Every muscle screamed in protest, objecting to the length of time he'd spent stuck in one tiny hospital chair or another. He began to pace, stretching out the kinks as he did so: one, two, three steps to the bedside; one, two, three, four, five steps to the window, before a lack of space necessitated repeating the action. After a couple dozen circuits of the room, he came to a halt at the bedside.

He wasn't sure, but he thought he might've heard a slight moan from his injured teammate. His suspicion was proved correct when the sound was repeated.

Vin's brow creased with pain lines, his body tense. His eyelids fluttered once, twice, before deciding to stay open. He groaned louder. “Damn! Buck, you sure ain't who I was expectin' to be seein'. I was having the best dream. . .” His eyelids drooped to half-mast as he debated whether or not he was really awake. His voice low and scratchy, he continued, “There was this girl. . .” His voice stopped as he tried to decide if he was recalling dream or memory.

Buck helpfully supplied, “Yeah, there was this girl. That's how you managed to get yourself shot.”

Vin winced as the memories became clear in his mind. It all started when he'd befriended the pretty little gal who'd recently moved into the apartment down the hall. Her name was Nancy Lee. As Vin slowly gained her confidence, she cautiously revealed details about herself. It seems that her ex-was a bit on the possessive side. From the things that Nancy said and did, Vin also figured out that the man had been abusive. She needed a friend, and Vin was happy to step into the role.

Vin and Nancy found themselves at loose ends on Friday so they'd decided to spend the evening together. They'd both enjoyed their shared outing of dinner and a movie. He remembered they were teasing back and forth, laughing, and totally unprepared for the man who stepped out of the shadows near their apartment building. Nancy's cry of “Frank!” provided more than enough information. The man was Nancy's ex. His dark hair was unkempt, his face unshaven, and his eyes held the glint of madness. Vin quickly noted and dismissed those details as insignificant, instead concentrating on the all too significant detail of the gun the man held. Its muzzle wavered between Vin and Nancy. Vin tensed as he saw the man's finger tighten down on the trigger, preparing to fire.

As the gun swung away from him, Vin made a move for his own weapon. It had been so damn close. The sharpshooter had almost had enough time to make the shot before Frank fired. Almost was not enough. Vin was flung back by the impact and the hot, burning pain in the right side of his chest. He literally could not take another breath as the world grayed out around him. He remembered getting shot, but he didn't remember falling. Next thing he knew he was lying on the ground, gasping for breath. His blurry eyes looked up at Nancy's tear- streaked face before his assailant grabbed her arm, pulling her away.

Nancy was crying. “Frank, what have you done?”

Frank answered, “Took care of that no-good lowlife who thought he could mess with my woman.” He pointed the gun at Nancy. “And now I'm gonna take care of you, you faithless bitch.”

Frank had made the mistake of discounting an injured Vin Tanner. It gave Vin all the time he needed to fire his weapon. Between his weakness and blurred vision, the shot that he intended as a kill merely winged his opponent. Fortunately, it was enough to knock some sense into the man. He could hear sirens in the distance.

Nancy pleaded, “Frank, please, leave while you still can.”

That was the last thing that Vin could recall before he'd passed out in a breathless haze of pain. He remembered everything in harsh detail when he next awoke in his hospital room. Chris had been there, looking a little rough. Vin tried to comment on the fact, but his voice was temporarily out of order.

Chris could see the question asked in his eyes, so he'd proceeded to fill him in. “You took a bullet through your right lung. They had to do a little surgery to fix it, and now you got a tube stuck in there to make sure that it stays fixed.” He pointed to the blood bag hanging on the IV pole. “Your blood is down a few pints, so they're puttin' some of it back.”

Chris realized that he hadn't told Vin what was weighing most heavily on his mind, so he'd continued. “Your friend Nancy's okay. She's waiting outside, wanting to see you.” Chris' eyes darkened. “The son of a bitch that did this is still out there somewhere.” He brightened a little as he added, “But we know you hit him. If he goes lookin' for help, we got him. Otherwise, it's just gonna take us a bit more digging. We'll get him. The only question is whether he'll be dead or alive when we do. In the meantime, your friend will be in protective custody.”

Once Team Seven had been assured of Vin's recovery, they'd set out to track down the gunman. They'd also arranged a schedule so that one of them would be with Vin at all times to stand guard, just in case the perp took it into his head to try to finish what he'd started.

It had been two days now, with no trace of the shooter. Buck doubted if any of them besides Vin had gotten any sleep in those two days. He didn't count the short naps in the uncomfortable hospital furniture as any kind of rest. His body agreed. He gave a jaw-cracking yawn.

Vin responded with a slight snort. Unsure if his friend was in pain, Buck asked, “You okay?”

Vin rolled his eyes, not needing to verbalize his reply of, “I'm lying here in a hospital bed. What do you think?” Actually, he was grateful that Buck was there. It gave him something to focus on besides his pain. He gave a slight smirk when Buck yawned again.

Buck saw the expectant look Vin gave him, and decided to oblige. “What?”

Vin teased, “Just lookin' at the Grand Canyon. I thought you was gonna dislocate your jaw with that last yawn.”

Buck smiled at Vin's weak attempt at humor. God, it was good to have his friend back, even if it was only at half- speed. When he'd first gotten Chris' call Friday night, nobody knew how serious it was; just that Vin had been shot. Buck kept repeating, “God, no,” as he frantically drove himself and JD to the hospital. The anxious hours of waiting were tough on all of them, especially Chris. At least the others allowed some of what they were feeling to show. Chris just kept in all in, silent and unmoving, a volcano waiting to explode. Fortunately, the news had been good and disaster had been averted.

Tempers were still running short, and Buck and Chris had had a few words when Buck had showed up to relieve him this morning at Vin's bedside. Chris snarled, “Where you been?”

Buck replied, “I called the desk and asked them to make sure to tell you that I was running late.”

“That's not what I asked.”

Buck wanted to tell Chris that he'd been on the other side of town with the team tracking down another frustrating and false lead on the shooter. He'd gotten caught in traffic and as soon as he realized that he was going to be late, he'd called the hospital. He knew that they'd passed on the message. Chris was spoiling for a fight, and Buck didn't aim to give him one. He was familiar enough with Chris' moods to know that right now Chris didn't care to hear any explanation Buck had to offer.

It tore Buck up as much as it did Chris to see Vin lying pale and weak in the hospital while the man who put him there was still free. Chris was looking for a convenient target for his anger, and Buck didn't intend to be it. He remained silent.

Chris' voice was heavy with sarcasm as he turned to leave. “Fine. It's good to know that your time is more valuable than my time.”

Buck was tempted to fling a parting comment at his friend's back, but restrained himself. He could take it, even if Chris couldn't.

Buck had spent most of the day watching Vin sleep. Even now, his injured friend was drifting back to sleep, aided by the pain medication being dispensed steadily through his IV. Buck unsuccessfully stifled another yawn. He watched as Vin's chest rose and fell in the steady, comforting rhythm of sleep. He envied the man his rest. Buck was feeling more than a little sleep deprived. He'd gone beyond the point of tiredness, and reached what he privately referred to as his “manic phase.” Once he reached a certain level of exhaustion, his adrenaline seemed to kick into overdrive. He couldn't sit still for long, finding himself once again pacing, his mind flitting from thought to thought. His stomach rumbled, reminding him that it was past his dinnertime. He'd skipped out on the opportunity to consume more hospital cafeteria food this evening, deciding that he'd wait until he left to visit his favorite burger joint. He looked at his watch, noting that it was now five minutes later than the last time he'd looked at his watch, and forty-five minutes until JD arrived to take over Vin-sitting.

His pacing was interrupted by the arrival of yet another white- coated hospital worker. Alarm bells immediately went off in Buck's head. This guy was not one of the hospital's usual staff members. The man was blonde and their suspect was dark haired, but hair dye could easily account for the difference. Buck maneuvered to get a better look at the man's face, realizing as he did so that the face bore a strong resemblance to their missing shooter. Both men realized at the same moment that there was going to be trouble.

Frank's courage immediately deserted him. He tossed a vase from a nearby table at Buck, spoiling the dark-haired man's aim. At least Buck managed to hit his target's shoulder. Unfortunately, it wasn't the shoulder of his dominant hand and Frank still carried a gun in his hand as he fled down the hospital corridor. Buck cursed, unable to just shoot the bastard due to all of the innocent people occupying the crowded hallway. He set off in pursuit. The ATF agent quickly caught up to his quarry, not being hampered by a bullet wound. He caught the man in a flying tackle and they both crashed into a nurse's medication cart abandoned when the hospital staff ran for shelter. Neither man retained his weapon in the ensuing fight. Buck quickly gained the upper hand, his body on top of his struggling opponent. A smile reminiscent of Chris Larabee's famous death glare came to his face. It was the visage of a man looking forward to beating someone to a pulp. Buck set himself to the welcome task of reducing the man to a quivering hulk. He felt intense satisfaction with every impact of fist upon face. The mustached man's smile turned into a grimace when his opponent, in a last-ditch effort to escape retribution, stabbed Buck in the arm. Buck turned toward the source of sudden pain to find that he'd been stabbed with a syringe. Taking advantage of Buck's temporary distraction, Frank kicked up his knee into Buck's groin.

Buck couldn't help the curse that slipped out. “Son of a bitch!” Neither could he halt the tears that leaked from his eyes, nor the loosening of his grip as his body's every instinct urged him to curl himself around the intense pain in his groin. Frank was again off and running. Dragging himself shakily to his feet, Buck took off in pursuit. He couldn't straighten up, and he had to use the walls to support himself, but he was damned if he was going to let the man get away.

Buck cursed as he trailed further behind his quarry. His face lit up when he almost ran into his teammates out in the parking lot. It seemed that they had taken pity on Buck and themselves, and had decided to pick him up for a restorative trip to the saloon after depositing JD at Vin's door.

Buck pointed and yelled at Frank, who was ducking down between rows of parked cars. “That's him! Get him! The blonde guy in the white coat!”

With the reinforcements, it took no time at all until Frank was apprehended. Once he got a good look at the man, Chris whistled, impressed at the damage Buck had already inflicted. Frank was bleeding from a bullet wound to his shoulder, and his face had the makings of a splendid pair of black eyes, not to mention the broken nose and various other marks of having been on the receiving end of a Buck Wilmington temper tantrum.

Chris noticed that Buck hadn't joined them. Concerned, he pointed at Buck with a nod of his head as he spoke to Nathan. “Check on Buck.” JD joined Nathan, not liking the way Buck was looking.

The mustached man was bent over, his hands on his knees. JD hovered as Nathan asked, “You okay?”

Buck waved off their concern. “Yeah. At least, I will be. Bastard kicked me in the nuts.” Both men winced at that statement, guts tightening in sympathy.

Now that he knew Buck was okay, JD crowed, “Alright, Buck! You got ‘em!”

Buck shook his head. “Nah. We got ‘em.”

JD continued. “Well, we were all here to pick you up for some quality time at the saloon. Guess now we really got something to celebrate. I can't wait to tell Vin!”

Buck dismissed him with a wave. “You all go on. I'm just gonna stay out here a bit and clear my head.”

JD snickered, “Both of ‘em,” disappointed when Buck made no acknowledgement of his attempt at humor. Oh, well. JD supposed that if he himself had been kicked in such a delicate portion of his anatomy he wouldn't be appreciating any humor, either.

Buck was feeling hot and uncomfortable, and more tired than he'd been in his entire life. He mused to himself, “Huh. Guess I must be out of shape.” That little fracas had taken more out of him than it should have. He could feel the sweat as it poured off of his body. His shirt stuck uncomfortably to his torso. It didn't help that he was standing in a damn parking lot. The asphalt still retained a lot of the heat of the day. His fellow team members faded from his attention as Buck spied a park over in the next block. Its leafy greenness promised rest and relief. Unnoticed by the others, Buck began making his way toward the peaceful haven.

Nathan filled the others in on the nature of Buck's injury. They all grimaced in sympathy.

Chris arranged for the local PD to take charge of their prisoner, then he, Nathan, Josiah, and Ezra joined JD in Vin's room. Vin had found a sudden burst of energy at the news of Frank's capture, but he was fading fast. Chris suggested, “How about we continue this celebration over at the saloon?”

Too exhausted for envy, Vin simply stated, “Have a few for me, boys,” then closed his eyes, asleep between one breath and the next. The remaining members of Team Seven gathered in the hallway. JD was the first to ask, “Where's Buck?”

At first, no one was too concerned that they didn't know the answer to that question. That feeling lasted all of one minute, until one of the nurses came up to them. Her brow wrinkled in concern, she asked, “Excuse me, but is your friend okay? Mr. Wilmington?”

Nathan offered, “He said he was okay.”

The nurse went on to explain. “Oh, good. When he was wrestling with that man, I thought for sure that he'd gotten injected with Lorazepam. While I was cleaning up, I noticed that the syringe was empty. I kept it for evidence, just in case.”

A sinking feeling in his gut, Nathan asked, “Miss, could you show me that syringe, please?” Once the nurse had produced the requested item, Nathan sighed. He turned to his friends, explaining, “There's blood on this. Worst case scenario: Buck got the whole two milligram dose.”

Chris immediately demanded additional information. “Lorazepam? What the hell is that? How serious is it?”

Nathan explained. “It's a sedative. If Buck got the entire dose, more than likely he just fell asleep somewhere. But, with any drug, there's always the possibility of side effects or allergic reactions. The sooner we find him, the better.”

They used the parking lot as their starting point and then began a grid-type search. Each man was assigned a separate area to search, as they were more than likely looking for a sleeping man down on the ground somewhere, not someone who'd be readily visible or responsive to any of their hails.

JD shuddered. It was too much like a body search.

He and Josiah were assigned to search the park. After only five minutes of searching, JD's flashlight illuminated something out of place in the dark greenery. As he approached, JD could see that it was a light-colored cloth of some sort. His breath caught when he realized that he was looking at Buck's shirt. The young man quickly alerted the others via cell phone.

With the additional observational assistance, a shoe was quickly discovered. A few feet away from that shoe, its mate was found. Not too far from that, a pair of pants. JD's eyebrows rose. “Oh, no.”

Ezra asked, “Perchance, does Mr. Wilmington happen to sleep au naturale?”

JD acknowledged, “If you mean naked, yeah, he does sometimes, especially when it's hot.”

Before they could find any additional items of clothing, the object of their search suddenly made his presence known. A familiar voice sang out to them in its own unique key, “Oh, the moon is high and so am I, the stars are out and so will I be pretty soon.”

It wasn't difficult to find Buck's underwear sitting at the bottom of a tree. It wasn't difficult to find Buck, either, as he was sitting nearly thirty feet above them in the branches of the tree.

Ezra's, “Oh, my God!” summed up their feelings nicely. For the most part, Buck was hidden from view by the tree's foliage. One particular portion of his anatomy was a notable exception, glaringly obvious in the flashlight's glow. Ezra could not help but verbalize his observation. “It appears that the moon is out in full this evening.”

JD stared, then commented, “I'd think I'd be kinda uncomfortable if those branches were poking at me like that.”

Nathan explained, “Trust me. Buck's got enough Lorazepam in him that he's feeling no pain.”

Chris' voice raised in accusation as he turned to Nathan. “I thought you said he'd be asleep!”

Nathan defended himself. “Most folks would be. I guess Buck ain't most folks. Every once in a while, you'll find somebody who gets Lorazepam and instead of knockin' ‘em out, it gets ‘em all riled up.”

Buck seemed to have forgotten the words to his song, as he repeated, “Oh, the moon is high and so am I . . . the moon is high and so am I.”

Chris yelled up at him. “Buck, what the hell do you think you're doing?”

Buck looked down, noticing for the first time that he had company. He cheerfully replied, “Hey, Chris! Guys!”

Chris had dealt with a drunken Buck a time or two. He reckoned this was pretty much the same. He responded, “Hey, yourself. How about you get your ass down here?”

A leaf or two rained down on Chris' head as Buck turned to reply. “How about you come up here and join me?”

Terrified that Buck's next move would send him plummeting the twenty-something feet to the ground below, JD yelled, “Cuz he'd break his damn fool neck just like you're about to!”

“Now, JD. . .” Buck's voice trailed off in confusion. “What was I sayin'?”

JD decided to take advantage of Buck's uncertainty. “You were saying that you were gonna come down and join us over at Inez'.”

Buck's voice took on the warm tones he used when wooing a lady. “Ah, Inez.”

JD encouraged, “That's right, Buck. She's waiting for you. You just need to come on down from there, so we can get going.”

Buck decided, “Well, alright, then.”

His friends held their collective breath as he made his way down the tree. Once at the bottom, his legs would not hold him up, and he began to fall. Chris' quick move saved his friend from ending up face first on the ground. It also had the advantage of keeping Buck in a sitting position, making it easier to get his clothes back on.

While he worked, JD decided to ask the question he'd been pondering. “Buck, why the heck were you up in that tree, anyway?”

Pointing toward the glowing orb peeking through the trees' branches, Buck answered, “To see the full moon. You should'a seen it.” His eyes closed in remembrance, and did not open again.

Chris shook his head as they hoisted Buck's unconscious body between them. “We already saw a hell of a lot more of your full moon than we ever wanted to see, pard.”

Various sounds of agreement and amusement greeted Chris' statement.

Nathan's quick exam had revealed that Buck required no further care other than a place to sleep off the effects of his experience. His friends deposited him in the back of Josiah's SUV, and from there transported him as far as the sofa in his apartment, not opting to haul him up the stairs to his bedroom on the second level. They were all exhausted, and didn't figure that Buck was in any state to notice where he was sleeping.

Next day, Buck professed to have no memory of his visit to the park. The others cheerfully filled him in, and promised to remind him of the details every chance that they got. Buck sighed, not looking forward to being the butt of the moon jokes, songs, puns, and other lunacy sure to be headed his way.

Buck's sprits improved after a visit to Vin. As Buck related what he'd been told of his adventures, Vin stared, wide- eyed. Buck got worried when his friend's shoulders began to shake. His fear was relieved when Vin broke into a full-out laugh.

“Ow,” Vin snorted, “Damn, Buck don't make me laugh. God, I wish I could ‘a been there. I don't suppose anyone had a video camera? Hell, I missed the full Buck moon!”

Buck stared, fascinated, as Vin shook with laughter, cursed, then shook some more.

When he could finally speak again, Vin looked up. Buck could see the glint of tears resulting from both agony and amusement shining in his eyes. “Oh, God, Buck. Thanks. I needed that.” The injured man wiped at his streaming eyes with a final chuckling snort. Vin leaned back, exhausted. “I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard.” Vin realized that Buck was still ignorant of part of the reason why his story was so damn funny. He proceeded to educate his teammate. “I expect you ain't never heard of the full Buck moon before this.”

Buck shook his head. “I've already heard it a lot more times than I ever wanted to since yesterday.”

Vin laughed again. “That's not what I meant. You see, every full moon has a particular name and a particular meaning. And it just so happens that the full moon for the month of July is called the full buck moon.”

Buck looked at his teammate, the tall man's doubt plain to see.

Trying not to laugh again, Vin defended himself. “Honest, Buck, check it out if you don't believe me. It's called the full buck moon ‘cuz it's the month when bucks of the four-footed sort get their antler buds. Ain't my fault you decided to join ‘em.” Vin couldn't help it as he began to laugh again. “Yep. The full buck moon.”

Buck decided to join in the laughter at his own expense. All things considered, yesterday hadn't been that bad. Vin was getting better, they'd caught the bad guy, and everything had come out all right in the end.

the end
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