They made better time going back. About halfway, Vin stopped and pulled Peso in close. Holding both sets of reins securely in one hand, he drew JDs gun and fired the three shots. Vin knew they were close enough to the cabin that the shots could be heard.
The horses danced around just a little, but quickly settled down under Vins handling. Vin met JDs eyes, then looked at Buck. "Hows he doin?"
JD adjusted his hold on Buck, keeping him close to his chest. He shook his head before replying, "Hes still so cold and he hasnt moved or made a sound."
"Were almost there," Vin said.
JD nodded in return. When Vin could see he was ready, he urged the horses on.
Chris and Nathan had just come out of the cabin when they heard the shots. "Thank God," Chris whispered. They both visibly relaxed at the signal and both went back inside.
If nothing else, Nathan had known they were all going to be cold. Chris had stoked the fireplace to warm the main room up and he had lit the small propane heater in the bedroom. While he sent Chris out to gather all the blankets and bedrolls, Nathan had started a pot of soup and they still had the coffee going. When Chris came back with the blankets and sleeping bags, Nathan had Chris place them by the fireplace.
Now with nothing else to do but wait, Chris started pacing, then he sat, then stood and paced some more. "Im going to wait for them outside," Chris said. Nathan offered Chris a tight smile and nodded. Chris stepped out onto the porch and lit a cheroot, glancing down the trail.
"Damn it," he muttered, watching the snow falling in big, wet flakes again.
Just as he finished his smoke, he heard the horses approaching. "Nathan!" he called back into the cabin, then went to the bottom of the steps as Vin pulled the horses to a stop at the cabin.
Chriss eyes immediately went to Bucks still form in front of JD. He frowned at the pale slack face. Chris reached out to steady his unconscious friend while Vin climbed off Seven and joined him. Together, with JDs help, they eased Buck down between them. Then Nathan was there beside them, taking Bucks legs while Chris and Vin carried him, each taking one side with their arms up under his shoulders. Vin had the side with the injured wrist and avoided jostling it as much as he could. JD slid down off Peso and bounded up the steps to follow the others inside.
They started to take Buck straight to the bedroom, but Nathan changed directions. "Put him on the couch til we get these wet clothes off him," he instructed.
As Chris and Vin gently laid him down, JD was right beside them. He began to struggle with Bucks boots while Chris began unbuttoning the coat. Nathan turned his attention to helping get the rest of Bucks clothes off. Vin backed away to give them room.
Once they had Buck stripped down to his briefs, Nathan grabbed the blanket closest to the fire and wrapped him in it. He nodded to Vin, who helped Chris gently lift Buck. They carried him into the small bedroom and laid him down on the bed. Before they got him under the covers, Nathan removed his wet underwear.
After they had Buck settled in the bed, Vin stood up and blew a breath out between his teeth. He backed up again to give Nathan the room he knew the medic would need to work. When it didnt look like they needed him for anything else, Vin went back outside. He gathered the reins to both horses and led them toward the shelter.
As much as he wanted to be with the rest of his friends at Bucks side, he knew having Chris and JD hovering was going to be bad enough. Besides, Vin knew Nathan would be chasing them all out soon enough. Almost as soon as he finished the thought, he heard the door open, followed by the crunch of boots walking briskly through the snow. He smiled as Chris reached over and took Sevens reins from him. "Nathan run you out already?"
"Not really. There just isnt that much room in there, and JDs doing a fine job helping Nathan. I thought you might want a hand," Chris said, as they stood close to the horses, working their saddles off. "You did good, Vin. Thanks," he offered, putting a hand on Vins shoulder and squeezing lightly.
"Just hope we were in time," Vin said softly.
"What do you think happened?" the blond asked.
"pears Peso got spooked and threw him head first on a rock," Vin replied. "I reckon hes got a pretty good bump on the head. He was out the whole way back, and his wrist is broke, too. That and he was laying in the snow for a long time "
"Hes still alive. You got him here in time. Nathan will know what to do," Chris said, patting the younger mans shoulder.
While Chris and Vin were tending the horses, Nathan and JD were tending Buck. After checking his pulse and his pupils, Nathan was already probing the side of Bucks head.
"Nathan?" JD asked.
"Hes got a bad concussion all right, but the real problem right now is the hypothermia. JD, go get me another blanket or sleeping bag, whichever is closer to the fire. Weve got to get him warm, but not too fast," Nathan told him.
JD ran into the other room and picked up a sleeping bag from next to the fireplace. Before turning back to Nathan, he rearranged the blankets to be closer to the fire and keep them warm.
"I need you here, JD," Nathan said, after covering Buck with the additional warmth. "Im going to stitch that gash and I need you to hold his head still. Lets just hope he doesnt come to in the middle of it."
JD immediately took the position Nathan indicated at Bucks side, up close to the head of the bed. He tenderly brushed aside a wet strand of hair that had stuck onto Bucks forehead. "You know what?" JD whispered to the older man, "With all thats been going on, I never did tell you how glad I am youre back. You hang in there, or I swear Ill kick your butt all the way back to the ranch." He took Bucks cold left hand in his as Nathan set his first aid kit on the bedside table.
Chris and Vin were just coming back in as Nathan began trimming Bucks thick dark hair away from the injury. Nathan threw them a glare as a gust of wind accompanied them.
Vin ignored it and shot a grin JDs way. "I sure wouldnt want to be Nathan when Bucklin wakes up and sees the job hes doin on his hair."
Even JD had to smile at that. Chris came up behind the younger man and laid a hand on his shoulder. JD looked up with a small smile of appreciation.
"Hows it going?" Chris asked Nathan.
Nathan looked up before he started the stitches. "I want the rest of you to get some soup or coffee. Id tell you to get some rest, but I wont waste my breath." With that, he began putting the stitches in Bucks scalp to close the gash. He was both relieved and worried when the unconscious man never flinched or stirred.
"Vin, do you have your cell phone?" Chris called out, getting the others attention.
"Sure, Chris," he answered, reaching into his inside coat pocket and pulling it out.
"Try getting Ezra or Josiah at the ranch. The way the cell phones have been, theyll probably have a better chance to get through to Denver than we would. Tell them were going to need a Lifeflight out here," the team leader directed. Vin nodded and was dialing as he walked out of the room, not wanting to distract Nathan.
Nathan sat back as the last stitch was done. "Okay, lets change blankets again. Chris, can you get me another warm one?" Chris nodded and went into the other room. Nathan handed the bandannas back to JD, then went to work making a more secure arrangement for the injured wrist. He looked across Buck at JD and said softly, "You did a good job, JD. Keeping his wrist still like that is really going to help it heal better."
JD blushed under the quiet praise. "Hes breathing better, Nathan," JD offered, watching Bucks chest rise and fall.
Nathan had to admit to himself that he was breathing deeper, and any improvement was welcome. "All we can do now is let him rest and get him to the hospital ASAP," he said out loud to JD.
Chris brought in the warm blanket. Nathan took the top one off Buck and replaced it with the warmer one. Then he handed the other blanket to Chris, who took it back out to the fireplace.
He walked into the main room just as Vin was angrily turning off his cell phone. "Well?" he asked.
Vin just shook his head. "Were still on our own for now," he replied. "Were either in a dead zone or the systems down cause of the damn storm. I just barely got through to Ezra before the connection went dead. I dont know if he heard me or not."
Chris patted his arm. "Well keep trying," he said as they walked back into the bedroom, wanting to stay close to their injured friend.
Nathan looked back down at Buck, who wasnt as blue anymore but even by touch was still too cold. He went over to his saddlebags and withdrew his dark blue knit cap. He took it and put it gently on Bucks head, being careful around the injury.
"Is there anything else we can do?" JD asked.
"Well..." Nathan began, but hesitated as he looked around at his friends.
He knew his friends would do anything to protect each other, but they were also proud and private individuals. "For one thing, I need one of yall to heat me up a couple of pans of water, get it boiling real good. We need to set it where he can breathe in the steam. We can switch them out when one cools down. But the best thing "
"Nathan?" Chris asked, frowning at Nathans hesitation.
Nathan finally smiled up at him. "Well, theres one thing that would help him warm up faster."
"And that is?" Chris asked, suddenly suspicious of the glint in Nathans eyes.
"Body heat," Nathan answered simply, looking at each of the ATF agents in the room.
There was only a moments hesitation, a hint of color on Vins cheeks, then it was past. The three moved as one towards the bed, but JD was already peeling off his jacket, then his shirt and finally t-shirt. Tossing Chris and Vin both a look that allowed no room for argument, he said, "Ill do it."
Chris and Vin exchanged a look and a smile, Chris just shaking his head. They moved back into the other room, giving JD what privacy they could. Vin went to the kitchen and took two pans out, filled them with water and set them on the stove.
JD quickly stripped down to his boxers and at Nathans direction, he pulled the blankets up and climbed into the bed. Nathan helped roll Buck over just a little so JD could stretch out as much as he could behind the unconscious man. He inched closer to Buck's back, involuntarily gasping as his skin came in contact with the ice-cold body of the man JD thought of as his big brother and best friend. There was never any hesitation and he kept the body contact, putting his arm around Bucks torso and pulling him gently into him. He knew by instinct that the idea was to cover as much of his body as possible.
"You okay, JD?" Vin asked as he and Chris came back in the room.
JD just nodded, not trusting his voice as a lump formed in his throat and tears threatened to spill. He shut his eyes tight and concentrated on listening to Bucks breathing. Chris took a seat in the straight-backed chair next to the bed.
Once he saw JD was settled, Nathan stood to stretch his legs. He wandered into the main room and poured himself a cup of coffee, then sat wearily on the edge of the couch. He set his coffee down on the small table and dropped his head in his hands.
"Why dont you get some sleep?" Vin urged.
"Cant," Nathan replied, looking back into the bedroom. "Not yet. I want to make sure he doesnt go into shock."
Vin didnt miss the way Nathan was worrying his bottom lip. His own eyes followed Nathans gaze. Through the doorway he could see Bucks pale face under the layers of blankets. It was unsettling to see their usually gregarious friend so quiet. Facing them, but completely oblivious to anyone else in the room, JD lay next to his self-appointed big brother, occasionally whispering in the bigger mans ear. Vin couldnt make out the words as he spoke softly, but he could imagine JD was encouraging and cajoling the injured man to wake up.
Vin moved into the doorway, where he could only see the back of Chriss head as he sat in the chair next to the bed. He could see the head tip up as the Teams leader occasionally looked over at Buck and JD. He knew from the tight posture and past experience that his best friend was a ball of frustration. He knew how much the other man hated it when things were out of his control. Vin closed his eyes and leaned against the doorframe for a moment. He couldnt shake the wave of sadness that crashed over him. Next to Chris and JD, he was probably closer to Buck than anyone else on the team. The last twenty-four hours had been one hell of a day. They were all exhausted, but no one was ready to leave Bucks side until they were sure he was going to be all right. Vin shook his head slowly, unwilling to accept that they just got Buck back, only to come so very close to losing him again.
"Nathan!" JDs panicked cry brought everyone back to the bed.
Chris and Vin went to stand behind JD while Nathan took the chair Chris vacated and sat beside Buck. "Whats wrong with him?" JD pleaded, sitting up. They all watched as Buck thrashed with uncontrolled spasms.
"Hes having a seizure, JD," Nathan explained, steadying Buck to keep him on the bed. "I expected it. It happens sometimes if you hit your head hard enough." JD nodded, the fear in his eyes diminishing.
"Is there anything we can do to help?" Chris asked.
Nathan shook his head as he looked across the bed and answered. "Hes just going to have to ride them out." Almost as soon as Nathan said the words, the tremors began to lessen and Buck finally settled back into the bed.
Nathan quickly checked his pulse, his pupils and watched his breathing, then let out a breath, nodding to himself. "Still the same."
"I wish hed wake up," JD almost whispered, lying back down.
"We all do," Nathan agreed. Then he sat up straight and looked at the two men across the bed. "Look, I dont think any of us have had much, if any, sleep so Im going to insist. Weve got to take turns and get some rest. Im not about to try and put him on a horse any time soon, so well let him rest and keep trying to get through to the ranch and get a chopper out here. If not, then well see about rigging something up later." He looked at both of them, almost daring either one to argue. When they didnt, he knew they were as tired as he was.
"Then I think you should be resting first," Chris finally said to Nathan. "Well need you when Buck wakes up."
"Know what, Chris? Im too tired to even argue with you," Nathan admitted with a yawn.
"Im not tired," JD insisted, worried they were going to make him leave Bucks side.
"Thats okay, I didnt think you were," Nathan replied, sharing a quick look with Chris. "Vin, how about we leave these two on the first watch?" Nathan suggested, knowing their leader well enough to know Chris wasnt ready to leave his oldest friends side just yet.
Vin frowned, but slowly nodded. He knew if they were going to have to go out on horseback later, they would need him sharp. So he ruffled JDs hair and nodded to Chris.
"Go on, Vin," JD said, stifling a yawn and settling back down against Bucks back. "You look like you could use some beauty rest anyway."
"Speak for yourself," Vin retorted, while he allowed Nathan to push him toward the door.
Nathan back looked at Chris as he followed Vin, pausing at the doorway.
"Let him sleep, but come get me if he does wake up. He may or may not have another seizure, but wake me if he does. Keep changing the blankets when they get cold and the water when it cools off. And we need to try to get him to drink some water pretty soon, but not coffee," he instructed. Chris nodded and took his place back in the chair.
Nathan also ruffled JDs hair as he moved away. "Hell be okay, JD."
JD tried to look exasperated, but finally managed a small smile of thanks. JD looked over at Chris, who had placed his hand on Bucks chest, taking comfort in the feel of the rise and fall as he breathed.
Chris leaned in close and whispered, "Come on, Buck. JDs worrying himself to a frazzle here," he grinned across at the younger man. "Were all kind of anxious to get out of here and back to the ranch, cant leave Ezra and Josiah there alone too long. They might not both survive. But we aint leavin here without you." Chris let out a sigh when he didnt get a response, then sat back in the chair and tried to find a comfortable position.
He didnt know how long he had been dozing in the chair, but when he woke up, everything was still and quiet. JD had also given in to exhaustion and was asleep with his arm across Bucks chest. Chris got up and changed the cold blanket for a warm one, then replaced the cool water for the one on the stove, the steam rising toward the injured mans face.
Chris quietly stepped outside to the small bathroom to answer natures call, then walked to the front porch and lit a smoke. It was still bitter cold and the wind was blowing, but he was grateful it had stopped snowing again. He hoped they would be able to get through to Ezra and Josiah soon.
When Chris went back into the room, he couldnt help but smile to himself, watching the two brothers from the doorway. As he stood there, Buck took a deep breath. He watched as his oldest friends head slowly moved from side to side, his mouth working open and his eyelids fluttering as he tried to wake up. He watched him try to move his arms, his right moving a little before a wave of pain caused his eyebrows to knit together and he stopped moving. He tried the left but found it trapped. His eyes finally came open and he looked around the room.
At first Bucks eyes werent really focusing, and when they did, he still looked confused. He was looking around when his eyes met those of his oldest friend. "Chris?" he whispered.
Chris smiled and walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. "Right here, Big Dog. How ya doing?"
Buck swallowed hard and frowned.
"Thirsty?" Chris asked.
Buck nodded and looked around the room again. "Cabin?"
Chris nodded as he reached over to the bedside table and snagged the bottle of water Nathan left there.
Buck tried to sit up, but the weight of JDs arm on his chest was enough to hold him down. As he struggled weakly, Chris put a hand on his shoulder.
"Let me do it," Chris said, putting a hand behind Bucks neck. He lifted Bucks head just enough to bring the water bottle to Bucks lips. When he saw Buck was ready, he squeezed the bottle lightly so the water trickled into Bucks mouth. Buck swallowed slowly once he got a mouthful. Chris pulled the bottle back and waited to see if Buck wanted more. Buck shook his head and leaned back against Chriss supporting hand. He closed his eyes as Chris settled him back on the pillow.
Buck let out a long breath as a wave of pain came and subsided. He opened his eyes again, this time seeing JDs dark head against his side. He looked back up at Chris. "What happened?" he finally asked.
"Whats the last thing you remember?" Chris asked back. He had enough experience with concussions to know that memory loss sometimes occurred.
Buck thought for a moment, trying to pull the memories together. "Gettin back late from somewhere... Vin and Ez at our place sayin yall thought I was dead Drivin to your place... JD gone... ridin out to find him." He tried to raise his right hand again to touch JDs head, but it hurt too much and he put it back down. "Is he okay?"
Chris smiled. Leave it to Buck to worry about JD first. To his friend, he replied, "Hes fine, Buck. Worried about you. He was right here when we got here, safe and sound. He went out with Vin to find you."
Buck looked up at Chris again. "Dont remember," he finally whispered.
"As best we can tell, a tree branch fell and spooked Peso. He threw you and you landed head first on a rock. Good thing youre as hard-headed as you are. It couldve been really bad," Chris teased. He watched Buck nod, then wince at the movement. Watching the scoundrel trying to move his hand, Chris added, "Nathan thinks the wrist is broken."
Buck tried to get comfortable as another wave of pain radiated from behind his eyes.
Bucks movement finally began to register on JD, who picked up his head sleepily. "Hey, Buck," he slurred out, rubbing his eyes with his right hand, then leaning up on his elbow.
"Hey, JD," he replied, flexing his left arm as the weight was lifted. "You okay?"
It took JD a heartbeat or two to clear the cobwebs, then his eyes widened as he looked back into Bucks blue eyes, his own hazel eyes watering.
He sat up, tucking the blanket back around the other man. "God, Buck! We all thought you were dead then Chris said you werent, but you werent here - and Peso came back and there was blood on the saddle then when Vin and I found you, you were hurt and so cold " he stopped when he saw Chris shaking his head and smiling at him. "What?" he asked defensively, then he lowered his voice as he realized what he was doing, "Sorry."
"Its okay, Kid," Buck said, moving his left hand to cover JDs. "Just try to keep the volume down. Got a killer headache."
"Guess so," JD said, remembering all the blood. "Anyway, we still cant get Ezra or Josiah on the cell phone. Theyre waiting for us at the ranch."
Chris stood up and stretched. "Im going to get Nathan. Ill be right back, Buck."
Buck rolled his eyes. "You dont have to bother him if hes sleepin, Pard," Buck tried. He just wasnt ready for the poking and prodding he knew hed get from the medic, not that he didnt appreciate everything Nathan did for all of them.
"Yeah right," Chris replied. "You think I want Nathan mad at me? No way, Buck."
JD got up, reached for his clothes and began dressing. Buck glanced over at him, then looked away to give the younger man a sense of privacy. But their eyes met for just a second, and what he saw there made his heart swell. There was no shame or embarrassment in his big brothers expression as he realized what his little brother had done for him, only pride and gratitude. JD smiled to himself as he finished dressing.
Meanwhile, Buck just smiled to himself. It never ceased to amaze him the lengths they went to for each other. He turned his head back toward JD, who was now dressed and looking down at him, with worry written on his face. "Im okay, JD," he said.
JD nodded and wet his lips. He leaned close to Buck and said quietly, "Dont you ever do that to me again, you hear?"
Buck reached up and snagged JDs hand with his left hand and squeezed with the little strength he had. He gave a small nod and opened his mouth to reply, but he suddenly clamped his mouth shut, gritting his teeth tightly. His grip on JDs hand tightened reflexively while his body stiffened. Bucks eyes widened in near panic and his breath was coming in short painful gasps. "What th hells going on?" he gasped.
JD instantly recognized what was happening and returned the grip. "Buck! Buck, look at me. Its alright, Nathan said its because of the bump on your head." He could tell Buck heard him when he saw some of the panic leave his eyes, but the pain remained as the convulsions continued. JD couldnt help but think it seemed worse this time. "Nathan!" he called out, looking up at the doorway, then back down at Buck. "Hell be right here, Buck."
As if on cue, Nathan came barreling through the door, with Chris and Vin on his heels. JD moved away and Nathan took his place at Bucks side, kneeling down beside the bed and gently guiding Bucks face toward him. When their eyes met, he spoke gently but firmly. "Buck, listen to me. Its going to be alright. I know it hurts, but seizures are normal after what youve been through. Do you hear me?"
Buck nodded as another tremor gripped him.
Nathan rested his hand on the big mans shoulder. "Thats it, just ride it out. Itll be over soon."
Buck began to relax and his breathing began to even out. The tremors abated and he lay heavily back onto his pillow.
JD picked up a towel and sat on the other side of the bed and wiped the beads of perspiration from Bucks forehead. When he was done, he took his friends good hand in his again. Chris moved close to the end of the bed, where he could watch his friends face.
"Buck, I want to give you something for the pain, but I cant because of your head injury. Understand?" Nathan explained. "Look at me, can you see okay?"
Buck bit down on his mustache before he replied and nodded. "Everythings a little blurry." JD still gripped his hand firmly and Buck returned his hold, focusing on it while the pain subsided. Then his teeth began to chatter as he began to shiver. He pulled his hand out of JDs and clutched the blanket up around him reflexively.
"Itll pass," Nathan assured him. "Its from the concussion, thats where the seizures are coming from too."
"Why is he shivering now?" Chris asked.
Nathan smiled at Buck before replying. "I know it probably aint helping your headache, but shivering is a good thing. It means your bodys warming up and taking care of itself."
Vin moved from where he had been leaning against the wall, gripping Chriss shoulder as he walked past and stopped next to JD. He squatted down and watched as Nathan took Chriss chair. He reached over to the bedside table and handed the water bottle to Nathan, who helped Buck get another welcome drink. Vin rested a hand on JDs knee. "Our turn, JD," he said. When JD looked up, Vin nodded toward Chris. "You two take a break. Well take over for awhile." When JD started to shake his head in protest, Vin smiled and stood up, taking JDs arm and bringing him to his feet with him. JD started to pull out of Vins grip.
"Yes, JD," Nathan spoke up, giving him and Chris a no-nonsense glare.
"Im not tired," the youngest member of the team insisted. "I already got in a nap."
"Fine if youre not tired, then get something to eat," Nathan directed. "Im not kidding. If we have to get Buck out of here ourselves, I dont want to be worrying about you falling off your horse."
When JD opened his mouth to argue, Chris held a hand up. "Hes right, JD. Im beat."
Vin gave JD a lopsided grin. "Whats the matter, JD? Dont you trust us to look after ol Bucklin here?"
"Who are you callin old, Junior?" Buck protested weakly.
JD smiled at that, then looked back down at Buck. A tired smile played on his lips and his eyes were losing the battle to stay open.
"Go on, JD," Buck started, then stopped to yawn. "Vin here will protect me from Nathan if he gets too ambitious."
"Yeah, well you havent seen your new haircut yet, have you?" Vin said mischievously.
Even Chris had to smile at the look of concern on the ladies mans face.
Nathan huffed good-naturedly and folded his arms across his chest.
JD let Chris put an arm around his shoulders and start to lead him out. He paused at the foot of the bed and tapped one of Bucks feet. "Ill be back in a little while, okay? You get some rest, too." Buck nodded without opening his eyes and settled heavily into the pillow. JD sighed and went out with Chris.
Nathan looked up at Vin. "How about bringing me a mug of that soup, Vin?" Turning to the man in the bed, he said, "I need to get something besides water in you."
Buck nodded and when Vin came back with a steaming mug, he let Nathan feed him the warm soup. He was only able to finish half it before he yawned and fell asleep.
Vin went outside to check on the horses. When he came back in, Chris was asleep on the couch and JD was napping on a pallet on the floor. He took another warm blanket back in to Nathan.
Chris and JD had been asleep about an hour when Vin heard a strange noise outside. It only took a few seconds before he recognized the thump-thump-thump of a helicopters rotors. He looked over at Nathan, who smiled in relief from across Bucks still shivering form. The Texan went back into the main room to where the others were still asleep. He barely touched Chris on the shoulder and their leaders green eyes flew open.
"Buck?" he asked sitting up.
Vin shook his head. "Hes okay, still asleep. I think the cavalrys here, cowboy." He moved over to JD and shook him gently. Then Vin slipped out the door to meet their rescuers.
JD was a little slower to wake up, and when he did he stumbled over to the bedroom door and went right back to Bucks side. JD could see his color was much better and he even felt warmer to the touch.
"Hes still sleeping, JD," Nathan said, "and so far, no more seizures." Nathan stood up and stretched, then nodded to Chris, who had stopped in the doorway to look into the bedroom. They both moved to join Vin outside.
"Buck Hey Buck," JD said, leaning in close. "Time to go home." He lightly rubbed the older mans arm until Bucks blue eyes opened slowly. JD smiled down at his big brother. "I think Ezra and Josiah found you a ride. You ready?"
The older man managed a faint smile and a weak nod.
The door opened and Nathan came back in, followed by two paramedics and the rest of the team. Everyone was carrying various pieces of equipment. Chris had his hand clamped on Josiahs shoulder, still shaking the big mans hand. Last in the door were Vin and Ezra, Vin chuckling at the shade of green that Ezras face was.
"Did I ever mention how much I hate flying in helicopters?" Ezra was saying.
"Then why didnt you just wait at the ranch?" Vin asked.
"What, and risk Mr. Larabees wrath if they got lost? I think not," Ezra replied. "Besides, I thought you might need help getting the horses back."
"Fess up, Ezra," Vin prodded, "you were worried about Buck."
Ezra allowed a small nod, then added with a smile, "And if you tell anyone, I will deny it to my dying day."
"How did you get them here so fast?" Chris asked Josiah.
"Well, after Mr. Tanners brief and barely discernible call," Ezra explained in his Southern drawl, "I was able to ascertain that Mr. Wilmington was injured and you preferred the services of an air ambulance rather than wait for the weather to clear, am I correct?"
"We got lucky when there was a break in the weather," Josiah replied somberly. "They wanted to keep everything grounded til they were sure."
"But Mr. Sanchez was finally able to speak with the head of the ER on the phone and used some of his particular brand of magic. He had to practically shame them into it," Ezra added.
Nathan knelt by the bed beside JD. "We got company, Buck." As he stood, he pulled JD back to give the paramedics room to work.
Bucks eyes went over Nathans head and found Josiah in the doorway. "You come to join the party?"
"Yeah, I heard somebody came back from the dead. Thought it might be worth the trip to see for myself," Josiah replied, raising his eyebrows. "Besides, Ezras pacing was driving me to distraction."
"I beg your pardon," Ezra protested, coming into Bucks view. "I was simply attempting to keep to my exercise regimen while being confined to the house by the weather."
"Yeah right," Buck said softly. "Thanks guys." Ezra offered his friend a two-finger salute off an imaginary hat brim.
JD turned and walked over to the new arrivals, extending his hand. "Thanks, Josiah." Josiah took the offered hand, then pulled the younger man into a gentle hug. JD leaned into Josiah, taking a moments comfort and the strength it offered.
Before JD could say anything to Ezra, his attention was drawn to the flurry of activity around Buck. Vitals were checked, IVs were started, an O2 mask was put in place, the wrist was put in a high-tech temporary splint, and the head injury was checked and bandaged. All the time the paramedics were working, Nathan was right there, answering questions and assisting. Finally Buck was ready to go. They transferred him to the stretcher, then Josiah, Chris, Vin and Ezra each took a corner to carry him. The paramedics and Nathan gathered up the equipment and supplies, while JD hovered at Bucks side, one hand on Bucks arm and the other holding the IV bag. When one of the paramedics nodded, the others lifted the stretcher.
Chris and Josiah climbed into the helicopter, pulling the stretcher with them. Ezra and Vin pushed it up from the back. Then Josiah and Chris worked their way back out the helicopter bay doors.
As they went out the door, the paramedic looked across at Nathan. "Theres room for one more on the chopper," he offered.
Nathan shook his head and looked over to their leader. Chris smiled and nodded as Nathan motioned to JD. "Better let JD go with you," he replied.
JD looked up at Nathan, relief written all over his face. "Are you sure?" he asked, looking from Nathan to Chris.
"You go, JD," Chris assured as they arrived at the helicopter. "Well get the horses home."
"Thanks, Chris," JD said, letting go of Buck just long enough to shake Chriss hand.
"Go on," Vin said, patting JD on the back, then giving him a hand up into the helicopter. "Somebody needs to keep Bucklin in line once he starts feelin up to botherin all them pretty nurses."
Buck stirred at that and offered Vin a one-fingered wave before one the paramedics climbed in and blocked Bucks view.
"Well see you at the hospital," Chris said to JD, then caught his oldest friends eyes. "You take it easy. Ill see you in a little while." He watched Buck nod, then close his eyes heavily. Chris stepped down and helped them secure and latch the door.
The five left behind stepped away as the rotors began to speed up and the helicopter lifted off. They ducked away from the blowing snow, then looked up and watched until the aircraft was out of sight.
"Well, Id say we have just enough light to make the journey back to Mr. Larabees humble abode," Ezra suggested.
"Whats the matter, Ezra, not in the mood for a little roughing it?" Vin asked with a wink.
"Not at all," he replied, "I just thought Mr. Dunne might want some assistance keeping Mr. Wilmington in line."
"Yeah right," Nathan chimed in. "After all this, Buckll be lucky if he doesnt have to have JD surgically removed."
"Payback, Brother," Josiah added with a smile.
"Well, I think we better get a move on," Chris said. "Vin, why dont you start saddling the horses, Ill take care of closing up the cabin."
Vin nodded and headed towards the shelter. He smiled and wasnt surprised to see Ezra fall in step with him.
"Sounds like a plan," Josiah rumbled, throwing his arm around the medics shoulders. Nathan and Josiah headed toward the cabin with Chris.
By the time Chris, Nathan and Josiah had the cabin straightened up, the heaters and lamps turned off and the fireplace banked, Vin and Ezra had the horses ready and led them up to the front porch. Chris handed each of them a steaming cup of coffee, which they accepted gratefully. Josiah finished tying the bedrolls onto the backs of the saddles, then they mounted up and headed home. Chris took the lead on Pony, while Josiah was on Bucks big gray, Vin took Peso and was leading JDs horse, Ezra rode Bounty and Nathan reclaimed his own horse.
* * * * * * *
It was a cold and somber ride home and they made good time, but it was almost dark by the time they made it back to the ranch. They were all cold and tired and worried about Buck.
As Nathan climbed down, Josiah took the reins from his hands. "Why dont you go in and call the hospital, see how Bucks doing?"
Nathan nodded and started slowly toward the house. "Oh, Chris," he called, turning back. But Chris was already tossing his keys toward Nathan. Nathan smiled and caught them.
By the time the others had the horses taken care of and made their way to the house, Nathan had coffee ready. Nobody said anything while they stomped the snow and mud off their boots and shrugged off their coats.
After pouring himself a cup of coffee and taking a sip, Ezra finally turned to Nathan. "Well, how fares our friend?"
Nathan glanced over at Chris before answering. "Hes in ICU, just to be on the safe side. He had another seizure on the way in. They did a CAT scan, and didnt find any complications from the concussion, but his pupils still arent quite equal. Theyre giving him a low dose of Ritalin for the seizures, just as a precaution and a mild painkiller. His temperature is finally back to normal and theyve put his wrist in a cast."
"How long do they expect hell be having seizures?" Josiah asked.
"Its a normal reaction to the concussion. They should stop on their own as soon as the concussion clears up," Nathan answered.
"What about his eyes?" Vin asked, remembering what Buck had said about his vision being blurry.
"Same thing, but he should be fine. Itll just take time and lots of rest," the medic assured the rest of the team. "Theyre going to keep a close eye on him for pneumonia, but if were lucky, he should be out of the hospital in a week."
Ezra looked at him skeptically. "Lucky?" he said, one eyebrow cocked, "Surely you jest?"
Josiah just chuckled and threw an arm over the Southerners shoulder.
Vin was already setting his coffee cup down and moving towards the door, grabbing his coat on the way. "Lets get this show on the road," he said. The others followed, anxious to be reunited with their friends.
* * * * * * *
Despite Ezras skepticism, their good luck held. After the first night in ICU, Buck was moved to a regular room. It was a semi-private room, but the hospital personnel were very aware of Team Sevens idiosyncrasies when it came to one of their team members in the hospital. So, unless it was absolutely necessary, they would leave the second bed empty.
Buck continued to improve, almost overwhelmed by his friends constant attention. Each of them were harboring their own memories of the day they thought their kind-hearted friend was lost to them forever. It made it difficult for them to leave his side that first night, and having six mother hens was almost driving him up the wall. But JD loved it. Not only was he getting even for all the smothering Buck had done to him the past, but he had lots of help.
Two days later, the rest of the Team went back to work. They all managed to drop by at least once a day and check up on their friend, though. JD was given an extra day off, but then he too had to get back to his job. That was fine with Buck; he figured he could use the peace and quiet. Besides, having constant company was putting a cramp in his style with the nurses. JD still came to check on him before work and during his lunch hour, and after work he stayed until visiting hours were over.
On the fourth day, as JD was getting ready to leave, Buck snagged his hand and pulled him into a gentle hug. "You know, you dont have to spend every waking minute here," he said gently, as JD straightened up.
For a split second JD had a haunted look on his face, and he remembered what it felt like when Vin had told him Buck was gone forever. Then the look passed and he smiled down at his friend. "Hell, Im just returning the favor for all the times youve done the same thing for me."
Buck just rolled his eyes and smiled back, then nodded as JD left for the night.
By the end of the week, Buck was ready to go home. He was still weak and running a low-grade fever and was ordered to take it easy and not to go back to work for another week. The doctor gave Nathan the prescriptions and instructions. JD, Vin and Chris were also there to take him home. They helped him into the passenger seat of Chriss black Dodge Ram pickup, Nathan climbing in behind Buck. Vin and JD followed in Bucks old truck.
Josiah and Ezra were already at the apartment. The plan was to let Buck rest for a while, then have a Team dinner. They were killing time watching TV. JD and Chris helped Buck walk slowly up the stairs to his loft bedroom. Nathan would have preferred it if Buck stayed downstairs, but Buck really wanted to be back in his own king-sized bed and the couch wasnt nearly as comfortable, so they compromised with an intercom system and Bucks promise to call JD if he needed anything.
At the top of the stairs, Buck stopped and turned slowly. Knowing his little brother and his oldest friend were at his side, he looked back down at the rest of his friends lounging comfortably around the room.
"What?" Chris asked, smiling at the look on Bucks face, one of peace and contentment.
"Ya know, pard Dorothy was right," he said with a real Buck Wilmington grin, allowing them to guide him into the bedroom. "Theres no place like home."
JD and Chris shared a knowing look behind his back, both remembering their conversation at the airport, before the whole nightmare began. Downstairs, Ezra raised his glass to Vin, Nathan and Josiah. "Here, here," he toasted, and the others smiled back and joined him.
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