Ezra felt utterly defeated. Standing there alone, on a deserted road, rain lashing down, his friends were depending on him, Buck was depending on him for his very life, and he had failed. The pain in his ankle was unremitting, it seemed to pulsate in tune with his defeated heart.
Come on Ezra, think! he commanded himself.
The castle gateway was eight miles down the road, the castle a good three miles on from that. The village was almost sixteen miles down the road and beyond that nothing but the Atlantic. Then there was the footpath over the mountain, it was only four miles to the back of the castle gardens. It was tempting, just four short miles rather than eleven, but even though it was a well marked and well used path, there were places it where it was very steep, particularly on the downward slope. He knew that with his injured ankle there was just no way he could make it. At best it would take longer than taking the road, at worst, he could fall and die up there and no one would rescue Buck. At least on the road there was always the chance someone would drive past, unlikely, but possible.
Making the decision to move again after standing still for what seemed like an age, took more determination than Ezra would have given himself credit for. The pain as he stood then, taking all his weight on the other leg, had been bad, sick-making even, now as he set off, he thought for the very first time in his life he might actually faint. Even when he got past that every step was torture, he tried to put as little weight on his ankle as possible, but on the dark, wet road it was all but impossible.
Buck and JD's conversation had moved on to their favourite TV shows and they discovered a mutual love of old western series. Little by little Buck had said less and less, a few times JD thought he'd fallen asleep or even slipped into unconsciousness, but then he stopped talking and Buck, without opening his eyes or moving, would ask him to continue.
"It helps," he admitted.
So JD continued to talk, as fatigue crept in, his rambling monologues on the various plot lines of The High Chaparral, Bonanza, Alias Smith and Jones and The Big Valley became less coherent, but he kept going. Finally, a dry throat forced him to take a break.
"I'm gonna go get some water, I won't be a sec," he explained.
Buck didn't react, he lay there, quite still, pale as the grave.
"Buck?" JD got up and edged closer.
Buck's jaw was slack, the hand that had been wrapped around the root, was slack. For one horrendous second JD feared the worst, but as he watched he saw Buck's chest moving and breathed a silent sigh of relief. He didn't know if Buck was asleep or unconscious, he was just happy that he was still breathing and out of pain, at least for a while. JD sprinted to the kitchen, grabbed the opened bottle of water and ran back. Then he pulled one end of the sofa over so that it was now diagonally across the space between them. This way he was able to be close enough to Buck to see his chest move, with the bonus of placing him directly in front of the fire. Of course he was also blocking the door, but that was no big problem, he could climb over the back if he needed to get out.
Ezra had decided that those who described hell as hot had never been cold. The cold seemed to penetrate his very soul. His coat was waterproof, but the rain had found its way under his collar and now ran in rivulets of pure ice down his back. On some level he understood that he was probably cold because he was in shock, but that understanding didn't make him any warmer and seemed irrelevant, all that mattered was getting home, getting help, getting warm. Time no longer mattered and he had no idea how far he'd come.
Dawn was still hours away, and he'd still only covered half the distance, he knew that because the torch beam caught the little sign marking the turn of for Torr Fhionn farm, possibly the highest and most remote of the estates many tenant farms. As Ezra drew level he looked up the track and stopped. Lights, big, powerful lights, shining up the track. It took his exhausted brain sometime to work out what he was seeing. A car, stopped at the gate, which was some five hundred years up the track. Someone was pushing the gates open, about to drive up six mile long private road. A person, a person with transport.
"Hey!" he yelled. "Over here!" But the wind and the rain took his words and squandered them on the open hillside.
Noise, he had to make a noise! What did Buck say about noise? For a few precious seconds he tried to remember, despite the weight of the gun on his shoulder, then in a flash he knew. Cold, wet, hands didn't seem to want to respond to his commands as he tried to pull the gun from its waterproof cover. Already the man, hunched against the rain, had the gate all the way open and was climbing into the car again. If Ezra couldn't get the gun loaded before he closed the gate his chance was gone. Resisting the temptation to look at the car as it moved few yards, Ezra forced his hands to grip the barrel and break the gun. Normally it took him no time and no effort to break a gun, now it seemed like the most difficult thing in the world, but he did it. Shells? Where are the shells? He delved into his pockets, even though there were at least a dozen in there he didnt seem to be able to grasp one. Finally he managed to get his numb fingers around one and pull it out. Glancing up he saw the car has stopped again and the man was swinging the gate closed. In desperation he tried to speed up, but in the dark and with cold fingers he fumbled and the shell fell to the ground and rolled away into the darkness.
"Fuck!" he swore, as he fished in his pocket for another shell.
Finally he had a shell in the breach and snapped the gun closed. Without even looking or putting it to his shoulder he pointed it at the sky and pulled the trigger. Then he looked. The man was standing beside the car, the driver's door open, one foot on the sill.
"Yes!" Ezra exclaimed and grabbed another shell, this time it seemed to be easier.
Just as the man seemed to have decided he'd imagined it all, Ezra sent a second shot into the night. The man must have seen the barrel flare, because he ran to the gate and opened it. Ezra sent a third shot into the sky. The man began to run down the track, then pulled up short and headed back to the car.
"Huh!" JD jolted awake, he hadn't meant to fall asleep, but the sofa was comfortable and the fire warm. But while he slept the fire had died down and the cold had crept in. He immediately checked on Buck. It seemed to him Buck looked even paler, thought that hardly seemed possible, and he was shivering.
"I'm sorry, I let the fire die down, I'm sorry." Buck didn't respond.
JD quickly stoked the embers and added more kindling, then he placed a few small logs on the top. Scrambling over the sofa he checked on the kitchen stove, it too was about to go out. Once he had attended to that he found there was something else he needed to attended to. Scrambling into his coat and grabbing one of the lanterns he opened the front door. The rain was still pouring down, but at least the wind had dropped. The outhouse was to the side of the house and the ground in between was wet and treacherous. JD decided in a second that keeping warm and uninjured was more important than modesty - what was the point, there was no one to see him anyway - so he simply turned his back on the wind and dealt with business.
He all but burst back into the house, shutting the door and pulling of his wet coat almost in one movement. Shaking the water from his coat as he hung it of he hurried back into the living room.
"I'm back, had to answer natures call, it's still raining but the wind's dropped." JD was talking as he clambered over the sofa and came to Buck's side. "So how are you doing?" Buck didn't respond, but it looked to JD as if he wasn't shivering as much. "Well you seem warmer, this fire really puts out some heat doesnt it? I'll chuck another log on, in case I fall asleep again." He glanced at his watch. "It'll be dawn in a few hours, maybe they can't come until then, maybe that's why they haven't come yet, 'cause I bet Ezra got there a long time ago." JD knew that he was rambling, but he just didn't seem to be able to stop.
JD was no fool, he knew how much trouble they were in, and he was more than aware that Buck could die, even if he didn't die before help arrived, his internal injuries might be un-survivable. Leaving New York had been an adventure, his mother was dead, he was alone and it was a chance to change his life, even if it was only temporary. When he'd received the letter and plane tickets he had no inkling he was going to inherit the whole estate. He knew his mother had grown up in a castle, and that she had a brother, but not much more. She didn't speak of it unless prompted, and then only gave the minimum of information. As the taxi approached the castle, he'd had to stop himself gasping in awe. It was like something Disney might create, every American's imagination of what a castle should be. Only when no one answered the door did the reality of where he was, alone, thousands of miles from the only home he had ever known, begin to sink in, and just as it was threatening to overwhelm him, there was Buck. Standing in front of him, resplendent in his kilt, smiling broadly. There was just something about Buck that made him not only trust him instantly, but like him as well, there was a connection.
Now as he settled back onto the sofa, watching the reassuring rise and fall of Buck's chest, he began to contemplate just how important Buck was to him, because for the life of him he couldn't see how he could go on without him. Who else was going to make him get up in the morning? Who would not only take him to Edinburgh to be fitted for a kilt, but talk him into wearing it the 'traditional' way? Who would take him out to meet his tenants and then make him help fix their roof? Who was going to regale him - and all of them - with outlandish, but some how plausible stories, by firelight when the power went out? And who, after even Nettie had failed, would get him to eat haggis? There was just no way around it, Buck had to be okay, he just had to!
JD was hovering between waking and sleeping and in that state he didn't immediately recognise the noise of the helicopter as it approached the little bothy. It was the sudden harsh white light that flooded the room that snapped him awake. Leaping to his feet, he looked over at Buck, who didn't react even as the noise from the rotors became deafening. JD then vaulted over the sofa and headed for the door, only at the last minute did he turn back and push the sofa against the wall once more. As he pulled the door open he was hit by the huge down draught as the Sea King hovered above him, searchlights sweeping the ground in front of the bothy. As JD watched, the helicopter backed off a little and then someone emerged from the side door and began to descend on a cable. JD found himself all but holding his breath until the winch man was safely on the ground. Once he detached himself from the winch cable the helicopter backed off a bit.
As the man began to jog toward him, JD ran to meet him.
"Where are they going?" JD yelled, finding himself having to shout to make himself heard.
"Don't worry, there's nowhere to land, he'll come back when we're ready to winch you guys out, lets just see what we're dealing with," came the explanation.
The two of them exchanged names as they jogged toward the bothy. The winch man turned out to be Chief Petty Officer Adamthwaite; no nonsense Yorkshireman, in his forties, his close cropped curly blond hair, just beginning to turn grey. Once inside Adamthwaite, immediately crossed to Buck, putting his bag down, he smiled at his patient.
"Hello ?" he began, then turned to JD.
Adamthwaite's expression clearly showed his surprise if not incredulity, but he turned back to his patient. "Buck, let's see how you're doing."
The navy medic then carried out a thorough exam. He secured the clearly broken left arm with a temporary splint and a sling. There was little he could do about the root, other than replace the dressings Ezra had applied and use some tape to secure them. As he worked he talked; mostly he talked to Buck, telling the unconscious man what he was doing.
"Looks to me as if you've been doing a good job looking after him," he assured JD as he stood up and turned away from Buck.
"I didn't do anything really, it was Ezra who put the bandage on," JD admitted.
"Ezra? Who's he, more importantly where is he?"
"He went for help, it must have been him sent you here."
"Ah, well they don't give us details like that." With that he pulled his radio out and called the helicopter back.
A second crewman descended on the winch, bringing with him a basket stretcher. Together the two men worked with well practised efficiency to get Buck moved into it and strapped in. They had to improvise somewhat to make sure they didn't disturb the root, but in no time they were carrying Buck out and preparing to hoist him into the helicopter. Adamthwaite went first, then the crewman attached Buck to the cable and he was winched on board. Then it was JD's turn.
"Okay, you ready?" the young rating asked.
JD, anxious to get to Buck, hadn't really thought about his own ride into the aircraft. A large orange sling was placed over his shoulders and under his armpits, once tightened it was attached to the hoist cable.
"Hold on to the sling here." The rating indicated where JD was to hold on. "Just keep still and wait to be pulled in, don't reach for the door - okay?"
JD nodded and looked up, almost as soon as he did, he was moving, being lifted up, swinging as he was whisked up into the hovering aircraft. Under any other circumstances he would have been excited, now al he could think of was how long it would take and how fast could they get Buck to a hospital.
Had Ezra been in his right mind, he would have realised that the car he had stopped heading up the track to Torr Fhionn farm was almost certainly that of Hamish Irving, who's farm it was. But he was too cold, in too much pain; too tired and too desperate to get help to think straight. He thought he'd done it, thought help was imminent when the man began to run toward him, but then the man had stopped and turned back. It occurred to him that all this man could see was the gun flash and he'd have to be pretty foolish to run toward some stranger randomly firing a gun into the air. He had almost resigned himself to waiting for the police, in the from of constable Rory Brown, coming to investigate, when he saw the car execute a three point turn and begin to speed toward him. In seconds he was having to shield his eyes from the full beam strength headlights.
"Mr Standish sir? What in the hell happened to you?" Hamish asked as he jumped out of his old Land Rover.
"Too much, I need a phone, do you have one?"
"Not on me, come on lets get you into the car and we'll drive back to the farm." Hamish could see Ezra was all but standing on one leg, so he reached for him.
"No, the castle, it's quicker." Without waiting for a response, Ezra passed Hamish the gun and took the hand that was offered gratefully.
As they drove toward the Glenneaval Ezra explained what was going on. As the car skidded to a halt in front of the kitchen yard gates the dogs began to bark and jump madly. Ezra cursed silently, the poor things had been locked up all day and most of the night, with no food and only the gateway for cover.
"Hamish could you...?" he began to ask.
"Don't worry, I'll take care of the dogs, where'd you keep the food?"
"Scullery." Ezra was already at the gate, by now the dogs were delirious with joy to see someone, and Ezra was afraid the two Labradors would bowl him over. "You better "
"Go first? Ay, I can see that, Will and Paddy right?"
Ezra nodded. Hamish called the dogs to him as he pushed open the gate and headed for the door. They hesitated, but the pull of food was too strong and they turned and followed the farmer into to the kitchen hall. Ezra then all but hopped behind him into office Nathan shared with Nettie and grabbed the phone. By the time Hamish had found the dog's food, put as much in each bowel as the instructions on the sack indicated for dog's their size and found his way back to the office, Ezra was trying to describe the bothy's location to the 999 operator. He looked up and put his hand over the phone's mouthpiece.
"Do you have a map in your car, a Landranger?" he asked.
Hamish shook his head.
"Damn, there's one in Chris' office but I don't have the key, try the library." He waved his hand in the general direction of the main house.
"I'll find it!"
It didn't take him long; the well used map was lying on the corner of the desk. Once he was back in the office, the two of them were quickly able to work out the bothy's co-ordinates and relay them to the operator who in turn passed it the Navy search and rescue helicopter which was already on it's way from RNAS Prestwick. Finally Ezra hung up; he'd given them all the information he could.
"Come on, we need to get you to the doctor, maybe even the hospital, I'd say you're gonna be needing an x-ray."
Ezra had come to the same conclusion, but he couldn't go yet, first he needed to call the others and make some arrangements.
Nathan was pulled from his sleep by the incessant chirping of his mobile phone.
"What?" he asked without even putting on the lights or opening his eyes.
"It's me, Ezra, we have a situation."
With that word Nathan was awake, he listened intently to Ezra's explanation. Once he'd hung up with Nathan, Ezra called Chris, who told him he'd be there as soon as he could and he'd bring the other two.
"What hospital will they take him to?" he asked almost as a passing thought.
"Nathan says Inverness, based on what I told him."
It wasn't that Inverness was that much further than Fort William; they were both about seventy miles from Glenneaval, by road. By air however Fort William was much closer, but it was a small district hospital, not much more than a cottage hospital, it did have surgeons and operating theatres, but not - significantly - an intensive care unit.
JD did as he was told, and let Adamthwaite pull him into the aircraft. Once he was safely inside and buckled into his seat, a pair of headphones with a microphone was placed on his head.
"Can you hear me okay?" the Chief Petty Officer asked
"Well say so, I can hear you." He tapped his own headphones.
"Yes, is Buck okay?"
"Let me get young Billy on board first."
It didn't take long to get the other crewman back up and the moment he was and the pilot was given the okay, they were turning away and heading up the glen toward Inverness. Even as the aircraft was banking Adamthwaite was working on Buck, as JD watched the practised medic placed an oxygen mask over Buck's face and managed to start an IV line despite the movement and vibration of the aircraft. Over his headset JD could not only hear the crew talking to each other but also to the emergency control centre, their own base and the hospital. Questions came to JD but he didn't ask them, he was suddenly so tired and it didn't matter what he asked, it wouldn't get them to the hospital any faster. So he just sat there in silence listening to the chatter in his ears, some of it was about their flight, the weather - wind shear, landing procedures, fuel status. Some of it was about Buck - blood pressure, respiration rate, something called a GCS score, which was apparently not good - but much of it was just personal chitchat. He learned that the pilot's name was Andy, he was divorced and was hoping to see his daughters next week, Adamthwaite's nick name was (somewhat unimaginatively) 'Yorky' and the co-pilot was a getting teased because he was a Spurs fan.
In less than half an hour, they were descending toward the hospital. The next few minutes passed in a rush, just corridors, people in uniforms, white coats and green scrubs, all around him as he jogged beside the trolley that was wheeling Buck ever nearer to the help he needed - and then it was all over. Doors, large and cream with big chrome finger plates closed in front of him and that was that, a firm hand was placed on his chest.
"Yer can'a go in there son." He turned to face the woman, who was small, with close cropped greying hair and piercing blue eyes. "You need t' go t' reception and get him registered."
"What?" JD asked.
"You're friend? Brother? We need some information about him," she explained.
"But I don't " JD looked back at the cream doors. Even know when his birthday is.
"It's okay, I've taken care of it." JD spun around at the sound of the calm familiar voice, which washed over him like balm.
"Oh thank God, Nathan! Am I glad to see you!"
The moment he put the phone down on Ezra, Nathan was out of bed. It took only a few minutes for him to dress and all but run to the hospital from the small hotel where he was staying. He'd known as soon as Ezra described Buck's injuries that he'd be flown to Inverness, there just wasn't anywhere else that could handle that kind of injury unless they took him all the way to Glasgow and that was more then twice the distance. The last thing he grabbed as he headed out the door and began to run the mile and a half to the hospital was his ID.
Once he arrived he carefully pinned on the laminated badge so that his picture, name and title - Charge Nurse - and ID number were visible but the bit at the bottom, the section that described him as 'Temporary Student' was just inside his shirt pocket. It worked, he was able to confirm that Buck was inbound and fill out as much of the registration form as he could from memory, Chris would be able to fill in some of the blanks.
He found a knot forming in his gut as he ran outside to see the huge red-bellied helicopter swoop in out of the dark western sky and begin to descend. Nathan had had a varied career in nursing. He'd trained in his native Bristol and seen some grim sights working the late Saturday night shift in A&E. After three years he'd had enough and moved to London to take up a job at Bart's Hospital where he trained and worked as a surgical nurse. After five years he'd risen to the top rank and was being pressed to take on a more senior job. The trouble was, more seniority meant more paperwork and less hands-on patient care. Unsure what he wanted, he decided to take a year off and work for Voluntary Service Overseas. He worked in Bangladesh for a year before he returned to Britain. By then he knew nursing from behind a desk was not for him. He'd got used to working in a small rural community and learned to love that pace of life, even if he would never learn to love the bugs and the poverty that he'd found in Bangladesh. So when he'd seen the advertisement for a personal care nurse to live in a genuine Scottish castle he'd responded instantly.
His new job as district nurse was going to be very similar to the work he'd done in Bangladesh, but without the hardships and heartbreak that came with working in one of the poorest countries in the world. Better still, he had a wonderful home and six men who were as close to him as any brother could be. Yet as he stood at the desk, filling in as much information as he could on Buck, he was reminded how remote his new home really was. Seventy miles was a long way to travel to reach a hospital in 21st century Britain, after all nowhere in Britain is more than seventy miles from the sea, surely hospitals should be closer than that? But then again the Highlands were still sparsely populated and the landscape uncooperative.
When he'd seen JD standing there in the A&E, looking forlornly at the doors to the acute treatment room, he didn't think he'd ever seen anyone look so alone among so many people. The boy, and he really was still a boy, looked dishevelled, filthy and so tired he looked like only willpower was keeping him upright. At the sound of his voice he turned to look at Nathan with such relief, it was all Nathan could do to not reach out and pull him into a hug. He didn't, Buck could hug JD, and did - often - and Nettie, but not the others, at least not so far, though Nathan suspected the proud young American wouldn't resist if Josiah were to pull him into on of his famous bear hugs.
"Come on, let them work, we need to get you sat down before you fall down, maybe cleaned up a bit." Nathan turned and stepped away from the firmly closed cream doors.
JD hesitated and then, reluctantly, followed him. Nathan took him to the nurse's lounge and showed him were he could clean up. Then he sat him down and handed him a mug of soup.
"Drink up, I'll go and see what I can find out."
"I'll come too." JD was putting down the mug already.
"No, you stay here, I'll find out more on my own." He tapped his ID badge.
"Oh, yes, I guess so." JD sat back.
Nathan could see how dejected he was. "I'll be as fast as I can."
Chris found it hard to believe that what Ezra had told him was true. Even as he was pounding on Vin's door he was telling himself he'd misheard, or Ezra was exaggerating. He and Buck had served in more than one combat zone, and Buck had never picked up much more than a scratch. Even after Chris left the army and Buck remained to go on to become an officer, as far as Chris knew he'd never been seriously wounded. Buck somehow projected an image of invincibility, it was one of the things that made him a good officer, people followed him because they trusted him and believed he'd keep them safe. They had served together for twelve years, been such close friends that had Buck not been openly bedding every woman in sight and Chris not a happily married man some eyebrows would have been raised. Then Chris' life changed forever, he left the army, while Buck stayed on to accept a commission, but they always kept in touch. Some years it was no more than a Christmas card but they always knew where the other was. Chris hadn't thought about it much until what Ezra had told him sank in, but much of his own emotional equilibrium was based on one Buck Wilmington being in the world, it didn't matter how far away he was, so long as Chris knew he was there somewhere.
"What the hell's the matter?" Vin asked as he opened the door, shaggy hair sticking up all over the place, clutching the duvet around his waist to preserve his modesty. "We on fire?" He looked down the corridor expecting to see smoke.
"Ezra called, there's been some kind of accident, a landslide or some such thing. Buck's hurt, bad enough to be air lifted to Inverness," Chris explained quickly.
"Get dressed and packed, I'm gonna get Josiah." With that Chris was running down the corridor.
It took the three of them less than fifteen minutes to get ready to leave. They had been accommodated in the attic rooms of the large, rambling Victorian gothic mansion at the heart of the estate where they were helping to cull deer. There was no time to worry about waking up the other residents, who - to their credit - rallied around, and by the time they were climbing into Chris' Range Rover, sandwiches, chocolate biscuits and a flask of coffee were thrust into their hands.
"Let us know how he is. Don't worry about the flask," their host assured as he waved them off.
The geography of the Highlands is such that there are only a limited number of trunk roads, to get to Inverness from the west all traffic has to go up the Great Glen on the A82. They would join it at Invergarry, south of Loch Ness, where they met Hamish Irving and Ezra.
As he rode in Hamish's Land Rover toward the rendezvous, Ezra couldn't believe how organised he'd been, he'd even remembered to ask Hamish to collect clean clothing for himself and JD. Irving, had offered to drive him all the way to Inverness, despite having been up all night with the vet and a sick ewe, he'd lost the ewe and her unborn twin lambs. Ezra had silently vowed to replace the valuable animal as soon as he could, as a way of thanking the farmer for all he'd done; which included going back to the castle and making sure someone was keeping an eye on the place and the dogs, until Nettie and Casey got there, which wouldn't be until the afternoon.
Ezra still hadn't taken off his boot, he was scared to even look at it. His only concession to his injury was to pick up a shooting stick to use as a cane and let Hamish put a pillow on the floor of the car to rest his heel on, in an attempt to reduce the vibration and jarring from the Land Rover's less than smooth suspension.
The drive to Invergarry seemed to take forever, every jolt, every pothole seemed to send more daggers of pain up his ankle, making him feel sick and light-headed.
Please God just let it stop for a moment, he silently pleaded.
The breath-taking scenery passed by in the early morning light, under rain heavy clouds, but he hardy noticed, closing his eyes in a vain hope that he might fall asleep and the journey would pass in a moment, it was a vain hope. Hamish drove on as fast as he dared and in silence, for which Ezra was grateful. Even when they did make it to the road junction, it was another hour before Chris's Range Rover pulled up.
As relieved as he was to see his friends, Ezra then had to get himself, with help, into Chris' car and then as they set off up the Glen toward Inverness, he had to start explaining the situation all over again. It wasn't that he didn't want to tell them, it wasn't that he didn't understand their concern, it was just that he was so very tired, and pain was making any kind of cohesive thought all but impossible. Finally, as Chris was quizzing him for the third time about Buck's injury, Josiah intervened.
"Chris, I think we should wait until we can speak to Nate or the doctors, Ezra's told us everything he can."
"Look all I want to know is " Chris began.
"Chris," there was clear warning in Josiah's voice.
Chris looked in the mirror at Ezra, seated beside Josiah on the back seat. He was slumped in the corner, resting his cheek on the cool surface of the window, pale, drawn, dark circles under his closed eyes.
"Yeah, maybe you're right."
Nathan was gone a lot longer then he had hoped and by the time he got back to the nurse's rest area, JD was going crazy with worry.
"Where have you been?" he demanded. "What's happening?"
"I'm sorry, I tried to find out as much as I could "
"And?" JD was desperate for information.
"And he's on his way to imaging and then they're taking him directly to theatre for emergency surgery." He could see that JD wanted more information, but there was nothing more he could tell him, until they opened Buck up there was no way for the doctors to know just what internal injuries Buck had suffered. "There isnt anything else I can tell you, not until he's out of surgery."
JD seemed to deflate before Nathan, all his energy seemed to drain away.
"Come on, we need to get some food into you and then you need some rest." Nathan put his arm around JD's shoulder and turned him toward the door.
"I'm not hungry," JD protested.
"Maybe not, but you need the food, and you need the rest. The surgeon told me he doesnt expect Buck to get to recovery for at least three hours, there is nothing you can do for Buck right now.
JD finally accepted this and let Nathan lead him to the canteen, where he ate his way through the large breakfast Nathan put in front of him, without really noticing what he was eating. The canteen was one of the few areas of the building where mobile phones were permitted, and as they were getting ready to leave and head for the surgery waiting room, Nathan's phone rang.
JD listened to Nathan's side of the conversation, then waited for a full explanation.
"Chris and the others are about twenty minutes away, they've got Ezra with them, seems he's hurt his ankle so theyre going to meet us in A&E."
The arrival of Chris, leading Vin and Josiah, who were carrying Ezra between them, in the accident and emergency department was a sight to see. While the other two deposited Ezra in a wheel chair, Chris walked up to the reception desk. Fearing the reaction if he was told Ezra would have to wait to be seen, Nathan quickly joined him.
"Good to see you, how's Buck?" Chris asked.
"Being treated, let's get Ezra registered."
With that Nathan took over the paperwork and, with that completed, made sure the triage nurse saw Ezra almost immediately. He wasn't going to need to ask for special favours to get him treated, it was clear as soon as the nurse looked at his leg, that Ezra needed treatment, and more importantly pain relief as soon as possible.
Nathan stayed with Ezra, while the others headed to the surgery department and find JD. Nathan warned them that there was nothing JD could tell them that he hadn't already, and not to quiz him.
"The boy's running on nervous energy and he's scared," he warned, looking pointedly at Chris.
Ezra was given 'gas and air' pain relief as his boot was removed, but even with this, the surge of pain as the pressure on he foot was freed was excruciating. Nathan, in full nurse mode, had hold of his hand and encouraged him to squeeze it as hard as he could. With the boot off, the trouser leg split up to the knee and the sock cut away, the extent of the damage could be seen. Ezra's ankle looked like a balloon, bruising already discolouring the area under the ankle joint.
"Well, that needs x-raying," the young doctor announced.
"No shit," Ezra commented.
Luckily the doctor, who was a very petite Indian woman, not long qualified, had seen and heard it all before.
"I'll take him," Nathan assured her.
An hour later, after a trip to the x-ray department, they were back with the films, waiting to see a more senior doctor.
"Nate?" A pretty young nurse in green scrubs, with coffee coloured skin and long thick hair pulled back in a ponytail, approached them.
"Rain? What are you doing here?"
"They're short two staff nurses tonight, and I can always use the overtime," she explained. "What about you?"
"Oh, Rain this is Ezra, a friend of mine and a colleague at Glenneaval. Ezra this is Rain, one of my lecturers."
"Not that he needs one," Rain put in, "he knows more than me."
"She's exaggerating," Nathan explained.
Ezra, now more than a little high on painkilling drugs, smiled benevolently at the two of them. "None of my lecturers were that pretty," he commented.
"What are your plans once Ezra is fixed up?" Rain asked.
"Another of our friends is in surgery, we'll be headed there."
Rain nodded. "I'll try and come and see you when I get off. Gotta go, bye."
With that she was gone.
"She's nice," Ezra commented.
"Very, very nice," Nathan agreed wistfully.
Ezra turned to view the often serious nurse, who was now gazing wistfully at the shapely form walking away from them. I do declare - Nathan is smitten
"Mr Standish?" A new voice cut through his amusement.
A doctor had arrived in the small curtained bay were Ezra was resting on an examining bed, a large ice pack resting either side of his swollen ankle.
"Excellent, I'm Mr Brown, the orthopaedic consultant, how are you doing?"
Ezra beamed at him. "I'm fine."
"He's flying," Nathan explained.
The doctor looked at Nathan, noted his ID badge, then smiled as he consulted the notes in his hand. "Ah, yes so he is, well from what I've seen on the films and the history he probably needed it." He looked back at Ezra. "You've done some damage there," he pointed to the swollen ankle and then sat down beside Ezra, opposite Nathan.
"You don't say," Ezra commented.
"Oh I do say. There is a small fracture, near the base of the fibia, and from the look of things, a lot of soft tissue damage."
"So what happens now?" Ezra asked.
"Well, because there is so much swelling, we can't put a traditional cast on it, so I'm going to have them fit you with a pneumatic boot, that way you can take it off and ice the swelling regularly. It also means that later on, you can take it off for physiotherapy. I'll prescribe some anti-inflammatory painkillers for tomorrow." He looked at Ezra intently for a moment. "And I'm going to have you admitted for twenty four hours." With that he sat back and waited for the inevitable protests.
"What?" Ezra was suddenly 'sober'. "Why? You said it was just a small fracture."
"Ezra, wait," Nathan warned.
"Mr Standish, you are exhausted, you're still exhibiting symptoms of shock, your ankle needs to be elevated, iced hourly and you need IV pain killers and re-hydration. Believe me the you need a good rest and some twenty four hour care - not to mention a bath. "
Before Ezra could protest, Nathan had his say. "He's right, none of us is going anywhere until we know how Buck is doing, you'll be miserable in the waiting room."
"I too wish to know how Buck is doing," Ezra pointed out.
"I know, and I give you my word, we'll keep you informed."
"I don't like hospitals," Ezra stated firmly.
"No one does, but this is the right thing to do."
Too tired and too fuzzy headed to complain any further, Ezra allowed himself to be admitted. Once he had agreed, he insisted Nathan leave him to see if there was any news on Buck.
While JD sat (now dressed in clean cloths) dejectedly in one corner, Vin stood by the window, staring out at the rain and Josiah sat beside JD, offering silent support, Chris paced; like a malevolent caged beast, a dark presence radiating the message 'back off'. There were three other people in the surgical waiting area, a couple whose son was having an appendectomy and a man who's wife was having her hip replaced. All three had gravitated to the furthest corner from the dangerous looking man and his companions.
A very tall, very large, imposing man in green scrubs, came into the room, he took a quick look around then homed in on JD and Josiah.
Peering over his spectacles, he asked softy. "Wilmington?"
Alistair Watson was one of the top trauma specialists in the country, he'd made his name in London, working with the air ambulance and running the top trauma centre in the UK. But trauma is a high stress speciality and Alistair knew the risks he was running with his own health, so as retirement loomed on the horizon, he decided to take a less pressurised job. Returning to his native Scotland was a bonus. In Inverness there were fewer major traumas to deal with and he was able to devote more time to each patient, even - as in this case - doing the emergency surgery himself.
He'd spotted the men in the waiting room instantly, there was only one person they could be waiting for, he was even prepared to bet the tall blond in black jeans and leather jacket was the Christopher Larabee, who was listed as Wilmington's next of kin.
"Yes," the very young man, who looked to be no more than a teenager, answered instantly, shooting to his feet, as did the very large man beside him. In seconds Alistair found himself surrounded by the five men.
"My name is Mr Watson, I've been treating your friend." Watson smiled reassuringly, "Let's sit down."
He sat first, followed by the tall man with the hospital ID, seconds later the older big man sat down, tugging the teenager with him. The one with the shaggy hair followed.
"Chris?" he spoke to the man in black.
Alistair congratulated himself on his correct identification of the dangerous looking man.
With a slight shrug, Chris joined them.
"Okay, Mr Wilmington "
"Buck," Chris interrupted.
Watson nodded at Chris and smiled. "Buck, is almost out of surgery, he did very well considering. The good news is - in fact the quite miraculous news is - that the branch or root or whatever it is, didn't penetrate any internal organ."
"None?" Nathan asked incredulously.
"Not one, don't ask me how, maybe because it was so blunt? He did lose a lot of blood when we removed it, but we expected that and were prepared for it, he's already being transfused."
"So he's gonna be okay?" JD asked hopefully.
"I wish I could say that, unfortunately the root was embedded in Buck's body for some time, it entered the peritoneum, the body cavity that contains the stomach and other organs." Watson tapped his own stomach. "That is a sterile area of the body and contaminants, such as the dirt and debris on that root, cause infection to develop very quickly. Our tests show Buck has a substantial infection." He let that sink in for a few seconds. "We will put him on a several broad spectrum IV anti-bionics, when our tests identify the specific pathogens we're dealing with, we can use more specific medication. But I want you to understand, this is a very serious infection, once he's out of surgery, we'll me moving him to intensive care."
"What about his arm?" Nathan asked.
"Yes, I was coming to that. Normally we wouldn't treat non-life threatening injures, until the patient is stable, but in this case the swelling was so extensive, it was affecting the circulation to his hand, and in his current condition that could have caused even more serious complications. Luckily it's a simple fracture, the orthopaedic surgeon thinks he can just manipulate it back in line and then fit a brace."
"But Buck is gonna be okay, I mean I know he's real sick right now, but he'll be okay in the end - right?" JD all but pleaded.
"We'll do everything we can for him, once he's settled, you can see him, no more than two at a time I'm afraid." Watson stood up. "I best get back, someone at the desk can direct you to ICU."
JD watched the doctor leave as if he was watching his whole life leave. While he stood there, with Josiah at his shoulder, Chris pulled Nathan to one side.
"Tell me the truth," he demanded. "What are his chances."
"Infection like this, mortality rate can be as high a fifty per-cent," Nathan admitted, knowing Chris didn't need or want the truth sugar coated. "I need to go and tell Ezra, I promised him."
Nathan walked somewhat despondently toward Ezra's ward. He'd always known Buck would have some infection, but in his heart of hearts he'd been hoping it wouldn't be as bad as he feared, but it was.
Ezra was asleep, the drugs and exhaustion had finally won out. The end of his bed and been raised to elevate his legs and the broken ankle encased a pale grey 'boot', that reminded Nathan of a Storm Trooper's armour from Star Wars. As he approached, so did a nurse, she smiled at Nathan.
"It's time to ice his ankle again," she explained.
As Nathan watched, she used a small blue bulb pump to deflate the air bags inside the boot, before she undid the Velcro straps and removed the boot in two parts. Nathan had expected Ezra to wake, but he didn't even stir.
As if reading his mind the nurse looked up. "Ay, he's out for the count and no mistake," she commented with a smile.
Not bothering to disturb the long white cotton sock Ezra was wearing which, whilst it couldn't hide the swelling, at least hid the ugly bruising that Nathan has seen forming in A&E. The nurse, whose name tag told Nathan her name was Nancy Frazer, placed one ice gel pack beside his ankle and a second one over it.
"I'll be back in ten minutes to put the boot back on." With that Nancy left.
"Hi there Ezra, I can't see you waking up anytime soon, I'll leave you a note. Basically Buck's almost out of surgery, he's got a serious infection, I always knew he would, but I was hoping for a miracle. They're going to move him to intensive care very soon, and then we'll be able to visit him. I'll come and see you again a little later, see if you're awake. Bye Ezra."
Nathan patted Ezra gently on the shoulder and turned to leave, he stopped at the nurse's desk to write the note, left it beside Ezra and asked Nancy to make sure Ezra found it. She glanced at it.
"I hope your friend is okay." She smiled at Nathan.
"Thanks, look after him for me. If it wasn't for him, I don't think Buck would have made it at all." He nodded toward Ezra.
"Don't worry, he just needs a good rest and some food. We'll look after him."
Nathan cringed, it wasn't that the food in the hospital was bad, but it wasn't up to Ezra's standards. "Be careful, Ezra is something of a picky eater."
"Och, I'll find something for him. Even if we have to give him some of our secret supplies of cake and biscuits."
Nathan knew almost all wards had a stash of 'goodies' usually gifts from grateful patients.
"I'd appreciate it. So will he."
Buck was aware of very little, just darkness and pain and a strange buzzy feeling in his head. The pain wasn't unbearable; it was just there, gnawing at him, spreading from his gut to make every joint ache, especially his left hand. His hand felt strange as well, sort of tight. Maybe if he scratched it, that would help?
"Buck?" Chris and JD had been sitting beside his old friend for most of the last seven hours. JD had just left to get some food. The doctor told him, that despite the infection - which would get worse before it got better, if it got better - Buck should wake up, now he'd had the transfusions, had been treated for shock and rehydrated, there was no reason he shouldn't regain consciousness, barring complications. But as the hours ticked by the shadow of those complications had loomed ever higher.
When it had become clear that they were going to be keeping vigil over Buck for some time, Chris had been forced into some tough command decisions.
"Nathan, you stay here and complete your course," he had instructed.
"That's hardly important now," Nathan had protested.
"On the contrary, it's very important to the village and to you, Buck won't be happy to think all your hard work had been wasted because of him."
Nathan had reluctantly agreed.
"Vin and Josiah, you head home." Both men protested that they wanted to stay. "I know you want to stay, so does Buck, but the estate doesnt run itself, dogs don't feed themselves. Come back tomorrow evening, and swap over with me and JD, we'll take Ezra home then. After that we'll alternate. Don't worry, two of us will always be here for him."
Reluctantly they agreed, Chris' logic was undeniable. It was getting on for evening, Chris and JD had spent most of the day with Buck, taking in turns to have short breaks and have some food. Nathan, who had tests on Monday, visited on and off but spent most of his time studying or visiting with Ezra, who was frustrated, because the doctors still wanted his leg elevated and that prevented him visiting Buck.
As predicted he'd turned his nose up at the hospital food, but had been tempted by Dundee cake, chocolate shortbread and Thornton's fudge offered by the nurses. Nathan had high hopes he'd eat the supper which was smoked haddock and poached egg, with cheese sauce, new potatoes and peas, even a hospital kitchen would have to work hard to ruin that. True the egg would probably be hard, and the sauce would be solid, no he was wrong, the hospital could ruin it. He'd seen Ezra eat pizza, maybe he'd just order one in, anchovies, he remembered Ezra liked anchovies on his pizza.
Having ordered Ezra's pizza, with cheese topped garlic bread, mineral water and a tub of toffee pecan ice cream, he left the necessary cash with the reception desk, plus tip for the delivery boy and another tip to make sure it got delivered to Ezra as soon as it arrived. That done, he left to find JD and take him to supper. He wouldn't visit Ezra until he'd had a chance to eat; Ezra didn't always appreciate people seeing him enjoying junk food. Of course as a nurse Nathan wasn't in favour of anyone eating junk food, but any food was better than none. Besides, when you they were sick and feeling miserable, everyone needed comfort food.
Buck's right hand, and arm, complete with two IV lines, moved weakly toward his left hand. Chris hated those tubes running into Buck, there were tubes everywhere, some obvious, some - the ones he didnt want to think about - not so obvious.
"Careful big guy, don't think you're meant to do that." Very gently Chris lay his hand over Buck's wrist, alarmed how hot his skin felt.
Buck's brows furrowed and he tried to pull his hand way. His hand itched, why wouldn't Chris let him scratch it?
"Buck? Come on mate, open your eyes for me," Chris encouraged as he stood up.
One of the nurses came over. She checked Buck's vitals on the monitor. "Keep doing what you're doing," she encouraged.
Chris nodded and turned back to Buck. "You hear that? That was nurse Peterson, she's very pretty, you need to open your eyes and say hello."
Kirsty Peterson, who considered herself to be distinctly plain, blushed.
Buck tried to concentrate on Chris' voice, he didn't want to wake up, the pain that had been a persistent ache, was growing. Yet he trusted Chris, he always had, Chris wouldn't call him if it weren't important.
"That's right, open those baby blues for me," Chris encouraged, as he watched Buck's eyelids flutter. "Hello," he greeted, as Buck's eyes finally opened.
Buck frowned as he tried to work out where he was.
"You're in the hospital mate. They got that thing out of you and fixed your hand. JD's fine, just tired, Ezra hurt his ankle, but he's gonna be okay, it's not serious."
"Feel like crap," Buck admitted, his voice no more than a whisper.
"I know, you picked up a bit of an infection, that's why you feel so lousy, you've got fever."
Buck closed his eyes again as a low grown escaped his lips.
"Mr Wilmington, are you in pain?" Kirsty asked.
"I'm " he was about to say 'okay' like he always did, but in truth the pain was getting worse and worse, finally he nodded.
"Alright, try to relax, I'll find the doctor and see if we can get your morphine increased." She patted Buck's leg and slipped away.
Chris hated this, he could see how his old friend was suffering, and there was nothing he could do about it. There was no enemy he could kill, no one he could hit, no one to blame, all he could do was blame the weather and he couldn't hit the weather.
The doctor appeared and Chris stepped back, he could see Buck responding to the doctor's questions, then the doctor made an adjustment to the morphine drip. He then moved to the covered port on the back of Buck's hand and drew some blood. Finally he stepped back and Chris could hear him speak.
"We'll give that a moment to work, then we need to move you on to your side."
Chris had watched the nurses do this every few hours, he knew it was necessary. As he watched Buck began to make a move to roll over.
"Mr Wilmington, please, wait until we can help you, I know you want to do things for yourself, but trust me we need to make sure nothing gets tangled up and it will be less painful with help."
Chris knew Buck must hate his helpless, dependent state, and knowing Buck he'd fight against it, so he stepped in.
"Buck, come on, let them do their job, they've got their orders," he encouraged.
Buck looked from Chris to the doctor and back, then nodded. Just ten minutes later three nurses came over and in a well practised routine, quickly and efficiently rolled Buck onto his side, with the minimum of fuss and always mindful of Buck's dignity. However good they were at it, the procedure was clearly very painful. When it was over, he was on his side, facing Chris and the window. For a while all he could do was breath in short gasps, as the waves of pain subsided down to the something he could bear.
"You need a shave," Buck said, catching Chris slightly off guard.
He ran a hand over his chin, feeling the day's worth of stubble. "You can talk," he joked. Buck's beard, which grew faster and darker then his, was now two days old.
"Sarg'nt Major 'll have our guts."
"That he would, you remember RSM Buchanan? That man wasn't human."
Buck didn't respond, he gazed past Chris toward the window. "It's getting dark," he commented.
Chris looked over his shoulder. "Yeah it is." He looked back at Buck.
"You better go, Adam 'll be going to bed soon, you need to be there."
JD was surprised to find how hungry he was, once Nathan finally managed to get him down to the hospital restaurant. As he tucked in to tucked into curry, rice and Nan bread - a taste he'd recently acquired and was now as addicted to as Vin, Buck and Chris - Nathan was joined by Rain. After the introductions and an update on Buck and Ezra, Nathan turned the subject to Rain.
"For real?" JD asked in genuine awe, when Rain confirmed that she grew up in a tee-pee.
"Absolutely, my parents still live there, the population changes, especially in the summer, but most of the time there's about a hundred and fifty people in Tee-Pee Valley."
"But why?" JD asked.
Rain shrugged. "It's a more Eco friendly way to live, more in touch with nature." She smiled. "Mum and Dad are very environmentally aware."
"Which is to say they're 'tree huggers'," Nathan put in.
"Nate!" Rain slapped him playfully on the arm.
"You're words, not mine," he pointed out.
"So how come, you came way up here, all the way from Wales?" JD wanted to know.
"Well when you grow up under canvas, with mud all around most of the year, no running water and only a pit loo, a real house begins to look very desirable, but I'm still a country girl, I can't live in a town. Up here's about the only place I can afford a country cottage - well one that's close enough to work to be practical - they don't pay us nurses much you know?"
For a the next half hour Rain entertained and distracted JD with tales of hippie childhood under canvas in a Welsh valley, while JD ate his blackberry and apple crumble and custard. She was midway through a story about going to Glastonbury as ten-year-old, when JD all but dropped his spoon.
"Chris!" he spluttered, shooting to his feet. "What are you doing here? Whos with Buck?"
Larabee pulled up a chair. "He's resting, I had to leave."
"What? Why?" JD demanded.
Chris pulled his hand over his face. "He's confused, told me to go home to my family. I didn't wasn't to upset him, so I left."
JD knew that Chris had been married, and had had a son. He knew they were dead, killed by a hit and run driver while he was posted to Germany with the army. He suspected, though he wasn't sure, that this was why Chris had left the army. Buck had warned him in no uncertain terms, not to ask and not to mention the subject.
"Oh, well Id better get up there."
Chris looked up as JD stood. "He may not know you - if he's awake."
JD hurried up to ICU, skidding to a stop as he reached the doors and walking in at a more sedate pace.
Buck's eyes were closed so he assumed his friend was asleep, but as he eased himself down gently, they opened.
"Hi there," JD greeted softly.
At least he seems to remember me. "Nice to see you're awake."
"I'm trying to stay that way, but to be honest it's not gonna last long."
"You need to sleep you go right ahead, don't mind me."
"Did Chris go home?
"Um, yes, yes he did, but he'll be back."
"Doing okay, they kept him in for a night, to make him rest properly. He " JD stopped, Buck's eyes were closed again. "Sleep pal, sleep all you want."
Nathan had taken Chris back to his hotel room to get some sleep, while JD dozed in the chair beside Buck, who's sleep was punctuated by fever fuelled nightmares. Though he never woke he did call out, some of it made sense, some was gibberish. In and small hours, he'd quietened down and the doctors said his fever was rising again, despite the doctor's efforts.
At around seven, JD was waiting outside, the doctors had asked him to step out - he didn't like to ask why. He was still there when Chris arrived.
"What's happened, what's going on?"
"They're doing things." JD waved his hand vaguely in the direction of the doors.
"You know, personal things "
"Oh, how was he, in the night?"
"Bad dreams, they "
"The docs, they say's he's getting worse."
Chris had been standing face to face with JD, invading his personal space, now he turned away. "Oh shit."
"They said that would happen - remember?" JD was trying desperately to cling on to anything positive. "Where's Nathan?"
"Last minute cramming, his first exam's at half eight. I checked on Ezra, he's fine, should be out today."
By morning, Ezra's frustration was building to boiling point. Chris' visit hadn't helped, by nine, he was about to commandeer the wheel chair he'd seen by the door, when a physiotherapist turned up with a pair of crutches.
"Time to get you up and mobile Mr Standish," he announced.
"About time too."
Ezra has been lucky, he'd never done enough damage to a leg or foot to need proper crutches before. He'd seen others uses them, even small children, seen them moving with considerable speed and agility, surely it would be easy - right? Wrong. Once they were adjusted to the correct high for his hand and elbows, he had to learn to place them and then pivot and swing his weight with out putting his injured ankle down. It took a frustrating half hour for him to learn how to do that efficiently and safely.
"Okay, you're good to go. If I were you I'd get yourself some gloves. The fingerless one's rugby players wear these days are good," the therapist advised. "Doctor's rounds are in about half an hour, he'll discharge you and you're out of here. Make sure you bring the crutches back when you're done with them - please."
All Nettie and Casey knew was that Buck, Ezra and JD had been in some kind of accident, and that Buck and Ezra were in hospital. They had planned to come home in the afternoon, these days the shops were open on Sundays after all. They cut the trip short, managing to get a train to Glasgow and then a train to Fort William, that would get them there by noon. From Fort William there was one bus to Glenneaval, the post bus, it ran twice a day, it didn't run on Sundays - except in the Summer holiday season. The original plan was for someone from the estate to collect them from the station. She'd told Ezra, who'd sounded very rough on the phone, not to worry about them, they'd be fine.
With the rain lashing down again, and Fort William Station all but deserted she wasn't sure how to get home with all their purchases and overnight bags. She was just pondering this problem and trying to work out the cost of a mini cab, when a familiar Range Rover Discovery pulled up in front of them.
"Doctor Paisley?" Casey asked.
"Does look like his car," Nettie admitted.
"Mrs Wells, Miss Wells." The doctor greeted from the now open car window. "Nurse Jackson called me, said you might well be on this train and in need of a lift. And here you are. So hop in."
"But, that's very kind of you Doctor, but it's a long way for you, are you sure?"
"Pished woman, Nathan has done more to shorten my working week since he's been here - most of it unpaid - than I can count, this is but a small part of the debt I owe him. Boots open, so dump your bags in there and get in ladies."
When they got to the castle they found young Tom Irving, Hamish's fifteen year old son, in the kitchen, watching an old movie on the little TV on the counter, which like all the TVs in the house had a satellite connection. The coming of satellite TV had been a huge boon to the remote highlands where reception had always been poor, or even non-existent. Unfortunately for Tom, the decoder box was in Nettle's flat, so poor Tom had to watch whatever channel Nettie had last watched. The two dogs were with him, warm, fed and contented, well contented until Nettie and Casey arrived then they were deliriously happy as well.
Tom shot to his feet. "Dad asked me to stay 'till someone came," he explained. "I'll," he grabbed the mug he'd used, "err, wash this up." His eyes drifted to the open biscuit tin on the table.
"Och, lad, don't worry about that or the biscuits, you were helping us out. Do you need a lift home? Casey can run you over," she offered.
"I'll take him." Paisley had just brought the last of the bags in.
"Thanks," Tom said by way of acceptance. "Dad asked me to ask you, if someone could let him know how Mr Standish and Mr Wilmington are, when you know of course, we heard the helicopter."
"I promise I will, when I know something."
Her efforts to find out something were thwarted by hospital rules forbidding the use of mobile phones. So she just kept calling one of them every hour, while she and Casey busied themselves about the house. The phone rang several times, all villagers asking after Buck and Ezra, the minister told them prayers had been said for the two men, neither of who had ever attended any church services, save at midnight on Christmas Eve.
Finally one of Nettie's calls to Josiah was answered. He told her he and Vin were on the road home, Ezra was basically okay, Buck wasn't, but he'd fill her in when he got there.
"Oh no you don't, we've been waiting hours for news, tell us now," Nettie insisted.
So Josiah told her all he knew. "He's in intensive care, Nathan says this kind of infection, it's pretty serious."
"You mean he could ?"
"Yeah, he could."
"Oh my dear Lord."
"Nettie, Vin says we'll be there in about forty five minutes." She didn't respond. "Nettie, did you hear me?"
"What, yes, I'll see you when you get here."
She put the phone down and turned away to face the window.
"Nettie?" Casey called, but the old lady didn't seem to hear her. "Auntie?" she tried again.
"Is Buck okay, heard you talking, is he alright?"
"Buck is, he's very sick, he's in intensive care."
"Oh God, but he's gonna be okay - right?"
Nettie turned to look at her, she plastered a smile on her face. "Sure he is dear, he's a big strong boy."
Leaving Casey in the kitchen, she went up to her flat and pulled out the photo album, the one with the picture of Angus Ross in his army uniform, clean shaven, and looking just like Buck. Looking so much like Buck, that she had known the moment Wilmington walked into her kitchen that he was Angus' son. So what did she do now? What if Buck was dying? Should she tell the others? Should JD have the chance to say goodbye knowing Buck was his only blood relative? Knowing, that by rights, if not by law, all that was his should have been Buck's?
Nathan forced himself to concentrate on his exams, which included an oral assessment in which he would be given a scenario and asked to talk the examiner through what he would do, step by step. He deliberately didn't visit his friend, knowing that if he saw him, he'd never be able to remember all the facts and procedures he'd been studying. But the moment he finished the final paper he was heading over to the intensive care unit.
In the twenty odd hours since he'd last been there he was disappointed to see how far Buck had deteriorated. JD and Ezra were outside, JD was eating a sandwich while Ezra cradled a coffee, his broken ankle propped up on a chair. Chris was inside, sitting at Buck's side reading to him from what looked like a Tom Clancy thriller. Buck appeared to be asleep or unconscious. An nasal cannula was now supporting his breathing with oxygen, one glance at the monitor screens told Nathan all he needed to know, the infection and the fever were getting worse, despite the doctors having refined the antibiotics he was receiving.
He moved to stand at the end of the bed, listening to Chris as he read, thinking that he must have been a very good bedtime story teller, not that he knew much about Chris' former life. Sarah and Adam were never spoken about and no one ever asked him any questions. Buck had begun to tell them something of the events and Chris' reaction then suddenly he had stopped. No one really knew why, but the assumption was that he and Chris had had a 'discussion'. Chris came to the end of the chapter and looked up, seeing Nathan for the first time.
"Nate," he greeted quietly.
"Is he unconscious?" Nathan asked, after acknowledging the greeting with a nod of his head.
"He's been drifting in and out, but even when he's awake he's pretty disoriented."
Nathan knew that was to be expected.
"How did the exams go?" Chris asked, suddenly remembering where Nathan had been all day.
"Okay, I think, it was hard to concentrate," Nathan admitted.
"I'm sure you did fine."
A movement behind Nathan took Chris' eye, making Nathan look around. Outside in the waiting area they could see the tall figure of Josiah.
"Looks like it's our turn to go home," he commented.
Chris looked back at his oldest friend. "I don't want to leave him."
"I know, neither did they, but it's the right thing to do," Nathan reminded.
Picking up his book, Chris reluctantly stood up and turned to the door.
"I know." He turned back to Buck. "You hang in there mate, you're not dismissed, so no leaving the parade, you hear me?"
They were both surprised to find Nettie outside with Vin.
"I'm not stopping," she assured when she saw their puzzled expressions. "I just wanted to come and see him."
There had always been something between Buck and Nettie that the others didn't understand, but somehow it made her presence now more understandable. She slipped past Chris and Nathan, no one tried to join her, they all just seemed to know she needed to see Buck alone.
"Hello," she greeted softly. "It's me, Nettie." She reached out a thin hand and pushed back a single lock of hair. "Not feeling so good are you? Never mind dear, it'll pass, you'll get stronger." She leaned over him a little further and brushed a kiss to his heated forehead. "I'll keep your secret, for as long as it needs keeping, I'll not tell anyone until they need to know."
Buck's head moved toward her, his eyes fluttered a few times then opened. Buck's eyes were always so alive, twinkling with life and mischief, so she was saddened and alarmed to see how dull and unfocused they were.
"There you are, don't worry, everything is going to be okay, your friends - your family - are here for you." She gently stroked his cheek as she spoke. "I can see your father's strength in you, so I know you're going to beat this."
Buck had no real idea who was speaking to him, the voice was female and familiar, but he couldn't seem to remember who it was. She said his family was there with him, his family was his mother and she was dead, wasn't she? Then she said something about his father, but he'd never met his father. Trying to work out what was going on was too taxing, his head hurt too much to try and work it out, so he simply gave up trying and let the blackness take hold of him again.
Nettie watched his eyes close again. "That's right lad, you sleep." She patted his shoulder as she stood up. "Sleep and get strong."
The mood in the car driving back to the castle was subdued. Nathan drove, with Ezra sitting beside him. In the back, JD sat sandwiched between Chris and Nettie, who both passed the time staring out of the window in silence. For the first time since he had come to the place, JD didn't find the sight of the castle welcoming as it appeared in front of them. The enthusiastic greeting from the dogs only lifted the mood briefly.
Casey had supper waiting for them, which they ate together in the big kitchen.
"I'm going to bed," Ezra announced.
"I'll get you a second pair of crutches, you can keep one set upstairs and one down." Nathan moved to follow Ezra out.
"I need to go home," Chris said to no one in particular, as he rose wearily from the table
Casey cleared the table and took the dishes into the scullery, were the dishwasher was located.
JD found himself alone with Nettie. "What do you think?" he asked.
"About what dear?" She continued to clear the condiments and unused cutlery from the table.
"About Buck? Do you think he's gonna die?"
Nettie wheeled around. "No, and don't you go thinking it."
"He looks worse than my mom, and she died."
Nettie put down the cruet and sat down again. "Can I ask what happened to her?"
JD looked up, he'd only ever told one other person, that was Buck, he'd trusted him with the truth, did he trust Nettie?
"Her liver failed," he finally admitted, he still wasn't able to admit the full truth to another person, for now it would remain his and Buck's secret.
"I'm so sorry dear."
JD shrugged. "Thanks. She had that orange skin, from the jaundice, but she didn't look as sick as Buck."
"I'm not a doctor, but I don't think you can compare the two conditions."
"I guess." He yawned.
"Why don't you get some sleep? Take the dogs."
JD looked down to William, who had settled beside him and the other dog, Paddy, who without his two favourite humans, namely Vin and Buck, was feeling a bit lost.
"Yeah, I am tired."
As he made his way upstairs he noted the hospital crutches at the bottom of the stirs. There was no light under Ezra's door, so was careful not to make too much noise, despite the two dogs that followed him enthusiastically to the bedroom, their claws making a 'rat-tat-tat' sound on the old wooden flooring. He showered and changed on automatic and climbed into bed feeling tired but not sleepy, his mind just wouldn't shut down. The dogs were on the hearth-rug, both of them watching him, as if they knew he was upset.
What the hell! He tapped the duvet and instantly both dogs were up and springing up onto the bed, Paddy curled up at the end of the huge bed, but William came up to him, gave his chin a nudge with his cold wet nose and then settled down beside him, the top of his head fitting neatly under JD's armpit.
Vin sat with Buck all night, his concern rising as Buck continued to sweat and shiver profusely. As the night drew on the medics became more and more concerned. Buck's kidneys were beginning to shut down, if it got worse he'd need dialysis, his skin began to take on a yellowish hue as his liver function became compromised. His heart was racing, putting it under a huge strain, while his breathing became more and more laboured.
Vin wasn't much of a reader, but he did his best, the nurses said Buck seemed to rest more easily when he could hear a familiar voice. He was forced to step out at around dawn, while the dialysis machine was connected and other things attended too. The changes in his blood had affected it's ability to clot and the belly wound was now oozing blood again, as well as the puss that was still seeped out. His blood sugar level was so irregular they'd even had to give him insulin to try and keep it under come control.
It sickened Vin to his very soul to see someone so full of life as Buck so stricken. They'd only known each other a few months, but they'd become firm friends. It was clear to him that before, in the army, Buck and Chris had been very close. Before he'd clammed up on the subject, Buck had told them he'd been Adam's godfather. In the intervening years between Chris leaving the army and Buck arriving at Glenneaval, Vin and Chris had become close friends, there were times they even seemed to read each other's minds. He hadn't been sure what would happen when Buck moved in. Would Buck resent him? Or would Chris and Buck's friendship take up where they had left it? He had to assume they had left on good terms, other wise Chris wouldn't have recruited Buck for the job. But Buck had just accepted that his and Chris' relationship had changed and accepted Vin in the same way. In truth Vin had never met anyone like Buck, and he had a hard time reconciling the Buck he knew; forever optimistic, accepting, easy going, slow to anger - in truth he didn't think he'd ever seen Buck truly lose his temper - with the knowledge that he had been a Sargeant and an officer in one of the toughest, most revered regiments in the army.
Josiah had been dozing out in the waiting room, Vin, pacing by the window, woke him.
"What's going on?" Josiah asked, casting a worried glance toward the door behind them.
"His kidney's have packed up, they're hooking him up to one of those machines," Vin reported without looked around, his voice cracked with emotion.
With one more look at the closed door, Josiah crossed to Vin. "You okay?"
"No, of course I'm not okay, Buck's in there getting worse and worse! How am I gonna be okay?"
Josiah sympathised, but it didn't do to start thinking the worst, which Vin clearly was. "Were not going to lose him," he stated firmly.
Vin's sky blue eyes suddenly locked on to him as his head whipped around. "You don't know that, go in there, you've been asleep for hours, he'd going downhill, you can see it happening!"
Josiah forced himself to remain calm, to keep his voice soft and even. "They told us that would happen, they warned us about organ failure. His body just needs time to gather the strength help the antibiotics fight the infection."
"What if he doesnt have that strength? What if he doesnt have the time? He looks like an old man!"
"You believe in God?" Josiah asked.
"Do you believe in a Supreme Being?"
Vin looked nonplussed for a moment. "Well, yes, sort of, I guess."
Vin's mother had died when he was five, his father was in prison at the time, so he moved in with his grandmother for a few years until she had a stroke and could no longer look after him. He'd been lucky enough to be fostered by a gamekeeper and his wife and though he missed his grandmother and visited her often in the nursing home, he was very happy with his new parents. His mother and grandmother were staunch Catholics, while his foster parents were Church of Scotland, though not churchgoers, it lead to some confusion on Vin's part.
"Well there is a chapel in the hospital, go there, or anywhere else were you can be quiet and alone and get your own strength back, centre yourself, because right now you're no use to Buck."
Despite the quietness of the voice there was no mistaking the seriousness of the tone, Josiah was ordering Vin away. For a moment that seemed to last forever the two men stared at each other.
"I mean it, you're not going back in there until you've got your head together and you're thinking positively again," Josiah reiterated firmly.
Vin, casting one last look at the door, backed off a few paces and then turned and fled.
It was another half hour before a nurse came out to say Buck could have visitors again. Josiah braced himself, he'd sent Vin away, chastised him for his negative outlook, without seeing Buck, without knowing if he could keep his own pessimism suppressed. As he approached the bed he all but gasped, Vin had been right, in the few hours he'd been away Buck had deteriorated dramatically, the extra machinery and the yellowish tinge of his skin was only part of it. What really struck Josiah was the phrase Vin had used. 'He looks like an old man'. As Josiah stood there, looking at Buck, who was badly in need of a shave, a memory stirred in Josiah. A memory of another man, a tall man, with twinkling dark blue eyes, thick wavy hair and a ready smile, a man he'd seen laying in bed, surround by tubes, a yellowish tinge to his skin. As he moved to the side of the bed and picked up the book, the similarity struck a chord, but he was distracted when Buck suddenly moved his head and Josiah suddenly found himself looking into those dark blue eyes.
Buck was lost in a world were past and present were mixed and interchangeable, it was a world that was fill with pain and darkness, which just made the confusion harder to deal with. The tried to focus on the figure beside him, a large man with a grey hair.
Angus, he was there, with him, his father had come. "You came," he managed to say.
Josiah smiled. "Of course I came, we're all here for you."
"They said you were gone, JD wanted to see you."
"I was at the castle, I've seen JD, he's fine." It was clear to Josiah that Buck didn't really know where he was, but he at least seemed to be orientated.
"I always wanted to meet you, I'm glad you're not dead."
Oh shit, maybe he's not orientated! "No, I'm not dead, I'm here with you, Vin too, he's here too."
"They said you were, I saw you're coffin, don't worry I'll take care of JD for you, he's family, family have to stick together."
It was clear to Josiah that Buck was rambling, yet he was making a kind of sense.
"JD's a good kid, I'll watch him for you, I don't want it, it's his, should be "
Even as Josiah was trying to work out what was going on in Buck's confused mind, he watched his friend suddenly go rigid, his eyes rolled back and he began to shake violently.
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