Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: This fic was written in response to a challenge to write a story about 'Defenestration'. Betaed by Phyllis.
"Ezra get on this train!" Buck commanded.
The thirteen-year-old glared at his guardian. "I'm fine, I don't need to "
Sighing dramatically, and mindful that JD and Vin were watching him, Ezra climbed up on to the train, just seconds before it pulled out. Ezra had a toothache. He'd managed to hide it for some time, but in the end, JD told on him. After much protest, he was all but dragged to see Nathan, who pronounced that as far as he could see Ezra had a baby tooth that was refusing to come out, and the adult tooth under it was pressing on it - but he wasn't sure.
"You need to see a dentist, there's one in Eagle Bend."
Nathan might have been addressing his comments to Ezra, but it was Chris who took note of the number and made the appointment. It made sense to have all the boys teeth checked at the same time. Vin had never been to a dentist and had no preconceived ideas about them. JD understood that a dentist was a tooth doctor and thus viewed them with the suspicion he held for all doctors, with the possible exception of Nathan.
Buck had promised them it would be a fun day out, Chris won the toss and opted to stay in town and leave Buck to manage the three boys. Their appointments were at ten in the morning. Vin went first, he did as he was told and had no problems, returning to the waiting room with Buck to tell them confidently that there was nothing to worry about. JD went next; Buck sat down on the chair with his brother on his lap and let the dentist examine his own teeth first. Seeing that Buck came to no harm, JD obediently opened his mouth. The dentist told Buck that JD's teeth were fine but not to expect any to fall out yet. Vin had lost a tooth only a week ago, so JD knew that was okay, better, Vin had found a nickel under his pillow in the morning. JD wanted a nickel, so he'd been hoping a tooth would fall out.
Then it was Ezra's turn. The dentist told him that Dr Jackson's diagnosis was quite right.
"We have three options, I can leave it where it is, it'll fall out on its own eventually, but it's going to go on hurting for some time until it does and it may damage the tooth underneath. I can pull it out, just as it is. It'll hurt, but it's only a baby tooth so it'll be quick and it won't bleed much. Or I can put you to sleep and pull it out, the trouble is you may feel ill after, some people are fine, some get quite ill."
Buck looked over at Ezra. "What do you want to do?"
Ezra thought, he didn't want the pain to carry on, it really had been very painful and since he was here he might was well get it over with. The trouble was they were planning on going the matinee at the movie house after lunch. It was a western, he wasn't a huge fan of westerns, but this one was meant to be very good, Vin and JD were very excited about it. He didn't want to miss this rare treat, nor disappoint his brothers.
"How much will it hurt, if you just pull it now, without putting me to sleep?" he asked.
"I'm not going to lie to you, it'll hurt, but it's got no roots, and I'm good at it, it'll be over in a flash."
Buck could see Ezra was considering the idea. "Are you sure?"
"I had a tooth out when I was younger, I remember being very unwell after I woke up, I don't want to get sick like that again," he explained.
"So you want to do this?" the dentist asked.
Ezra nodded, taking a death grip on the arms of the chair.
"Relax son, I need to get some thing's sorted out." With that the dentist made some quick preparations. "I'm going to put a couple of clamps in your mouth so you can't close it once I start, I don't want to lose any fingers and you don't want the job half done - right?"
Ezra nodded. Once everything was in place Ezra once more gripped the chair, only to have one hand pried away by Buck. "Hold on to me, squeeze as hard as you like," he offered.
The dentist was as good as his word; he was in and out, tooth in his pliers, in less than twenty seconds. Ezra practically cut the circulation off in Buck's hand, but he sat as still as could be and made no noise. Once the clamps were out, he rinsed out his mouth.
"Well done, that was textbook, as good as it gets," the dentist assured. "Here," he handed Ezra a wad of cottonwood, wrapped in some cotton. "Bite on this for about the next ten minutes, while I see my next patient, then I'll check on you."
After ten minutes, the cavity had stopped bleeding. "Don't eat or drink anything for two hours, after that you can eat on the other side and rinse your mouth out with water after every meal today. After that it should be fine, but come back if you have a problem."
"Thanks doc, don't worry we'll take care of him," Buck assured.
"Thank you," Ezra added. "My I have my tooth back, please?"
"Your tooth, oh, yes, um I'm not sure I kept it." The dentist looked apologetic. "How much was it worth to you?"
Ezra glanced at Buck. "A nickel," the big man supplied.
The dentist put his hand in his pocket. "Here, have a dime, I think that was worth double."
"Thank you sir!"
It was a fine warm day so, to fill in the two hours before they could have lunch, Buck took them to a park where there were swings, roundabouts, a climbing frame and a slide. Buck and Ezra sat and watched while the other two played happily for a couple of hours. Then they had lunch, Ezra was careful to only eat on his good side, but in truth it hardly hurt at all by then.
Eagle Bend's movie house wasn't new; in fact it was originally a vaudeville theatre, built in the last century. When movies became popular, it started showing films as well as the live shows. It had only been a full time movie theatre for ten years. Buck decided to splash out and purchase tickets for the balcony. JD would get a better view of the screen and there was less smoke up there. Buck had never smoked, and Chris had cut down since the boys arrived, just because he was aware of the fire risks and the smell, but even at a matinee, most of the adults in the theatre would smoke during the film, producing a kind of internal fog through which you had to view the film.
They were early and managed to get front row seats, JD still had to on the seat without flipping it down to see over the edge, but was thrilled with their unobstructed view. There was a short, a serial and then a newsreel before the main film, The Big Trail. Ezra groaned when the short came up - a W F Fields film called 'The Dentist'. The serial was entertaining, and they all wanted to know what happened next, unfortunately Buck had to explain that they couldn't afford to come to town every week to see the next episodes. Then came the newsreel.
"I gotta go," JD announced.
Vin looked around. "Me too."
Putting aside his own interest in seeing the news, Buck stood up. "Come on then, we better all go."
Having been built before the electric light or inside plumbing had reached Eagle Bend, the owners had shoe horned the bathrooms into the old building as best they could. Buck and the boys followed the signs that lead them past the main stairs, to a small set of stairs that lead up. Halfway up the stairs was a door marked 'Private, No Admission'.
"What's that?" JD asked.
"I believe that is the projection room," Ezra supplied.
"Where the films come from."
"No, it can't be. Films come from Hollywoods, that's in California, or sometimes they come from England, which is across the ocean - Chris said so." JD informed him.
"No, I mean it's where they "
"Boys, can we do this later? If we don't hurry up, we'll miss the film," Buck pointed out, that threat was enough to stop even JD's questions, as he hurried up the steps to join Vin at the top.
Once through the door at the top of the stairs there was a small lobby with a hand wash basin on the wall and two more doors, one marked 'Ladies', the other 'Gentlemen'. With only one stall and one hand wash basin, it took time for all of them to finish. Buck held JD so he could reach the roller towel.
"Ok, are we all done?" he asked as he put his brother down. Three heads nodded, as Ezra reached for the door. "Ok, lets head on out."
As Ezra pulled the door open, clouds of thick black smoke billowed in! Acting on instinct, he slammed the door shut again.
"Get over here!" Buck commanded. "Hold JD's hand."
With the boys huddled in the far corner, Buck pulled out his handkerchief and held it to his mouth and nose as he pulled the door open and peered down the smoke filled staircase. Without looking back at the boys, he slipped out and closed the door behind him. The smoke was getting thicker as he felt his way down the steps, his eyes stung and he began to cough. Heat hit him like a wall as he reached the door to the projection room, flamed licked out from the open doorway, the old carpet on the stairs and the wall opposite were already alight.
"Buck!" JD cried out as the man burst back into the bathroom, his face blackened, eyes streaming with tears, coughing and gasping for breath.
"I'm okay, just give me a moment." Buck bent over; hands braced on his knees as he gasped some relatively smoke free air.
Ezra reached out and turned on the cold water tap. "Have a drink," he suggested.
Buck nodded, crossing to the basin and bending his head to the water, gulped in some much-needed refreshment.
"What's happening?" Ezra asked.
Buck wiped his mouth, smearing soot across it as he did, then he knelt down in front of JD. "There's a fire in the projection room, we can't get past it. But don't worry the firemen will come and put it out. Okay?" He reached out and gave JD's cheek a little pat.
"Okay," JD told him bravely.
"Do we just wait for them?" Ezra asked, he'd seen the smoke; he knew how close the fire was.
"We'll see. Vin? You okay?" Buck was mindful that Vin hadn't spoken yet.
Vin nodded, but his eyes betrayed his fear.
Leaving the boys, Buck made a survey of the room. In the ladies room he found a panel that sounded hollow, bracing his back against the partition he gave it a kick. His foot went straight through the thin wood into a black void. Encouraged, he kicked some more, then took hold of the broken edge and yanked it back. It was hard to be sure, it was so dark, but it looked like he'd broken into a disused corridor. For once, Buck wished he did smoke; at least he'd have a lighter or matches on him.
"Buck!" Ezra's voice was full of alarm.
Back in the lobby, smoke was pushing in past the door; worse, the paint was beginning to blister.
"Okay boys, this way, come on, quickly," he commanded.
Vin was in the lead, which proved a blessing, he didn't hesitate to get down on his hands and knees and crawl though the broken panel into the blackness. Ezra followed him
"Come on JD," Ezra called once he was through. "It's okay."
JD was clinging to Buck's leg, reluctant to let go. "Go on Little'n, I'll be right behind you."
As it was, Buck had to all but shove his little brother through the gap. It was a tight fit for Buck, he had to lie on the floor and wiggle to get his broad shoulders past. As he was standing up there was suddenly a flood of light as Ezra found a light switch that - miraculously - worked. They were in a corridor, with doors on one side.
"I believe this was part of the old theatre, these doors probably lead to boxes," Ezra suggested.
"Come on." Buck took hold of JD's hand and set off down the corridor.
At the far end there was a door; it was locked. Smoke was already following them. Buck began to batter the door with shoulder charges and kicks. It took an agonisingly long time for the door to give, but eventually there was an audible ripping sound as the bolts on the far side were ripped from the wood.
By now they were all coughing as more and more smoke filled the corridor. With all of them pushing, the door finally gave enough to let them get past, before they pushed it shut behind them as best they could. On the far side they seemed to be in a larger room, but it was dark. Ezra was already searching for a light switch, finally he found one and prayed to God it worked. It did, though only one rather weak bulb came on. They were now in the old backstage area; to the left was a rather low iron railing, separating them from a long drop behind the screen, this void had once been the stage. Ahead of them was another door and to the side of it there was a gantry running along the back wall of the flying space, where, at one time, the scenery would have been dropped in and out. This door refused to budge; it was made of steel and it wasn't going to give.
"This way," Buck told them, heading for the gantry. "JD you go first."
The five-year-old looked up at his brother, tears in his eyes. "I wanna stay with you," he pleaded.
"JD I need you to be brave, you," Buck looked up at the other two boys, "all of you, you have to do exactly as I say, okay? I know you're scared, but you have to trust me."
"Okay," JD agreed in a small voice.
"Good boy, okay, you go first, when you get to the other end stop, Vin's gonna come after you, then Ezra, then me - okay?" JD nodded. "Off you go."
Ezra turned to Buck once Vin had joined JD. "You're worried it may give way, arent you? That's why you sent the little ones first."
"If it does, I'm trusting you to get them out," Buck told him by way of an answer.
"You have my word."
The gantry didn't give way under Buck's weight. The matching door on the far side was as strong and as immovable as its twin. The door to the matching corridor was easy to unbolt, but the area beyond it was full of smoke and flames, below them flames were beginning to lick at the base of the screen.
"What do we do?" Ezra asked.
Buck was desperately looking around for a way out. There!" he called out, pointing across the void they had just crossed.
Below the door that wouldn't open, was a second level and a second door, this one was standing open.
"Do we have to go back?" JD asked.
Just then the door they'd forced open and pushed shut, burst open again as flames shot up and across the ceiling.
"No." With that Buck looked around for a way to get to the level below them, it seemed logical if there was a door on the far side there was one on this side. He located a vertical ladder in the corner. This time Ezra went first, then Vin. JD found it hard, the rungs were too far apart for him, but with Ezra standing on the ladder below him, in case he fell, he made it. Buck made quick work of the ladder. There was a door on the far side and it was open. This corridor had windows. The glass was painted over but there was enough light to see by.
"Buck?" JD's voice trembled with fear.
"It's gonna be okay Little'n, don't worry." Buck looked over at the other two boys, both looked scared, but composed, and he was suddenly very proud of all of them.
Smoke billowed down the corridor as they ran on toward the back of the building. The door at the end was also open, but flames had engulfed the stairs on the far side of it, forcing them to turn back. There were now only the windows left.
"Stand back boys," Buck commanded.
Once they were out of the way he used his elbow to punch out a pane of glass. The street below was no more than a narrow alley, two floors down, too far to jump or even lower the boys to the ground. Pulling off one of his boots Buck knocked out the rest of the glass.
"Hey!" he shouted, hoping someone could hear him. There was a great deal of noise outside, voices, shouting, crying, screaming. There was the sound of the fire, a roaring, cracking that was punctuated with the crash of beams and the splintering of glass. "Hey!" Buck tried again "Help, up here!" Still no one was in sight.
Pulling in from the window he looked at the boys and smiled. "It's gonna be okay, they'll come." With that he moved to the next window, broke it and carried several large pieces of glass back to the first window, then he waited until he saw someone at the end of the alley, before he hurled the glass toward them. The person, he thought it was a man, stopped for a second, so Buck threw another piece of glass, this time the man, turned and ran up the alley. Buck waved; the man stopped, waved back and then turned and ran away.
**Please God let him have gone for help.** "They're coming, not long now boys." He pulled the terrified boys toward him so they could benefit from the fresh air. JD was crying silently, as Buck picked him up and hugged him. Vin was clutching onto him, arms wrapped around Buck's waist. Ezra stood silently beside Buck, but when Buck reached out his hand, the teen took it and hung on for dear life. Smoke was encroaching on them on both sides now, getting thicker and thicker, they were all hanging out of the window and coughing.
"Look!" JD cried out, pointing down the alley as a half dozen firemen came pounding toward them.
"Oh thank God," Buck breathed.
"Amen," Ezra agreed.
"Hello!" one of the firemen called up. "How many of you?"
"Me and the three boys," Buck called back.
"Five, ten and thirteen."
"Okay, we can't get the ladder truck down this alley, it'll take us as good ten minutes to get the long ladder around this side of the building."
Buck looked toward the door at the far end, flames were already moving along the ceiling. "Can you make it faster?" Buck asked, not wanting to scare the boys.
To his credit, the fireman understood. "Okay boys get the tarp out," he called to his men.
The five other firemen quickly pulled out a circular canvas tarpaulin, with a re-enforced edge and five strong handles.
"Sir, you're gonna have to jump. Send the boys first."
Buck nodded, his stomach locked its self in more knots; he'd been preparing to send the boys down a ladder, jumping onto the fireman's rescue tarpaulin wasn't part of his plan. The heat of the approaching flames and choking smoke made the decision easy.
"Okay, JD you're gonna go first, I'm gonna drop you down to the firemen and they're gonna catch you."
"No!" JD wailed, clutching onto Buck's neck. "I don't wanna!"
"I know you don't but we have to do it this way."
"I'm scared, don't leave me!"
"JD, I promised you I wouldn't leave you and I won't. You have to trust me."
JD just cried harder. Vin hadn't spoken, but his grip on Buck grew tighter.
"I'll go first."
Buck looked over at Ezra.
"If you want, I'll go first, then they'll know its okay," Ezra offered.
"How about that, boys? Ezra will be there when you get down." Buck didn't wait for a reply, he just nodded at Ezra.
Ezra had never considered himself brave, Buck was brave, Vin too, but not him. Jumping scared him to pieces, but there was no alternative, it was jump or die. As scared as he was, the younger boys had to be even more scared. It could take ages to convince them to jump, time they didn't have.
"What do I do?" he asked.
Buck shrugged. "Ask the firemen."
They told Ezra to jump away from the building and lift his legs so that he landed on his bottom.
"You got that?" Buck asked.
Ezra just nodded, he was trembling as he climbed out onto the window ledge.
"Okay son, just count to three and jump, remember to push away and lift your legs," came the shouted instructions.
Just than the first window in the corridor exploded as the flames reached it. That was all Ezra needed to make him move. Placing his trust in the firemen, he jumped. He remembered the wind rushing past him and then he hit the canvas, it slammed into his back, then he felt the fabric give. For a second he felt himself bounce, then someone had hold of his leg and steadied him.
"Come lad, off you get, let's get you out of the way so that we can catch the rest of your family."
He was pulled to his feet and told to wait by the far wall. More firemen were arriving, these men had a hose and began to play a jet of water on the closest window with flames licking out of it, to the one Buck now held Vin out of.
"It's okay, I'm fine!" Ezra called up.
"Ready?" Buck asked the men below him, whatever he said to Vin was lost in to those watching below, but Ezra saw Vin nod.
"One, two, three!" With that Buck threw Vin down to the firemen, who caught him with ease.
"Are you alright?" Ezra asked as he ran up to Vin.
Vin just nodded, his eyes glued on JD, who was now in Buck's arms.
"He'll be fine." Ezra pulled Vin back out of the way.
Suddenly, JD's high-pitched scream accompanied his descent. The window Buck stood at was now the only one that didn't have flames at it. One of the firemen grabbed JD and pulled him away, as Buck prepared to jump. Ezra and Vin raced forward to look after him. Once they had him, the firemen gave Buck the signal to jump.
"I want Buck!" JD wailed.
"He's coming," Ezra assured.
Buck jumped just as the others had, but a combination of his greater weight and much greater height conspired against him as one of the firemen ducked to avoid flying glass, just as Buck landed, causing his head to slip off the canvas and impact with the road with a sickening thud. As the firemen regained control of the canvas and pulled it taut again, Buck's head hung over the edge, he was limp and unresponsive, blood already dripping onto the hard packed dirt of the alley.
"BUCK!" JD and Ezra shouted simultaneously as all three boys ran toward him, only to be caught by two firemen and held back.
"Clear the alley!" the fire chief bellowed.
Scooping Buck's lifeless form up in the canvas, the firemen hurried to evacuate the area. Vin and JD were also picked up as strong arms wrapped around them and began to carry them back toward the main street. Ezra needed no help, he just wanted to make sure he didn't lose sight of any of his family. As they arrived at the corner, the fire chief began barking orders to the other fire crews, who instantly began pulling back. Ezra looked over his shoulder; flames now engulfed every window of the building, and were shooting out of the roof above where - just minutes ago, they had been standing. The fireman ahead of him was carrying JD over his shoulder, suddenly the boy gasped. Then there was a hideous roar and ripping sound, Ezra stopped and turned around just in time to see the whole side of the building peel away and drop into the alley in a tangle of flaming timbers and brick.
"Oh Jesus!" Ezra gasped, but there was no time to contemplate what might have happened, Buck was hurt and he had to look after the boys; it was his responsibility.
He spotted Vin being carried toward an ambulance and headed toward him. When he arrived, he found that JD was there, too. The little boy was crying uncontrollably; it was clear that this was making it hard for him to breathe between the coughs. Only now, now that they had stopped running, was Ezra aware he and the others were still coughing. Between the sobbing, coughing and hitched gasps for air, it was just possible to work out that JD was calling for Buck. Ahead of Ezra, Vin wiggled free of the fireman holding him and managed to get to JD, wrapping his thin arms around the younger boy in silent support.
"Come on son, you're okay now, you have to calm down now," the medic beside JD was saying.
"JD," Ezra bent down so that he was face to face with the distressed boy. "Listen to me. Buck is okay, they put him in another ambulance and took him to the hospital. You need to stop crying now."
"I, I, wan Buck!" JD gasped out.
"I know; me too, but you have to stop crying now, come on, take a deep breath for me."
Responding to Ezra's calm, familiar voice, JD took a deep breath and coughed. Beside him, Vin was also coughing, his eyes streaming. All three of them were smeared with soot.
"Come on boys, lets get you to the hospital and get you checked."
JD looked up at the medic. "Can I see, B Buck?" he asked.
Ezra could see the man about so say something like 'maybe' or 'we'll see', so he jumped in before JD started wailing again. "Of course you can," he assured.
Since Eagle Bend was a small town it didn't take long to reach the hospital; all three boys were given oxygen to breath, or at least that was the idea. JD still wanted to see Buck and began crying again; Vin didn't like the big black rubber mask on his face. Ezra was getting exasperated, eventually JD was just too tired to cry and sat silently in Ezra's embrace, his precious toy horse, Pony, in his hand and let the nurse hold the mask on his face and clean him up a little. Vin, at Ezra's suggestion, was given the oxygen mask to hold himself, that way he felt he was in control.
A deputy arrived to take their names. "My name is Ezra P Standish, this is John Dunne, but he likes to be called JD."
He smiled at JD.
"This is Vincent Tanner." Ezra indicated Vin, who was sitting at the other end of the bed.
"They told me you were with a man?" he asked Ezra.
"Buck Wilmington, he was injured when we had to jump to safety; we need to know how he is."
"Can you tell me who this man is, and why you were with him? Where are your parents?"
Ezra sighed, this was going to be complicated. "Buck is JD's brother, well half brother," he quickly added. "Mr Wilmington is my legal guardian. Vin's foster father is Chris Larabee, we need to call him, he's the deputy sheriff in Four Corners."
"Yes, I've heard of him, Mr Wilmington is also a deputy?"
Ezra and JD both nodded.
"I wanna see Buck," JD told him earnestly.
He smiled. "I'll call Deputy Larabee and then I'll see what I can find out about your brother."
"Four Corners Sheriffs office," Chris answered the phone automatically. "What did you say?" Now he was sitting up and listening. "Are they okay?" He all but held his breath as the deputy gave him the report. "I'm on my way; I'll be there in less than two hours." He'd all but put the phone down when he heard the deputy saying something else. "What? Oh, yes, good idea. Bye."
He drove like a man possessed, taking risks as he pushed Josiah's car to its limits. He'd been tempted to just jump in the truck and drive, but the truck's cab couldn't hold all five of them and he had responsibilities to the town. So he took the time to cross to the church, ask Father Sanchez to act as deputy, something he was used to doing, and borrow his car, which he was happy to lend.
"Call me when you know something," Josiah asked.
By the time he pulled into the hospital, Chris was having a hard time concentrating enough to actually park the car and ask the poor woman at reception where his family was without drawing his gun and demanding she take him to them. A fire, how could this happen to him again? What was going on? **The boys are okay, the boys are okay, Vin's okay,** he kept telling himself, as he strode down the corridor. **Buck'll be fine, he's got a hard head, he'll be fine.**
He'd only gone a short distance, when he heard a familiar voice. "And I told you I'm fine and I'm leaving!"
"Buck?" Chris turned and followed the sound of his friend's voice.
Buck, his complexion matching the new white bandage encircling the top of his head, was trying to get off his bed, while a nurse and a doctor were trying to push him back.
"Sir, you have a concussion and smoke inhalation, you need to rest," the doctor tried to explain to his patient.
"I have to find the boys!" Buck bellowed.
"Buck!" Chris called as he ran in. "Do as you're told."
Buck slumped back a little. "They say they're okay, the boys, but no one will let me see them," he explained.
"It's okay, I'll find them, you do as youre told." Chris smiled at him, then turned to the doctor. "So how is he?"
"Concussion, laceration to the back of his head and " Buck began to cough and the nurse gave him a glass of water and held out the oxygen mask for him. "smoke inhalation. We want him to stay here overnight at least."
"In that case, that's what he'll do."
"Chris," Buck snarled.
"Put that mask back and do as you're told. I'll go and find the boys." He waited for a response, but got none. "Okay?" Still Buck just glared at him. "How do you expect the boys to do as they're told if you don't?" he challenged. Finally, Buck relented, giving him a conciliatory nod. "Alright then, Doctor, could you show me the way to the children's ward?"
Chris had managed to convey to the young doctor that he needed a quiet word out of Buck's earshot.
"I know him, he won't rest, can't you give him something to help him sleep?" he explained.
"Not with the concussion, we'll need to keep checking on him through the night."
Chris mentally kicked himself, he knew that.
"Could I bring the boys to see him? He might relax if he knows they're okay."
The three boys had refused to leave the one bed they were occupying, and that was how Chris found them. JD still being hugged by Ezra, Vin sitting silently at the other end.
"Boys?" he called as he approached.
The effect on Vin was instantaneous. He literally leapt off the bed and ran to his father, who bent and scooped him up.
"Hey there Tiger, you okay?" Chris asked.
"Yeah," Vin admitted.
"It must have been scary."
"Yeah." Vin suddenly began to sob as he finally let go of the fear. "Hey there, its okay, I'm here, you're safe, it's over." Chris rubbed gentle circles on Vin's back as the boy cried into his father's shirt.
"I know," came the small admission.
Ezra smiled at Chris, it hadn't escaped him that this was the first thing Vin had said since the whole thing started. He had to admit it felt better to have Chris here to take care of things.
"You two okay?" Chris asked, still holding Vin close, though the boy was already calmer.
"I'm fine," Ezra assured.
"I want Buck," JD told him.
"Well, you know what? He wants to see you, all of you. And the doctor said we can go see him if we're very quiet."
"Really?" JD was all ready getting off the bed.
Despite Chris' promise, the boys had to have a bath and change into regulation hospital pyjamas before they were permitted to troop down to the men's ward and visit Buck, who was in a side room on its own, mainly because he was so 'vocal'. It didn't bother the two younger boys, but Ezra had serious reservations about the stripped flannel pyjamas and blue cotton dressing gowns, but he said nothing. The last time he had seen Buck, he was unresponsive and bleeding, though Chris assured them he was going to be fine, he really needed to see him, before he could believe it. From the way the other two were acting, he guessed they felt the same.
Buck had been waiting impatiently, his head throbbed, his chest hurt from all the coughing, but he was desperate to see the boys, JD in particular; he needed to speak to them before he could relax. Like the boys he was now clean and wearing hospital pyjamas.
JD had promised to be quiet, but the sight of his beloved big brother was too much for him.
"Buck!" he squealed as he broke free from Ezra and ran forward.
"Hey there Little'n," Buck greeted, he was already sitting up, now he swung his legs off the bed and picked his little brother up and hugged him. "You okay?"
"Yup, I keep coughing and coughing but they put this big black thing on my face and the air it blowed in my mouth and it's sort of cold but it makes you feel good and " For once, no one had to make JD take a breath, as a bout of coughing interrupted his narrative, but not for long. "The nurse, her name is Nurse Brown and she's real nice she helped me to have a bath she was gonna help Vin too but he didn't want her too and Ezra tolded her that so she let him and Ezra have a bath on their own and then we had to " There was another cough, then he carried on. "put on pyjamas before we could come and see you."
"Is that it?" Buck asked.
JD frowned. "We got to go in the ambulance with the bell ringing, but I didn't like that 'cause I didn't know where you were."
"Well, I'm here now." Buck gave JD another hug. "How about you two? Are you okay?"
"Apart from a slight cough, I'm fine," Ezra assured.
"Now, how do I know you're okay if I can't hear your voice?" Buck prompted Vin.
"I'm okay," Vin assured in a small voice, as he held onto Chris' hand.
"Good to hear that." Buck looked at Ezra and winked, he too had noticed Vin had been silent throughout their ordeal. "Chris," Buck looked up. "I want you to know these boys were as brave as they could be, they did what they were told, no matter how scary, each one of them had to go first at some point, and they didn't fail me in that. I'm very proud of all three of them."
All three boys beamed.
"Well, I'd expect no less from three honorary deputies of the Four Corners Sheriff's Office. I'm proud of you as well." Chris smiled back at the boys, he gave Vin an extra tight hug and put his arm around Ezra.
Their visit with Buck had to come to an end; it was clear, that, as pleased as he was to see them, as much as he needed to see his family, he was in pain and he needed to rest. Chris conducted the reluctant boys back to the children's ward. That was when he had to tell them they were also going to stay in the hospital overnight. The doctors wanted them to have access to oxygen during the night, just in case.
"It's amazing really," one of the doctors admitted to Chris. "Apart from the projectionist, who died, no one else was hurt in the fire other than smoke inhalation and a few cuts and bruises. Your friend was the worse injury and only he and these three have to stay in overnight." He gave a slight shake of the head. "Could have been a hell of a lot worse."
Chris watched the boys, all three back on the same bed again, playing shoots and ladders.
"It was bad enough," he commented darkly.
The sister in charge of the children's ward tried to tell Chris that the visiting times for the ward were two to six, but he wasn't having it.
"They have been through a terrifying ordeal and I will be staying here tonight, I don't need anything, I'll sleep, if I can sleep, in the chair."
"Sir you can't; we have rules," she protested.
"What will you do if I break your rules?" Chris asked.
"I can have the hospital call the police."
"Lady, I am the police."
With that exchange, the sister gave up the argument. The hospital had assigned each boy a bed, all in a line, but when the night nurse came on duty, she was shown one empty bed, one bed containing the oldest boy and the youngest and the final bed, where the thin, long haired boy slept wrapped around a tall, fair man. As she made her first ward round, the man opened his eyes and smiled at her, she nodded her head and walked on. She just knew these four weren't going to be any trouble and so it proved to be.
In the morning, once the doctor gave them the all clear, Chris produced some clean clothes he'd brought with him and took some down to Buck, who was impatient to be let out.
"How are they?" he asked Chris as he pulled on a clean shirt.
"So far, fine, JDs still got Pony in his hand, but he's talking nineteen to the dozen again. Ezra told him he'd defenestrated."
"De - what?"
"He claims it means to throw someone out of a window, anyway JD was still trying to say it when he fell asleep. He slept with Ezra by the way, Vin was with me."
Buck lifted an eyebrow. "They let you stay?"
"We had a discussion about it," Chris admitted.
"Oh I'll just bet you did."
The two old friends smiled at each other for a moment. "Buck, I wanted to say " Chris began.
"I know," Buck supplied.
"No, no you don't, you saved them, you led them to safety. I spoke to the boss, he told me what you did. You saved my life in France, then again after the after Sarah and Adam died. You saved Ezra when he was locked in that cellar, now you saved them all, you saved my boy. I don't know how I'll ever be able to pay you back."
"You gave me a home, you made me part of your family, you gave me the chance to make something of my life, I'm the one who doesnt know how to thank you."
"You became the brother I never had," Chris countered.
Shaking his head, and wishing he hadn't because it sent daggers of pain through his head. Buck went back to dressing. "Maybe both of us should just thank those three boys for giving us a life worth living?"
"Where are they anyway?"
"In reception, we better get to them before JD tells everyone the whole story, and one of them turns out to be a reporter."
"Well if he does, you can be sure Ezra will get a nice fee for the story!"
They had been home two days; Nathan had been out to the house to check on Buck's head and take a listen to all their chests. Buck didn't need the bandage any longer; all four of them had clear lungs. Ezra was in the barn as Vin and JD were waving goodbye to Nathan. Buck came up behind him.
"Yes?" the thirteen-year-old turned around.
"Come here, you."
Not sure want was coming, but fairly sure he wasn't in trouble, Ezra approached. Once he was close enough, Buck put his arms around him. "Ezra, son, I haven't told you how proud I was of the way you behaved that day. You were so brave and calm, you took care of the others, you were the real hero."
"No I wasn't; you "
"Ezra, I'm a man, I'm a deputy, I was a soldier; you're just a boy, but I know, that if that gantry had fallen, you'd have got them out. I know that, I have no doubts. JD is my brother and I love him, he's only a little kid, he needs a lot of attention, and I love to be with him. But you're as important to me and I'd be proud to call you son."
Ezra didn't say anything, but relaxed into the embrace and let Buck hug him, enjoying the feelings of affection and protection. Buck seemed to understand because he didn't say anything more.
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