A HUGE thanks to Charlotte, who took a good look at this story. Her comments made it a much, much better one! As well she should <G>, because this story is her fault anyway. She gave me an image of Chris and Buck and it took hold in my head until I had written it down.
"Let go!" Chris yelled, furious. "Damn it Buck, let go!"
"No," Buck gritted out between his heavy breathing.
"No! Ain't g... gonna!
"Buck, please, please let go." Chris was pleading now. Buck didn't even answer, only strengthened his grip, finally managing to get his second hand at Chris' wrist. Immediately Chris swung his other hand up and tried to keep that hand from attaching itself around his wrist as well.
"Let - me - go!"
"Stop it, stop!" Buck fought Chris off with his last strength, needing two hands around the slender wrist. He wouldn't be able to hold Chris if he didn't.
Chris cried out when his body was hurled against the rocks again and his free hand flew to his side in the churning water. Immediately Buck grasped Chris' wrist with both hands and held on for dear life.
The water roared and pulled at the black clad body. Chris cursed and then he screamed.
"I'm... I'm alright."
Alright his ass! Blinking away the sweat trickling in his eyes, Buck peered at the body beneath him. He couldn't see anything wrong, but then the water was swirling around Chris with such force there wasn't much he could see. Even if Chris was bleeding, the water would rinse it away immediately.
"T... tell me!" he yelled down. "What?"
Chris cried out in pain when the water pulled and Buck pulled back with all his might. For a moment he saw more of Chris when a wave pushed him forward. His leg was bent strangely.
So much for nothing.
"Buck, l... let go!"
Buck didn't even answer that stupid command anymore. He had better uses for his energy. He wished he could talk to Chris, keep his friend's mind off the predicament he was in, but it was hard enough to breathe and keep his hands firmly around Chris' wrist.
The water roared up even higher, slamming through its narrow channel and pulling at Chris with enormous force. Buck felt himself slip forward, despite the fact he had wrapped his long body around a dead tree standing forlornly at the side of the gorge in which the creek had taken on such enormous proportions.
He pulled up his knees to secure himself better around the tree, but again the water was too strong.
"No!" Chris screamed when Buck couldn't keep his body wrapped around his anchor and was dragged towards the water.
"Nooo! Let go, Buck, let go now!"
Buck only tightened his grip and tried to stop his movement forward.
"Buck!" Somehow Chris had found the strength to bring his other arm up again and he was pulling at Buck's fingers, trying to force him to let go.
"Stop that!" he managed to holler down. Chris looked up, his eyes searching for Buck's. Buck saw a deep fear in the green orbs.
"Don't... don't do this Buck. No need... we both fall! Just... let me go, please!"
"Won't!" Buck gritted. "C... can't!"
It was true, the last word was so very true. To him, that last word said it all. Why couldn't Chris see that? Maybe the hardhead did, because a profound sorrow seemed to fill the green eyes beneath him.
"And w... what... what a... about JD, Buck? You're l... leaving JD."
That bastard! Trust Chris to come with a low blow like that!
And his teeth were chattering now, the bone deep cold of the water must be getting to him. Didn't matter, Buck knew he could be strong for both of them.
"Ain't l... leaving no one! And neither are you!"
In answer Chris only cried out when the water pummeled him against the rocky walls once more. Buck looked up the roaring flash flood, trying to estimate how long was left before it finally would have passed them. "Oh God," he whispered. A huge tree trunk, its branches reaching out like hungry fingers, was riding the next wave. He tightened his grip even more and tried to bend himself back around the tree. Trouble was, he had slipped too far towards the rim of the gorge.
Even now he wouldn't let go, he couldn't. He knew what came around the next bend and so did Chris.
A steep waterfall pouring itself down into the valley, a waterfall no one could ever hope to survive.
Chris cried out only once when the wood struck him. The branches grabbed at his body and tried to drag him along. This time Buck did see blood and it filled him with dread. Again he started to slip forward, no matter how much he tried to dig in, how much he tried to stop them from being swept away by the seemingly endless cascade of water.
In his mind he cursed the heavens non stop for the flash flood that came racing through the gorge right after Chris had taken a tumble.
+ + + + + + +
"Sure looks like it."
Buck had held back while Chris was peering down into the steep canyon. It made his gut squirm to see Chris standing there so casually at the ledge. The long drop right before Chris' feet did funny things to his stomach and he took another step backwards. He didn't like heights, that was for sure. Never had, never would. Oh, not heights like the roof of a building, he was alright with those. It was the really deep ones, like... well, like that steep gorge right in front of them.
Chris leaned forward even further to look at the bottom and Buck's stomach dropped to his feet.
"You should take a look Buck, the water is damn high, never seen it come this far up. Sure ain't the tiny creek it usually is. Wow, it's dragging them along, I give it no more 'n hour and they're gone, not a trace left."
"Chris, come on, if he's dead, he's dead! Let's go!"
A grin flashed over a black clad shoulder.
Damn bastard new exactly how he was feeling! If he wasn't standing so precariously at that edge, he'd kick him!
"Can't believe he tried to make this jump."
"Yeah, well, he knew we were gonna get him. Hell Chris, you know how most of them outlaws do everything to keep from hanging. I would too. Any death is better then getting strung up in front of a heap of folks having a good time seeing you squirm."
Chris' face sobered now. "He had no call taking that horse down with him."
"We're talking 'bout a murderer here, Chris. Someone who murdered those two poor guys we found just for some meager coins. Don't think he'd care 'bout a horse."
Chris sighed and turned around, his back to the canyon, his eyes on Buck. "That ends that then, time to find the others. Think they'll have gotten his buddies?"
"Probably," Buck had nodded, relief filling him now that Chris would leave that awful ridge next to that steep, steep drop. "Let's go and find out!"
The bastard had grinned at him again, all knowingly, before taking a step towards him.
Before the ledge he'd been standing on crumpled beneath his feet and he plummeted down.
Buck had never been so fast in his entire life.
And then, when Chris had been dangling from his hand, it had hit him. The high water in the creek, rising even while he was holding onto Chris, that deep and angry roar he'd been hearing in the distance....
"Chris!" he'd screamed, but he saw that Chris had realized it too, was looking with a horrid fascination up the gorge, to where they knew it would be coming from. And then he was grabbing up with his other hand, trying to lash onto Buck, while Buck had pulled with every ounce of strength he possessed.
Too late, too fucking late!
Chris had still been dangling from his hand when the flash flood roared through the gully, smashing everything in front of it.
+ + + + + + +
With that angry roar in his ears right now, fighting from being dragged further and further over the edge of the precipice, desperately trying to keep himself wrapped around that dead tree, Buck saw something.
He saw a glimmer of hope.
A thick root was curling up from the base of the tree, twisting into the air a little before plunging back down into the earth. Leaving an open space under itself. Buck didn't think, didn't have time to think. He pulled up his legs and plunged them in that space as far as he could with one savage kick. He managed to get them jammed almost up to his thighs before he would be dragged too far. He screamed when the force of the water kept pulling him forward relentlessly and he felt something give in one leg when it was crushed against the thick, knotted root. He screamed again and nearly blacked out from the pain.
He fought to keep his eyes open, fought the haze the pain brought. He couldn't black out, he couldn't! Chris would be dead if he did!
He felt the blond try to wriggle his hand out of his weakening grip, but he was back on it, he had him again, he did.... Looking down he saw despair in Chris' eyes. His friend tried to say something, only by now he lacked the strength. So the bastard sent all his pleading into a powerful message through his eyes.
Buck looked away. He knew what Chris was pleading for and he couldn't give it to him, he just couldn't. He'd never been easy about losing people he loved and he still wasn't, but Chris... Chris was downright paranoid about it. The man wouldn't mind being dragged along by the water, being tossed and broken and killed, if it meant Buck was safe. If it meant he wouldn't cause the death of someone else he cared about.
Well, screw him; he wasn't the only one in the equation here!
When Buck gazed down again Chris wasn't looking at him anymore. His eyes were closed, his color grey and he let the water do what it wanted. Different, that was. At first the water had done what it wanted with his body too, but at least Chris had tried to fight against it, shoving branches away, trying to find some hold on the stone wall beside him. Trying to fight Buck.
Now, he just let the water toss him around like a rag.
It scared Buck.
"Chris? Hey, C... Chris?"
And then a wall of water bigger than all the ones before, filled with trees and rocks, came raging and Buck knew he could lose Chris after all. It filled his gut with a cold dread and helplessly he looked at the man hanging beneath him in the whirling water.
Chris was staring at what descended on him, his face hidden from Buck. Then the blond head turned and Chris gazed up at him. Buck knew the fear in those green eyes was for him and he got real tired of it. He locked onto those pleading eyes and sent a vow their way.
We get out of this together or we die together.
It wasn't a vow Chris wanted to hear, he knew. In fact, the stupid bastard was shaking his head and mouthing something while he tried to bring his other arm back up. He was probably going to try and pry himself loose again, the asshole!
Then the water was there, submerging Chris completely. Buck felt him slip, slip from his desperate hands.
Abruptly the worst was over and Chris' head was above water again, the blond hair hanging over his forehead. He didn't move, hanging like a... a corpse from Buck's cold hands.
"Chris?" He didn't manage to get above a whisper, fear suddenly filling his whole being. "Chris?"
Chris coughed, coughed again and a stream of water erupted from his mouth.
Another cough, another flow of water spilling forth. Then nothing.
"Chris, please, answer me damn it! A... answer me!"
"L... leave me... a... alone."
"Chris? Don't... just look at me."
He didn't, the blond head stayed down and Buck knew with a certainty that he wouldn't hear from Chris for some time to come. The gunslinger was pissed, truly and thoroughly pissed. It didn't matter, he'd weathered Chris' anger many times before and it had never kept him from doing what he thought was right.
Besides, he didn't have time to chat, all his efforts went into keeping his grip and making sure he wouldn't pass out from the pain in his legs. Every time the water pulled at Chris the pressure on his legs was excruciating.
That didn't matter either, because he was jammed in good and tight. If that last wave hadn't managed to pry him lose, nothing else could. It made him grin with victorious malice at the raging current beneath him.
Just in time to see Chris puke and puke again. A hurl of water washed it all away and if he hadn't looked just then, he would never have known anything about it. It made him suddenly wonder what the violence of the flood had been doing to Chris' body. There was nothing he could do though, just hold on, hold on with all his might to his friend and keep things from getting worse.
Shit, shit, shit, shit! Why hadn't Josiah been with Chris? He was pretty sure Josiah would have managed to drag Chris up. Fight the water, beat it and get Chris back on dry land.
All he could do was keep his grip and pray he would keep Chris with him this time. If he lost him now, like he'd lost him after Sarah's and Adam's death, it would be for good.
This time there would be no chance of getting him back.
+ + + + + + +
How long had it been by now? Squinting Buck lifted his head a little to look at the night sky. A half moon could be seen between the twinkling stars. He gazed back down, but all he could see there in the blackness was Chris' hair, the normally golden blond a pale silver in the moonlight.
The rest of Chris blended almost completely with the darkness. Buck was glad of it. He could still feel the tremors go through the body, but at least he didn't have to see the constant shivering any more. Or the blood slowly dripping down.
He wasn't cold himself, despite the chill that had come in the air with the disappearance of the sun. But then, he wasn't wet, soaked through and through by ice cold water, water so cold it hurt to touch, just hanging there in the wind.
When the flash flood had ended during the last light of the evening, he'd been amazed to still have a hold on Chris. When the water had receded, leaving Chris hanging free in the air, he'd thought it was over. Only to discover he no longer had the strength left to pull Chris up.
Chris had looked at him when he'd cursed.
"You c-c.-could l-let go now. Water 's n-not s-so bad anym-more," he'd managed to say despite his chattering teeth.
"But you are!" His anger had given him the strength to speak. "Damn it Chris, how... how much are you hurt?"
"N--not m-much. I-- I c--can do this."
"No, you can't!" And Buck had known that was the truth. The water was calmer and a lot lower, but it was still a heavy stream and there was no way out of it before it reached that long plunge down into the valley. No way in hell.
Especially not for someone with a body as mangled as Chris' probably was.
"No! And quit askin' or I'll drop you!"
Silence, then Chris had asked, "H-how bad y--you h-hurt?"
Buck didn't have the strength to answer and it made no difference anyway. He closed his eyes for Chris' worry.
Then he'd felt Chris' hand gripping at his wrist, trying to hold on to him. It had made him fiercely happy, it meant Chris had given up on the idea Buck should let go of him. Looking down he saw the blond fumbling at his belt with his other hand. A curse followed, after which the gunslinger brought his hand up before his face. Buck had winced when he saw the blood drip down from an ugly looking gash. The gash had dissapeared in the half torn sleeve of Chris' shirt and Buck had wondered about the wound, about how big it might be.
Chris had paid the wound no attention at all. He'd blown on his hand, on all his fingers and then he'd tried again to get his belt. All the time he had been trembling from the cold and Buck could scream, because he could only keep his grip and stare helplessly at his suffering friend.
With a quiet determination Chris had managed to work his belt loose and had tried to throw it around something on the rock wall Buck couldn't quite see. The swinging resulting from that action had torn through Buck's abused body, sending shivers of agony through him. He had endured though, hoping that Chris would find a way to get himself more secured or in a position to climb back up with his help.
It hadn't taken long before Chris had lost consciousness, his belt slipping from his hand slippery from the blood dripping down. It hadn't taken long at all, in fact, it had happened too damn fast for Buck's peace of mind.
He had tried to take stock of Chris' condition, of the torn clothing, the blood and the strange, unnatural bend in his left leg.
Chris had come around after a while, grasping Buck's wrist once more. After a few moments he had reached out and tried to reach the rock wall. To Buck's horror his friend had hardly been able to lift his hand. That didn't stop him from trying again and then he'd screamed in pain.
Buck felt Chris' grip go slack and he knew Chris had passed out again.
The ladies man had swallowed his worry and had concentrated on keeping his hold on Chris. He had prayed though, prayed for the others to find them in time.
They hadn't come, only the darkness had descended. Their friends would never be able to find the two of them now. Chris hadn't said anything anymore, only his feeble attempts to hold onto Buck, to try and help the rogue the only way he could telling Buck that Chris was still with him. And Buck felt like crying, really crying. Because he knew he couldn't do this much longer, he could never hold Chris through an entire night. It was beyond his strength, a strength tested to its limits when he'd been battling the water for his friend.
He wouldn't give up though, he would hold on and pray, pray for his fingers to become so rigid he would be unable to let go. What else could he do? What else but keep his grip and stay conscious?
No answer once again. He hadn't expected one. He doubted if his voice had been loud enough to be heard by Larabee.
He strained his ears to try and hear some noise, any noise from his friend. Nothing, he couldn't even hear him breathe.
And it had been a long time now since he'd felt that feeble grip around his wrist.
God, what if Chris was no longer... there?
Please, be alive! Please don't leave me again, don't let me fail again!
"B-Buck?" So soft, so very soft, but it sent a burst of joy through Buck.
"B-Buck? Y--you tr-tried. D--don't know i-if I c--can... h--hold on m-much longer."
"NO! D... don't you dare! Don't you dare even say it!"
"S... shit, Buck...."
"You left me once, bastard! You're not gonna do it now."
When no answer came, anger fueled him and with his last remaining strength he tried to pull Chris up one more time. All he managed was maybe an inch before enormous pain flashed through his arms and shoulders, a pain that until then had been a bearable ache. He screamed, arching and his legs immediately cramped up.
It wasn't the pain that made him scream though, it was Chris, Chris giving up right there in his hands. The bastard was giving up!
Well, even so, he wasn't!
After a long silence Chris whispered, "Buck? Y-- you f-- finally let g--g-- go?"
"No!" Gritted out with all the pain he felt poured into his voice.
It must have reached Chris, because after a while he said, "A--alright. If t--that's w--what you w-- w--ant I'll t-- try t-- to hang on."
Of all the idiotic ways to phrase his promise, Buck thought, feeling a grin form on his face when the grip around his wrist was back, feeble as it was. And the stupid thing was that the enormous relief he felt almost made him let go of Chris after all. He came to his senses just in time, dread filling him once more.
That's when he heard it, a noise he couldn't immediately recognize. He could barely concentrate on anything else beside his hands, but he tried, he tried damn hard and yes, he definitely heard something. Something weird.
It sounded like horse's hooves and that simply was not possible. It was dark, damn it, too dark to see with just half a moon.
So he closed his eyes and went back to concentrating on his hands. He was not going to let his hands betray him just yet, or his arms, or his shoulders. God, but he really wanted to lay his head down and sleep, sleep forever.
Shit, there he heard it again! Yep, that had to be horse's hooves.
Muffled voices, then a shout.
So that was it, he had started to hallucinate. Oh God, he wasn't hallucinating that he was still holding Chris, while in reality...? Hastily he tried to tighten his grip, feel Chris in his almost dead hands. It made his muscles spasm and he couldn't keep from crying out in pain.
"There! You heard that? Buck! Chris!"
The horses were getting closer and closer and suddenly they were too close for comfort, hard hooves not far from where he was laying in the dark.
"I found their horses!"
"Damn it, Chris, Buck, talk to us!"
Buck tried to moisten his mouth enough to do more then croak. It didn't work, he needed another yell. He needed....
"Here! Overhere! Something 's on the ground!" Fast footsteps approached and then JD was kneeling beside him, crying out "Buck, oh my God, Buck, what's wrong? What's wrong with you? Whadda ya doin?"
"Easy kid, let me see!"
Nathan! Buck smiled down at his friend and for a moment he thought he saw a faint glimmer of white in the darkness there, a face, looking up at him. A soft, oh so soft squeeze on his wrist affirmed him that Chris was still with him.
"Buck? Can ya tell me where it hurts? Buck? Vin, Ez, start a fire! The way he keeps laying here, he gotta be hurt. Josiah, help me, we gotta pull him away from this edge." Nathan's hands grabbed him by the shoulder and his arm, ready to pull him up. It made his arm cramp and he almost lost his grip.
"No!" he managed to get out. "Chris...."
"Chris? Yeah, guess we know, Buck, we found his hat in that flash flood. Been following it all the way back to try and find you two."
Nathan was still holding his arm, ready to haul him in. "Josiah, I need yer help here."
"No wait, Chris!" another voice suddenly shouted.
"Vin...," Nathan started, but Vin didn't mind the healer. He was already on his belly beside Buck, stretching his arms down, cursing fluently. "I can't reach him! Dammit! Nate, you're the longest, can you reach him?"
"What? Whadda ya talkin' 'bout? What... oh, oh my God, get a rope, now! And a fire, we need light!"
"Give me that rope!" Vin was up again, grabbing the rope from a mystified JD and throwing it around Peso. "Don't you dare give me trouble," he hissed to the horse while he bound the other end around his waist and then he was over the canyon rim in a flash.
"Shit, Vin, are you crazy?" Nathan hollered. "Damn that hardheaded idiot!"
Hardhead.... It would have made Buck laugh if he'd had the strength for it. Yeah, two hardheads down. They deserved each other!
"Get Peso to back up!" Vin hollered from below. "I'm too far down, make 'm go back! Yeah, good, some more, some more... Hold!"
Peso held and suddenly the weight was gone from Buck's hands.
There were a few silent moments and then Vin yelled, "Ya can let go now, Bucklin, I got 'im tied to me, he can't fall no more!"
Unless that stupid horse gets... well, stupid, Buck thought giddily.
"Buck, let go!"
He couldn't. Honest to God, he couldn't get his fingers to work. He felt Nathan close by, looking at him in the dark. The man must be frantic that he couldn't see anything down there but some lighter patches where blond hair, faces and Vin's light colored shirt were. "Buck?" he asked softly. "Buck?" again.
"Vin, I think his hand's cramped up, he can't let go!"
"Alright! Can I try and pry them lose?"
"Yeah! Careful though, it can hurt 'im!"
Buck almost chuckled again. It can hurt him, that was too funny. But when Vin gently pried one finger after another away from Chris' wrist he didn't want to chuckle anymore. He wanted to scream.
What he did was moan and instantly Nathan was putting a hand on his back, massaging soothingly. "Easy, Buck, easy, soon's Vin's got yer hands loose, we'll take care of ya. How 'bout that fire ,Ez?"
"Loose!" Vin shouted upwards. "Get Peso movin' JD!"
While JD made Peso back up more and more, Nathan and Josiah carefully lifted Buck. He screamed in earnest now.
Firelight flared and Nathan swore. "Damn! His legs are jammed in here J'siah, under some root or something. We gotta pry 'm loose." They did and Buck screamed again. Then gently, very gently, he was laid down on a bedroll and Josiah ran off, back to the ledge.
"I don't like the look of this leg, I think it's broke."
"Nathan, what is wrong with his arms?" Ezra asked, concerned. "They seem to... to tremble extravagantly."
"If he's been holdin' Chris up fer a long time, I think, his muscles are spasming. That's damn painful. A massage would be best, but first we gotta get Chris near the fire."
Buck lost interest in the conversation. He turned his head, trying to see what happened with Chris, but all he could see was dark shapes. The shapes were mumbling and moving and suddenly they were coming his way.
"Lay him down fast. I don't like him bein' moved more 'n necessary," he heard Nathan tell the others. The next moment Buck tried to look around the flames of the fire to the other side, where Chris was placed on another bedroll.
"Let's get those clothes off, he's soaked and freezin'," Nathan was ordering.
A hand on his shoulder distracted him for a moment. It was Ezra, holding up a small jar. "Mister Wilmington, if you would allow me? Nathan said a massage would be just what your abused muscles need and I think I can provide that while they are working on Mister Larabee."
Buck frowned at the gambler.
"Please, let me do this to help and in some small way contribute my share. I know I am not a lovely lady, but I assure you I do know how to give a massage. In the mean time you can still devote your attention to our stalwart leader, whom I'm confident is getting the best of cares from Mister Jackson. You, on the other hand, need some help as well."
Nathan's voice distracted him and he tried to peer through the flames again.
"Damn, I don't like how much he's bleedin'. He needs stitches, J'siah, lots of 'm, so we better get this fire real hight. Is the water boiling? I gotta check fer broken bones, but first I'll set his leg, I think I can do that quick. After that I'd better check on Buck's leg, then...."
"Buck's leg?" Chris's voice, tight with pain. "What's wrong with Buck's leg?"
"Shit, I can't believe he's still conscious!"
Buck ignored Nathan. All his attention was for his friend. "Chris?" he managed to call out.
A blond head turned his way, tired and pain filled eyes looked at him.
With a sinking feeling Buck realized how bad Chris looked and fear gripped him. He locked onto those suffering eyes. "You promised," he told those eyes. "You promised to hang on."
He was sure Chris couldn't hear his soft voice, but his message came across anyway. He saw it in the anger, the fire suddenly flaring up in Chris' face and Buck knew things would be alright. Larabee being pissed meant a Larabee who would fight. He grinned at his friend and read crystal clear the 'up yours' Chris was sending him.
Then Nathan went to work, the eyes screamed and Chris was unconscious.
Still there though, still with them, Buck knew.