Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: This story was written and is set in 2004. Betaed by a good friend.
Damn it, why does Buck have to be so loud? Chris asked himself.
Wilmington's voice cut through the pain filled haze in his brain.
What was that? Surgery? No time? Got to do it now? JD? Damn it! Fighting against the blackness Chris forced his eyes open, and closed them again rapidly as the light assaulted him. What was it that little guy said in Lord of the Rings? 'The light - it burns' well now he understood it. Taking deep breaths to try and get some kind of control, he listened to Buck, who was apparently arguing with a doctor about JD, demanding to be told what was going on. The doctor said something Chris didn't catch about thorocostomy, or something similar. He could tell Buck was getting agitated, like he always did when he was scared and worried.
Summoning up his courage he tried to open his eyes again, more slowly, keeping them half shut and only looking through the lashes as he tried to sit up.
"Oh, no you dont, sir, you just lie back, we don't want a repeat performance." The voice was female and stern, the accent unfamiliar, sort of lilting.
Chris squinted at the figure that now loomed over him, a figure with one hand planted firmly on his chest.
"Who are you? Get off me!" Chris demanded, with all his usual forceful commanding tone, unfortunately all he could manage was a hoarse croak.
"My name is Hortence and you are not to try to get up. If you do, youre just going to faint. Again.
Chris, squinting against the light, looked around; clearly he was in a hospital, there was no getting away from the smell and the ubiquitous curtains. Buck seemed to be on the other side of the curtain to his left.
"I need to get to my friend," he protested.
"That's what you said last time, just you rest. Theyre coming to take you to imaging in a few moments."
"No buts young man, lie still and let us take care of your friends. Thats our job, not yours."
Chris could see better now. The speaker was a small, slim, elegant black lady, who could have been any age from 30 to 50, wearing blue scrubs. Unable to so much as lift his head without nauseating pain, Chris had to comply. He just wished he could work out where they were and what had happened to him, and - apparently - JD. He wanted to protest that taking care of his friends was his job, it was always his job, but he just had no energy to think, let alone speak, so gave up and lay back, just as two men came to wheel him away.
Josiah rested his head back against the wall and took a long deep breath. He didn't want to be here, he needed to be with the others - especially Ezra, who hated hospitals so much. But until he was in a fit state to walk and talk, he was no good to anyone, so he sat and waited and asked God for the patience he needed.
"Lord, make me a patient patient," he asked out loud.
"Mr Sanchez?" the young woman in a white coat called.
"Here." He pulled himself up from the bench he'd been sitting on and approached her, still cradling his arm protectively, despite the sling that was supporting it.
"There are your x-rays, you need to take them back to A&E and hand them in at reception." She smiled at him sympathetically.
"It's broken, isn't it?" he asked the radiographer.
"Well I'm not meant to comment, but yes," she admitted. "It doesnt look too bad from what I saw, but then I'm not a doctor."
Josiah thanked her again and headed back toward the hospitals emergency department. She might only be the one who took the pictures but Josiah reckoned she knew more about interpreting those pictures than the spotty young doctor who had sent him to get it x-rayed in the first place. He'd already spent a good hour getting the gash running down the side of his face - just in his hair line - stitched up and now he had to have his arm set. Only then could he seek out the other six. As he made his way back down the corridor Josiah tried to remember when this trip went to hell.
A trip to London, just before Christmas, all expenses paid. What could be better? They had spent four days at an international inter agency conference on explosives control. In truth it was mainly a European conference. Team Seven were mostly observing and networking, the trip something of a reward. A recognition that when all the numbers had been crunched, Team Seven were the top tactical team of not just the ATF, but the FBI, DEA and NSA as well. Ezra had had little difficulty changing their return flights so that they had 4 more days in London. They had seen the main sights - Buckingham Palace, St Paul's (where JD and Vin climbed all the way to the gold cross above the dome while the others were content to sit in the whispering gallery and enjoy the beauty of the place). They had seen Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Horse Guards Parade - where they all admired the horses on guard duty - Trafalgar Square and the Tower Of London, where they enjoyed the grand tour and marvelled at the crown jewels. As well as these sights they had taken trips on the river and the London Eye.
The third evening had been clear, so Josiah suggested a second ride on the giant wheel to see the city at night. Unfortunately, the wind had picked up so much that it was closed.
"So what now?" Buck asked.
"We could go to the aquarium?" JD suggested.
"Or the IMAX." Vin pointed at the sign behind them.
"Oh please, we are on London's 'South Bank' - a cultural mecca. We have the concerts at the Festival Hall, exhibitions at the gallery, plays at the National Theatre and if you must we could even got the National Film Theatre; but no, you guys want to go to see fish or a glorified flight simulator!"
"Chill out, Ezra, we only made a suggestion or two," JD chided with a laugh.
"Sorry, I may have over reacted."
"Just a tad there, Hoss!" Buck slapped him on the back. "Well it's only five o'clock, lets see what's playing."
So it was that they managed to secure seven stand-by tickets for Aladdin at the Old Vic. It had been something of a cultural shock and seeing 'Gandolf' in outrageous drag had taken some getting used to, but they laughed the whole way through and all - even Ezra - joined in with the audience participation, which seemed to be part of the show.
It wasn't that far to the hotel - just a few hundred years over the bridge. So, since there was a long queue for cabs, they decided to walk. It was cold and windy, but dry, and they all had heavy coats. That was their first and only mistake. With the hotel in sight they walked down a narrowish street, on the opposite side of this street was a large building shrouded in scaffolding and plastic sheeting. The gale force winds were making the sheeting billow out, like the sails of a galleon. As they walked up the street, Chris was, as ever, in the lead, behind him Vin was leaning into the wind, clutching his thick ski jacket around him. Behind them Buck and JD walked, which was to say that Buck walked while JD skipped and darted about, arms waving. No doubt he was explaining something or telling Buck one of his so-called 'jokes'. Buck would nod, and say 'yes' and 'no' at intervals, without really listening. Ezra, in his navy blue cashmere overcoat, was walking close to Buck and JD, trying to avoid being hit or tripped by the latter. Josiah himself was at the rear with Nathan just in front of him.
Then it happened. One minute the scaffolding was there, the next it had torn free and was collapsing down into the street, right on top of Team Seven.
As the scaffolding peeled away Josiah shouted a warning, but was too late. All he could do was fend off a pole that was on target for his head. He heard and felt the bone break, but didn't even notice the head wound. Thought it was only seconds, it seemed to be ages before he could think and work out that had happened. He looked around at the devastation and tried to work out what he should do first.
He could see Buck. He was standing in the middle of the tangled mess, desperately looking through the wreckage of poles and sheeting. "JD!" he shouted. "Where are you, boy?"
Josiah tore his eyes away from Buck's desperate search, and began to look for Nathan. His friend's distinctive red jacket made him easy to spot, under a small heap of poles. He wasn't moving, but he was conscious, gasping for breath through gritted teeth.
"Don't move, I'll get these off you, okay?"
Nathan did nothing more than give a barely perceptible nod.
So desperate was Josiah to help his friend that he forgot his own damaged arm. As he reached out for the first pole he couldn't suppress a cry of pain. Pulling it back in protectively across his chest he noted that Nathan hadn't said anything, possibly hadn't even noticed he was even hurt, which said a lot about how badly hurt Nathan was. Using one arm, Josiah managed to move all the poles off his friend. Even to Josiah it was clear Nathan's leg was broken above the knee.
"Oh shit Nate," he breathed.
"I know, there's nothing you can do," Nathan ground out, through the blinding pain. "Check the others."
"I can't leave you," Josiah protested.
"You have to. Go."
It went against his every instinct, but he nodded and moved on. He could hear that Buck had found JD. From somewhere up the street he could hear voices. People - strangers - were running to help.
Josiah spotted Vin's old cowboy boots protruding from below a sheet of plastic. It was hard, with only one arm, but he pulled off enough of the sheeting to reveal the young Texan, who was lying on his front. Quick enough other hands came to help.
"It's okay mate, I've got it," a man beside Josiah assured.
"We have to get them out," Josiah all but pleaded.
"We will, my wife's called 999, fire brigade will be here soon."
Another two man, burly and in dark suits, appeared and began to help the first man clear debris off Vin.
"Shit!" one of them of them gasped. "Did you see that thing, just peeled down like a banana!"
"It shouldn't do that, not even in this wind, I'm a builder and I'm telling you this shouldn't happen."
Josiah stood and watched the three men work, half-listening to their conversation as they worked. Apparently the two men in suits were doormen from a casino just up the road.
"Oh shit!" someone gasped.
The last corner of sheeting was pulled off; a large shard of glass was protruding from Vin's side. For a moment Josiah was confused as to where the glass had come from, until he noticed the shop front with scaffolding poles through it. As he looked around he realised there was, in fact, glass everywhere. He just hadn't noticed. Finally able to get to Vin, Josiah picked his way through the wreckage to his head.
"Vin?" he called softly. "Can you hear me, Vin?" He bent over to feel for a pulse, not even noticing the drops of his own blood that splattered Vin as he did so. Finding a reasonably strong pulse he looked up, hoping to see the others.
Already he could hear sirens and the see the distant flash of blue lights.
The first fire fighters on the scene located and freed Chris fairly quickly. He was unconscious and unresponsive, but didn't appear to have any other injuries. Nevertheless the paramedics treated him as a possible spinal injury and strapped him to a back board and head support for transportation. Nathan, Vin and JD were also prepared for transport. All this time the search for Ezra continued. Josiah insisted on staying, his arm was encased in an inflatable splint, and the gash in his head closed, temporarily, with wound closer strips. He refused to go to hospital until Ezra was safe. Buck had been torn, he wanted to go with the others and make sure they were okay, but he hated to leave Josiah with Ezra still missing. In the end Josiah had persuaded him it was important that he go to the hospital.
"So is he okay now?" Buck demanded.
The interventionist consultant took a deep breath, she was used to dealing with worried relatives, but to be sure Mr Wilmington was one of the biggest and most intense she'd ever come across.
"He can breathe better now."
"Well, okay then, that's good - right?"
"Indeed, but he will need to go to theatre "
"Theatre? Why the hell did does he need to see a show, what the "
"Surgery, he needs an operation," she explained hastily. "The damage to his chest wall needs repairing and we need to stabilise the rib fractures. He's going be sore for a while, but your brother should be just fine."
Buck hadn't bothered to tell them he and JD weren't blood kin, it seemed an unimportant detail.
"Okay, so can I go with him?"
"To theatre? No, go and get some rest, check on your other friends, check with reception in about four hours, they'll tell you what ward he's going to be in."
Buck wasn't taking everything in, especially as he was looking over the surgeon's head as JD was wheeled away.
"Right, okay," he muttered.
Namita Sharma looked up critically at the tall American before her. "You look done in and a little the worse for wear, there is a café by the north entrance, serves good food. Have yourself a meal."
JD disappeared around the corner.
"What was that, Doc?" Buck looked down and smiled at the petite Indian woman before him.
"You need to eat something."
"Oh, yeah, I'll try."
"Down the corridor and around the corner. Its called Toms 2 and the pizza is excellent."
When the fire and rescue team had found Ezra he was conscious, lying face down with a huge concentrated pile of poles and planks across the back of his thighs. As soon the firefighter found him called for the on-call emergency doctor.
Ezra had been trying to understand what had happened. One minute he was trying to avoid being decapitated by JD as he told Buck about all the gifts he had purchased for Casey and Nettie (he wanted to keep in the good books of his girlfriend's aunt), the next something struck him from behind and pinned him to the ground. Try as he might he couldn't get up. He tried to call for help, but with the limited space available to expand his lungs he couldn't manage much more than a 'stage whisper'. The weight pressing down on him wasn't too painful at the beginning but little by little it became more intense. As the minutes, which to Ezra seemed like hours, passed the pain grew only to then subside to a dull tingling. The pavement on to which he was pinned was dirty, wet and cold. As he lay there he lamented the damage it was doing to his coat and suit.
Finally, after what felt to him like an eternity, Ezra heard someone calling to him, then the poles and such around him began to move. The orange light from the street lamps finally penetrated his tiny prison.
"Hello, sir, my names Steve," the fireman introduced himself.
"About time!" he growled at Steve. "Get this lot off me!"
"It's not that simple, sir. Honestly, I want to get you out as fast as I can, but I have to do it safely, for you."
Ezra didn't believe him, and tried to push up, hoping to free himself.
"No sir, please don't do that, you have to wait for the doctor!"
Josiah had already seen what was happening, and was making his way over to them. "Ezra!" he barked out more harshly than he wanted to, but knowing it was needed.
"Josiah? Josiah, tell them to get this lot off me, get me out!"
"I'm sorry, Ezra, they can't do that." Ezra tried again to push himself up. "Right, now you listen to this man, he's trying to help you."
"If he was trying to help he'd get this stuff off me."
Steve sympathised. "Please, Ezra - that's your name right? Ezra?"
"I don't believe we know each other, so to you I am Mr Standish," Ezra snarled.
"I'm sorry, Mr Standish, you have been trapped for some time. That can be very dangerous so we have to wait for the doctor."
"I'm all right, get me out of here!"
Josiah, despite the growing discomfort of his arm squatted down so that Ezra could see him.
"You damn, stubborn, southern peacock, just listen to this man and do as you're told, just for once!"
Ezra must have registered the fear in Josiah's anger. "Very well, if you insist, I have always trusted your judgement in the past and I will trust you in this."
It was another half-hour before Ezra was also on the way to the hospital. Josiah didn't really understand half what the doctor was telling him about crush injuries and toxins, but he knew the doctor was worried and he knew Ezra was looking very ill. Worse, even through he was conscious, he had fallen silent, and that was never a good sign.
Josiah was booked in to have his arm set first thing the next morning. He was given a bed on the eleventh floor, but hadn't yet reached Nightingale ward. First, he needed to seek out the others. It took him some time to ascertain that Nathan and JD were in surgery. Chris was having a CAT scan and Vin was in recovery. Knowing that Buck would take care of JD, he set out to find Vin.
Vin had regained consciousness in the ambulance to find he couldnt move, he was trapped, pinned down, even his head was trapped, while something covered his mouth and nose. Panic set in and, before he could work out where he was, he began to shout.
"Help! Ge' me out!" He tried to move what ever it was on his face, but try as he might he couldn't shift it.
A stranger - with a strange voice - loomed over him, blocking out much of the light.
"Please calm down sir, you're okay, you're in an ambulance, on your way to hospital."
The trouble was Vin wasn't listening, he hated to be confined. It terrified him. It wasn't so much the keeping still, as the loss of control. If you were tied down anything could happen to you and you couldn't stop it or defend yourself.
Nathan, strapped down on the other stretcher, reached up and pulled down the mask delivering him of the 'gas and air' pain relief it was providing.
"Vin!" he shouted as loud as he could. "Vin listen to me, its Nathan, listen to me! You have to keep still, please."
When Vin didn't respond Nathan asked them to remove the oxygen mask. The paramedics weren't keen, but he persisted. "Please, it'll help him to orientate himself; he's claustrophobic The mask, please?"
Finally the paramedic on Vin's side lifted the mask away.
"Listen to me Vin," Nathan continued, the pain relief gas had made him light-headed and concentration was difficult, but he pressed on. "We had an accident, you got hurt, you have to stay still."
"Nate?" Vin's voice sounded unnaturally thin and strained.
"I'm right beside you."
"Can't see you."
"I know, they have you strapped down, you may have spinal injury and "
"I'm okay, I can feel everything, tell them to let me go."
Nathan didn't even need to look at the paramedic to know that wasn't possible. Even without the possibility of spinal damage, the evil looking shard of glass protruding from Vin's side had to be kept still, there was no way to know what damage it had done and what more it could do if it moved.
"Vin, please, just let them do their job. It's not much further - right?" Nathan looked pleadingly at the young lady in green coveralls beside him.
She smiled and peered out of the darkened window. "We just crossed the river, almost there," she assured.
Ahmed Khan was a student nurse, and was thus given the job of tidying up the curtained area where JD had been treated. Normally the cleaners had to do this, but there was no-one available so Ahmed had been given the job. He frowned as he looked at the floor and the puddles of drying blood. He'd assisted, which was to say he'd handed over equipment as it as called for, when the doctor had performed the needle thorocostomy, fascinated by the procedure. He hadn't seen a great deal of blood, the patient had multiple rib fractures but there was, far as he could recall, no open injury. The he noticed the other blood spots, headed down the hall toward the lifts. That, young Ahmed decided, was wrong and abandoning his cleaning ran to find the doctor.
"Mrs Sharma?" he stood behind the consultant.
"Yes?" She turned to face him.
"Um, I think there is something you need to see."
"Nurse, if you have a problem, see the Sister."
Khan swallowed deeply. It was almost unheard of for nurses, let alone lowly student nurses to question a consultant, especially a surgeon. Not only was Mrs Sharma a very senior specialist, so was her husband, who was a neurosurgeon and her father - a cardiac specialist. This gave her a standing and cachet in the hospital few other doctors her age could command.
"Please, ma'am, I think you should come."
There must have been something in the tone of his voice that conveyed the urgency of his request.
Namita looked at the blood and shook her head. "No way is that from Dunne, no way. I checked him, he had no open wounds that could account for that much blood."
"So where did it come from, ma'am?" Khan asked.
"Oh shit! The brother, the big one! Damn, did anyone actually check him out?" She looked around, but didn't bother to get any answers.
"Khan, get the cleaners down here, I don't care how busy they are. Im going to find the brother."
Vin forced himself to remain calm. He knew he was in a hospital, he remembered being in the ambulance and had some vague memory of a doctor he could hardly understand telling him he had something stuck in him, and it had to be removed.
"Sir?" A voice caught his attention.
He frowned at the woman beside him. The voice was female but he couldn't understand what she was saying. His eyes dated around, searching for a familiar face but found none.
"C'n ya tell me yer name sir?" the nurse asked.
I'm alone. I can handle this, I've been alone in hospital before, I can do this, I'm not a little kid. I did it when I was a little kid I can do it now.
You've let yerself get soft boy, now concentrate.
"Sir, what's yer name?"
"Ma'am, don't rightly know what you're askin' but m' name's Vin Tanner, an' I reckon I'm in hospital in London."
"Aye sir, ya are," Nurse McPhee agreed in her broad Scottish brogue.
Vin recovered from the anaesthetic and was moved up to the eleventh floor. Page Ward was for patients who, while they didn't need to be in the intensive care unit, were still highly dependent and needed close monitoring. He still wasn't sure what was wrong with him, but couldn't stay awake long enough to ask anyone. He wanted so know where everyone else was too, but sleep overtook him before he could ask.
Josiah's resolve was being worn down by pain and fatigue, but he was determined to ensure everyone was doing okay and find out where they were. He decided to call in at his assigned ward and at least let them know he hadn't skipped out on them. He hadn't been sure what to expect. The word ward conjured up images of his army days, long rooms with beds lined up down both sides. What he found were more bays than wards, a single corridor with four bays of six beds opening off it on one side. At the end of the corridor was a day room of comfortable chairs, TV, video, books and games. Along the other wall were wash rooms, showers, sluice room, kitchen, nurses work station and storage areas.
He walked up to the low desk in the nurses area. "Hello?"
The nurse looked up, scrutinised him and then smiled. "Now you have to be Mr Sanchez, right?"
"We were wondering where you'd got to." She stood up. "Come on, sir, this way." She began to guide him toward a bed.
"Oh, no, I can't stay here yet, I have to find my friends first."
The nurse, whose name was Nora, looked back at him. "Are they here in the hospital?" He nodded. She frowned - her patient looked terrible, pale and drawn. "Why don't you give me their names and I'll see what I can do to track them down for you."
Josiah was desperately relieved. "I really would appreciate that."
"Okay, names." She turned back and picked up a note pad.
"Christopher Adam Larabee, he had a head injury. Vincent Michael Tanner, he had some glass in his side. John Daniel Dunne, chest injury. Nathan Roland Jackson, broken leg and Ezra Patrick Standish, he had some kind of crush injury."
She wrote furiously, then looked up. "Is that all of them?"
"Well except for Buck. And he must be here somewhere, most likely wherever JD is."
"Leave it with me, this time of year they try not to book any elective surgery, so it shouldn't be too hard to find them."
Chris was trying to listen to the doctor, but with his head pounding the way it was it was hard.
"Mr Larabee, did you understand that?"
"What? Oh yes, fractured skull, you want to operate - right?"
"Depressed fracture, yes. It's a relatively simple procedure. Mr Sharma is going to operate, he's one of the best neurosurgeons in the country."
"Oh, good, when?"
"As soon as we can set it up."
"Mmm." That was all Chris could manage, he really didn't care what they did to him so long as it stopped the pain in his head. Then, through the pain haze a thought came to him. "How long?"
"The operation? It depends, but it doesnt usually take long."
"No, how long will I have to stay in hospital."
"Oh, I see, well a few days at least, it depends on a lot of things."
"Do I want to know what these things are?"
"Probably not, but I should tell you anyway."
Chris tried to listen, but he didn't really hear anything, just something about bleeding and pressure.
Nathan returned to consciousness slowly and uncomfortably. It took him a while to work out that his leg was in traction.
"Hello?" A strange voice asked next to him.
"My name's Derrick. Can you tell me your name?"
"And where are you now, Nathan?"
"Um, a hospital. In London?"
"Yes sir, St Thomas'. Would you like some ice chips?"
Nathan licked his lips instinctively and nodded.
Once Derrick had helped him to some ice and a drink, he explained that he'd be in recovery until he was assigned a bed.
"You weren't the only one hurt in the gale. The orthopaedic ward is filling up fast, so you and your friend might have to wait a while."
"My friend?" Nathan asked.
Derrick nodded his bed toward across the room. "I was told you two came in together."
Nathan squinted across the room. Now that he looked, he could make out JD's dark hair. "Is he okay?"
"Let me check for you."
Namita Sharma followed the occasional drops of blood out of the A&E and along the corridor with the somewhat terrified Khan in tow. They passed the reception desk and shops and were headed toward the café when the blood trail ran out. They both checked, but couldn't see Buck anywhere so backtracked to where the blood trail ran out, right outside the gent's toilet.
"Youd better go in and check." Sharma instructed.
"Oh, yes, ma'am." Khan hurried in only to come out seconds later. "In here!"
Nora strode down the corridor to the last bay in the ward, she fully expected to find Mr Sanchez asleep, he had looked as if he was about to nod off as he spoke to her only an hour ago. As she approached, he looked to be sleeping, but opened his eyes as soon as she neared.
"Now you should be asleep," she whispered.
"I'd like to be, but try as I might I can't. I need to know my friends are okay."
She nodded understandingly. "Well I have good news for you. Mr Larabee is in surgery now, then he'll go to recovery, in all likelihood he won't go to the ward until the morning." She noticed the look of alarm on her patient's face. "It is a simple depressed fracture, I'm sure he'll be fine," she assured. "Mr Jackson and Mr Dunne are both out of surgery and waiting for a bed in recovery. Apparently there is a lack of high dependency orthopaedic beds and they arent sure where to put Mr Dunne "
"JD, he's called JD."
She looked up from her list and smiled. "JD, he has rib fractures and chest injuries, so he may not go to ortho but to Page Ward."
"What's Page Ward?"
"High dependency surgical, it's where your friend Mr Tanner is. The glass in his side nicked his liver, he lost a great deal of blood, but they are happy with his prognosis."
"He's still in intensive care, but I spoke to the Sister, Blossom Dow, she's a friend of mine. She said he's doing well, responding to the anti toxins. They just have to be sure his kidneys are functioning before they move him."
"What else did she say," Josiah prompted.
Nora smiled. "That he's a less than co-operative patient."
"Ezra hates hospitals, it's almost a phobia, I should go and see him. Vin too, neither of them does well in hospital. I guess Buck must be with JD and Nathan."
"Would that be Buck Wilmington?"
Josiah smiled. "Yep, been making his presence felt has he?"
"Well it's just that the theatre nurse I spoke to mentioned being overrun with Yanks and that one was even called 'Buck'. You understand that Buck isn't a common name here."
"Its not that common in America, especially since it's his real name, not a nickname."
"Really, well according to the information I have, Buck Wilmington is undergoing emergency explorative surgery."
Josiah sat up straight, barely noticing the pain the sudden movement caused him. "What? But he can't be. He was fine, what's wrong?"
Nora sympathised, but she didn't have any more information. "That's all I know. As soon as I have more news I'll get it too you."
Josiah lay back on the pillows. "Thanks."
Nora noticed the little cup with a single tablet in it beside the bed. "You know if you take that, the night will pass much more quickly."
He glanced at the tablet. "I need to check on the others."
"Not yet, you're injured yourself. You need to rest, have your arm set in the morning, give yourself time to recover, then you can help your friends. If you keep pushing yourself like this, you won't be any use to anyone," she told him firmly. "Now take the sleeping pill, and get some rest."
"You may be right."
"Of course I'm right."
"Looks like - except for me - they're all gonna be here over Christmas."
"Yes it does, I'm sorry."
"You think there is any way they could all be in the same ward, I noticed they have six beds, and there are six of them."
Nora looked doubtful. "Well, some of them could be in Page - two for sure - but I'm not sure about the others."
"Who would I speak to about arranging it?" Josiah pressed.
"Well the bed manager I guess, but I can't see her agreeing to it, it's against policy."
"Who has the authority to bend policy?"
Nora thought for a moment. "Matron, I guess."
"Where would I find Matron?"
"Right now?" Josiah nodded. "At home in bed. But tomorrow, after nine, downstairs. I'll give you directions. What do you say, gonna take the pill and get some sleep?"
Josiah really was in pain and tired. "I guess."
"Good man, here." She handed him some water.
In less than five minutes Buck was back in the accident and emergency department, but this time as a patient, not a relative. He was unconscious and apparently suffering from massive blood loss. Yet, while the wound they found in his thigh - with a sliver of glass still imbedded in it - had apparently bled steadily with blood running down his leg and soaking his sock and boot until it began to drip on to the floor, this couldn't account for the massive blood loss he appeared to have suffered. Further investigation, even as he was receiving the first transfusion, indicated internal bleeding, but there didn't seem to be any reason for it, except for a small wound to his side, which had hardly bled at all, at least externally. X-rays were unhelpful.
"So now what?" the registrar asked. "Get a scan?"
"No time, whatever is going on, we need to stop it, and fast, that means opening him up, we need to go theatre - now."
Unusually Sharma decided to scrub in for the surgery herself, as an interventionist her job was emergency procedures in A&E or in the field, she was the proud owner of an air ambulance flees, sometime of a badge of honour among all London's hospital doctors. Once she had the patient stabilised, she handed them on to other surgeons - normally - but today she felt very personally about following up her patient. Hed collapsed and almost bled to death within minutes of speaking to her and she wanted to know why she hadn't noticed he was that ill or injured, or both.
Ezra was getting more frustrated by the hour. It was bad enough he was in hospital, bad enough he didn't have a friendly face around, or a familiar voice to help hold off the feelings of abandonment that always seem to accompany any trip to hospital, but worst of all, he was confined in the intensive care unit for, as far as he could tell, no good reason. It was true he had one big bruise from the back of his knees to just below his shoulder blades. It was true that while he could move his legs, he had very little feeling in them other than the constant tingling - similar to 'pins and needles'. But none of these problems were sufficiently serious to keep him in the ICU - in his opinion. The doctors had him on a whole cocktail of intravenous medication, some anti-inflammatory, but mostly anti toxins. The drugs burned as they entered his veins and made him nauseous, but the doctor insisted he needed them. Worse still he had to suffer the indignity of a catheter. An embarrassment made even more intolerable by the medical staff's obsessive interest in the output of his bladder. True, so far, that output had been zero, but he really didn't think that was a good enough reason to keep him in the ICU. Then there was the blood pressure, they kept 'tut-tutting' about his blood pressure, which was apparently too low. Their cure for low blood pressure was apparently tea. While Ezra was quite partial to a cup of Earl Grey, with a slice of lemon and just a dash of sugar, he had no appetite for the lukewarm, sugar laden fluid the colour of river mud that he was continually offered. Because of the injuries to his back, he was forced to lie on his side. Thus the tea had to be drunk through a straw or risk serious injury by contorting his abused body to be able to drink while lying sideways. Warm sweet tea through a straw was so bad that Ezra seriously considered suggesting it be included in the Geneva Convention's list of unacceptable treatment for prisoners.
Every two hours or so he had to be rolled over to prevent bed soars. He felt more than able to do this himself, but due to the number of wires and tubes inserted in or stuck to him, he needed help, yet another indignity he could do without. He was just settling in for another two hours watching the door when said doors opened and a bed was wheeled in, heading for the empty bay beside him. With nothing better to do, Ezra watched with a kind of morbid fascination. He'd previously been studiously ignoring the other patients and what went on around them, partly because he felt like an intruder who didn't belong there and was possibly occupying a bed someone in greater need should have. Logically he knew this wasn't true, logically he knew the doctors had a very good reason for keeping him where he was, logically he understood the potential dangers from his injuries, he just didn't want to face the logical truth.
The nurses and doctors worked around the new patient, getting whoever it was connected to the various monitors, transferring their IV bags to the permanent hooks over the bed. Ezra looked back to the door, expecting to see anxious relatives waiting, but there was no one. When he looked back the staff had moved away and he could now see his new neighbour.
"Buck!" Even as he shouted, he was sitting up. Before he could be stopped, he had his legs off the bed, and would have pulled out his IV at least if a quick witted nurse hadn't noticed and moved fast enough to stop him.
"Sir, stop, please lie down, you shouldn't try and get up without help." She barred his way, trying to push him back down onto the bed.
"But that's Buck!" He pointed to the other bed. "I demand to know what's wrong with him."
By now the doctor and another nurse had come to help the nurse pacify Ezra. "Tell me what's wrong with him and I'll lie down!" he bargained.
"Sir, please keep your voice down, you're disturbing the other patients."
"Then tell me whats wrong with Buck."
"I'm sorry, I can't divulge patients information, except to close relatives or partners."
"He's my bother." Ezra had said it, even before he'd thought about it.
The doctor raised an eyebrow. "Your brother? I have his next of kin listed as John Dunne, brother."
Ezra's quicksilver brain kicked in. "Dunne, not Wilmington, JD is his half brother, as am I." The doctor continued to look unconvinced. "These things happen, youre a doctor - what do you want me to do, draw you diagrams?"
Clearly not believing a word of it, the doctor nevertheless accepted this explanation. "Mr Wilmington collapsed, apparently suffering from massive blood loss. On examination a deep wound was found on the back of his leg, probably from flying glass, it had bled a lot, but not enough to cause his collapse. Emergency surgery revealed a long, very narrow, thin sliver of glass had penetrated his side and presumably broken off, leaving only a small outer wound." The doctor shook his head. "How the hell he managed to last so long is beyond me."
"JD was hurt," Ezra stated simply.
"JD. Buck is very protective. If JD needed him, then nothing else would have mattered, even his own pain. He probably didn't even notice it."
The doctor nodded. "The glass had broken in two, that was what cut the artery, and it probably didn't happen immediately, or he would have collapsed sooner. The damaged artery supplies blood to the gallbladder. The surgeons had to remove his gallbladder, but that's no big deal, he doesnt really need it. The artery has been repaired. Removal of the gallbladder is quite routine. Its only the massive blood loss and the removal of the foreign object - the glass - that make his case complicated."
"So he'll be alright?"
"He should be. Once we've replaced all the blood he lost, and he's regained consciousness he can be moved to a high dependency ward."
Ezra's eyes hadn't left Buck's still form throughout the conversation. He nodded his acknowledgement of the doctor's words, but made no move to lie back down.
"Mr Standish, you need to lie down again." Ezra made no move to comply. "You're right beside him." Ezra finally pulled his eyes away from Buck. "Please sir, I know you don't believe it, but you really are very ill yourself and you need to rest."
Finally Ezra nodded and allowed them to help him lie back down on the bed.
"I'm here, Buck," he called over to the other bed. "I'm right here beside you."
Josiah was woken early the next day and by a quarter to nine was in recovery after a quick operation to set his arm. By ten he was on his way to the plaster room to have it set. He selected a dark bottle green colour for his fibreglass cast, which extended up past his elbow, keeping it in a bent position. By eleven he was being discharged. Armed with the directions from Nora he set out to find Matron. He had no idea how he was going to get in to Matron, but he was determined. The office was easy enough to locate, getting passed the formidable PA outside proved more difficult. Josiah used all his not inconsiderable charm and played every card in the book. He played the wounded hero card, he played the visiting Yank card, he played the Christmas card - since everything he had learned told him all his friends were going to be in this hospital over Christmas, which was just a few days away.
He was getting nowhere, indeed he was getting nowhere so spectacularly that the PA was about to call security when the office door opened and a man in a suit emerged followed by another.
"Hello?" Josiah tried hopefully. "I'm looking for Matron."
The second man, who appeared to in his late forties, frowned. "Yes?"
For a moment Josiah was thrown, he hadn't expected 'Matron' to be a man, or younger than him.
"Um, could I have a quick word, I promise it won't take long."
Matron, who's name was Jack Hare, appeared intrigued, clearly large Americans with their arm in a cast, and flashing him the biggest, toothiest grin he's ever seen weren't that common.
"Well Mr . . . ?"
"Are you are here to complain?"
"And you promise to be quick."
"I do, sir."
"What the hell, you can have five minutes."
Vin woke up slowly and disorientated. The sounds around him were unfamiliar, even the accents were foreign. He kept his eyes close while he tried to remember where he was and why, though the pounding headache and constant sharp pain in his side was something of a hint. Eventually he opened his eyes, squinting against the bright lights. He was in hospital - again - and little by little the events of the previous day came back to him. Quickly he took in his surroundings. He was in an open-ended room off a corridor, there were six beds including his, which was close to the door. The bed beside his was occupied, but with the bed curtains half pulled he couldnt see his neighbour, all the other beds were empty.
"Good morning," a heavily accented female voice greeted him.
Vin pulled his gaze from the windows, through which he could see a grey, rain-laden sky.
"Mornin'," he greeted.
"I am going to check your vitals now, okay?" she asked.
Vin nodded, then winced as he tried to adjust his position and was rewarded with a blinding stab of pain.
"Did you remember how to use your morphine?" the nurse asked. He just looked at her, face grey with pain. "Here, this button, when you press it you get an extra shot of pain relief."
Morphine - that made sense, that explained why he felt woolly headed. He obediently pressed the button. He must have drifted off for a bit, because the nurse seemed to finish her checks and was asking him if he could manage some breakfast. He shook his head, the idea of food at that moment was out of the question.
"Okay, no problem, but you do need to drink, here." She handed him a glass of iced water from a jug on the table that she pulled across the bed.
The water felt like a heaven as it slipped down. As he was drinking the curtains were pushed back and he got his first look at his neighbour. The shock of near black hair was unmistakable.
"JD," he called over.
His nurse frowned at him. "Hush, the poor boy's still sleeping."
"Sorry," Vin whispered. "How is he?"
The nurse checked JD's chart. "He's doing fine," she confirmed.
Even so Vin eyed the drips and tubes attached to his young friend with worry and suspicion. Yet, much as he didn't want JD there, because that meant he was seriously injured, Vin was relived to find he wasn't alone, a familiar face - even if he was asleep - beside him eased his silent nagging fears. With so much painkiller in their system both men slept most of the time, but at about ten they were woken by the sound of one of the beds being taken out.
JD looked blearily around him.
"Hey kid," Vin greeted.
JD looked to his side and frowned until he worked out where he was and with whom. "Hi," he whispered.
"Use the button." Vin pointed to the morphine delivery button on the IV. "Get the good drugs."
Even reaching for the button caused JD to wince, but he made it. "The others?" he asked.
"D' no, haven't seen anyone yet," Vin admitted.
"But Buck was with me." To Vin it sounded almost like a whine, but he too found it odd that Buck at least wasn't there. Official visiting times never seemed to mean much to Buck, especially where JD was concerned.
"Well I guess they wouldn't let him in yet, or he's checkin' on the others."
Just then the porters returned, pushing a new bed, containing one Chris Larabee.
"Hey, Cowboy, what you doing here?" Vin called as Chris' bed was installed.
"Don't know, and stop shouting," Chris growled.
Chris' response was a tiny nod of the head. Vin had already figured out that Larabee had a fairly major head injury, the large white bandage was something of a hint.
"Where are the others?" Chris asked.
"We don't know," JD explained.
"On their way, well Nathan is." All three patients turned their heads to see Josiah walk in. "I'm fine, just the broken arm." He lifted his cast just a fraction. "Buck and Ezra are in the intensive care unit, but should be here soon, God willing."
He went on to explain how the other three were doing and how the Matron had gone to bat for them with the consultants and bed manager to allow the six of them to be together in the same ward. Page Ward was meant to be for high dependency surgical patients, especially those who might need further intervention, Vin and JD belonged there, as would Buck when he was released from ICU, but not the others. It had taken a lot of pleading to get the various departments to agree to have one of their patients moved to the surgery floor. Eventually the medical, orthopaedic and head injury departments agreed as did the nursing staff on Page, who would have to actually look after the new arrivals. The fact that it was Christmas, they were all friends and tourists helped a lot in the final decision.
Nathan tried not to think about how much pain being moved was going to cause him, as well as the pins in his leg he had an external cage around his thigh and was connected to traction weights. The orthopaedic surgeon had explained that he had several complicated fractures of the femur and would have to be in traction for at a few days before they tried to get him up. Being moved, rolled along corridors, bumped into and out of lifts was going to hurt, but if it meant he could be with his friends, it was worth it.
By the time he arrived and was installed in Page, Josiah had located their personal possessions and used their credit cards to log each of them on to the personal TV and phone system that every bed was equipped with. That said, the collective level of sedative and painkiller in the room was enough to put an army to sleep, which was what most of them did most of the time.
Since visiting times didn't officially start until two, Josiah left to return to the hotel and put their affairs in order.
"Oh my goodness Sir, what happened to you?" the receptionist asked as he collected his key.
"Did you see anything on the news about some scaffolding being blown down in the storm?" he replied.
"Well there you go."
"Oh good grief. What about the other gentlemen?"
"All alive, all still in hospital. In fact I'm going to need some assistance, packing their stuff, I'll need the room I'm sharing with Mr Jackson for at least ten more days, but the others can be vacated, I'll store their bags in my room and take some things into the hospital."
"Of course sir, I'll get housekeeping to come up and give you a hand."
Two chamber maids helped him pack up the team's possessions and sort out what they needed - night clothes, robes, wash bags, books, note books, pens, Gameboys, personal CD players and CDs. Anything he could think that they might want for a pronged hospital stay.
The two young women who'd been assigned to help him pack had a different version of helping from his own theirs apparently involved him sitting on the bed and directing, while they did all the work.
"Don't worry, there is nothing we are going to find we haven't see or found before," they assured.
"Sir?" asked the smaller of the two women, whom Josiah thought might be eastern European from her accent.
"Your friends will need some other things, in the hospital."
"Yes, my boyfriend was in St Thomas' in the summer, it is very hot and " she seemed to be searching for the word, and apparently failing so she just continued with her explanation. "Their lips will get dry, and their skin, I took him stuff for that."
Josiah understood, and chided himself for not remembering, it didn't seem to matter which side of the Atlantic you were hospitals were the same.
"I don't know were to find them, but I expect I'll work it out," he admitted.
"There is a shop, behind the hotel, do you want me to go and get some for you?"
"Would you do that?" She nodded. "Oh thank you ?"
"Thank you Eva, here." He handed her his wallet.
"No sir, this is too much." She carefully took out a twenty-pound note and handed him back the wallet. "I will be quick, there are six gentlemen?"
The second young woman was taller, with big brown eyes and perfect skin the colour of butterscotch. She worked away, asking him questions and doing as he directed until they had all the work done and were waiting for Eva to return.
"Sir?" she asked hesitantly.
"Is Buck, I mean Mr Wilmington, very badly hurt?"
"Yes, yes he was, but he's getting better."
She nodded solemnly. "Could you take a message to him, from me?"
"I guess so."
"Tell him." She blushed deeply. "Tell him it was great, the best, tell him he's a gentleman and he was right and I missed him last night, but two out of three was still great." She was now blushing so deeply even her ears were flushed. "Tell him I'll never forget him."
Josiah took a moment to compose himself, trying not to get distracted by working out how Buck had not only had time to chat up this pretty young woman but have - apparently - not one but two assignations with her.
"I'd be happy too," he assured.
Buck came back to the conscious word slowly. He became aware of the pain and discomfort, he became aware of the tube under his nose and the cold irritating breeze blowing up his nostrils.
"Now Mr Wilmington, don't do that." The nurse tried to pull his hand away from the canular tube under his nose.
Buck didn't like that, the voice, the touch and small were strange, he didn't like strangers trying to hold him down, so he fought back.
"Buck!" Ezra called over as loud as he dare. "It's okay, relax, you're okay."
Buck sort of knew the voice, but it was too distant, it wasn't the voice of the person holding him down.
Ezra started to sit up, even as the doctor and more staff were coming to assist the nurse trying to stop the confused Buck hurting himself.
"No!" he called to the medics. "Help me up, I can get him to calm down," he commanded.
The doctor hesitated, then changed direction and with the small but surprisingly strong nurse on one side and the doctor on the other they helped him over to Buck's bed. Ezra hadn't tried to stand yet, he could move his legs, so he knew he wasn't paralysed, but he hadn't understood how little feeling he had and how weak they were. The doctor had told him the feeling and strength would come back as the swelling and bruising went down, he just prayed they were right. His own fears were however put aside as he leant heavily on Buck's bed, though, at the back of his mind, he hoped the nurse was strong enough to hold him up when his legs inevitably gave way.
"Buck?" he called softly. "Come on, it's me, Ezra. Stop fighting, open your eyes."
There was no response, but Ezra didn't give up, he continued to call softly but firmly.
Buck heard the voice, it was closer now, close and familiar. Ezra, he decided it was Ezra, and his friend wanted him to open his eyes. Somehow opening his eyes seemed to be more difficult than he had ever remembered it, but Ezra seemed to think it was important to he tried again.
"Hello there," Ezra finally greeted, when confused midnight blue eyes finally locked on to him. "You're in hospital, the scaffolding fell on us, we got hurt, but we're on the mend."
It took Buck a while to process the information. Then he frowned.
"It's okay," Ezra knew what Buck was about to ask. "Everyone is doing okay, we two were the most seriously injured."
Now Buck was just plain confused. Now that Ezra has mentioned the scaffolding, he remembered it all, he also knew he hadn't been hurt, just banged up a bit. He had gone with JD to the hospital, but he was okay.
As Ezra watched confusion spread across his friends pale features, he knew he'd made a mistake.
"You were hit by flying glass, and collapsed just after JD went to surgery," he explained quickly.
Buck finally seemed to accept this and nodded. "JD's okay?"
Ezra though it typical that Buck's first words were to ask after his young friend. "Yes, JD is fine, making good progress," he assured.
Ezra's legs had been shaking from the moment he had stood. Suddenly, and without warning, they gave way, the nurse beside him only just managing to stop him crashing to the ground before the doctor came to his other side and support him.
"Ez, get t' bed," Buck ordered in what was no more than a hoarse whisper. "You look terrible."
"Look who's talking."
"Told you, ain't hardly "
"Possible, I know, but as to going back to bed, I believe that would be a good idea," Ezra agreed.
Just as he was gratefully lying back down on his bed the nurse all but squealed with delight. "Look!" she exclaimed, holding up the bag connected to Ezra's hated catheter. In the bottom was a tiny amount of fluid.
"Oh joy," Ezra commented unenthusiastically.
"Don't you get it, sir, this is what we've been waiting for. I'll get the doctor."
Tired and with his arm aching, despite the pain killers, Josiah climbed out of the taxi in front of the hospital and waited, while the helpful cabby carried the six small carry on bags to the main entrance.
"I'd stay and help you take them to your mates if I could," he all but apologised, even as Josiah was paying him. "But there's no place here to park the cab.
"That's fine, I'll manage somehow."
Josiah's plan was to leave some bags at reception and make three trips. In the end he didn't have to when the helpful man on the desk suggested he borrow a wheel chair and use it to carry the bags up to the eleventh floor.
As he wheeled his cargo of goodies - he'd stopped at the shop next to the café to purchase chocolates, cookies, snacks, drinks, magazines and newspapers - he made a quick head count. There were five of them. Ezra's bed now occupied the space next to Nathan. It was almost four and it looked like everyone was asleep. Josiah parked his precious cargo and eased himself down into the comfortable, high backed chair beside Nathan's bed. He felt he should go and check on Buck, but his body betrayed, and he dozed off almost as soon as he sat down.
No-one in beds seven to twelve Page Ward woke up when the last bed, the one at the far end, opposite Vin, was rolled out, not even the large man with the broken arm asleep in one of the chairs. None of them woke when the last patient was wheeled in and settled in. Buck looked around, trying to take in how his friends were doing, before sleep claimed him once more. He knew how Ezra was doing, they'd been together in the ICU all morning. Beyond Ezra he could just about see Nathan - mostly he could see Nathan's elevated leg, encased in its metal cage. Directly opposite Nathan was Chris - Buck could see the bandage around his oldest friend's head, but he looked peaceful enough. Next to Chris was JD - the kid didn't look so good, propped up so that he was almost at right angles, a large dressing all too visible over the right side of his chest, dark livid bruises standing out in stark contrast against his naturally pale skin. Next to JD was Vin, who looked, if it was possible, even sicker than JD. He seemed to have even more tubes running in and out of him than Ezra, his pallor, under his normal tan, giving him a sallow look.
Don't reckon I look much better. Hell of a Christmas this turned out to be.With that thought, he too drifted back to sleep.
They were all woken by doctors afternoon rounds and various routine procedures that the nurses needed to perform before the evening meal. Josiah popped another pain pill and headed down to the café for his own supper. Everyone who was allowed solid food - which only excluded Buck - was offered a meal. JD didn't really want to eat, but was persuaded to try a yoghurt. Vin wasn't too keen on the idea of food either, but the chocolate cookies Josiah had provided eventually tempted him to eat. Chris' killer headache and double vision was also killing his appetite, but the auxiliary serving the food tempted him with some fresh made hot buttered toast. Ezra was still having problems eating while lying on his side, and refused to even try the food he was offered Josiah promised to bring him something more to his taste. Only Nathan tucked into the hot meal on offer.
Buck tried to say he was hungry and needed feeding, but was told firmly he wasn't allowed any food until the morning. The surgeon wanted to be sure none of his internal stitches were leaking and he apparently had something called a stent, and they had to check in the morning that it was still in place before he was permitted to eat. Much as he protested how unfair it was and despite his hunger, if he was really honest with himself he wasn't ready to face food yet, so let the matter drop and contented himself with an exploration of British TV on his beside entertainment screen.
In truth, none of them were up to doing much more than watching TV, dozing and listening to music. When Josiah left at eight o'clock only Nathan and Ezra were still awake. The next day, the 22nd, the student nurses swept into the ward with a tree, tinsel and lights.
"We thought this section would be empty over Christmas, so we didn't bother to decorate it," one of them explained.
Buck and Chris both missed this, since they were off having tests and scans at the time. Ezra too was away, having physical therapy. Thus the three of them returned to find their temporary home turned into a Christmas wonderland.
Josiah arrived after lunch to inform them he had managed to contact Denver, Travis knew the score as did Rain who was trying to get a flight out but probably wouldn't make it until after Christmas. Chris' neighbours would continue to care for the stock. Rain, Casey and Nettie had been given the contact number for their ward. Josiah had also warned the nuns looking after his sister he wouldn't make it for his normal Christmas morning visit. Lastly he had cancelled their return flights, the airline assured him they would honour the tickets when he needed them in the New Year.
Later that day the doctor wanted Chris to get up and walk a little. The others watched with a mixture of sympathy and trepidation. Sympathy because it was clear to all of them that it was disorientating, Chris visibly swayed as he stood up, clutching onto the IV pole with white-knuckled intensity. Trepidation because they knew that sooner or later they, too, would have to get back on their feet.
Though Buck was given the all clear to eat after his tests, he was still restricted to soft food, enjoying some warm chocolate blancmange. He worried about JD and Vin, who were clearly in considerable discomfort. JD worried about Buck, because he was his best friend and he needed him. Ezra worried about Buck, because he knew - having overheard the doctors - how close they came to losing him. Vin worried about Buck because he had the best view of him and could see how much pain he was in. Nathan worried about Chris, knowing that by rights he should still be in the head injury unit, but accepting that he would do better here with the rest of them. Josiah worried about Nathan, mainly because he knew how much he was missing his wife, and he worried about Ezra, because it was in his nature to worry about Ezra. Chris worried about all of them, when his headache would let him.
They all made rapid progress. The next day, the day before Christmas Eve, the therapist arrived with a walking frame for Ezra to use. At first he refused.
"That contraption will make me look like a geriatric," he complained.
"That contraption will allow you to take yourself to the bathroom," Nathan pointed out. "No more bedpans, count yourself lucky."
Ezra was suddenly ashamed of his petulance, it would be few days yet before poor Nathan was up, even on crutches. And no matter what it looked like, anything was better than bedpans. He was pleasantly surprised how well he could get around with the frame, though it took a lot out of him. The feeling in his legs was returning, aided by aqua-therapy and massages. Ezra found the process frustratingly slow, despite the doctors claiming he was making remarkable progress.
That morning the doctors wanted Vin and JD to get up and walk a little - the quicker they were back on their feet, the better. It greatly reduced the risk of blood clots, breathing problems and bed sores. JD went first, he moved very carefully to sit on the edge of the bed and let the nurse slip on the hospital provided disposable slippers. As he eased himself to his feet, JD was grateful Josiah had retrieved their own pyjamas. At least he wasn't wearing one of the hated back opening hospital gowns. Wrapping his arm protectively around his damaged ribs and lung he finally stood up, sucking in a deep breath, more of relief than pain. He'd made it.
"How is it?" Vin asked, as he to sat on the edge of the bed.
"Not as bad as I thought," the young computer expert admitted.
"Now don't forget your IV," the nurse beside JD reminded. "Ready for a little stroll down the corridor, we could go to the day room.
JD smiled and nodded as she came to his side and took his elbow, while he held the IV pole in the other hand.
Vins side protested the movement as he prepared to stand. "Take a moment to let it settle," his nurse advised. "It's not a race."
Nurse Ling didn't know Team Seven very well yet. There was no way Vin was going to let JD get head of him. "Wanna a bet."
He set off to follow JD down the corridor, watched by the others. "That'll be you tomorrow," Nathan commented, looked over at Buck, who didn't respond. "Buck?"
"He's asleep," Chris informed him. "Seems like that's all he does."
"That's normal, considering the surgery he's had, the amount of blood he lost and the quantity of morphine in his system. Don't worry, he'll be fine, he just needs to rest."
"Buck doesnt do 'rest' well."
"Believe me, once they reduce the pain killers, he's going to be too sore to do much more. It's gonna take him a few months to get back to full fitness, longer than the other two."
Chris had seen the long diagonal surgical wound running across Buck's abdomen, it was at least twice as long as Vin or JD's.
"Longer than you?" Chris looked pointedly at Nathan's leg.
"Actually no, reckon I'm in for a long haul," Nathan admitted sadly.
"You're part of this team Nate, no matter how long it takes you to get back in the field, and in the meantime, you can work a desk and Rainll take good care of you."
"She could if she was here."
Chris sympathised, they should have been home by now. "She'll get here as soon as he can, you know that."
"I know, but not by Christmas."
JD made it to the day room, and sank gratefully down into one of the high back chairs.
"Damn you beat me," Vin breathed, as he too lowered himself into a chair.
"I had a head start."
The two nurses smiled, they couldn't help but like the two young Americans. "How about we bring you two a drink and a biscuit, and then we'll think about heading back to bed?"
JD ginned. "Can I have hot chocolate?"
"Me too," Vin added. "You got them little square cookies with the yellow cream in the middle?"
"Custard cream?" Vin nodded. "No problem, just sit there and enjoy the view."
Both men turned to look out of the window, and actually gasped. The day room was blessed with a panoramic view of the river, they could see the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, Westminster Abby, and a great swathe of London, even Buckingham Palace.
By Christmas Eve, Chris was no longer sporting a white bandage, just a shaved patch on the side of his head, with blue stitches. He'd been taken off all intravenous medication, and with his vision back to normal and only a lingering killer headache. He could, technically, have been sent home on Christmas Day - if he had had somewhere to go other than a hotel room in the care of a friend with a broken arm. Of course the fact that he still got dizzy every time he stood up would count against his discharge, had he admitted this to the doctor, which he hadn't. Nathan however had told the doctor, having been watching his stubborn friend closely.
Ezra too had been taken the off intravenous anti toxins, but was still being closely monitored. While the he had more and more feeling in and control of his legs, he still found walking - with his frame - very hard work. If he was up too long they started to shake, signalling he had only seconds to sit down or risk falling down.
Vin and JD were getting about more. JD moved carefully, trailing his IV stand behind him. The trouble was he'd forget about moving carefully and then suddenly gasp when he inevitably moved suddenly, usually when telling some joke or playing one of the video games he discovered on the personal TV system. Vin pushed his IV ahead of him, walking with a stiffness that was totally unnatural to the lithe Texan.
Buck's first walk was much slower and shorter then the other two. He shuffled slowly, limping on his wound leg and maintaining a death grip on his IV pole, as far as the bathroom and back, before gratefully lying back down on his bed.
"How does it feel to be liberated?" Ezra asked from the next bed. "Worth the cost?"
Buck took a while to answer, waiting for the pain and trembling to subside. "Definitely worth the cost," he agreed.
On the dot of two o'clock Josiah walked in, as he had every day, carrying a large gift bag. Josiah's visits were the highlight of the day, so everyone was making an effort to stay awake.
"Hi guys!" he greeted loudly. "Are we ready for Christmas?"
"In what way, would we be ready?" Ezra asked.
"Well," Josiah looked at Chris and winked. "I don't know what you guys had bought each other, or if some of those gifts are among your packing, and I'm not going to look, so " he held up the bag. "With Chris permission I took about $10 from each of your wallets, added £7.50 of my own and used this fund to purchase six gifts and had them wrapped, tomorrow morning you'll have something to open." He waited for the reaction.
"That is an admirable plan, and I for one appreciate your efforts," Ezra stated.
"Too right," Buck added.
"Josiah?" Chris called softly. "You better put this with the others." He held up a Christmas parcel, which had been concealed in his locker.
Josiah collected the parcel and looked at the gift tag, which read - 'Merry Christmas Josiah, the best friend six guys ever had'.
"Didn't think we'd forget you, did you?" Chris asked.
Josiah was still unloading presents when an earnest young man in a hospital polo shirt walking carrying a clipboard.
"Hello?" He smiled at Chris.
"I'm here to find out if you would like to come to the medi-cinema tonight, we're having a special Christmas show."
Chris raised an eyebrow. "Medi-cinema?"
"Yes sir, we have a cinema here at the hospital, designed especially for the patients."
JD was up on his feet and walked over. "You got your own movie theatre?"
"Yes we do, tonight its 'Ocean's Twelve'." A thought seemed to strike the young man. "I guess, if you're American, you've probably seen it."
"Me an' Buck haven't." JD looked over at Vin. "What about you?"
"Nope - Cowboy?"
Chris shook his head.
"You guys should go, I'll be fine," Nathan encouraged.
The young man turned to face Nathan. "You've seen it?"
"No, but I'm not allowed up yet." He gestured to his leg and traction weights.
"Not a problem sir, we can take you in your bed. So are you all coming?"
Everyone looked at Chris. Who in turn looked over at Buck. "You up for this, Big Dog?"
Buck hated to let everyone down, knew if he didn't go, none of the others would go, but he didn't want to admit he'd only be able to manage if he too was taken in his bed.
"He can go in his bed too - right?" Chris asked, as if he's read Buck's mind.
"Sure, you all can if needs be."
"What about Josiah?" Vin asked.
The young man looked around and located the large man with the broken arm. "Everyone is welcome."
"And how much will this extravagance cost me?" Ezra asked.
"Really?" JD asked.
"Well, I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth and it might prove a diverting entertainment," Ezra commented.
"Looks like you've got the seven of us then," Chris informed him.
"Great, let me take some details."
It turned out to be quite an adventure. Buck, Nathan and Ezra travelled in their beds, as Ezra still found sitting, as opposed to lying, for any amount of time uncomfortable. Vin and JD went in wheelchairs. Chris insisted he could walk, but even before they were out of the modern part of the building, he wished he hadn't. Pride wouldn't let him say anything, but his friends noticed.
"Hey Larabee, wanna hitch a lift?" Buck asked from his bed, "Plenty of room."
Chris though about it, then levered himself up to sit on the end of the bed. They had travelled down to ground level but, due to the vagaries of the lift system, they didn't arrive together although the early arrivals insisted on waiting until everyone was there before they all set out in convoy. By the time Chris was riding on Buck's bed they were just leaving the modern North Wing and heading into the old Victorian South Wing. It was dark outside, and long past normal office hours, and as they entered a cavernous hall, with huge classical pillars, there was only minimal lighting.
"Wow," JD breathed.
Somewhere in the dark shadows a piano was being played, which just added to the slightly spooky, surreal atmosphere.
"Damn, what is this place?" Chris asked.
"Dracula's bedroom," Buck commented.
"Governor's Hall," the man pushing his bed corrected.
After what seemed like an endless journey, down one long corridor. They were surprised to find themselves outside, albeit under a covered walkway. The sudden freezing temperatures made then all gasp, and things didn't improve as they entered the medi-cinema. It was large cavernous building, with a sloping floor. There were seats but also plenty of room at the back for the beds and wheel chairs, and it was freezing. This seemed to be a normal state of affairs, because attendants started handing out blankets as soon as they were 'parked'.
Watching a movie in a hospital proved to be interesting experience. The audience, mostly patients plus a few relatives, some off duty staff and the two duty nurses, who were available with oxygen and resuscitation equipment if needed, were very vocal. They booed the villain, or who ever they perceived as the villain, the heroes were cheered. Many of the female and at least one male patient commented on George Clooney's previous incarnation as a doctor and what they wanted him to do to them. It didn't take long for Team Seven to join in, their American accents drawing more comments, but they gave as good as they got in good-natured banter.
An entertaining two hours later they waited their turn to be wheeled back to Page Ward. Chris noted that Buck was asleep, JD and Nathan looked like they would follow him soon. He had to admit it was the oddest Christmas Eve he'd ever spent.
Normal visiting times were suspended for Christmas, so Josiah was heading for the hospital straight after breakfast. With no public transport and precious few taxis the hotel's night porter offered to drive him over to the hospital on his way home. The hotel staff had taken it upon themselves to look after Josiah and help him look after his friends.
"When you're ready to come back, give us a call on the private line," the duty manager assured him, having given him the number after he had returned the first time after the accident. "Someone will come and get you."
"That is most kind," Josiah replied.
"Not a problem sir, I assure you, happy to help. Merry Christmas."
"Oh yes, you too, Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christma " Josiah's booming greeting was cut short when he realised there were only five beds in there bay. "Where's Buck?" he asked worriedly.
"He sprang a leak, last night, they took him away, said they might have to operate again," Chris explained.
"Yeah that pretty much sums it up. Vin and JD are in the day room, kid's pretty down."
"So Christmas is officially on hold," Ezra explained.
"Well I'll just put these with the others." Josiah produced seven small parcels from the carrier bag he had in his good hand. "They're not from me, the hotel staff gave them to me to give to you guys, and me."
"Now why would they do that?" Nathan asked. "They hardly know us."
"Well they know me, and at least one of them knows Buck, intimately."
"You're kidding me?" Chris asked. "When did he get the time?"
"The Lord knows, but he found the time and the energy - twice."
"It's not natural," Nathan muttered darkly.
"Possibly not, but I bet it's fun," Ezra added.
Luckily, they didn't have to wait long. Buck was wheeled back just after ten, apparently sleeping soundly.
"Well?" Nathan asked urgently as the nurse made sure his IV lines weren't tangled or caught.
"They were able to deal with the problem under sedation, no need for a full anaesthetic," she explained.
"How can they do that?" Chris asked.
"You don't want to know," Nathan warned.
Ignoring this, the nurse continued to explain. "The doctor said it's been going on for some time, so now they have it fixed, he should be more comfortable and hopefully he'll start to recover more quickly." She shook her head. "He must have been in a lot of pain, but he didn't say anything."
"That's Buck all right," Nathan admitted. "The rest of them, too. Too stubborn and too proud to ask for help, always think any need they have is a burden to someone." He shook his head.
"Oh I've met their kind before," the nurse informed him. "And you know what?" she continued.
"I don't think it's just them." She winked at him before she headed for the door. "He'll sleep for and hour or so, then he should be right as rain."
Chris saw Nathan visibly wince at the sound of his wife's name. "Soon pal, you'll see her soon."
Not long after eleven, Buck did indeed wake up and stated that he was hungry, having missed breakfast. Josiah produced some chocolate biscuits while Chris went in search of Vin and JD. He was happy to see them both smiling, as they watched Laurel and Hardy on the TV.
"Buck's awake, hungry and he wants presents, so lets get on with it, you two," he commanded.
So happy were they and so used to obeying Chris commands, they both shot to their feet in an instant, and regretted it. Suddenly they were bent over, clutching their side and chest respectively.
"Damn that hurts!" JD gasped.
"Sure does smart some," Vin agreed through gritted teeth as he slowly forced himself to uncurl and stand up right.
"I swear you two have the attention spans of gnats," Chris muttered as he turned away, heading back to the relative sanity of the older members of the team.
First they distributed the hotels little gifts, all but one of which were alcoholic - miniatures from the mini bars. Chris got Scotch, Buck Irish whiskey, Ezra brandy, Josiah got dark rum something he liked but rarely drank he guessed the maids had noticed he'd drunk the bottle from his mini bar. Nathan, who wasn't much for hard liquor got an individual bottle of Chardonnay. Vin opened his and grinned.
"What you got there, you skinny-assed Texan?" Chris challenged.
"Tequila!" Vin announced triumphantly.
"Which you can't drink."
"Why not?" Vin demanded.
"Because of that cocktail of drugs in your system right now," Nathan explained. "I say we save these to celebrate when we are once more drug free."
"I'll drink to that," Buck agreed. "In water," he added hastily.
"I didn't get booze," JD announced.
"I know, sorry, but they asked me what you liked to drink and all I've ever seen you drink is light beer."
"So what did you get?" Vin asked,
"Mints, the little ones you get on your pillow, a whole box of them."
"Well come on, share," Vin demanded.
Somewhat reluctantly JD let Josiah and Chris hand everyone a mint. Then they handed out their own presents, Josiah apologised for the lack of imagination.
"Sorry guys but it was more than I could manage to go into more than one or two shops."
"Well I only had the shops here in the hospital, so don't get your hopes up," Chris pointed out.
One by one they opened their presents. Books, everyone got books. Well so far. Vin was beginning to worry, he really, really didn't want a book. Josiah's was about the Himalayas, Chris got a new thriller, Ezra had the latest Alan Bennett book and Buck was happy with his historic adventure. Nathan was ecstatic to get a book about London's Physic Garden. Vin was just about resigned to getting a book, when JD unwrapped a new game for his Gameboy.
"Here you go Vin, it's not very exiting, I was running out of energy and imagination," Josiah apologised.
"It'll be fine, whatever it is," Vin assured, and meant it when he saw the regret in his friend's face. With that he pulled off the paper to reveal a boxed bar of the biggest, chunkiest chocolate Vin had ever seen. A smile of pure relief and anticipation flooded his face.
"I know it's not much, but I hope you like it."
"Trust me, I'm going to like it. Thanks Josiah." Vin grinned as he began to take the lid off. "And JD, this is my present," he warned his young friend in the next bed.
Just after one a nurse came in, with her was a strong looking student nurse pushing a wheel chair rigged with a horizontal leg support. "Right, Mr Jackson, the doctor says today is the day, you can get up, and join your friends and the other patients for Christmas lunch," she announced.
"Really?" he asked
"Really," she confirmed.
"Josh and I are going to help you get into the chair, remember don't try and put your foot down at anytime."
Once Nathan was in the wheel chair, after savouring for a few moments the sensation of being vertical, Chris wheeled him toward the dayroom as instructed by the nurse. The others followed. Chris, JD and Ezra no longer had IVs. Vin, Nathan and Buck still needed intravenous medication, but while the first two were disconnected for the meal, Buck wasn't yet so lucky. He was getting better at walking and managing his pole and its various attached bags and bottles.
The dayroom had, in the short time since Vin and JD left it, been transformed. A long table had been set up down the centre of the room, covered in a bright red paper table cloth and laid for lunch, with bright green paper napkins and strange silver paper tubes for each diner. Team Seven took the eight seats at the far end, the extra place being opposite Nathan to accommodate his outstretched leg. They watched the other patients for clues to British Christmas lunch etiquette. What they discovered was the paper tubes were called crackers and had to be pulled, tug-of-war style. When pulled they broke open with a loud snap and discharged gifts, like some miniature pinjata. These gifts proved to be a paper crown, which everyone except Chris donned, a small gift, ranging from a minute pack of cards to a plastic bead necklace. Apparently it was acceptable to swap these gifts until everyone got something they liked - Ezra negotiated hard to get rid of the plastic necklace and acquire the pack of cards. Buck stated he was very happy with his tape measure, but refused to explain what he wanted it for.
The food was nothing special, perfectly eatable roast turkey, but still definitely mass-produced institution food. The dessert proved to be more interesting - a dark, rich, slightly spicy steamed pudding, served with custard and cream. It wasn't to everyone's liking, but Chris, Nathan and JD loved it. There had been something of a delay between courses and somehow a rather sedate food fight started with broken crackers making excellent slings for sending sprouts down the table. Despite the lack of alcohol people relaxed and chatted, but, by the late afternoon, the table had been cleared and people were heading back to their beds. Within an hour the whole of Page Ward was asleep.
Josiah surveyed his friends. Chris still wasn't wearing a paper crown, but, hanging from his little finger, was the shark shaped bottle opener on a key ring that he had acquired in the great cracker gift swap. As he looked across he noted Vin seemed equally attached to his Bart Simpson key ring. Buck was wearing his tape measure like a shoestring tie, while JD was still wearing his bright purple paper crown. What he'd done with the pink plastic dog tags he'd won, Josiah wasn't sure. Ezra too, still had his yellow crown on, no doubt his hard won cards were someplace safe. Josiah eased himself down into the comfortable high back chair beside Nathan; he could feel the three new golf tees in his pocket as he sat. Nathan's mini padlock rested on his bedside locker as he snored gently. The next thing Josiah knew the staff were serving a cold sandwich supper and it was six o'clock.
Two hours later he was about ready to return to the hotel. Hed already called the reception desk and one of the porters was on his way over to pick him up. One by one he wished his friends goodnight.
"It's been a hell of a Christmas," Buck commented. "One I could well do without."
"I'd have to agree with that," Ezra added
"All in all kinda shitty in fact," Vin agreed
Josiah smiled down at Buck, who had clearly exerted himself too much at lunch and was now suffering for it. "Things'll look better in the morning."
Josiah returned to the hospital at about ten the next day, he hadn't had the chance to see any news or even listen to any news broadcasts so he was unprepared for the sombre atmosphere he encountered, as all six men watch the unfolding news reports from the Indian Ocean.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"You don't know?" Nathan asked.
"Take a look," Buck offered.
Josiah settled down on the chair by the bed and watched the latest reports. A TV journalist who happened to be holidaying in Thailand was describing his family's escape. With every report the casualty figure rose.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Buck looked over at Josiah. "Isn't it?"
Josiah though back to the times he had spent in Thailand and India. About the long, flat coastal plains with nothing to stop the deadly waves, remembering how populous they were and how flimsy most of the buildings were. This was going to get a lot worse. He nodded without taking his eyes off the screen.
"You were right, things do look better this morning."
All heads, including Josiah's turned to Buck. "How can you say that?"
"Because when nature attacked us a long way from home, we were found and helped immediately, we were treated and looked after in a modern, well equipped, well staffed hospital by people who speak our language. We all still have our family and friends and when we get home, home will still be there. I'd say we were the lucky ones.
Josiah nodded. "Amen to that brother."