by BM

Disclaimer: I don't own the boys. Some Hollywood TV types do, but since they've decided to stuff them in storage never to bring them out again, I thought it was only humane to let them out to see the light of day, though I think that they may be glad to see their little box once I'm done with them....

Also, I do not own the plot to this story either. The plot and some of the dialogue comes from a comedy routine performed by Mark Lowry, a Christian comedian known to the Southern Gospel music fans for his former role in the Gaither Vocal Band, for his appearances in all of the Bill Gaither Homecoming series videos, for his own CDs and videos, and for writing the words to the song "Mary Did You Know?" The man has a truly awesome singing voice, but is best known for his comedy about his childhood, his "perfect" older brother and little sister, and most of all, about his momma. I got this idea from his book "Out of Control," and am giving all credit where it is due.

This story answers the following challenges:

The September 2005 Challenge (the Episode Title Challenge) - offered by Katy
The August 2005 Challenge (the Defenestration Challenge) - offered by MonicaM - the Tortuga
The May 2003 Challenge (the Bone-Snapping/Doctor, my Eyes Challenge): offered by Heather F
The February 2003 Challenge (the Estrogen Challenge):   offered by Lady Catherine 

Yes, 4 challenges in one! I can't believe it either. Just took me about 2 years to actually get an answer idea, and another 2 and a half to get it written! I originally thought to make Buck the main victim, but then this little evil plot bunny whispered in my ear that Nathan just does not get enough of the spotlight and that it would make the story all the more ironic. I'm not the best at comedy, having been told before that my sense of humor is about as dry as the Mohave Desert, so please don't expect too much.

Also, I am not a therapist nor have I ever had therapy. I know very little about the medical field and fully acknowledge that the events in my story would hopefully never happen in an actual hospital, nor would such a therapist ever hold a job in one if she treated her patients this way. However, this is fiction, and things like this can easily happen in a fictitious world. Please take the medical elements with a grain of salt and enjoy the story in the humor that it was intended.

May 2008

It had all started innocently enough, though looking back on it, Nathan knew he should have known better. None of the seven could ever take an uneventful vacation, be it two weeks out of state or just a weekend trip locally. However, hindsight truly is 20/20, as Josiah often reminded him during the course of his recovery. Of course, Josiah wasn't being very sympathetic about the whole ordeal, either. No, he would just chuckle each time Nathan started to complain, claiming that what goes around comes around and that Nathan was just getting a taste of his own medicine—doing a little bit of penance, so to speak.

Buck had gotten the idea that morning while cleaning up after a bust. They were all a bit giddy. No one had been hurt, the bust had gone perfectly, and they had managed to take down one of the largest illegal weapons cartels on the west coast. Someone had made a comment about the new snow that had fallen that night, someone else mentioned skiing, and before they knew it, Buck was making plans for an impromptu trip to the mountains for the weekend. By lunch, he had somehow managed to wheedle Ezra into arranging to use the chalet in Aspen owned by Maude's latest paramour. By mid-afternoon, he had obtained several 2-day passes to one of the resorts nearby (Nathan had no idea how Buck managed to do it and probably didn't want to know), and had secured the rental of two vans to get them all there.

Josiah invited the woman he had been seeing off and on for the last few months and JD invited Casey, both of whom agreed to go. Nathan invited Rain while Buck planned on picking up his dates on the slopes—and in the hot tub and by the fireplace and by the skimobile rental office and anywhere else that he managed to find a pretty face.

The plan had been to leave that evening right after work. It would mean they wouldn't arrive at the chalet until after midnight, but it would allow them to hit the slopes early the next morning and get in as much skiing as possible. They all headed home to pack a bag and grab their equipment and agreed to meet at Chris's ranch by 7:30.

Nathan's plans were disrupted, though, when he walked into the house to find his wife getting ready to head out the door for the hospital, having been called in to cover for a sick co-worker. He had been disappointed, having barely seen her all week as he had been tied up with the case and she at the hospital, and he had been looking forward to spending some time with her. He was prepared to call Buck to let him know he wouldn't be coming then fix a microwave dinner and watch late night TV until she made it home, but Rain wouldn't have that and insisted that he keep his plans. In fact, she had already packed his bag and had it waiting for him. She gave him a peck on the cheek as she walked out the door, telling him to go enjoy himself and that she'd be waiting for him Sunday evening, leaving him standing with his bag at his feet and his keys in his hand. Despite her advice, he almost decided to call Buck anyway, and even fingered his cell phone for a moment or two, but finally made up his mind, locked the door, and headed back out to his jeep with his bag slung over his shoulder.

That was his first mistake.

It didn't take them long to get everything organized and loaded, and by eight, they were on the road headed west, stopping only once for a late dinner in the next town. They were making good time and were in high spirits as they set out on their final leg of the journey, looking forward to the promised rest and relaxation to be found at their destination.

Nathan found himself riding with Buck, JD and Casey, and Ezra. Buck was driving while carrying on a conversation via the hands free unit on his cell phone with Josiah, who was driving the other van. They were talking about something to do with life lessons learned from the country music that was playing loudly on the radio in the background. Casey and JD were crouched over the small DVD screen JD had mounted to the back of Buck's seat, playing some sort of video game while loudly and animatedly gloating and threatening each other over the outcome. As far as Nathan could tell, Casey was winning.

Ezra was sitting shotgun. The weeks of far too little sleep coupled with the natural stress of his job had finally caught up to him, and he had crashed within 15 minutes of leaving the restaurant. He was now leaning against the passenger window, resting his head on the pillow he had brought along and wrapped up warmly in a thick parka.

Nathan stretched out the best he could in the cramped back seat to try to catch a few z's himself, but just as he was about to doze off, Buck's loud call interrupted him. "Hey, Nate!"

Nathan sat up with a sigh and leaned forward to try to see the driver around JD's bobbing head. "Yeah?"

Buck glanced in his mirror to give his turn signal as he eased back into the left lane to pass a little compact car. "Will you toss me a can of coke from the cooler?"

Nathan sighed again but twisted around to reach behind the seat where the cooler was stashed. After straining for a moment or two, he realized that he couldn't reach the lid with his seatbelt on.

That was when he made his second mistake.

It was something that he normally would never do—would have nagged one of the others incessantly on if he had caught them doing it. Later, he could never really figure out why he chose to do it, coming to believe it must have been the stress relief coupled with the two beers he had tossed back at dinner. But whatever the circumstances were that led to his lapse in judgment, Nathan—Mr. Caution and Safety—made a critical error and did something stupid—he reached down and unlatched his seatbelt to give him the extra three inches needed to reach the cooler.

With a couple of grunts, he managed to get his fingertips around a can. He flopped the lid down and turned back around to pass the drink up front, but froze when he saw the deer standing in the middle of the highway, highlighted by their headlights as the van sped toward it at 70 mph. "Buck!" he yelled, his heart leaping into his throat. "Look out!"

Buck, who had taken his eyes from the road for just a moment to change the radio station, jerked his head back up in alarm. "What the—" Seeing the deer in his headlights, he acted on instinct and slammed on the brakes while jerking the steering wheel to the left, trying to dodge the animal in his path. The tires squealed and left a long series of skid marks on the pavement as the antilock breaks kicked in, sending the van tipping sideways out of control.

Casey screamed and Ezra jerked back into the land of the living to find himself in a waking nightmare while Buck fought with the steering wheel, trying to regain mastery of the vehicle. Like the rest of the passengers, Ezra immediately grabbed for anything to use to brace himself as the van hit the gravel on the side of the road, flipped around 180 degrees, and began rolling across the small median backwards, still on all four tires but tipping wildly back and forth during its frantic journey. It cut a deep rut in the new snow and the dead grasses beneath before starting up the other side of the dip and slowing down. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, the van came to a rest broadside in the east-bound lane of the interstate.

They all sat for a moment in the silent darkness that enveloped the van, maintaining their death grips on seats, arm rests, and each other, still in shock. "Are-are we still alive?" Casey finally asked, her voice trembling.

A tinny voice broke the silence and interrupted any answer that she would have received. "Buck? Buck? Are you guys all right? Answer me, damn it!"

They all looked at the cell phone still attached to the heating vent beside the steering wheel, recognizing Chris's frantic voice coming from the small machine. "Uh, ye-yeah, Chris. We're all fine, I think," Buck answered shakily. He met Ezra's wide green eyes and laughed a bit giddily at their near escape, joined seconds later by the rest.

The laughter died, however, when a bright light filled the interior and the earsplitting howl of an air horn filled the air. Buck's faced drained of what little color was left as he turned to face traffic and saw the eighteen-wheeler bearing down on them. All he managed to do was let out one loud "Oh shit!" accompanied by a piercing scream from Casey and yells from the others before the semi made contact with the van.

The last thing Nathan remembered before everything went black was the little chrome bulldog on the truck's grill and flying backwards over his seat toward the back window.

The eerie echo of the air horn and the screeching sound of metal as the larger object made contact with the smaller one destroyed the peace of the winter's night and finally galvanized the deer into action. It bounded on across the road to disappear in the fir thicket on the other side, leaving behind an unfolding scene of destruction.

* * * * * * *

Nathan first came aware of a disconcerting feeling of floating and a blinding light that pierced through his eye lids to stab his brain, followed quickly by a headache-inducing cacophony of sounds made up of shouts and beeps and a most annoying whooshing sound along his right ear. Must be JD and Casey's stupid game, he thought. He tried to form the words to tell them to turn it down, but all he managed was a groan.

"Mr. Jackson?"

Who the heck is that? he wondered and started to sit up, but found himself stopped by what seemed to be a strap across his chest. At the same time, his body erupted in a tirade of aches and pains that took his breath away. He let out another groan.

"Mr. Jackson, are you awake? Can you hear me?"

He finally managed to open his eyes a bit to see the concerned features of a lovely young lady filling his vision. He furrowed his brows in confusion. Where did she come from, and how did she get into our van?

"Mr. Jackson, you were in an accident, but you're going to be all right. Just relax and let us take care of you," the young lady continued with a soft smile of sympathy.

Nathan found himself mesmerized by her deep blue eyes and scattering of freckles across her nose. Then her words sank into his addled brain. What a minute. Accident? What accident? He couldn't remember what had happened, but a feeling of dread filled him and he began to try to get up in earnest. The others! They'll need me!

"Mr. Jackson, calm down! You're only going to make your injuries worse! Mr. Jackson!"

Nathan found that he had no strength at all and the girl easily held him down, but he weakly fought her anyway, not at all positive of what was going on but knowing that he had to get to his companions. She continued to struggle with him for a moment before saying something to someone nearby and stepping aside. Someone much larger and stronger took her place, and Nathan looked up into the concerned features of Josiah. "Calm down, Nate," the older man soothed. "The others are being taken care of. Everything's going to be all right, just relax and let this young lady do her job."

Nathan held Josiah's eyes for a moment then slowly sank back against the pillow, trusting his long time friend to handle everything. Besides, he was finding that for some reason, his body wouldn't respond to his commands. He wondered briefly about that, but finally gave up as exhaustion overtook him. He allowed his eyes to close once more, the sound of someone saying something about getting someone up on an examination table the last thing to register on his conscious mind.

* * * * * * *

The next time Nathan opened his eyes, he found himself lying on a soft bed in a white room lit by the midmorning sun coming in through the Venetian blinds. He could hear a TV talk show playing softly in the background and the occasional call over a PA system through the open door. As the fog of sleep slowly cleared from his brain, he realized two things—he was obviously in a hospital, and he sitting up against pads with his leg in traction. He started to shift to ease the ache in his back from lying in such an awkward position, but his effort only succeeded in igniting agony along what seemed to be every nerve in his body. He let out an involuntary groan as he squeezed his eyes shut and immediately lay still, clenching his teeth while trying to ride out the pain. His groan alerted the other person in the room of his return to the waking world.

"Nathan? Honey, are you awake?"

As the pain slowly subsided to a persistent but manageable ache, he slowly re-opened his eyes to see the concerned features of his wife looking down on him. "Rain?" he attempted to say, but his dry throat prevented anything more than a cough to pass his lips, which stirred up the pain in his chest again.

"Shhh," Rain soothed as she quickly reached for the large plastic cup of water sitting on the stand beside the bed and positioned the straw into his mouth. "Don't try to move around too much, you'll only hurt yourself more." She watched in compassion as her husband greedily sucked several mouthfuls of the tepid water before laying his head back against his pillow tiredly. She set the cup aside then smoothed his hair gently. "Better?" she asked.

"Better," Nathan managed to croak with a sigh. He lay still for a moment to take stock of the injuries of which he had become so painfully aware. A thick cast covered his left leg from mid-foot to mid- thigh. A brace held his left shoulder and arm still, and when he ghosted his free fingers across his chest, he could feel the hard surface of binding tape, indicating the probability of broken ribs. His left eye was blurry and the skin around it tender to the touch, and he felt the soft cotton of gauze behind his left ear as he continued his careful exploration of his head. His back hurt, his shoulder hurt, his leg hurt, his head hurt, his hip hurt—he felt like one giant bruise. "What happened?" he asked with a wince as his fingers found a particularly sore spot on his head.

"You were in an accident, remember?" Rain answered, gently patting his arm. "But you're going to be fine."

"An accident?" he frowned, trying to dredge the reluctant memories from his hazy mind. "On the way to the ski trip? Was anyone else hurt?"

"The others are banged up, but everyone's okay," Rain assured him. "You caught the worst of it."

He looked down at the large white cast encasing his leg. "I can believe that." He tentatively tried to shift his shoulder again, mindful this time of the brace, and winced at the twinge he received in response.

Rain rubbed his shoulder comfortingly. "You're really hurting, aren't you, Babe?"

Nathan looked up into her mahogany eyes filled with sympathy and gave her a lopsided smile, mindful of the road rash on the side of his face. "Only when I breathe."

"Hey, Nate! You're awake!"

Buck's delighted exclamation interrupted them, and they looked up to see the large man hobble into the room on a pair of crutches, followed by a bemused Josiah, who was carrying a small box with the name of a local pastry shop stamped on the side and a drink container holding three Styrofoam cups. Nathan winced as the shout sent little hammers pounding on his skull again. Rain stood to her feet and gently guided Buck into her chair before taking his crutches and leaning them against the wall. Josiah shook his head as he set the box down on the dinner tray in the corner. "It figures that you would wake up once I stepped out," he said. He took a jelly doughnut from the box and bit into it while stepping toward the bed. "So, how are you feeling?"

"Like I was hit by a train," Nathan answered with a weak smile.

"That would be a semi truck, actually," Josiah corrected as he offered Rain one of the cups which she took gratefully. "What exactly do you remember?"

Nathan frowned as he thought back. "We were going on a ski trip," he started hesitantly. "I remember reaching into the back for a can of coke, then seeing a deer in the road and Buck swerving, but nothing after that." He looked at his friend in puzzlement. "What am I missing?"

Buck's face colored. "I zigged when I should have zagged," he answered sheepishly. "I missed the deer, but must have over done it, cause next thing I know, we're spinning out of control and wind up bouncing across the median to land in the other lane right in the path of a log truck."

Nathan took in Buck's bruised face and the line of stitches across his forehead with concern. "Is everyone all right?"

"Oh, sure," Buck answered him. He reached for a doughnut and winced as he overextended his own sore ribs. He took a bite of the confection and continued on, oblivious to the powdered sugar sprinkled on his mustache. "The van's a total loss—the rental place wasn't happy about that, and neither was Judge Travis, by the way. That's what, the fourth vehicle we've totaled this year?" He looked at Josiah, who was leaning on the wall by the window, for confirmation.

"Sixth. There was the surveillance van you and JD flipped back in that snowstorm in January, Ezra's Jag that was shot up in the bust in April, the government car that was stripped bare outside Vin's apartment in June, the Jeep Cherokee you and Ezra crashed through the plate glass window of that bank downtown back in July, and the van that was blown up in that arson case last month," Josiah recounted. He took a sip of his coffee.

Buck winced at the recap. "Oh yeah, I forgot about the Jag. Ezra was sore at me for months over that one, wasn't he?"

Josiah raised an eyebrow. "Brother Ezra is still sore at you for that one, and he has justifiable cause, considering he had only grudgingly agreed to loan it to you after you gave your solemn vow that it would be returned without a single scratch. And after Chris all but forced him. It was only the fact that Chris, Vin, and I myself were all three holding him back that kept him from throttling you there on the spot when he first saw what you had done, and it was only because Chris swore to him that the repair bill would be coming out of your own pocket that mollified him enough to keep him from ripping you apart the moment we let go of him. Even now he has swore to and I quote 'ensure that Mr. Wilmington will be singing first soprano for the rest of his life' if you even so much as 'dare to touch his car with a single finger' ever again."

'Well, it wasn't my fault that he was under with that Milford case when that case with team 6 suddenly opened wide up, now was it? Nor was it my fault that we couldn't get a fancy car on short notice or that Timmons had already set up his cover as a lucrative dealer who liked sports cars. And it definitely wasn't my fault we were made as feds or that Timmons was shot and we had to make a quick getaway!" Buck argued in his defense.

"No," Josiah agreed mildly, "nor was it your fault that Timmons bled all over the interior and that Black's goons ripped into it with M-16s while you tried to escape. But you were the one who put it into the river."

"I didn't put it into the river," Buck groused. "The part that saw water was the front tires and fenders and part of the engine. And—"

"Guys!" Nathan pleaded in interruption, "can we get back to the topic at hand? How are Ezra and JD and Casey?"

Buck blinked in surprise at the sudden change of topic. "Oh, yeah—the accident. Well, the steering wheel ended up pinning me to my seat and my leg was caught under the dashboard, and I wound up with a few cracked and bruised ribs and a broken leg," he tapped the cast lightly. "I got cut some by the glass from the windshield and ended up with a minor concussion, but I got off pretty damn light, all things considered. Casey was cut up some by glass and is pretty bruised up from the seatbelt and being tossed around, but she managed to walk away from the wreck. The docs kept her overnight for observation to make sure that she didn't have any internal bleeding, but she was all right and Nettie was able to take her home the next morning."

"JD has a few cracked ribs and was cut up fairly badly while protecting Casey and had to have a pretty large shard removed from his arm, but he's doing all right," Josiah added.

Bucked nodded and picked up the story. "Ezra had us worried for a while. He broke his collar bone and was cut up like the rest of us, but worse than that, he hit the window hard enough to crack his skull. There was an issue with his brain swelling, but the docs managed to get it under control. He was out for a couple of days, but woke up Sunday evening and is getting back to his old self now, driving the doctors and Chris crazy. I think they're planning to release him either today or tomorrow."

"Sunday?" Nathan interrupted in confusion. "How long have I been out?"

"Today's Friday," Josiah answered as he polished off another doughnut and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "It's been a week since the accident."

"A week!" Nathan exclaimed, sitting up in surprise. He sucked in a sharp breath when his ribs flared angrily in protest.

Rain gently guided him back down and squeezed his hand in sympathy. "You were badly injured, Honey," she explained.

Josiah nodded in agreement and favored his friend with a solemn look. "The semi tried to change lanes to avoid hitting you, but clipped the back fender of your van anyway, sending you guys rolling down over the bank and into the creek. Your van ended up resting against the other bank, thankfully out of the water. The truck jackknifed and lost its load all over the road and the van ended up under the logs. It's a miracle that you all five survived, not to mention that most of you escaped with relatively minor injuries."

"When the semi hit us and we started to roll, you were thrown through the back glass," Buck added, a shudder rippling through him as he remembered the crash and remembered waking up minutes later, pinned against his seat by the steering wheel and hearing JD franticly calling his name. He remembered the panic that coursed through him when he realized he couldn't move, and the fear that shot ice along his spine when he looked over at the unconscious southerner who lay against the passenger door, pale as death with blood covering his face and coat and smeared on the cracked window beneath his head. He had nearly cried with relief when JD checked the man and assured him that Ezra was still alive but out cold, but had panicked again when Casey told them that Nathan was not in the van with them. "We thought you were dead," he admitted, looking at Nathan with guilt and remorse shining in his eyes.

Josiah squeezed his shoulder in comfort. "When JD told us you weren't in the van, Vin backtracked up the creek and found you lying on the bank, and let me tell you, brother, it wasn't a pretty sight." He shook his head. "You had to have gone through a dozen guardian angels that night to even still be breathing. Lord knows you gave Vin a heart attack. He thought for sure you were dead when he first laid eyes on you."

The remnants of the anguish that his friends had felt still shadowed their eyes, and Nathan took a shallow breath, sobered by the thought of how close he had come to death. "So where are we and what exactly is wrong with me?" he asked.

"I think I should be the one to answer that."

They looked up as a portly, balding, middle-aged man entered the room followed by a nurse. The two came to stand by the bed. "It's good to see you awake and coherent, Mr. Jackson," he smiled at his patient. "I'm Dr. Garrett and you are currently occupying a bed in the general hospital in Leadville." He shook Nathan's hand while pulling a stethoscope out of the pocket of his white jacket and slipping it into his ears. "You are definitely looking much better today," he smiled pleasantly, "but let's check you out anyway."

He quickly and efficiently examined his patient, checking bandages and casts while the nurse wrote down his vital signs on a clipboard she carried. Upon completing his exam, the doctor stepped back. "Well, from the conversation I heard earlier and what I see here now, I'd say you are doing much better, but we'll get the necessities out of the way none the less. Do you know who you are?"

"Nathan Jackson."

"Good," Garrett said. "And you know the people in the room here with you?"

Nathan nodded. "This is my wife, Rain," he squeezed her hand, "and we were married the first Saturday in August two years ago. And that's Josiah Sanchez and Buck Wilmington, friends and co-workers of mine."

The nurse scribbled something on her clipboard as the doctor smiled. "Excellent. And where do you work?"

"I'm an agent for the Special Tactical Unit of the ATF in Denver. I'm a forensics specialist on Team 7 and have 4 other teammates besides the two here. My team leader is Chris Larabee, and the others are Vin Tanner, JD Dunne, and Ezra Standish."

The nurse growled something under her breath at the mention of Ezra's name and Garrett glanced at her before turning back to Nathan with a slightly pained look. "Ah, yes, Mr. Standish. Most certainly cannot forget him."

Buck erupted with a loud guffaw at the comment, and Josiah shook his head in longsuffering. "Brother Standish never is a model patient," he sighed.

Garrett rolled his eyes. "His physicians in Denver warned us that he was a recalcitrant, stubborn mule and slippery as an eel," he admitted. "They didn't tell us the half of it."

"I take it Ezra's well on the mend, then, if he's giving you trouble." Nathan favored the nurse and the doctor a knowing look of sympathy. "You're best off if you just gag him, tie him down, and keep someone watching him twenty-four seven," he advised. "The man could be in the shape I'm in and still manage to slip off on ya if you aren't watching."

The nurse snorted again and the doctor shook his head. "As we found out the hard way," he smiled ruefully. "I should have taken the fact that Denver did all they could to keep us from airlifting him there as a sign." He raised an eyebrow as Buck nearly fell out of his seat in laughter a second time. "Mr. Larabee is with him now," he continued, "and his dire threats to 'shoot his ass' and 'stuff a stinkin' blanket down his throat if he didn't shut up' have seemed to calm him down for now."

"Oh don't count on it," Buck chuckled. "Ol' Ezra's favorite past time is pushing Chris over the edge. And if he's bored enough, he'll push Chris right into physical violence. You might want to have a security guard or two standing by if Vin ain't down there just to pull Chris off when he tries to throttle the snake."

Garrett paled a bit at the warning and cleared his throat. "Well, hopefully it won't make it that far. I do believe Dr. Edwards is planning to release him this afternoon."

"And it won't be soon enough," the nurse muttered, sending Buck into another fit of laughter.

Nathan yawned widely then winced as it pulled at the bruises and scrapes on his face. "So exactly what all is wrong with me?" he asked tiredly.

The doctor looked back at him, noticing the weariness of his patient, and motioned for the nurse to inject a pain killer in the IV tube. "Nothing that one wouldn't expect for a man who survived a defenestration through the reinforced window of a minivan," he commented. "If you haven't noticed, your left side took the brunt of the impact with the glass and the following impact with the road." He held up a hand to tick off the injuries. "You have cracked your pelvis on your left side, and broke five ribs on that side. Four more there are cracked. Your left clavicle is broken and you managed to dislocate the shoulder as well, which we were able to reduce thankfully without surgery. Both the tibia and fibula of your lower right leg are broken, and you broke two of the metatarsal bones of your right foot. All in all, you have ten broken bones and five cracked ones. In addition to the bone injuries, you suffered a concussion and have a severe case of road rash, mostly on your left side but elsewhere as well. You have several stitches, especially in your back, where you went through the window. Finally, you are bruised literally from head to toe."

Nathan's eyes widened at the list and he glanced down at his leg in awe. "Wow," was all he managed to say.

"You know, Nate," Buck shook his head, "If you were wanting to catch up with the rest of us when it comes to the injury list, did you really have to do it all at once?"

Nathan shot Buck a glare the best he could and Josiah snorted at the comment. Garrett cleared his throat to draw attention back to him. "You truly are a lucky man, Mr. Jackson," he continued gravely. "Being a medic yourself and married to a doctor, I am sure you are well aware of complications that can arise in cases such as this."

Nathan glanced at Rain and swallowed hard at the pained look in her eyes. "Yeah, I'm aware," he answered thickly.

Garrett nodded. "As in any case where large bones or a number of them are broken, there is always a chance of complications," he said. "We managed to stabilize you without much trouble, but twenty-four hours after you were admitted, you developed fat embolisms in your blood stream."

Nathan squeezed Rain's hand. "How bad was I?"

The doctor looked at him in sympathy. "I wouldn't have taken odds on your survival five days ago," he answered bluntly. "However, you are most certainly a tenacious one, because you started showing signs of improvement by Tuesday evening. We backed off the sedatives we had you on yesterday morning and you have awakened a few times since, but this is the first time you have been completely coherent."

Nathan leaned back against the pillow, trying to process the disturbing news. "I don't remember," he whispered.

Garrett patted his arm and smiled. "I'd say not. But your tests are coming back quite positive, and I can say now with confidence that I do believe you are on the road to recovery. Keep up the good work, and we'll have you out of the ICU by Sunday."

Nathan yawned tiredly as the effects of the painkiller began to take hold. "Sounds good to me."

"Good," Garrett said. "Now, get some sleep—your body needs all the rest it can get. I'll swing back by this evening."

Buck grabbed his crutches and struggled to his feet after the doctor and nurse left the room. "Well, I'll be heading out too, then," he announced. He paused a moment and glanced down at his feet before looking back at Nathan seriously, all levity gone from his eyes. "I'm really sorry, Nathan."

Nathan furrowed his brows, not following his friends reasoning. "Why?"

Buck shrugged. "I was the one driving and I wasn't concentrating fully on what I was doing. It's my fault we wrecked and it's my fault you were hurt."

Nathan reached up and patted his friend's hand, not liking the guilt he saw in his eyes. "Things happen, Buck," he said. "You couldn't have predicted the deer or the semi, and you did everything you could to keep us safe. And it wasn't your fault I took off my seatbelt."

"I was the one who asked for the coke," Buck insisted, refusing to be let off the hook.

Nathan shook his head. "And I could have told you to wait, too," he persisted. "I chose to do something stupid, and I paid for it, so quit beating yourself up over something that could have happened to any one of us." Another yawn split his features. "But if it makes ya feel better, I promise to beat the living tar out of you when I'm back on my feet."

"Thanks, Nate," Buck smiled at his friend and patted his shoulder before pushing away from the bed. "Well," he said, get his composure back, "I think I'll just mosey on down to Ez's room and see if Chris has killed him yet." He grinned widely. "See ya!"

Nathan shook his head as the big man hobbled through the door.

Josiah pushed away from the wall and shared an amused grin with his friend. "I'll just follow Brother Buck and make sure he stays out of trouble," he said wryly.

"That's easier said then done, Preacher," Nathan laughed.

Josiah smiled and patted the medic on the shoulder. "True, Brother Nathan, but I think I'm up to the challenge."

Nathan yawned once more and settled deeper in the bed as best he could. "Yeah, I think you're big enough to take him, especially in the shape he's in now." He laid his good hand across his stomach and closed his eyes. "Keep working on him on that accident, too, will ya? He don't need to be carrying that load of guilt around."

"Already working on it, Brother." Josiah grabbed up his box of donuts and balanced his coffee cup on top before looking back down at his friend who was struggle against the relentless pull of sleep. "Get some rest, Nate," he smiled gently. "I'll be back later."

Nathan smiled softly and squeezed Rain's hand as the big man slipped quietly out the door. He looked up at his wife sleepily as she brushed his hair once more and gave him a gentle kiss. "Go to sleep, Love," she crooned.

And Nathan did.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * **

True to his word, Dr. Garrett moved Nathan down to a regular room that Sunday, and by Tuesday morning, Nathan found himself ready to go insane from boredom. He flipped through the TV channels in disinterest and he scratched irritably at the healing scrapes on the side of his face, waiting impatiently for the orderly to arrive to take him downstairs to his first day of therapy, looking forward to at least an hour or so out of the blasted bed and the blasted room with its blasted scenic pictures of the same two blasted wolves that he had became as familiar with as he was his own features in the few days he had spent cooped up within the bland four walls. As the days of confinement had marched on, he became short-tempered and restless, itching to be up and doing something, anything, other than lying in bed in the same room for hours on end with nothing more than day time TV, a few books and journals, and the routine visits of nurses to occupy his time. The bed opposite of his remained empty, disallowing even the idea of company in the form of a roommate to share his misery with. As much as he hated to admit it, he was finding himself identifying with Vin and JD whenever they became irritable and unruly when forced into inactivity following an injury.

Rain had reluctantly gone back to Denver the day before at Nathan's insistence that he would be fine, but only after he swore he would call her if he needed anything. The rest of team seven had gone back to work as well, with Buck being regulated to the dreaded desk duty because of his broken leg. Ezra had indeed been released Friday afternoon as promised and had finally been allowed to go to his own home Sunday evening, after spending the weekend ensconced at Chris's ranch. Josiah had told him that Ezra had made enough of a nuisance of himself that Chris had actually reached for his gun at one point. He said that Vin had disarmed the irate blond while he himself had pushed Ezra into his Suburban and taken him home for the sake of Chris's sanity. Ezra had smiled smugly until he realized that his team mates had decided to camp out in his living room and to call him at all hours of the day and night to ensure he was all right. The southerner was still under doctor's orders to have someone nearby as he was still suffering from headaches and blurred vision, and Chris was taking sadistic glee in waking Ezra from a dead sleep each chance he got, whether it be from phone calls or from pounding on his door.

Though his friends had grudgingly gone back to Denver, they each called him each night, making sure he was doing okay and doing their best to keep him in the loop. Nathan fully expected to see at least one or two of them before the week was out, despite the distance from Denver.

He looked up as a candy striper pushed a wheelchair into his room followed by a male orderly. "Good morning, Mr. Jackson!" the young girl bubbled brightly. "I'm Cindy and I'm going to take you down to physical therapy!"

Nathan stared at her for a second then shook his head, wondering how someone could be that perky at that time of the morning. The girl couldn't have been older than nineteen, and had long, honey blond hair and a brilliant white smile that he was sure would glow in the dark. Still, he was giddy at the chance to finally escape his prison, and returned her bright smile with a large one of his own. "Finally!" he exclaimed. "Anything to get out of this room for a while!"

The orderly helped him out of bed and into the chair and Cindy pushed him down the hall to the elevator, chattering on about the day and the weather, and the latest gossip from Hollywood. Finally, when Nathan thought he wouldn't be able to take any more of her incessant, cheerful prattle, she wheeled him into a bright yellow room and parked him beside the door. "Here we are, Mr. Jackson," she said as she settled him. "We're a little early. Your therapist is finishing with a patient in the next room, so just wait here a few minutes, okay?"

Nathan nodded and she smiled at him in what seemed to be pity before leaving him alone. He shifted a bit to ease the ache in his hips and back then took a moment to study his new surroundings. The room itself was large and filled with various kinds of equipment from exercise machines and treadmills, to parallel bars, padded tables, weight machines, exercise mats, and other devices useful for physical and occupational therapy. Nathan could see a small pool and a whirlpool through glass doors at the back of the room.

A few people were already at work at different stations throughout the expanse. An older gentleman with snow white hair encircling a gleaming bald head was walking hesitantly on a treadmill positioned to the left, encouraged along by a young therapist standing beside him. From the man's stilted gate, Nathan guessed he had recently had hip replacement surgery. Further to the back of the room, a young man lay on a padded table while a short woman with her dark hair cut in a bob manipulated his legs in various positions. A woman who appeared to be in her mid-thirties sat with her arm propped on a table nearby, slowly lifting a hand weight toward her shoulder.

The door opened, interrupting Nathan from his musings, and he looked up to see a very old, frail woman lying flat on a gurney being pushed into the room. The two orderlies rolled her to a tall table, carefully lifted her onto it and strapped her down. A woman followed the group into the room and patted the older woman on the arm. "Are you read, Mrs. Clepper?" she asked pleasantly.

The older woman murmured something that Nathan couldn't make out, but whatever she said caused the therapist to patiently smile at her. "You can do this, ma'am," she assured the older woman. "Now just relax." She reached for a control box that lay near the table and pushed a button. "Here we go!"

Nathan watched curiously as the entire top of the table slowly tilted upward. As soon as she felt the table move, the old lady squeezed her eyes shut, balled her gnarled old fingers into fists, and began her mantra: "Oh, Lord, take me home. Oh, Lord, take me home. Oh, Lord, take me home. Oh, Lord, take me home."

She continued to say the same words over and over the entire time that she was held in that position. Finally, the therapist lowered the table. "Very good, Mrs. Clepper!" she cheered. "You made it to ten whole minutes today at forty- five degrees! We are really making progress! We may just have you up to fifteen minutes by next week!"

Nathan watched incredulously as the orderlies returned, gently laid the woman back on her gurney, and pushed her from the room. Before he had a chance to process what he had just seen, however, the door slammed open and a new person entered the room. At first glance, Nathan thought it was a football player or body builder, but received the shock of his life when the person stopped directly in front of him and said "Nathan Jackson?" in a gruff female voice.

She was the tallest woman he had even seen, having to stand at least six foot-five inches in her bare feet and weighing at least three hundred pounds—and all of it pure muscle without an ounce of fat. Her pale blond hair was pulled back in a severe bun and her hazel eyes glared out at the world in sheer malice. Nathan felt a shiver of fear roll down his spine as he looked up at her. "Uh, yes?" he gulped.

"I am your physical therapist," she snapped without an introduction. "Today I am going to teach you to how to stand up."

Without any warning, she snatched the handles of his chair and pushed him toward the back of the room. Nathan grabbed the arms and held on for dear life as they careened around equipment and people, his heart lodging in his throat as his cast came within centimeters of slamming into a weight bench, then a stationary bike, then a table. She maneuvered him between a set of low bars and jerked his chair to such a hard stop that his hold on the arms were the only thing that kept him in his seat. She grabbed his cast none too gently and lifted it up long enough to put the foot rest up before setting his plastered heel against the floor with a thud. Nathan winced as the impact sent a hot flash of pain up his broken leg, across his bruised pelvis, and through his mangled rib cage.

She moved behind him and without any warning, grabbed him under the arms. "Now we stand." In one fluid motion, she lifted him bodily from the chair and pushed him forward.

Standing isn't a difficult function for any healthy, athletic, young person in the prime of their life.

It is one of the earliest milestones that an infant human being learns to do, after all—right up there with lifting their own heads, rolling over on their own, and crawling.

But for Nathan Jackson at this particular moment in time, standing after breaking ten bones and lying in a bed for over a week was a much trickier feat.

As soon as he stood up, every blood cell in his body sat back down.

Nathan could almost feel each and every white and red corpuscle drain from his upper body, throbbing and pulsing in time with his pounding heart as they slid through his arteries down to his toes like toddlers on a playground slide. "Ma'aa-AM!" he shouted as he clung to the rails, desperately trying to keep from blacking out, "I've got to sit DOWN!"

"Well sit down, then," the dragon-therapist snapped.

Nathan dropped back to the chair with a thump, oblivious to the protests of his cracked pelvis and broken ribs as he gasped for breath and wiped a shaky hand across his clammy forehead. He focused on his toes as he slowly caught his breath and stared in wonder at what seemed to look like small sausages poking out of the white plaster of Paris.

Before he had a chance to completely compose himself, he felt her arms slide under his armpits and push him up a second time. "Again!" she commanded.

"Whoa!" Nathan gripped the rails once more as he suddenly found himself upright, his head spinning dizzily with vertigo and his stomach sliding down his legs to join the party that his blood and toes were having. He managed to hold himself vertical for a few extra precious seconds this time before slumping back down into the chair, feeling as though someone had removed his bones and replaced them with jello. It seemed like no time at all before the dragon-therapist was reaching for him with a sharp "Again!" and lifting him bodily to his feet once more.

The process continued for an hour before Nathan was poured back into his chair a final time and wheeled back to his room. He almost cried in relief when he laid his eyes on the bed that he had been so anxious to get out of that very morning and slumped back in exhaustion once the orderly had helped him settle in the padded top. After the grueling ordeal he had just suffered through, the lumpy hospital mattress felt like a plush pile of feathers, and he began to get an inkling as to why Ezra hated to be forced from his bed. Nathan decided that he could live the rest of his life without moving ever again.

The orderly shook his head in sympathy and left the room as the injured man drifted off to sleep, dreaming of dungeons and a dragon with a blonde bun dousing him in fire and pushing him up and down with a sharp "Again!" over and over.......

+ + + + + + +

Nathan grimaced when Cindy pushed a chair into his room the next morning. "Can I just lay here?" he whined, his chocolate eyes begging for mercy. "I really haven't recovered yet from yesterday."

Cindy smiled apologetically at him. "I'm sorry, Mr. Jackson," she said. "But this really is for your own good."

The orderly slipped him back into the wheelchair and within minutes, Nathan found himself back in the yellow room, waiting for his therapist-from-hell. Again, Mrs. Clepper was rolled into the room and place on the table, and again, for another ten minutes, she croaked "Oh, Lord, take me home, Oh Lord, take me home, Oh, Lord, take me home," the entire time she was in the air.

Just as Mrs. Clepper started her routine, the door slammed open and Nathan winced as the dragon stormed through the room and grabbed the handles to his chair without a word. She practically flung him chair and all across the room back to the bars and again jerked him to a stop at the end. She straightened after setting the foot rest up and looked him directly in the eye as she repeated, nearly word for word from the day before: "Today, I am going to teach you how to walk."

Nathan stared up at her in fear, his stomach clenching. "I'm going to have to stand up for that, aren't I?" he asked weakly.

Without another word, the dragon therapist whipped behind him and pushed him to his feet once more. Nathan grabbed onto the twin rails for dear life, squeezing his eyes shut and swallowing a few times as his head swam. When he finally opened his eyes, he saw his therapist standing ramrod straight beside him, holding a set of aluminum crutches and staring at him with contempt. She gruffly positioned the crutches under his armpits, none too mindful of his broken collarbone, and stood back. Nathan knew with one look into her flaming eyes that he wasn't going to get out of this room until he walked, no matter how dearly his entire body protested the action.

The dragon pointed down to the end of the bars. "Now. Walk to the end!" she commanded.

Nathan took a gulp and, gripping the crutches tightly as best he could, slowly shuffled to the end of the bars, wondering all the while what the hell he had done that was so awful as to deserve this kind of torment. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he found himself at the end and closed his eyes in relief.

But the torment wasn't over yet.

Not by a long shot.

Just as he reached the end, he heard the dragon's next demand. "Pivot-on-your-good-foot-and-walk-back-to-me!"

Nathan stared over his shoulder at her in shock. "What—" he stammered, but she wasn't going to be defied. "Pivot-on-your-good-foot-and-walk-back-to-me!" She repeated, her anger kicking her tone up a notch.

He shifted slightly and swallowed hard. "But—" he tried to protest.

"Mr. Jackson!" she spat out, her words dripping with scorn and razor sharp. "Now! Pivot-on-your-good-foot-and-walk-back-to-me!"

Seeing that arguing with her was getting him nowhere, Nathan swallowed his next protest and turned back around to do as she bid. "Lady, you would scare the pants off my drill sergeant in the army," he muttered darkly to himself, as he put all his weight on his good leg intending to pivot-on-his-good-foot-and-walk-back-to-her—and got right back off of it quick. "Yeeooowww!" he cried in anguish as a sharp, biting pain shot up his leg.

The dragon's mood darkened further and she glowered at him. "Mr. Jackson! I said—"

"I know what you said!" he shouted, cutting her off. "But my good foot hurts as much as my bad one!"

The dragon's face scrunched into a persnickety pinch and she put her hands on her hips. "We've x-rayed you from head to toe. Everything that has been broken has been taken care of. Now, pivot-on-your-good-foot-and-walk-back-to-me!"

Nathan's own temper unrolled at her attitude. "I don't care what you've done! I'm telling you that my foot isn't up to this!"

The woman refused to listen, however, and her expression pinched even tighter. "And I told you, we've x-rayed you from head to toe. Everything that has been broken has been taken care of. Now, PIVOT-ON-YOUR-GOOD-FOOT-AND-WALK-BACK-TO-ME!"

Unable to break through her granite skull with any words of reason, Nathan grit his teeth and pivoted. Somehow, despite the agony that had his legs and back screaming and begging for him to stop, he made it back down the rails to her, only to hear: "Now, pivot-on-your-good-foot-and-walk-back-to-the-end!"

"Lady!" Nathan spat out, far past being a gentleman at this point. "You had to have missed something! My good ankle hurts too much to be all right!"

She wasn't listening—or didn't care. She fixed him with cold eyes that glinted deadly and repeated her command once more. "We've x-rayed you from head to toe. Everything that has been broken has been taken care of. Now, pivot-on-your-good-foot-and-walk-back-to-the-end!"

Nathan glanced around the room desperately for help, but none was to be found. He and the dragon were the only two people in the room that morning besides poor Mrs. Clepper on her tilted table, and Nathan didn't figure he could expect any aid from her.

Nope, there was no getting around it. He was at the total mercy of the dragon-therapist-from-hell.

Where are Chris and the boys when you need them? He thought forlornly. A picture of his team leader sighting down the barrel of his forty-five at the dragon while she begged for mercy flashed across his mind, and Nathan used it for inspiration as he pivoted on his "good" foot and walked back and forth along the bars another four times before she was satisfied and allowed him to collapse back into his wheelchair.

The next day was much the same, with the dragon forcing him to "pivot-on-his-good-foot-and-walk-back-to-her" up and down the bars for what seemed like an eternity, with the added torture of also being forced to pull himself up out of his own chair several times. Mrs. Clepper continued to drone "Oh, Lord, please take me home!" on her tilted table and Nathan found himself praying right along side her, begging God to either strike the dragon dead on the spot, or just let him die right then and there—at this point, either option was fine by him. If this was supposed to be his penance for all the wrongs he had done in his life, surely he had evened the scales by now!

When Josiah called that evening, Nathan barely gave him a chance to say hello before he began ranting about the therapist. "She has the bedside manner of a rabid wolf! I tell you, Josiah, I'm going to report her to the authorities! The best orthopedic therapist they have at the hospital, Garrett says. That's the biggest load of bull I've ever heard! What kind of Podunk hospital are they running in this one horse town that they turn a dragon like her lose on their patients! I know why she's got the fastest release rate of patients in the county—that's because her patients rush through therapy so they can get away from her!"

Josiah had to fight to keep from laughing at his friend's display of ire. "I'm sure it's not all that bad, Brother."

"Not that bad!" Nathan exclaimed indignantly. "Not that bad! She's trying to kill me, Josiah!"

"Now, Nathan, that can't be true," the big man soothed, not entirely successful at hiding the amusement in his voice. "It's just like what you've been telling us for years. Physical therapy is painful, but it's necessary if you want to get back on your feet and heal."

"You're enjoying this entirely too much, Preacher!" Nathan hissed, ticked at his friend. "And this isn't the same thing, anyway. You've never been forced through the living hell that I'm going through now. This woman could give Satan lessons on torture! I swear she's a sadist, a dragon, a monster! She's-she's—she's Attila the Hun in orthopedic pumps!"

A mysterious choking noise came over the phone followed by a few thumps that sounded like someone being pounded on the back, and Nathan listened in suspicion as he heard Josiah pull the phone away from his mouth and murmur something to someone. "Who else is there?" he asked warily a few seconds later when a burst of static came across the line, indicating that Josiah had picked the phone back up.

"I'm at Ezra's," Josiah confessed, the amused tone in his voice even more pronounced. "I took him to his doctor's appointment this afternoon and invited myself to dinner afterwards."

"It's not polite to listen in to other people's phone conversations, Ezra!" Nathan growled, finding a new target to vent on.

Josiah chuckled. "Ezra wasn't eavesdropping, Brother. You were yelling loud enough that he could have heard you from the house down the street."

Ezra said something that Nathan wasn't able to understand, but the humor in the southern tone was loud and clear. "What did he say?" he demanded, knowing that whatever it was, it was definitely at his expense.

"Nothing that I'm willing to repeat," Josiah answered.

"Yeah?" Nathan shot back heatedly. "Well you tell that southern snake that if he don't quit laughing at my predicament, that I'm going to beat him to a bloody pulp with my cast when I get home, and then I'm going to find the biggest damn needle they make and shove it up where the sun don't shine!"

Ezra said something else that Nathan couldn't make out but sounded suspiciously along the lines of 'I welcome him to try', and Josiah intervened before things escalated further. "That's enough, Brother," he directed the southerner and turned his attention back to the irate medic. "Nathan, you said yourself that Dr. Garrett was willing to release you in a few days if you continued to improve like you have, but that will only happen if you complete the required therapy. You've dealt with this therapist for three days and survived; you can make it through a couple more. Do what she says and you'll be out before you know it."

Nathan grit his teeth at his friend's statement but was forced to acknowledge the truth in it, no matter how he loathed the very thought. Besides, he didn't really have a choice, anyway—the dragon lady was the only therapist in the whole damn place who had open slots in her schedule.

Nathan knew—he had already tried demanding a different therapist.

Josiah bid him goodnight, and Nathan slammed the receiver down hard enough to nearly crack the plastic before slumping back against his pillow, seething at the seeming callousness of his friend toward his situation and wishing he had someone he could throttle right now—if not the dragon herself, then a certain southern pain-in-the-ass would do nicely or even a large ex-priest.

As the night wore on, his mood only worsened, and the nurses avoided him as much as possible, coming in only when required and performing their required duties in record time and without saying a word to him. The roommate that he had longed for earlier in the week and had received that very morning stayed silent and still in his bed, terrified of the dark rage and the low threats that the large black man muttered to himself across the room and determined to demand a new room as soon as morning came. Finally, one of the night nurses slipped a sedative into his IV and Nathan drifted off to sleep to the relief of everyone on the floor.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan steeled himself as he was pushed into the therapy room the next morning, determined that he was going to beat the dragon at her own game by keeping his mouth shut and surviving whatever she threw at him. He watched moodily as Mrs. Clepper was put on her table and tilted back, finding himself jealous of the old lady with her perky, supportive therapist.

When the door slammed open announcing the arrival of the dragon, Nathan hid his growing hatred behind a forced smiled and grinding teeth and said, "Good morning to you, too. I can't wait to see what titillating activity you have planned for me today."

He took pleasure in watching her face pinch tightly at his sarcastic comment and held on tight as she grabbed the handles of his wheelchair and whipped him through the room. He expected to stop at the parallel bars that had been the dragon's favorite device of torture for the last three days, but she bypassed them to his surprise and instead wheeled him to the very back of the room, where his stomach dropped to his knees as he got his first look at a new implement of torment. "Today," she announced as she parked his chair and put the foot rest up, "I am going to teach you how to climb stairs."

Nathan's eyes widened and his jaw dropped as he looked from her to the wooden platform with three low steps that might as well have been three gigantic boulders as far as he was concerned. "C-climb stairs?" he stammered in shock and dread. "You're kidding, right?"

The dragon didn't answer but instead wrenched a set of aluminum crutches from a cabinet close by and turned to him. "Stand up," she demanded.

Nathan stayed in his seat, wishing with all his being that this were a nightmare and that he would awaken at any moment, but it wasn't meant to be. Unsatisfied with his slow response, his therapist approached him with a huff and jerked him up out of his chair. She adjusted the crutches for his height and jabbed one under his good arm and the other under his broken collarbone, up against his broken ribs and cracked pelvis and grounded firmly against his 'good' foot. She stepped back in what Nathan swore was predatory satisfaction and pointed stiff-armed to the top of the platform. "Climb to the top of those steps!" she barked.

Nathan looked to the top of the platform, only about three feet off the ground in reality but looking to be three hundred feet to him, and swallowed hard. "Lady, I don't think—" he started, but she cut him off in mid-sentence. "Now, Mr. Jackson!"

Sighing in frustration, Nathan shambled toward the first low step and somehow slowly and painfully pulled himself to the top of the platform. He was trembling and gasping for breath when he finally set the cast down, but his relief ended in a cringe when he heard her say: "Now. Pivot-on-your-good-foot-and-walk-back-to-me!"

His temper exploded. "Lady!" he snapped, "I don't OWN a good foot! Give me one of yours to use and then I'll pivot!"

He knew what she was going to respond with even as he completed his sentence, and he mouthed it in time with her: "We've x-rayed you from head to toe. Everything that was broken has been taken care of. Now PIVOT-ON-YOUR-GOOD- FOOT-AND-WALK-BACK-TO-ME!"

He threw her a scathing glare that Chris would have been proud of, fighting off the intense urge to hurl himself at her and beat her senseless with the crutch. He was sure that any judge would deem it a justifiable homicide, maybe even self defense after hearing about what she had put him through.

The dragon, oblivious to her imminent danger, reddened at his dawdling and began to repeat her command. "Mr. Jackson! Pivot-on-your-good—"

"I AM pivoting!" Nathan shouted as he awkwardly and painfully turned around and balanced himself for the arduous journey to the floor, knowing what she was going to say as soon as he hit the bottom.

He wasn't disappointed.

"Again!" she commanded. "Climb to the top of those steps!"

Knowing that it was useless to argue, Nathan's temper deflated. He turned as best he could while muttering curses under his breath, and started back up the stairs.


When Doctor Garrett informed him Friday evening that he could go home as long as he scheduled an appointment with his regular physician on Monday, Nathan nearly kissed him, and when Rain arrived with a change of clothes at eight the next morning, he did shed a few tears. He spent the weekend ensconced snuggly on his overstuffed leather sofa, covered in a warm blanket, his leg propped up on pillows as Rain saw to his every need. He was so happy to be free of the hospital and away from the dragon-therapist, that he suffered with graciousness the teasing of his teammates who filtered through his home at various times to welcome him back and see for themselves that he was truly on the mend. He had even grinned when Vin and Buck presented him with a homemade trophy topped by a tiny crutch made from tin foil and straws and inscribed with "Team Seven's Most Injured Member" on the side. His friends listened to his tale of woe, shaking their heads in sympathy at his treatment at the hands of the therapist (especially Buck and Ezra, who were facing their own time in physical therapy), but still relishing the chance to remind him of each and every time he had not given them any pity during their recoveries from past injuries.

Rain made an appointment with an orthopedic specialist Monday morning, and on Wednesday afternoon, Josiah picked him up and drove to the doctor's offices across town. There, he was poked, prodded, shifted, and manipulated into positions he didn't know he could get into while suffering through another extensive x-ray session. Once it was completed, he was wheeled into an exam room and placed on a papered table to lie in wait for the doctor while using his good hand to hold the open-backed medical gown down so it covered as much as possible, grimacing in embarrassment and glaring at his teammate who was obviously finding his efforts entertaining.

Finally, the doctor entered the room, carrying a folder of x-ray images, and until his dying day, Nathan would never forget his next words.

"Mr. Jackson," the man tsked and shook his head as he placed the x-rays on the lighted panel and turned back to his patient. "You are not going to believe this."

Nathan looked from the images to the doctor and frowned. "What?" he asked, suddenly afraid of what he was going to learn.

The doctor tsked again with another shake of his head and sighed. "Mr. Jackson, Nathan, I hate to have to tell you this, but it seems that their x-rays missed it."

Nathan furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. "Missed what?"

"This," the doctor answered, pointed to the image of his ankle and outlining with the top of a pen the dark line that crossed the bone right above the joint. "It seems that your right ankle is also broken clean through. I'm going to have to put it in a cast and you are going to have to stay off of it for at least three months, or I will have to perform surgery on it."

Nathan stared at the man in shock as Josiah burst out laughing.

His right ankle was broken?

He had not ten but ELEVEN broken bones?

He dropped his head back to the table with a groan and thumped it against the surface, simply unable to process the irony of it all, hearing the echo of the dragon-therapist's words: "We've x-rayed you from head to toe. Everything that has been broken has been taken care of. Now, pivot-on-your-good-foot-and-walk-back-to-me!"

The End