AU: Search & Rescue
DISCLAIMER: The boys aren't mine, and nor is the universe, thank you to the respective people for letting me play in their sandboxes. And dear producers of the BBC series Rockface: Yes, I stole your title and one of your storylines, but last episode you stole the entire plot of the movie Cliffhanger, so I don't think you're in a position to complain.
Something was different.
He couldn't put his finger on it, but something was definitely different. Chris Larabee stretched languidly, his eyes squinting as the bright sunlight penetrated through the curtains of his bedroom. And then it came to him. This was quite possibly the first time in over a month he had woken up naturally, without the discordant clanging of the alarm clock, phone, beeper or a combination of all three. And it felt great.
The end of the summer was imminent, and with it came the tenuous promise of a rest for the hard-working members of S&R Team 7. The amount of call-outs for the team had reached record levels this summer; in fact, it had been so bad that very few members of the team had been able to take more than a couple of days off at a time, and Larabee had had no time off in many weeks. But today was his day. No work, no responsibilities, no worries, no nothing. Today he was no longer Chris Larabee, leader of the best Search & Rescue team in the country. Today, he was Chris Larabee, couch potato. Chris grinned – he liked the sound of that.
Having dressed and showered slowly, Chris padded downstairs quietly, wearing only a pair of thick woolen socks on his feet. He carefully reached out and felt the pot of coffee. Not overly hot, and quite possibly undrinkable if Vin had made it. Not chancing it, Chris set about making a new pot. That done, he poured himself a cup and wandered into the living room.
He had barely been comfortable for five minutes when he heard the familiar sound of the door banging open and the clomp of boots and familiar voices.
"Chris! So you finally managed to drag your ass out of bed then?"
Chris smiled, not turning round. "It's my day off Buck, and nothing short of an earthquake is going to remove me from this couch."
"Yeah well, don't trouble yourself or anything. We've already been on three rescues and it isn't even 11 yet!" Buck ribbed good-naturedly. He knew exactly how long it had been since Chris had given himself a day off, and his best friend truly needed it. But that didn't mean he was going to get to enjoy it in total peace and harmony. Not while Buck was around.
"Nah. Just the usual – what did we have now?" Buck collapsed bonelessly in one of the armchairs as he thought. "One broken crampon; one twisted knee and one…what was the third one, Nate?"
"Asthma attack." The medic replied from behind the couch.
"Yeah, that was it. All in all, nothing we couldn't handle without you Chris."
"Glad to hear it. What about the others?" Chris inquired about the other four members of the team.
"JD and Vin have gone to fetch a stranded skier, and Josiah and Ezra are in the chopper." Buck sighed and leaned his head back against the cushion. "Damn I could just about use a day off myself."
"You had one last week, Buck!" Chris cried.
"Yeah, I know. But, well, I met this cute little filly in town and I was just hoping we could meet up again sometime soon, that's all."
Chris shook his head. "You're incorrigible."
Their conversation was interrupted by the alarm from the office sounding. Nathan went to check it out.
"Well, sounds like we're heading back to work!" Buck said, jumping out of the chair.
"No rest for the wicked, huh?" Chris joked.
"Something like that. Now Chris, you sure you're gonna be alright here all on your lonesome?"
"I think so Buck. Besides, I got Rover to keep me company."
Buck laughed at the reference to Ezra's pet tarantula, a gift from his mother, who now resided in the communal living room, despite to JD"s aversion to all eight-legged creatures. Nathan and he yelled their goodbyes and they left in the same manner they had arrived only ten minutes before - noisily.
Chris sighed contentedly. Ezra and Josiah had popped back to grab some lunch and refuel, but they had since shot off again. Vin and JD had also been back, hanging round for about two hours but then they had been called out again. And now Chris had his feet up on the coffee table, beer in hand, halfway through watching The Great Escape. Life didn't get much better.
Just then, the alarm from the office sounded, and Chris groaned dramatically. Padding barefoot into the office, he picked up the radio.
"Station 7, what's the problem?"
"That you Chris? Thought it was your day off."
"Yeah, it's me. And yes, it's my day off. But there's no one here right now but me, so I guess I'm all you've got."
"Well, I hate to disturb you, but I've got 5 hikers stranded up Collin's Way. One of themes got a sprained ankle. Think you can handle it?"
"Well, at least that's nice and easy. I think I'll be able to manage it. Give me the coordinates."
Chris jotted down the numbers given out over the radio, and then raised Vin over the airwaves.
"Vin, what's your status?"
"We're just about finished up here pard." Vin replied. "Just got to escort some folks down."
"Excellent, can you meet me at the bottom of Collin's Way in an hour?"
"Yeah, JD can finish up here no problem. Don't tell me you're working on your day off?"
"Got no choice in the matter, everyone else is in the middle of something. It shouldn't be much more than a walk in the sun, though. It'll do me good."
"Your daily constitutional, huh? Alright, I'll be there in an hour. Out."
Three hours later, Chris and Vin were nearly at the top of Collin's Way. Chris was puffing slightly, and they stopped for a breather.
"Out of shape, old man?" Vin teased.
"Fit enough to kick your butt, Tanner." Chris replied, but with a smile on his face. In truth, he was enjoying himself. Collin's Way wasn't too testing, and it had been a while since Vin and he had had some time alone. Chris was enjoying his best friend's company, including the good-natured ribbing that came along with it.
"Well now," Vin said, is his best tour-guide voice. "To our left we have a nice, slowly meandering path which will take us to the top of this hill. Recommended for women, children, and slightly out-of-shape old men. And to our front, we have a reasonably challenging climb, a little more difficult but a lot more fun."
Vin turned to look questioningly at Chris, who just sarcastically replied "What do you think?"
Chris laid both his hands on the top of the ridge, and pulled himself up.
"Took your time, didn't you Larabee? I was getting bored waiting up here." Vin joked. He had gone lead on the climb, and then Chris had followed him up.
"Well, I would've been quicker if I hadn't had to pull all your anchors out!" Chris replied, referring to the nuts Vin had fixed into the rock face to thread the climbing rope through as a safety measure. Both men were perfectly capable of free climbing the wall, but they were on a rescue, and had other people's safety to think about as well as their own.
"Well, I reckon we head up there next." Vin said, pointing up to their left.
"How about we head up there instead?" Chris said, gesturing in the other direction.
"Are you cracked, Larabee? This way will take us to the top."
"I know that Vin, but the people we're supposed to be rescuing are up there."
Vin looked to his right, and sure enough, five climbers were waving at them. Chris grinned. "I may be old and unfit, but at least I ain't blind!"
"So what happened?" Chris asked the injured hiker, whilst probing his ankle.
"I just turned over on it." The hiker replied.
"Well, that probably wouldn't have happened if you'd been wearing proper boots, instead of these." Chris said, pointing to his sneakers. Chris began to wrap the ankle.
"I know. I was gonna get some, but they're so damn expensive!"
"Yeah, but they're worth it, because they'll prevent stuff like this happening in future. I'm Chris, by the way, and that's Vin." Vin waved.
"Well, Martin, do you think you can walk?"
"Yeah, it feels better now you've bandaged it."
"Okay then, let's see about getting you and your friends off this hill, huh?"
"Damnit." Vin cursed, halting. He turned and looked beyond the 5 hikers to where Chris was at the end of the line. They were walking along a narrow path that traversed a steep rockface. The hikers had been warned not to look over the ledge; it was a long way down. The path was about 4 foot wide, safe enough, but the dizzying height could cause a man to freeze up and Chris and Vin both just wanted to get home before it got any later in the day. They would be late enough meeting the boys for a drink at Inez's in town as it is.
"What is it?" Chris called.
"There's been a rockslide. A chunk of the path is missing." Vin called back.
"About 8 feet."
Chris grinned. "Alright boys," he said to the hikers, "this could get interesting."
A few inches of the path remained, and Vin had no trouble climbing over to the other side. He set up an anchor in the rock halfway across, and laid a rope through the carabineer. Meanwhile, Chris was getting Martin into a harness.
"You ready Chris?" Vin asked.
"Yup. Okay Martin?" Chris asked the nervous hiker. "Now this is real easy, so don't you worry. I'm tying this end of the rope to your harness. Now it goes through that anchor there, and Vines got the other end on belay, so you can't fall, okay? All you gotta do, is keep your toes on the ledge, and shuffle all the way across. There's plenty of handholds, and remember Vines got hold of the rope."
Martin nodded nervously. With Chris's guidance, he moved out onto the rockface.
"Now don't look down, Martin, just look straight over at Vin." Chris soothed. "You're doing great. Just grab that handhold, great, and move your feet. You see, you're almost halfway across."
Martin paused while halfway across, sweating and panting. "You're doing great, Martin. Keep going."
Vin saw the hiker starting to look down. "No! Martin, don't look down, just look right over at me. See me? Look at me, and come towards me."
"I…I can't." Martin stammered.
"Yes you can, Martin. Yes, you can. Just keep looking at me."
"No. I can't."
Vin looked over at Chris.
"Alright Martin," Chris said. "Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to come out next to you, and I'll show you where to put your hands, okay? Alright? I'm coming out now."
Chris climbed out onto the rockface, and with the reassurance of Chris beside him, Martin soon made it over to the other side. Chris stepped onto the path too, and removed the rope from Martin's harness. "You did great." Chris praised. Martin smiled, still shaking slightly.
Chris attached the rope to his own harness, and headed back over to the other side. Halfway over, he paused to clip the rope into the anchor again.
Vin heard a noise from above, and looked up. "Rockfall!" He yelled in warning, and moved as close to the wall as he could.
Chris heard Vines shout, and hugged the wall he was clinging to. Rocks showered down around him. One struck him hard on the head, and flung him off the wall. The rock around the anchor crumbled, and it came out. Vin, not ready for the sudden weight on the rope, was pulled from the path.
Martin couldn't believe his eyes as he saw both rescuers fall from the rockface. It took him a moment to realize that the coil of rope was at his feet, but unraveling fast. Without a thought, he grabbed for it, bracing himself with his feet. The rope burned as it ran through his hands, and he screamed, but gradually their descent slowed and stopped.
Vin and Chris bounced with the natural elasticity of the rope as their fall was checked. Chris hung limply at the bottom of the rope.
"Chris!" Vin shouted, looking down at his friend. "Chris!"
The rope slipped through Martin's hands, and the two climbers dropped down another foot. The jerk of the rope roused Chris. He blinked blood out of his eyes, and tried to work out where he was.
"Chris!" Vin yelled again. Chris looked up at his friend and finally worked out their situation.
"Vin…" Chris said.
"I can't hold it!" Martin screamed from above. Another foot of rope slipped through his hands.
"Vin, I can't…I can't reach my knife." Chris said.
"Just hang on Chris, I'm going to get us out of this." Vin looked around, but he was too far from the wall to do anything.
"I can't reach my knife Vin, you'll have to do it."
"He can't hold us both. We're too heavy. You have to do it."
"Vin, cut the rope."
"It's slipping! Aaargh!" Martin screamed as more rope burned through his hands.
Chris looked down, assessing the distance. "There's a chance that I'll make it."
"I ain't cutting you loose!"
"You have to. No point in us both dying."
"Aaargh! It's slipping!" More screams from above.
"It's 50-50 Vin." They dropped another metre. "Vin, I'm not afraid. Give yourself a chance."
"Vin, do it! You've got a future, a family to start. Mine's already gone. Cut...the rope."
"It's slipping! Aaaargh!" Blood stained the rope as it ran through Martin's bleeding hands. "I can't…aaaargh!"
"You know I'm right…Cut the rope."
Vin listened in anguish to the screams from above, and the words from his friend below. He reached into his pocket, and pulled out his knife. He looked at the blade in his hand, horrified by what he was about to do.
"Look after the boys for me." Chris said.
Vin cut the rope, and Chris plummeted down to the ground.
Josiah looked at his watch. "They sure are taking their time."
"Well it's a lovely day to be up on a hill. They're probably just enjoying themselves." Nathan replied.
"Still not here?" JD asked, returning from the bar with a tray of drinks.
"Well, given the choice between enjoying the fresh air up Collin's Way and watching Buck drooling over the women at the bar, I know what I would prefer." Ezra said, looking over at where Wilmington was trying out his best chat-up lines.
Just then, the door to the bar burst open, and they saw a familiar figure silhouetted in the frame. "You see, here's Vin now." Buck said, turning to the boys seated at their usual table.
Vin stepped into the light, and everyone in the bar gasped as they saw the blood running from a cut above his eye. Worse though, was the haunted expression on his face. Five men stood as one and moved towards their friend. All he said was "It's Chris."
Six anxious men waited in the hospital. Chris had survived the fall, but just barely. It had been five hours since they had arrived at the hospital. Vines guilt was unbearable.
"I can't believe I let him fall."
"Vin, we've been over this. There was nothing you could have done." Buck said, his arm around Vines shoulder.
"I could have cut the rope above me, instead of below."
"What? So you'd be in surgery right now as well? No, scratch that. Those five guys wouldn't have made it off that cliff to get help without you, so you'd both still be out there, and probably both dead by now!"
Vin just shook his head.
"You did the right thing, Vin." Buck said, but Vin just stared at the floor.
A doctor approached the group. Nathan got to his feet quickly. "Doctor?"
The doctor looked at the men. "It was touch and go there for a while. There was some fairly substantial internal bleeding, and it took us a while to get it under control. In fact, it wasn't until we thought we had finished that we discovered Mr. Larabee was bleeding from one of his kidneys as well, but we managed to repair that without having to remove it. Barring any complications, he should be fine."
All six men began breathing again.
"Can we see him?" Buck asked.
"One of you may sit with him, but he probably won't wake up until morning."
All eyes turned towards Vin. The doctor smiled gently, seeing the tears on Vines face. "I'll take you to him."
"Vin! Vin, wake up."
Vin jerked awake. He had fallen asleep with his head resting on the side of the hospital bed, Chris's battered hand in his. He looked around for the voice that had woken him.
"You should go home. Get some decent rest. You've been here for hours."
Vin just shook his head. "No thanks Josiah. I ain't leaving."
"Vin, there's nothing you can do…"
"This was my fault." Vin said. "I did this to him."
"We've been over this Vin. You did what you had to."
"No. Not that. I mean the reason he fell in the first place." Vin looked up at Josiah, the anguish apparent on his face. "The anchor came out the rock. The anchor *I* put there, didn't hold."
Josiah shrugged helplessly. "It happens…"
"No! Not to me it doesn't. I know rocks, Josiah. I know climbing. I should know what's gonna take weight, and what isn't…"
"And I suppose you can predict rock falls as well, can you? I suppose this is your fault because you didn't predict what Mother Nature was going to do next?"
Vin just shook his head.
"Vin, you've got to stop beating yourself up over this. You have to. Now, it's a miracle Chris even survived that fall, so we've just got to thank God for that and not question His reasons for what happened to cause the fall." Josiah sighed. "And besides, Chris wouldn't want you to be like this."
Vin sniffed, a few tears falling onto his cheeks.
"But look at him, Josiah. Just look at him!" Josiah looked down at the still figure on the bed. "You see? There ain't a single inch of him not bruised or broken or bleeding."
Vin put his head on his hands and began to cry, the worry and exhaustion finally taking its toll.
"Actually, I think there's a spot on my left butt cheek that's okay."
Vin and Josiah both looked up upon hearing the hoarse but strong voice from the bed.
"Chris!" Vin said with relief, seeing his best friend looking over at him.
"Hey cowboy," he rasped.
"It's good to have you back, brother." Josiah said, smiling. Chris looked over at him. "I'll go tell the others you're awake." Josiah nodded at his friend, and left.
"How you feeling?" Vin asked.
"You get the license number of that truck?"
Vin smiled, then sighed. "Chris…"
"Vin, don't." Chris cut him off.
"Don't start. I heard most of what you and Josiah were talking about, and I know what you must be feeling. I'd be feeling the exact same way if this were the other way around. But it wasn't anyone's fault. It wasn't your fault."
Vin looked confused. "Say what?"
"Say it wasn't your fault."
"Okay fine, it wasn't your fault."
"Vin…I've got more than a couple of broken ribs here, so don't make me yell at you."
Vin shook his head. "I can't Chris. I can't say it "'cause it won't be true."
"Vin, look at me. Just look me square in the eye, and say it."
Vin continued to stare at his hands for a moment, and then finally looked up. In his friend's eyes, he saw no hint of anger, recrimination or blame, just…warmth. He held the gaze for a moment, the two of them communicating without words for a moment.
"It wasn't my fault."
Chris smiled. "Excellent. Took you long enough though. So, what's the damage?"
"You want to hear everything?"
"Yeah, spill it. It feels like I broke every bone in my body, so it can't be much worse."
Vin shrugged. "Okay, well you had some internal damage and stuff, and some broken ribs. And concussion. And you broke your shoulder, and dislocated your elbow. Broke some fingers. Oh, and you dislocated your hip too. You only cracked your femur, so that's not like a proper break. And…uh…in your ankle and foot you broke some…stuff."
Chris raised an eyebrow. "Stuff?"
"Well, you know, bones and stuff."
Chris just looked at him. "Ah hell, Chris. Apparently there's like a billion bones in a person's foot, and you broke so damn many, and they've all got such stupid names that I guess I, well, I kinda phased out."
"You phased out?"
"Yeah, I just stopped listening."
"You stopped listening?"
Vin just nodded. "Ooh, I know they put some screws in your ankle somewhere though."
"Oh well great. That's okay then."
"Ah Chris, don't sulk."
"I don't *sulk*, Tanner."
"Yes you do. You're sulking now."
"Am not." There was a moment's silence. "I'd know what you broke." Chris mumbled petulantly.
"Like hell! Damn, even Nathan got bored listening to your list."
"Well I tell you what, when we get out of here, I'll push you down the stairs and we'll see how many I can remember, huh?"
"Fine. Let's do that."
Three weeks later, Chris was released. Buck pushed Chris's wheelchair into the house, and between them, Buck and Vin managed to get Chris comfortable on the sofa.
"Okay?" Vin asked.
"Yeah, great. Damn but it's good to be home." Chris grinned. "So, is now a good time for you to throw yourself down the stairs, Tanner?"
"Throw myself? I thought the deal was that you were gonna push me."
"Well, I'm a little incapacitated right now. I figured you could just throw yourself down, do the honourable thing."
"What the hell are you guys talking about?" Buck asked, butting in.
Chris smiled. "Well, Vin here "phased out" and couldn't remember everything that I broke…"
"It was only the ones in his foot and ankle I couldn't remember!" Vin interrupted.
"And so I said that when I got back, I'd push him down the stairs and I bet I could name every bone he breaks." Chris finished.
"Well, that is slightly harsh, Chris." Buck said.
"Yes, it was my impression that there are at present fewer undivided bones in your body than fragmented ones." Ezra added.
"Well, all the same. I'd remember if it was one of you." Chris said.
"Remember what?" Nathan asked, just returning to the room with a bottle of pills and a glass of water which he handed to Chris.
Chris scowled up at Nathan. "No arguments, just take 'em." Nathan said, having no arguments.
"Well, apparently Chris is mad at Vin 'cause Vin couldn't remember what bones Chris broke in his foot, and Chris reckons he'd remember if things were the other way around." JD explained.
Nathan snorted. "Yeah right."
"Excuse me?" Chris queried. "I would too!"
"Okay then, so what exactly did you break in your ankle and foot?" Nathan asked.
Chris glared up at Nathan.
"Come on now. The doctors done explained all this to you just a few days ago. So what was it?"
All eyes swiveled to look at Chris.
"Tibial plafond actually." Nathan corrected.
Chris gave him a look. "Right. And the…uh…the medial-meta….carpus?"
Nathan looked at him questioningly.
"Alright fine! I wasn't listening!" Chris exploded.
"What?" Vin yelled.
"Well, it's really *really* boring! And besides, I said I could remember them if *you* broke them. I never said anything about me."
"Whatever, Larabee. I've been sucking up to you for three weeks straight you made me feel so damn guilty about not listening. You just wait until you're out of that plaster, that's all I've got to say."
Vin stormed out in disgust. Chris turned his full-force glare onto Nathan, but he just laughed.
"Sorry Chris, the threat of retribution from you just isn't so big a deal when you can't move from the couch without assistance. Now swallow the damn pills, I've saw you hiding them in your hand hoping I wouldn't notice."
Chris did as he was told, resigned. JD dived into the cupboard next to the TV.
"This'll cheer you up, Chris. This just came last week. It's the Star Trek video box-set. I held off on watching so I could wait until you were back, and now we can watch them together."
Chris raised an eyebrow. "We can?"
"Sure, wouldn't want you getting bored, stuck on that couch all day. And there's over 20 hours of episodes on here, so now there's definitely no chance of that happening!"
Chris just groaned. It was going to be a long recovery period.