Josiah had been walking for hours, or that was his perception, he had
walked in a large circle and was now about two hundred yards from where
he started. Vin had had no difficulty back tracking Buck's trail once
they found the stream crossing the track. He found the canteen but no
Josiah. By now the light was fading. Vin found the trail, he even found
"Well?" Chris asked.
"I c'n follow him but
"This is a blood trail. Easy 't follow even at night," he
glanced at the lengthening shadows. "But he's limping, badly, see
" he pointed at a mark on the ground. "he's dragging
left leg, so he'll walk in a circle, everyone walks in a circle, if'n
ya don't have a point of reference."
"Yeah, but if'n yer limping, you walk in a much smaller circle,
with the bad leg on the inside, if you get me?"
Chris did. "So you reckon you can work out where he is, or is
Vin was squatting on the forest floor, scanning the land, trying to
get a feel for the topography. Finally he pointed out to his left.
"That way," he announced.
Much as Chris wanted, indeed needed to have everyone at the Ranch arrested,
he daren't make any move until he knew where Sanchez was, and they had
him in safe.
The two men walked carefully into the wood where Vin had indicated.
Suddenly Tanner held out his arm.
"Hear him?" he whispered.
"No," Larabee admitted, unable to pick out one sound from
all the others.
"There," Vin pointed.
"Josiah!" Chris called.
In reply to this a shot rang out, cutting through the canopy above
them. Instantly both men ducked.
"Josiah, it's us, Chris and Vin," Larabee called out.
"Very clever Charlie, but I don't know no Chris or Vin, first
the Huey, now this, I'll give you this, your accents are better."
The two younger men looked at each other, totally mystified as to what
their friend was talking about.
Then Chris remembered Buck's warning. "Josiah Billy sent us, Billy-Ray,"
he called out.
Josiah stopped. Where's Billy? he wondered. Billy went to
find help, he remembered. Maybe Charlie captured him?
"How'd I know you're who ya say ya are? For all I know ya captured
poor Billy," he yelled.
"What the hell is he talking about?" Vin hissed.
Chris just shrugged, Buck had tried to explain something about Sanchez's
state of mind, but what? Charlie, who was Charlie? As far as he knew
Sanchez wasn't close to anyone called Charlie, the team weren't close
to anyone called Charlie, and who the hell was Billy-Ray? Chris decided
to wing it.
"Josiah - Preacher - my name is Chris, I'm a friend of Buck and
Billy, they are waiting for you."
"I'm gonna stand up now, okay?" There was silence. "Don't
shoot me, I'm on your side, remember." Chris handed his gun to
Vin. "If you have to bring him down, just don't kill him,"
"I can't shoot Josiah!" Vin protested in hushed tones.
"You do what you have to do to keep us all safe," Larabee
hissed back at him. Slowly Chris stood up, hands now up but held out
at his side, palms up. "See Josiah, it's me - Chris." He could
just see Sanchez, a dark figure, just visible in the deep shadows, partially
hidden behind a large conifer.
"I told you, don't know no Chris."
"Okay, but you know Billy-Ray, don't you?"
"Billy told Buck, and Buck told me, where to find you."
Josiah wanted to believe this man, if he could see him he would know
if he could trust him. His head hurt so much it was hard to think, blood
loss was making him light headed.
"Describe him," he instructed Chris.
"I've never met Billy, I told you Buck told us where to find you,
Vin tracked you."
Buck? Billy said he was Buck, he talked about a Chris and a Vin."What
does Buck look like?" he finally asked.
"Well he's tall, he's got dark hair, blue eyes, women seem to
think he's handsome, 'bout my age."
Now that was confusing. If Buck was a vision of the future no one but
Sanchez would be able to describe him, not even Billy, but here was
Chris describing him perfectly. That meant one of two things, either
this was all another illusion or what Billy told him was true.
"What are you?" he asked enigmatically.
"What am I?"
"Yeah, what are you - soldier, marine - what?"
"Oh I see, um I'm a federal agent, ATF."
"From Denver?" Josiah asked, suddenly feeling very vulnerable
"Yes from Denver, me and Buck and Vin and you, we are all federal
agents from Denver, and there are others
"The kid, the southern dandy and the brother?" Josiah ventured.
"Yes, JD, Ezra and Nathan. Will you trust me now?"
JD paced back and forth in the ER at the hospital. He had wanted to
follow Buck into the exam room but they wouldn't let him. He tried all
the things Chris and Buck did to the hospital staff in Denver to make
them see things Team Seven's way, but it didn't work for him like it
did them. He'd been there for hours and hadn't received any information
about Buck or heard from the others. Suddenly the doors burst open and
a stretcher was wheeled in, Vin flanking it looking worried, he too
was turned back at the swing doors to the exam area. Just as he was
about to try and 'ah shucks' and 'ma'am' his way past the nurse JD came
up beside him.
"Save it, it don't work on her - I tried," he advised.
"Damn, what's the word on Buck?"
"None, he's been there for hours and no one will say anything,
Vin explained about the bullet wound and the head injury. "He
can't see JD, and he thought he was back in Nam."
"Shit! Do they think he'll be okay?" JD asked
All Vin could do was shrug.
The two of them settled down to wait, Vin explained that Chris had
stayed behind to secure the ranch and it's personnel. An hour later
and both men were ready to tear the place apart, when a doctor came
out to find them. She was a small Japanese woman in her forties.
"Are you gentlemen here for Mr Wilmington and Mr Sanchez?"
They both stood and answered in unison "Yes."
"Let's sit down, shall we." She indicated the chairs behind
they had just vacated. "I'm Doctor Tomoka, I'm the senior ER attending.
Mr Sanchez has a superficial leg injury, it will need to be closed with
sutures, but that's all, he also has a head injury, this is causing
pressure on his brain resulting in blindness and confusion, he is on
his way for a scan and then to surgery. The area of swelling is actually
quite small and the operation in neurological terms quite minor,"
"But," Vin supplied.
"As with any brain injury there is no way to know what damage
has been done and what, if any, long term or even permanent effects
this damage my have."
"So he might always be blind, is that what you're saying?"
"Yes, that possibility does exist."
"And Buck?" JD pressed, almost afraid to hear the answer.
"Mr Wilmington suffered multiple traumas - do you know what happened
to him?" she suddenly asked.
"Not for sure, no," Vin admitted.
"My guess would be he was tied up and beaten, he has rope burns
on both wrists. His back is badly bruised, especially the kidneys which
suffered significant trauma, resulting in internal bleeding, however
this does not appear to require surgical intervention at the moment.
He has numerous other cuts and contusions, including the loss of a tooth,
the worst being to his feet. He was barefoot when you found him?"
"Yeah," Vin confirmed.
"He must have been walking that way for some time, there are numerous
cuts, scratches and blisters, some are infected, most are full of debris,
they will need to be cleaned out under anaesthetic. He has some ligament
damage to the left knee and that too will need surgery in time."
"What about his shoulder?" JD asked.
"I was coming to that. The collar bone is broken, this appears
to be some hours, maybe days old, the two bone halves have moved around
a bit, thus the massive swelling, which has affected the circulation
to the rest of the arm and impeded chest movement on the right side.
The ortho surgeon will put a plate in to stabilise the fracture and
help the bone to bridge the gap where the bone has splintered. These
splinters have to be removed, a major nerve and numerous major arteries
run through the shoulder there is no knowing what damage they could
have already done." She looked up into the face of
the young men beside her and then at the slightly older friend, there
was more bad news, she hated to add to their obvious concern. "He
also has pneumonia, some of his ribs are cracked, that and the damage
to his shoulder have impeded the expansion of the right lung, it thus
filled with fluid. This infection, combined with the infected wounds
on his feet, and the loss of blood from the internal injuries, have
seriously weakened him. The surgeons will have to balance what they
need to do and his strength."
"But he'll be okay - right?" JD asked, anxiously.
She had vowed long ago to be honest with both patients and relatives,
it wasn't always an easy vow to live with, but she was woman of principle.
"I can't promise that, pneumonia is always serious, combined with
blood poisoning and his other injuries, but
he's a big strong
man and he seems to have lots of good friends pulling for him,"
she added with a smile.
"Not friends," Vin corrected. "Family."
By the time Chris arrived both his friends had returned from surgery
and were in intensive care. Vin sat beside Josiah, and JD was, where
Chris knew he would be, beside his 'big brother'. There had been some
brief unpleasantness when the staff tried to insist on the rule that
only allowed visitors in ITC within strict limits and strict hours.
However some soft talk by Vin and a fretful Buck calming instantly when
JD placed a hand over his and spoke softly to him, persuaded the staff
to let the two agents stay at their friends bedsides. Chris was filled
in on their conditions and informed the others that everyone at the
ranch was, they hoped, in custody or under guard. Once he knew the facts
he called Denver and told Nathan what was going on, of course he wanted
to join them, but Chris needed him to stay and 'hold the fort'. He then
called Ezra, he too wanted to come immediately, but he still had two
days to go on his course at the academy to teach, and Chris made him
stay, promising to call daily with an update; he had given the same
promise to Nathan.
Josiah's leg injury was hidden under the bed clothes, the surgery site
was at the back of his head, it was small and had only a small dressing
on it, so lying on the pillows, his head slightly raised, it wasn't
visible. He was on a ventilator, because that was standard practice
for his kind of injury, and being kept artificially unconscious to give
his brain a chance to recover. All his tests had come back with the
best possible results and the doctors were optimistic. Vin sat, slouched,
beside him in a high back chair with arm rests. Californian hospitals
were a cut above Colorado ones in the visitor comfort stakes, he was
dozing, his feet, still in his cowboy boots, crossed at the ankles as
his legs stretched out under the bed.
JD, in a similar chair, sat up attentive, watching for any sign of
consciousness. Buck was propped up at almost ninety degrees, his injuries
all too visible. His right foot was propped up, supported on soft pillows,
his left leg was elevated to help reduce the swelling around the knee,
both feet were a mess of sutures and dressings, swollen and discoloured.
His right arm was secured with his hand resting on the opposite shoulder
with a wide soft bandage, the pristine white dressing over the large
surgical incision stood out against the livid bruising that marred most
of his right shoulder, chest and upper arm. Another dressing covered
the point where the chest drain tube entered. The tubing led to a bottle
that hung under the bed, which filled with noxious looking greenish-yellow
fluid. The oxygen mask covered much of his pale face, which was beaded
with perspiration, drips and lines seemed to go into every possible
vein. Monitors beeped in time with his heart, another monitored his
Chris came and stood on the other side of the bed. He watched the way
his friend's battered chest rose and fell shudderingly with each fought
for breath. JD watched as Chris picked up his friend's right hand and
examined the raw rope burns on the wrist.
"They tortured him, didn't they?" JD asked darkly.
Chris nodded. "Looks that way, yup. Don't know who, thought."
He looked up into JD's hazel eyes, seeing the same need for vengeance
that burnt within him, reflected there.
"We gonna get 'um?"
"Yeah kid, we're gonna get 'um, no one does this to one of us
and gets away with it, especially not to Buck." Chris was meant
to be even handed, and he was, but they all knew how close he and Buck
had been and how much they still meant to each other. Chris owed Buck,
owed him more than he could ever repay.
After two days the doctors began to reduce Sanchez's sedation and dependence
on the ventilator, he responded instantly and by the end of the third
day he was breathing on his own and showing signs of coming round. It
had taken some persuasion and self control on Chris' part to ensure
that the three of them rotated the duty of watching over their friends.
He made sure that while two sat at the bedsides, one rested. Vin agreed
reluctantly. JD had not wanted to leave Buck's side, neither did Chris,
but if he made JD do it he had to as well. It was Chris who was at the
big profiler's side when he finally opened his eyes. Pressing the button
to call the nurse, Chris stood and looked down in to confused pale blue
"Hello," he said softly to the older man. "welcome back."
The eyes moved past Larabee and around the room, which to Chris at
least meant he could see something. The eyes came back to Chris and
a frown appeared, his lips opened, they moved but no sound came out.
"Here," the nurse who had appeared, passed Chris a small
cup of ice chips.
"Thanks," he acknowledged. Then using the spoon that came
with the cup, he offered Josiah a few ice chips to suck.
"Thanks," Sanchez finally croaked past his dry scratched
"Hospital, we brought you in three days ago, you have a head injury
and another to your leg - do you remember what happened?"
Josiah didn't, he tried to remember, images came to him, disjointed
and unrelated, they made his head hurt, it throbbed, sharp pain stabbed
through the back of his skull. The pain forced him to close his eyes.
Feeling helpless Chris stepped back to let the medical staff do their
work. After that Josiah slept for many hours. In all this time Buck
had been mostly unconscious, he occasionally opened his eyes, one of
them was always there, but he didn't seem to know they were there. Fourteen
hours later Josiah woke again. This time Vin was beside him.
"Hello again," Vin greeted with a smile.
"Hello?" Josiah tried.
"Want a drink?"
"Um yes, that would be nice." Once Vin had helped the big
man to drink half a glass of iced water, he rested back on the bed.
"Thank you brother." Vin's face broke out in a huge grin.
"What?" asked Josiah.
"You called me 'brother'," Vin explained.
"So? I always call you 'brother'."
"Yeah, I know, just good to hear it again."
Josiah's eyes move to the bed next to him, he blinked a few times,
then frowned. "Is that Buck and Chris?" he asked.
"Yup, Buck's sick, but he's getting better, can you see him okay?"
"He's a bit fuzzy, but yeah - any reason I shouldn't see him?"
JD came back into the intensive care unit to see Vin standing back
from Sanchez's bed, watching the doctors around Sanchez, Chris was standing
close to Buck's bed, also watching. Once he was assured that Josiah
was doing well, he moved back to Wilmington. He was improving, his lungs
were clearer, the swelling around his shoulder had gone down some, his
feet were also less swollen, but it was a slow process. The fever had
yet to break, despite the powerful antibiotics he was receiving. The
doctors said it wasn't unexpected, he had multiple infections and had
been very weak before they started to treat him.
As JD sat there he realised he was looking into his friends deep blue
eyes. "Hi," he greeted, and just as he had done several times
before in the past three and a half days, he stood, wiped down the sweat
drenched forehead, lifted Buck's head and helped him to sip some cool
water. But this time, unlike all the other times, Buck responded.
"Thanks JD." The voice was only a whisper, but the use of
his name made JD grin from ear to ear.
"Um yes?" Buck thought that was obvious, his memories of
the events that lead him to be in hospital flooded back, his eyes darted
around the room.
"He's over there," JD supplied, "he's gonna be fine."
He watched the relief wash over Buck's face. A face where fatigue and
pain was all too evident, he had lost weight in the week since he was
dragged from his bed in the night, making him look even more gaunt.
In the next few days both men made steady progress, the events that
led up to their admission to hospital were discussed, Josiah remembered
nothing between searching the ridge for a suitable place to descend
and waking up in hospital. His eyesight improved rapidly, the headache
took longer to disperse. Buck also made progress, but more slowly. The
two men shared a room. This had also taken some time to arrange, but
by the time Vin had worked his 'shy boy' magic on the younger nurses,
JD had done is 'little boy lost' act on the older women and Chris had
glared and bullied the men, no one was ready to deny the three protective
Buck didn't take too well to the news he was going to need several
more operations. More bone fragments had to be removed from his shoulder.
His knee needed corrective surgery and a skin graft on a particularly
bad injury to the side of his right foot, where it had been necessary
to remove so much infected tissue, that the bone was exposed. But these
procedures had to wait until he was stronger, which just added to his
frustration. Frustration that was doubled because he was confined to
bed, or a wheelchair, until he could bear wait on his foot and use crutches
to support his left knee and he couldn't do that until his shoulder
That bad news was followed by more bad news. Chris brought in pictures
of all the men arrested at the ranch, Freeman and 'the Major' weren't
among them, they'd slipped away.
It was two a.m. and Buck was wide-awake, the doctors prescribed sleeping
pills but he hated them and would only pretend to take them. His whole
body ached, he was no longer in the kind of pain he had been in the
forest, nothing like it had been in the cellar, but yet he hurt, it
was a deep, nagging everlasting pain that made it difficult to relax
or concentrate. He hated the whole process of being sick, he hated being
dependent, he hated that he needed people not the other way around.
Buck Wilmington had spent his whole life trying to help his fellow human
beings, for him to be the one who needed help was an anathema, it eroded
at his self worth and his self confidence. If he couldn't help people,
if he wasn't there with a broad shoulder and a comforting word what
use was he to his friends, would they even need him anymore?
"If you took the drugs it would be a lot easier." The sudden
voice from the darkness made him jump. In the pale blue night-light
he could only make out Sanchez profile. The two of them had ganged up
on the others and made them leave, at least for the night, so it was
just the two of them.
"Don't like 'em," he muttered sullenly.
"Me neither, but they do help."
"So why ain't you asleep?"
"Said they helped, didn't say I took them."
Buck lay back against the pillows staring up at the dark ceiling.
"Buck, I need to know what happened, after I hit my head, I need
to know and only you can tell me. I mean, how did I get shot?"
Buck had been half expecting this but he wasn't looking forward to
it. "You tried to help me, we were coming down a steepish slope.
I was losing my balance, you steadied me, then slipped yer self. You
fell back and hit the back of yer head, reckon you were out for about
two minutes. After that you, well you were
"Buck just say it, verbal diplomacy is not your strong suit."
"You started t' act weird, it took me a while t' work it out,
but you thought you were back in the war - in the jungle."
There was a long silence, finally Sanchez said. "Ah. Is that when
I went blind?"
"No, not then, that happened later, the next day - I think - you
woke up blind."
"I still don't know how I came to be shot," Josiah prompted.
"They had a chopper, it caught you in the open."
"So I gather, I remember the chopper. I also remember us staying
under cover the whole time, so how did I come to be out in the open?"
Silence greeted him. "Buck?" More silence. "Please whatever
it was, I'm not going to blame anyone, I just need to know - please."
Buck took a deep breath and then stifled the hiss of pain that threatened
to escape. "You thought it was a medical evacuation chopper - at
least I think that was what you thought it was - you ran out to greet
them. I'm sorry, I couldn't stop you. You were too quick, too strong,
"Buck stop, it wasn't your fault, I'm sorry if I scared you."
Sanchez could hear the remembered fear, in his friend's voice all too
clearly. "On the contrary, I should be thanking you. You saved
my life, you saved me from myself."
"I did what I needed to do, that's all. Can I ask you something?"
"Sure, always, you know that."
"Who is Billy-Ray Scott?"
Now it was Sanchez's turn to be silent. Buck didn't press, he just
lay back and waited. Finally the former Marine spoke.
"Billy-Ray is - was - my friend during most of my first tour.
He was a boot - straight out of boot camp, just eighteen - who joined
my unit just after I made corporal. He was from Chicago, chip on his
shoulder the size of Illinois. He was a brother - that means he was
"Black, I worked that bit out."
"Yeah. Hated all white men, but we found common ground, enough
to call each other friend. He'd had a tough life, I used to think my
life was tough 'till I met Billy. I had lived all over the world, I'd
seen grinding poverty, but Billy wasn't just materially poor, he was
emotionally poor. He lived in a country that treated him with contempt,
that belittled his culture and denied him justice, while all the time
dangling justice in front of him like a prize he could never achieve."
"What happened to him?" Buck asked, not at all sure he wanted
"He was killed, we got ambushed, there was a fire fight, he took
one in the face, died instantly." Buck had a sudden and sickening
mental picture of a young black man, his face destroyed beyond recognition.
"He was nineteen, his whole life was spent in a ghetto or that
hell hole, what kind of life was that?" There was nothing Buck
could say. "Did I
did I talk about him?"
"Not exactly, you thought I was Billy-Ray."
"You know after Billy I wasn't that close to anyone again, 'til
I joined the team. Coming together with you guys, gave me back something
I thought I had lost the day Billy died."
There was another long silence, then suddenly Sanchez was standing
beside Buck's bed.
"Are you meant to be up?" Buck asked.
"I get a bit dizzy but I'm okay," he eased himself down into
the chair habitually occupied by JD, "- not like you."
Buck felt that old fear grab him in the guts - laid up and useless,
and therefore not needed.
"Buck Wilmington don't you give me that look - and I don't need
light to see it, I know you, remember? I know the way you think, and
I am not going to let them discharge me and leave you thinking the way
Buck bristled. "What makes you think you know how I feel?"
"You are thinking that since you're laid up, you're no use to
anyone and therefore not needed, useless, a burden. You hate it that
JD keeps coming, you think he does it because it's expected, that you're
an imposition." He stopped, giving Buck the chance to deny it,
though he knew Buck wouldn't lie to him, they had passed that stage
long ago. "Well," he finally prompted, "was I right?"
Getting no reply he pressed on. "It's not true, we've been here
before Buck Wilmington, you are more then just a broad shoulder and
a helping hand. JD comes here because he wants to, he had an argument
with Chris yesterday, while you were in x-ray, Chris wanted him to go
back to Denver with Vin, but he refused, JD hero worships Chris, he's
scared of him too, but he stood up to him - for you. Do you really think
they don't know what you did, that you protected me, that you didn't
Buck said nothing, he found it hard to look at his own actions, to
see them as anything other than his job, nothing he did was - to him
- 'above and beyond'.
"Let me ask you something. When JD was hurt last year, we had
to practically drag you out of the hospital, you would have been there
24/7 if we had let you - why?"
"Well," Buck started, not understanding why Sanchez didn't
understand. "He was hurting, and miserable and
well no one
likes being in hospital, he needed company and a champion against all
them needle stickers."
"Right, did you mind doing it, was it a chore or an imposition?"
"'Course not, I wanted to do it, it was good to see him getting
"Exactly, so what makes you think you're so special, that you're
the only one that feels that way?" There was silence. "Well?
I'm waiting - are you so unique, so different?"
"No," Buck finally admitted, "I ain't no one special."
"That is where you are wrong, you are very special, which is why
we all want to help you get better, and no one minds doing it, just
as you don't mind helping us." He heard rather than saw Buck yawn.
"Now I don't know about you but I'm getting sleepy so I'm going
back to bed, and I don't want to see anymore of this nonsense - do you
hear me young man?"
Despite himself Buck smiled. "Yes Dad," he said with a grin.
"Oi watch it, boy! I'm not that old!"
Josiah was back in bed when Buck spoke again. "I'm gonna get him
- you know?"
"That bastard who did this to me, I'm gonna get him."
"Yeah - I know."
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