Doctor Irving told Buck the truth she didn't sugar coat anything, Mr Wilmington she determined was a man who needed the truth, would do better if he knew the size of the task ahead of him. She told him about the surgery he would need on his leg and his shoulder, about the skin grafts he would need to properly close the gaping hole in his shoulder, about the drugs he would need to take for some weeks to come to finally beat the double infection, and about the long painful road of physiotherapy to rebuild the lost and torn muscles and tendons.
"If you are a good boy and do as your told we can probably have you in your own room in say, four days, then it's going to be about another two months, before we let you out. But for now you need to rest."
She could see he wanted to talk so she gently removed the oxygen mask.
"What about that thing?" He indicated the dialysis machine.
"I'm hoping your kidneys will recover in a few days, it shouldn't be too long now, just keep resting and let the antibiotics do their work and nature will do the rest. "
"How long before I'm, well you know, before I can ."
"Go back to work?" He nodded. "You should be able to sit behind a desk after Christmas, but back in the field, well you'll be lucky if its Easter." She could see it wasn't what he wanted to hear, but he said nothing except.
Once she had gone Cindy and JD came back in with some trepidation.
"She doesn't pull her punches does she?"
"She saved your life," JD reminded him, then he changed the subject. "The guys will be landing tomorrow morning, their all gonna come and see you straight from the airport."
Cindy smiled at him and said quietly, "I'll get a flight tonight."
He was getting tired, but he reached out for his mother's hand, moving even his undamaged arm hurt, and he winced as he closed his hand around hers.
"Don't," was all he said.
She was not sure he fully understood what he had said. "Do you really mean that, you don't mind if the others find out?" He nodded.
"I need you." His voice was very quiet and a second later he was asleep again. Gently she replaced the oxygen mask.
It was the first time JD had heard Buck admit he needed any one.
Later that day Buck was awake and having only just received some pain medication feeling strong enough to tell JD what he had kept secret for so long. Cindy made her self absent when she saw the look in his eye that said now or never. With evident discomfort Buck pulled down the oxygen mask.
"JD I guess now is as good a time as ever to tell you something I should have told you a long time ago."
"It' OK you don't have to, not if you don't want to."
"Nice try kid but I know you, that curiosity of yours must be eating you up. JD you remember what it was like to be a rookie?"
"You mean I'm not a rookie now?"
"Youre the youngest don't make you a rookie not after all this time."
"But you remember what it was like?"
"All you want to do is, not cock up, not stand out, be accepted?"
"Well even I was a rookie once, and thats just how I felt. Mom left Denver while I was at college, but cops got long memories and I was afraid that if they found out who or rather what she had been they'd make my life hell, I was so dumb I thought they might even kick me off the force. So I told them she was dead."
A wave of nausea inducing pain suddenly attacked him and he had to stop speaking, JD lifted the oxygen mask back and Buck took a deep breath, which was a mistake because that sent more waves of pain through his ribs and shoulder. After about five minutes however it passed and the pain retreated from agony to just hell. He nodded to JD who took the mask off again.
"The thing is mom was on her own when she was only fifteen and she was only sixteen when she got me, she had to make a living the best way she could, so she sold the only thing she had."
JD frowned, he wasn't following this or at least he hoped he wasn't. "No Buck can't be serious not Cindy shes such a lady, she's so nice."
"You mean that your mother, Cindy was a hoo...?"
He couldn't bring himself to say it.
"Yes I do, and she's also a saint. The thing is JD if you tell the same lie long enough and often enough, you stop realising your doing it, I never ever thought of her as dead but I never thought I was lying to you either."
"I understand; at least I think I do. But Chris knows?"
"I gave him a Florida phone number for life or death emergencies, but thats all, youre the only person I've ever told."
JD was suddenly enormously proud that Buck would trust him with such an intimate secret.
"And if it's OK with you thats the way I'd like to keep it."
"Of course, you can trust me."
"I know that kid, I always do."
+ + + + + + +
The next morning the doctor took off the oxygen mask and replaced it with a nasal cannuler, which made it easier to talk, and made him look more human, among the machines and monitors. When the rest of the team returned they found a strange and attractive older woman chatting with JD outside ICU.
"JD," Chris called as he approached, "how is he?"
JD grinned, "Hi guys."
"He's awake, he's still not, you know the old Buck yet, he sleeps a lot."
Chris lowered his voice. "Is he in pain?"
JD nodded, "Yeah, quite a bit but, you know Buck he'll never admit it."
"And his leg?"
"Still there but it'll need more surgery."
Chris nodded, "Can we go in?"
Just then Nurse Kim came to the door and gave JD the nod. JD turned back to Chris, "Yes."
The others tried to follow Chris but Kim stopped them. "One at a time, I've heard stories about you lot!"
While Chris went in, Cindy smiled at the others. "Now let me see if I have this right. You must be Josiah."
"Yes ma'am," Josiah replied his manners on automatic.
"I would have recognised your dignified countenance any where."
She turned to Ezra, "The elegance of you attire means you must be Mr. Standish."
"Indeed, I don't believe I've had the pleasure of being introduced."
But Cindy had turned to Nathan "And you must be Nathan."
Nathan smiled, "I guess I must be."
Then she turned to Vin, "Oh yes, Mr. Tanner, with the look to drive women wild."
Vin turned red with embarrassment immediately. "Don't be embarrassed Mr. Tanner, its true you know."
JD came to her side. "Guys, this is Cindy Wilmington."
There was a collective look of confusion and curiosity. Ezar finally said what they were all thinking.
"Buck has a sister?"
"No honey," she corrected, "Buck has a mother."
+ + + + + + +
It was as the doctor had predicted, Buck was able to leave the ICU three days after the team returned. As soon as Cindy found out what room he was moving to she dragged JD up to see it, the moment he came in after work. Chris had said he only had to do half days until Buck was in his own room but he was still a federal employee and he had to do some work.
"Why are we here?" JD asked.
Cindy pointed to a door marked 'ancillary store'. "In there is a ladder, bring it to Buck's room."
"Why does Buck need a ladder?"
"Not for him for me!"
Despairing of getting a sensible answer he did as he was bid. Once he delivered the ladder she had him place it at the foot of the bed, then while he held it she climbed up and with a ruler and pencil carefully made some marks on the white ceiling.
"JD pass me that bag."
She pointed to a small bag bearing the logo of a local toy store. She removed the contents and stuck something to the ceiling, at least that was what JD thought she did because when she was finished the ceiling looked no different.
It was past eight in the evening when Buck arrived at his new room, moving beds was a painful and tiring business, and by the time JD and Cindy were allowed in he was clearly ready to sleep. Despite this the first thing he said when they arrived was.
"What?" JD played along
"Doc says I can ditch the kidney machine."
Cindy beamed, "Darling thats great, now I have something for you. JD turn off the lights."
Deciding it was better to humour her JD hit the light switch.
"You know mom I've see dark before."
"Look up," she commanded.
Both men looked up at the ceiling, and there, glowing in the darkness were three stars in a line, two big ones and a third slightly smaller and slightly off set. Buck felt a familiar feeling of contentment sweep over him, he automatically relaxed, feeling safe.
There was a long, long silence in the dark room, finally Cindy whispered.
But he didnt reply, he was asleep.
THREE MONTHS LATER
JD was late, again; without Buck to chide him, their shared home was a tip and he never, ever got out on time, some times if he missed breakfast or the traffic wasn't to heavy he actually got in on time but not today.
"JD!" Chris bellowed, as he tried to sneak in unnoticed.
"Oh God," he breathed as he trooped sheepishly into Chris's office.
"When is Mr. Wilmington returning?" Ezra asked even though he knew the answer.
"After Christmas" The others said in unison.
Buck had been released from the hospital in October and had then flown out to Florida, for two months convalescence. Unfortunately it was a convalescence that included physiotherapy, which JD knew was gruelling and painful. He was still using a crutch, he would have been better off with two but his shoulder wasn't strong enough yet, and he still suffered from bouts of fatigue. The sun of Florida was clearly a better location to recuperate than a damp, cold Denver. Still he was missed, especially by JD.
JD's dressing down was interrupted by a phone call from Travis. Chris waved him out.
"Hey kid youre still alive, he must be going soft." Vin grinned at him.
"Not likely, Travis called," he explained.
A moment later Chris came out, he explained that they had a mission in Miami.
"It'll take about a week, you'll need casual clothing, beach stuff, and your passports, we fly out tomorrow morning, I can't tell you more because I don't know any more."
"If it only takes a week we could go and see Buck for Thanksgiving," JD pointed out with enthusiasm.
+ + + + + + +
They were met at the airport by uniformed chauffeur and driven, in a stretch limo, to the docks. There they found they had been delivered in front of a yacht, which was so big and so luxurious it was more like a small liner.
"Hi guys!" a familiar voice called from the ship.
Buck was leaning on the rail of the ship with his broad, infectious and familiar smile firmly in place.
"What the heck?" Chris was as stunned as any of them, a look of astonishment that grew as Agent Bennett joined him at the rail; she had shed her sombre black suit and now sported a sleeveless turquoise dress. Chris was about to ask, just what was going on, when Mark Trevalian appeared on the deck above.
"You arranged this?"
"I did Mr Larabee, seems we did a good thing, so we deserve a reward, one week cruise to the Caribbean followed by, what I am assured by Mr. Wilmington, will be a home cooked Thanksgiving dinner to remember."
The six of them trooped aboard the yacht in awe, and greeted Buck and Celia. It was clear how beneficial a month of sun and home cooking had been to Buck, he had lost the haggard look he had had on leaving the hospital, gained at least some of the weight he'd lost and the life had returned to his eyes. Between them Celia and Buck enthusiastically showed the others their cabins.
Trevalian had the stateroom under the bridge; Celia, the only woman, Dixon, Mark's best friend and Buck, who couldn't really manage the steeper companionways had three of the four large cabins on the main deck. The others had the choice of the ten luxurious cabins on the boat deck. Except for Vin, Buck had suggested that he was given the remaining large cabin on the main deck, he was aware of Vin's mild claustrophobia and thought he would be more at ease in the larger more open room with windows rather than portholes.
Vin stood in the cabin, which was larger than his whole apartment or at least it felt that way, and just stared. It was decorated in white, with dark polished wood and gold. The windows looked out over the prow and out to the port side offering spectacular views. He dropped his rather battered duffel and kicked off his boots worried he would mark the thick cream carpet, then in a moment of uncharacteristic self indulgence, he pulled off his socks and, having enjoyed the sensation of the luxurious carpet under his toes, he flung himself on to the biggest bed he'd ever seen.
JD was no less awed and impressed, their cabins were lower down and had only portholes not windows but they were no less luxurious. He was unpacking when Mark, wearing navy shorts and a rather frayed and faded Hawaiian shirt, came down to see how they were doing.
"Hope you fellers don't mind, I thought it would be more relaxing if it was just us, I gave the crew leave."
"Why would we mind?" asked Chris, "We've got an extra ten days leave and a free cruise anything's OK by us, right?"
The others agreed.
"David and I can drive her, but we'll all have to pitch in on the domestic front, cooking, shopping, cleaning up."
"Fine by us I promise you," Chris assured.
"Then I suggest you gents get changed and come up on deck we're going to cast off in about ten minutes."
JD came up to the others when he was gone. "Thats him Lord what's it?"
"Lieutenant Lord Mark Trevalian, Viscount of Trehern RN," Ezra supplied.
"And he owns this thing?"
"I guess so."
"But how did he persuade the ATF to give us extra leave?"
"Kid," Ezra explained, "when you're this rich its amazing what you can accomplish."
They ate well, as Dixon guided the ship effortlessly through the Atlantic, they also drank far too much, and their collective attempts to send the dishes down to the gallery and fill the dishwasher wouldn't have looked out of place in a Marks Brothers movie.
When people finally emerged the next day the ship had dropped anchor in a small cove off a Caribbean island. After a leisurely brunch Nathan and Ezra had found the ships library and were lounging in the sun reading, Buck was just lounging, on the boat deck Celia, JD and Mark were swimming off the diving platform and Chris and Josiah were fishing.
Vin was up on the bridge deck, leaning on the rail, from where he could see every one. He watched Celia chase JD across the deck, he envied her, she was the only woman on a ship with nine men, she didn't have what society called a great figure but she was totally at ease, just as she had been by the river. He watched as Buck dozed, he was only wearing an old pair of cut-offs, the new and livid scars on his leg, shoulder and on his chest, where the surgeon had gone in to wire his ribs back together, were all only too evident. Buck always told him scars were babe magnets but that did nothing for his confidence or rather his lack of confidence. Still wearing his jeans and tee shirt he went to explore the bridge, his only concession to the heat was to abandon his boots and go bare foot.
Chris watched him go, he sighed knowing he would have to find some way to give Vin the confidence to strip off in front of 'strangers'. Since the disastrous bust that had sent him though a sheet of plate glass and scared him life, Vin had been reluctant to let any one see the scars, only once on a fishing trip they all taken had he had the confidence to bare his back and leg. Mark came up beside him; he lent on the rail and looked up at the upper deck.
"Your Mr Tanner doesn't seem to be at ease with the ship's dress code."
Chris was immediately on the defensive, Trevalian might be their host, he might even come to be called friend, but he was not entitled to pry into personal matters. Chris was about to say as much when Trevalian continued to speak.
"And I was wondering if he might not have the same objections to the said code as my friend over there."
He pointed toward the main deck above them, Dixon had walked to the stern rail with a can of beer in his hand, he wore a long pair of faded combats and a long sleeved pale blue shirt. Chris had never considered that Vin's problem might not be unique.
"That would depend on what his objections would be."
"David and I have known each other for six years, shared a cabin for the last two years, he is my best friend, he is also probably the single bravest man I know. However; I am also, to my knowledge, the only person on the ship who has seen his back and legs. My friend Mr Dixon holder of the highest award for peace time gallantry his country can bestow, is afraid people will see his scars."
He looked at Chris and knew his guess had been right. Chris looked away, out to sea. Did he tell this man, no older than Vin, that yes he was right, or protect Vin's privacy and deny everything. Trevalian continued to speak.
"The thing of it is, I think they could help each other."
"What happened to him?"
Trevalian turned around so that he too was looking out to sea. "Don't honestly know the whole truth, there are actually two different sets of scars, the oldest happened before I knew him, the others were the result of an operation he flew about five years ago. Can't tell you much because I don't know it all and most of what I do know is classified, what I can tell you is he was tortured, leaving scars on his back and wrists. What happened to Vin?"
"A sheet of plate glass."
+ + + + + + +
Vin was coming out of his cabin when he found Chris standing in front of him blocking his way.
"We need to talk."
Just then they heard Dixon coming down the corridor.
"Mark?" He called as he came around the corner. "You fellers seen our Captain said he wanted to see me."
"I'm hear," Trevalian called as he descended the stairs, he was carrying two dark packages.
Chris and Mark stood shoulder to shoulder. The other two viewed them with suspicion.
Mark took a deep breath. "This was my idea I'll start. David you can't hide forever, you are who you are and what you are, we can't change the past so we just have to live with it, you can't let it hold you hostage."
Then he handed one of the packages to Dixon, it turned out to be a pair of new shorts. Dixon was too stunned to speak, he glared at his friend and then look quizzically at Vin, trying to work out why he was there. Chris turned to Vin.
"He's right, you can't let this rule your life."
He took the other package from Mark and handed it to a shocked Vin.
"We all have scars Vin, some on the inside some on the outside, you lock anything away in the dark for too long it's gonna fester, things only heal in the day light."
Even as he said it Chris wondered if he was talking to Vin or to him self. Chris and Mark then withdrew leaving the two of them alone in the passage. There was a long silence, Vin looked down at the shorts, which were plain black, and he noted exactly the right size. Finally, and only to break the silence David explained.
"The ship has a supply of clothes; just in case."
Vin nodded without looking up, he wanted to duck into his cabin and hide, but something kept him out in the passage. Chris had struck a nerve, he looked up at David and wondered what he was hiding. For his part David was wondering the same about Vin and how he was going to get out of the situation, if that was what he really wanted and he wasn't sure it was."
"I guess, " David began, "they think their helping us in some way."
"So what do we do?"
"I think," the big Australian continued "its a case of you show me yours and I'll show you mine."
Despite himself Vin laughed. Then he gave the slightest nod, looked at the shorts and turned to enter his cabin. He changed quickly, afraid if he took his time his nerve would fail. Once in the shorts he felt terribly exposed but never the less he opened the door and tentatively stepped out. David was already there, leaning in the doorway of his cabin.
"I'll say this they're nice shorts," he commented.
Vin looked down, and had to agree. David was, as he had surmised back on the ridge, in very good shape, but as far as Vin could see had no significant scars, of course, he couldn't see his back and realised that he was himself standing in such away that his own scars were hidden.
"This is dumb," Vin said darkly.
"So is two grow men on a private Caribbean cruise refusing to take off their trousers and shirt."
Vin conceded this was true. He then took a deep breath and turned enough so that the evil looking scar running the length of his leg was visible. David couldn't suppress a sharp intake of breath, and was immediately ashamed of his reaction.
"Jeas' I'm sorry, but shit mate what did you do to get that?"
"Same as I did to get these."
With that Vin turned his back long enough for David to take in the scars there.
Once he was facing him again, David probed for more information.
"And that was?"
"Short answer, a perp threw me through a sheet of plate glass."
"And the long answer."
"I was a dumb, stubborn, know-it-all idiot, who didn't do what the doctor told me and it got infected."
"Resulting in a worse scar than it should have been."
"Yeah; every time I see it I'm reminded how stupid I was, and every time Chris and the others see it so are they."
Vin was frankly amazed at himself, he'd never been so open about this stuff not to Chris, not to himself.
"I doubt thats true theyre probably just reminded about a time when you were hurt, it's probably not a very comfortable memory, but for you, being reminded of mistakes isn't easy, but hay if we don't make mistakes how will we learn."
Vin knew what he said was true, he'd always known it really, it was his own fallibility he had been hiding not the physical scars.
"Your turn," he said.
"You noticed that, I was kinder hoping to distract you." He regarded Vin's look of steely determination. "But I guess not. Well here goes."
He uncurled his left leg from behind his right, revealing a thick white scar in the shape of a Y around his ankle joint and a series of scars running up his shin.
"I'll see your leg and back and raise you another leg and a side."
With that he turned around. Vin let out a low whistle. Like Vin he had scars on his back mainly across his shoulders, they were jagged and wide and very noticeable, there were numerous scars on the back of both legs but what was really gabbed the attention was the huge scar low on the left side. It was as big as a man's hand and shaped like one of those inkblot tests psychiatrists use. There was a second similar but smaller scar next to it and this lead to a series of smaller ones extending across the whole lumber area.
"Christ Almighty!" Vin breathed.
David turned back.
"So now I suppose you want me to tell you how."
"Wasn't that the deal?"
"Maybe I lied."
"I don't think so."
"The ones on the shoulders, well it's mostly classified. Chris said you were in the military before?"
"So you understand; lets just say I ran in to some one who objected to my presence in their country."
There was a pause.
"And the rest," Vin prompted.
He looked sick, it seemed to Vin he actually paled. He swallowed.
"When I was fourteen," he started, "I came home, we lived on the top floor of this old building in Sydney, and just as I got to the door there was this bang."
He stopped, but this time Vin kept quiet and let him continue in his own time.
"I opened the door and there he was .my father sawn off shot gun in hand standing over my mothers body. I saw him, he saw me, he raised the gun, I turned to run and he fired."
"And he hit you in the side?"
"The force of the shot sent me through a banister and I fell four floors down a stair well."
"Smashing you legs up."
David nodded hanging his head, but when he did look up Vin was surprised to see he was smiling.
"You know it wasn't this," he put his hand over the scar on his side, "that I wanted to hide, it was this."
He looked down at his left leg.
"There's enough metal in there to build a small car, I couldn't get though an airport metal detector stark bolocks naked if I tried. All I ever wanted to do was fly helicopters, and I thought they might not let me if they knew, so I lied, made up some story about a car crash and superficial injuries. The trouble with lies is you have to maintain them, I was afraid if anyone got a good look they would work out I was lying. Over the years I forgot how to deal with the stares, the whispers, the unspoken questions. I used to wear shorts at the beach before I left Oz, but after I joined the navy I gradually lost my bottle. It's a trap mate don't fall in."
Vin hadn't even considered how to deal with strangers, and their unspoken questions and whispers, but for now he felt he should try and deal with his friends.
He and David looked at each other for a second, then Vin said.
"Lets do this."
+ + + + + + +
That first afternoon there were a few stares, although people tried hard to hide it. JD who had had the hardest time coming to terms with Vin's scars, also found David's almost hypnotic until Buck pulled him down to sit next to him.
"Are you going to stare at me every time I come out of the bedroom when I get back?"
"No, why would .?"
"Because of these."
He pointed to his own fresh scars.
"Buck I wouldn't."
"Right; so don't."
JD was suddenly ashamed.
"It's OK kid you just got to accept there are things you don't know and there is no way your gonna figure it out, no matter how hard you look."
JD had been doing just that, he knew he was never going to be told what had happened to Dixon but he couldn't help trying to figure it out and that involved trying to get a clear picture of the scars them salves. Buck, he realised knew him better than he knew him self.
The rest of the trip was close to perfect, they swam, dived, fished, jet skied, ate too much, drank too much and slept a lot. Vin and David gradually became more relaxed, and less self-conscious.
Ezra, Josiah, Vin and Nathan had been regaling Buck with tails of JD's helplessness without him. On the day before Thanksgiving as they sailed smoothly toward Key West. Buck spoke to Chris.
"You know I could come back with you after the weekend, I know I'm a bit slow but other than the leg I'm fine, it sounds like the kid needs me back."
"You'll do no such thing, JD will get by with out you for another month."
"Come on Chris, I'll do what the doc says I promise."
"Buck its freezing in Denver, your room's on the second floor, and you won't stay out of the office no matter what you say now."
"I can manage some desk work," Buck protested.
"I hate to point this out to you pal but you can barely walk and you sleep fifteen hours a day."
Buck said nothing, he was kidding him self and he knew it, but he was bored, and he missed the others, he missed the banter, the excitement of not knowing what the next day will bring, he missed having JD around he even missed the noise and mess of having JD around.
"After Christmas, if and only if the doctors say you can. If it was one of the others you'd say the same," Chris pointed out gently.
+ + + + + + +
The next day they collected Cindy and the necessary supplies to cook Thanksgiving dinner for eleven. And with a lot of advice, but no help from Buck and a lot of help, but no advice from Josiah, that is just what she did. After they had eaten, everyone sat around claiming they would never have to eat again as they watched the sun set. After the sun went down and the fireworks were over the stars came out. Cindy watched from a distance as Buck pointed out constellations to JD. Chris sat down beside her.
"You know ma'am I think you just gained another son."
"Well you know Mr Larabee, thats fine with me."
Comments to: email@example.com
Authors end Notes: Thanks for reading, I decided to give Buck a live mom because it seemed to me that one mom among seven relatively young men (well ok six, sorry Josiah,) was believable in the nineteenth century, it was stretching things a bit for the turn of the twenty first century. Let me know what you think but be gentle.