More than One Kind of Hero
Ezra walked into the clinic and showed his number with mixed emotions, he wanted to know, he wanted an end to the worry, and the fear. Fear that he would cut himself or be injured, he couldn't bear the idea he would be the reason someone else had to go though this. But he wanted to be at the hospital too, he wanted to help decorate the room, be there when Buck returned and saw what they had done. And if it was bad news he didn't want it until after Christmas. He never cared much about Christmas one way or the other before he came to Denver. As a boy he had been forced to sit through endless strained Christmas lunches with the families of his latest stepfather or some relative who didn't want him there, always under orders to be seen and not heard. Later his mother would demand his presence wherever she was no matter what his plans were. Eventually he had started to refuse, but by then life had taken away his ability to make the kind of friends you spend Christmas with, until Denver.
Dr. Fitzgerald called Ezra in to her office, she was smiling, that had to be good, he thought. It was good, as good as it could be.
"All your tests are clear." It was the first thing she said, after "hello".
She went on to tell him he would need another blood test in six weeks, but this was just as she put it. "Belt and braces." He took braces to be suspenders.
"You will be able to call in for the results of that, it's just a back up really. The chances of anything coming up are quite astronomically low. At that appointment to take blood, I'll do your next Hep B jab, okay?"
Anything she wanted was okay by him right then, he made the next appointment feeling positively light headed.
+ + + + + + +
When Buck returned from his latest CT scan he found himself in a Christmas wonderland, a tree with tinsel, lights, baubles, and his star from the box in the top of the wardrobe. Lights around the window, thick gold tinsel garlands adorned the walls, in great swooping loops, presents were arranged below the tree, he recognised his own wrapping paper, and mistletoe hung above the bed. Cards adorned the windowsill more tinsel was wound around the bed and a huge Santa decorated the bathroom door.
Having gotten over the shock, Buck found himself unbelievably moved by their collective efforts, and it took him a while to compose himself. Then with a sheepish grin on his face, he thanked them individually, making valiant efforts to get their names out. No one mentioned Ezra's absence. Sister Mary Grace came in just as JD was fixing yet more lights this time above the bed.
"And just what do you lot think your doing?" she demanded.
"Turning this mausoleum into a festive grotto?" Ezra suggested from behind her, as he came in.
Chris watched as his undercover agent and his oldest friend's eyes met, locked and something happened. Ezra smiled inanely, not something that suited him. And Buck, well Buck just sank back against the pillows looking spent but happy, as if some great weight had been lifted.
"And I suppose you lot are planning to spend all of today and tomorrow here?"
"Yup," said Vin
"And we will cater our own food, so don't fret about us," Ezra assured.
"Boys I knew as soon as I saw you not to fret, you lot take care of your own, anyone can see that."
"You would be surprised how many in your profession don't," Josiah pointed out.
"Well theyre fools, man can't get well if you take away his support network, thats basic."
"So you don't mind?" JD asked.
"Not so long as what went up comes down and doesnt damage my paint work, no I don't mind."
"Lady, you are my kinder nun." Chris stated.
She laughed at that as she walked over to her patient, sitting like an emperor on his bedecked and bejewelled throne in the centre of the grotto.
"How would you like an early present from me?" she asked.
"'Pends on 'OT i.t ish."
"Now that's an improvement," she commented on his speech. "How would you like to get rid of this?" she tapped the IV bag.
"'Es p ee s." he said, and then indicated she should come closer so he could say something. As soon as she was within range he landed a kiss on her cheek. As she pulled back he just looked innocently at the mistletoe above the bed.
She shook her head as she began to remove the IV line. "Had you pegged the moment I saw you, incorrigible."
+ + + + + + +
After lunch Buck had another session with his therapists, who both got the mistletoe treatment. After a nap and supper everyone settled down to watch a movie on the TV. They were a little early so switched on the local news hoping for word on the promised snow. The anchorwoman was as smiling as ever as she got to the final feel-good story.
"Many of you will remember this story from last Thursday, the daring and heroic rescue of little Millie Rampton, by a total stranger, captured on out latest traffic cam."
Buck watched with mild curiosity as he saw a white pickup truck approach an interchange. The road and sidewalk was slick with compacted wet snow, to the right a woman pushing a stroller slipped, the stroller was pushed by the fall out of her grasp and begin to roll into the road. The mother tried to stand but was clearly injured. Buck watched horrified as the stroller rolled into the path of the oncoming truck. Suddenly a tall dark man in blue jeans and a black sweater raced across the screen, it looked like he wouldn't make it in time, until he dropped into a slide any baseball pro would be proud of. Long legs extended, he kicked the stoller, giving it enough impetus to push it past the truck. The driver finally saw the danger and swerved but too late to avoid the man still sliding along the ground.
"As we watch it again in slow motion we can see that little Millie is unharmed but her saviour is not so lucky."
As the whole scene was played out again, Buck watched the truck roll over the familiar looking mans trailing left arm, and he felt along his own broken left arm, then the trucks tyre clipped the side of the mans head, snapping it back.
"As we reported the hero of this daring and selfless rescue was identified by police as a federal agent, who cannot be named for security reasons, he was taken to Sacred Heart Hospital with arm and head injuries and was reported to be in a coma. Thousands of you wrote, called, faxed and e-mailed us wanting to know how he is. We at Channel Seven are delighted to report a hospital spokesman today told us he is awake and is expected to make a full recovery. Channel Seven on behalf of the City of Denver salutes a true Christmas hero."
They were all about to turn and say what a hero he was, when his halting words stopped them.
"Dat m ee?"
Silence fell upon the room.
"Yes," Ezra finally said. "That was you."
"I ownt mem...b...r."
"Damn!" Chris exclaimed. "God I'm sorry pal, I guess we all thought someone had told you, the doctor said you most likely wouldn't remember, may never remember, any of that day. I should have made sure you were told."
Buck continued to look at the TV, even though Josiah had turned it off.
"Isht 'eird, oo see m ee an' 'ot know ish m ee."
The others could only begin to wonder how strange a feeling it was to see yourself doing something you had no recollection of.
Buck wanted to say more but talking just took so much effort. He was getting more control back in his hand, his leg was stronger, and his eyes more tolerant, but talking was still tortuously hard. Just making himself understood required all his concentration. Trying to express what he was feeling was way beyond his ability right now. He wanted to say how much he appreciated their help and patience, he wanted to explain that what he had just seen scared him but he would have done it again if it meant the little girl was alright, he wanted to know she was alright and her mother too.
"They're both okay, little Millie and her mom, Mrs Rampton just has a badly sprained ankle," JD volunteered, as if reading his mind
Finally Buck looked away from the blank screen. "T'anks Ay Dee dat's ood." He looked up at Ezra. "'Ess I act d 'ith out 'inking, hu?" he said looking only at Ezra.
"It can be a failing we are all guilty of from time to time," Ezra responded.
Nathan almost snorted. "'Sept you Ezra, you always think first, no matter what."
"I could almost say the same about you Mr Jackson, but we are both capable of rash and irresponsible actions under the right circumstances,"
Buck looked at the two of them, he didn't want to be the centre of another Nathan-Ezra row on Christmas Eve, and so despite the headache he pointed at the TV.
"Hey, eyes, 'ovie now."
Standish and Jackson forgot their differences, they were supposed to be making Buck's less than perfect Christmas bearable, and that was what they would do. So they joined the rest of the gang, who had dragged some comfortable chairs from the waiting area in to the room, filling almost all the available floor space to settle down, pass the popcorn, candy and sodas and watch the movie. Normally there would have been beer as well, but since Buck wasn't allowed any alcohol with his medication they were showing solidarity, this would be a dry Christmas.
Even before the movie ended Buck's headache was giving him trouble. Chris had pulled rank and commandeered the other bed; he had been keeping a surreptitious watch on his friend all through the film. Toward the end he was closing his eyes and making clumsy attempts to rub his temples in a vain effort to make the pain go away. Even when the film was over he couldn't go to sleep, it was another hour before he was due any more pain meds and with this level of pain sleep was out of the question.
Chris spoke quietly to Nathan. "Isn't there something else they can do about the pain?"
"Not really. Just time and medication oh damn!" he exclaimed.
"I forgot, I plum forgot what an idiot." With that he hastily grabbed the backpack he had brought with him, and began to root around in it for something. Finally he pulled out a small red container and took it to Wilmington's side.
"This is Tiger Balm, it can help with the pain in between the pills, you wann'a try it?"
Nathan quickly and gently rubbed the ointment in to both temples. Buck felt the area cool, and after a surprisingly short time the pain in his head did ease off a little. While Nathan was doing this, the others were putting the chairs back and straightening the room for the night. Some ten minutes later Buck was looking noticeably better.
+ + + + + + +
The team was getting ready to go, leaving JD behind this time.
"What do you all want most for Christmas?" JD suddenly asked. "I don't mean what may or may not be under the tree. What do you really want, and everyone has to say something different," he warned.
"Well I want world peace," Josiah said quickly before anyone else could.
"And food for all the worlds hungry," Nathan added.
"Justice, I want justice for all, fair 'n legal 'an right, everywhere." Chris said.
Vin pondered a while; most of what he was going to be said was said already. "I know it's corny an' obvious, but I want us back together, everyone fit and well and loud."
"I 'an be 'oud, 'ust dumb 'oud!" Buck pointed out reasonably loudly.
"We told ya Bucklin you dont sound dumb, weird but not dumb." Vin said with a wicked glint in his eye. "Sorry kid you was probably gonna say all that, but you started the whole no repetition thing."
JD shrugged. "I don't ever want to be with out friends, and I don't want anyone in the world to be lonely."
They turned to Ezra expectantly. "I don't want the world to ever run out of heroes," he said quietly. "I have the privilege to work with six and this country has lost too many heroes lately. I don't think we can afford to lose any more, so I want them all to remain safe, forever."
There was a long silence after that, finally JD turned to Buck. "Bet I know what you want."
"No you d n't. I wan' Esh to tell you ab t Vag es." He said fixing Ezra with those deep blue eyes.
But Ezra just shook his head.
Buck sat up in the bed; he turned to his southern friend. "Look at m ee!" he commanded, Standish obeyed. "'Ell thum 'ell thum now."
Ezra looked at Buck for a long time.
"I d n't care about dat. " Buck pointed at the presents under the tree. "If'n t ey d n't know, d n't under s'and."
Ezra continued to regard his friend, noting the effort of speaking had drained him and as he watched Buck sank back against the pillows, but he never took his eyes off Ezra.
"Please." he said clearly, in a final appeal to Ezra.
Ezra finally broke eye contact, and then he sat in the plain plastic chair by the bed. His eyes locked on the floor. Their curiosity already going into overdrive the others remained silent as he began to speak in measured quiet tones. He began with the meal at Rosie's and ended with that morning's test results. He emphasised Buck's role and subsequent support and played down the discomfort of the month on anti-viral medication, but all in all he left nothing out.
"Shit Ezra!" Vin finally exclaimed when he was finished.
"Why the hell didn't you say something?" Chris demanded, then he shot a good honest Larabee glare at Buck. "And you! Why didn't you say something, explain?"
"Hell Kwis 'oo know why!" Buck exclaimed.
"Brothers if there is ever anything we can do or you want to talk about we're here for you." Josiah told him, shooting Chris a withering glance.
Nathan wanted to make sure all the medical bases had been covered but that could wait.
"Well at least that solves the mystery of why Buck's just had a BCG," he said smiling at the patient, whose hand went instinctively to the still sore and weeping spot on his arm.
"Don't apologise, you had to keep it quiet we understand."
"It must have been horrendous, God how do you both live with it?" JD blurted out.
"Subtle kid," Vin commented.
"Sorry." JD looked down as he flushed bright red.
"Actually I've been fine no nightmares or similar problems, I don't know about Buck?" Ezra turned to Wilmington.
"Sss ame," he confirmed.
"I didn't tell you because there was nothing you could do, so there was no point all of you worrying for a month and a half," Ezra explained hastily. "Mr Wilmington was bad enough!" He turned to smile at JD. "Now I know what it's like to be you Mr Dunne."
JD looked up at both of them. "Ain't all bad though is it?"
"No I must admit as protectors go he is really rather good, if a little over the top some times."
"Ay!" Buck protested.
Chris was now feeling he really had over-reacted. "Ezra I'm sorry, you were under no obligation to tell us if you didn't want to, and Buck was of course right to respect your wishes, like Josiah said if you need anything that we or the ATF can help with just say it."
"What I'd like is to put it behind me and get on with Christmas."
+ + + + + + +
JD woke in the very early hours of Christmas day, the Christmas lights had been left on instead of the night lights, and for a while he just lay and looked at he tree, enjoying the memories of Christmases past. Then he rolled over and looked at his friend, protector and surrogate big brother, except he wasn't there, the bed was empty. Panicked, JD sat up. Buck wasn't meant to go any where alone, his right leg was still weak, and he didn't have enough grip in either hand to support himself. He had groused about needing a minder to go to the bathroom but when Sister Mary Grace had pointed out the alternative was not being allowed to leave the bed at all, he had capitulated.
Scanning the dim room he saw nothing, he was just about to go and check the bathroom when his eyes fell on two legs, clad in grey sweat bottoms protruding from below the curtains. Buck had woken as the latest pain medication had worn off. As he stood at the window he found he was no longer alone.
"Hi," JD said softly. "You okay, youre not meant to be up on your own you know."
"What ya doing?"
Buck just continued to look out of the window, so JD followed his gaze. Snow was falling, not the wet slushy snow they had had on and off all week, but real snow. Big white fluffy flakes drifted past the windows, blanketing the city.
"Cool," JD breathed, even in a city where snow was common, Christmas night snow was special.
Buck leant forward to rest his forehead on the cool glass, trying to find some rest bite from the pain in his head.
"You sure youre okay?" JD pressed because he didn't look okay, his features were pinched and drawn.
"No, not 'et." he admitted.
"You will be, youre doing real good, Dr Haas is very pleased, he said youre doing better than anyone else with your kind of injury." JD assured, trying to convey his confidence in Buck's indestructibility.
"I know, 'ut" he frowned. "B ut iss so slo w. Ay Dee what ifn ish is ?" He didnt finish the question but continued to watch the snowfall.
"What if its permanent?" JD speculated softly.
"The doc said it is very unlikely, he said youve got a very good chance of having no permanent bra " He stopped himself, no one said the B.D. words around Buck.
"Bra i n dam ig," Buck finished. "Ut I migh t, what will I oo?"
"Whatever happens well figure it out together, youre my friend, not just someone I work with, and that will never change." He reached up to place a hand on his tall friends shoulder and tugged gently until he turned to look him in the eye. "You will get better, and we will all be here to help you. But no matter what happens you will be part of us, of the team, one of the guys, always. But it won't happen any quicker if you don't get any sleep," JD said trying to lighten the tone. "Come on before you get pneumonia as well."
JD walked beside him as he shuffled back to bed, just in case his leg gave out but he made it on his own. Then he watched as painfully slowly Buck wrestled with the lid of the Tiger Balm.
"You want a hand?"
But after another five minutes he pushed it away, still unopened. "'Es," he admitted angrily.
He really hated being so dependent.
"Why don't we do some of your exercises since your awake?" He knew Buck needed to do something positive to help himself.
He watched as Buck did five minutes gripping and ungripping the soft rubber bar. And then another five minutes practice touching his thumb to each finger. He was getting quite good with the index finger, the middle finger was getting close too, but the other two were still somewhat uncooperative. JD insisted he stop after the requisite five minutes were up.
When JD awoke again he looked across to see Buck once again practicing touching his fingers together.
"And how long have you been doing that?" he asked.
"A whi le. 'ook." He showed JD that he could now get both index and middle finger to meet the thumb. "G ot to be red ee for to 'ay." He grinned at JD, who was relieved that the old resilient, positive Buck was back.
+ + + + + + +
Once the doctor and nurses had done rounds and he had received he medication, the team arrived with breakfast, where Buck demonstrated his newly acquired ability to hold a fork. It wasn't an elegant action but it got the job done. That over with it was time for presents. By mutual agreement Buck's presents would be opened last. Eventually there were only two gifts left to open, both from Buck, one to Ezra one to JD. Although to be honest JD hadn't seen a present for him, he was sure Buck had got him. Ezra opened his. It was a pack of cards, not any old pack but a genuine nineteenth century pack, complete with its original packaging, and a letter of provenance.
"Mr Wilmington Buck it is perfect, thank you. If they could talk I wonder what stories they could tell?" he speculated, running a practised and appreciative finger over the cards.
"Here." Buck handed JD an envelope.
JD opened it, consumed with curiosity. Inside was a photograph of his horse Seven wearing a brand new saddle of the finest tooled leather. Until now JD had always used one of Chris saddles, it was old and comfortable but also very worn and much repaired.
"Oh wow, Buck it's it's I mean wow!" he gushed.
"If we had been at the ranch we were going to wrap it for you." Chris explained.
"Don't worry it don't matter, Seven looks so proud. God thanks Buck, thanks so much."
After that they had tidied up all the paper, they got the room ready for the meal that was due to be delivered at one. The spare bed became a buffet table.
"So Ez what are we eating anyway?" Vin asked.
"Goose." Ezra went on to explain that despite Mo's protestations that he couldn't do a meal at such short notice, he had in fact just had a cancellation. "Stuffed boned goose, roast potatoes, roast honey parsnips, mashed sweet potato, peas, carrots, pork and apricot stuffing, port gravy, and to follow, apple pie or chocolate mousse," he concluded.
The food was sumptuous, and since the original meal was catered for ten, plentiful. Ezra had had a quiet word with Mo's chef, and all the vegetables were cut small, and as Ezra carved he made sure the meat came away in small manageable slivers. He was determined Buck would be able to relax and enjoy his Christmas dinner without worrying about having to ask someone to cut up his food for him. Ezra just hoped it wasn't too obvious what he was doing. The others had been surprised at his request to carve, and non-too-impressed with the results, though they said nothing. Buck also said nothing but his eyes said "thank you" as his plate was delivered to the table.
Full of food, they settled down to watch the Blue and Grey Classic football on TV. For once Ezra was actually interested in the game. By half time Buck was asleep, oblivious to the noise of the game or his friends who were becoming quite animated as the second half got under way. He slept right though until early evening when he was awoken by a gentle shaking. The room had been cleaned up some and a cold buffet lain out on the bed where lunch had been. Buck blinked blearily as Sister Mary Grace handed him some tablets.
"Take them lad, you need them." Blinking once more he obeyed. "You awake now?" she asked. He pushed himself up a little more and nodded. "Good because you have visitors."
The others looked puzzled, who could be coming on Christmas day who wasn't already here, they wondered. Sister Mary Grace ushered in a couple, a young woman with dark hair on crutches, a tall man with thinning red hair, and in his arms was a little girl of about eighteen months, who was the spitting image of her father.
"Buck, gentlemen, this is Millie and her parents Clare and James," Mary Grace introduced the Rampton family.
James and Millie approached the bed, little Millie smiled at him instantly, then her deep blue eyes, not unlike Buck's, lit upon the cast and instinctively he held it up for her eager little fingers to explore.
"We wanted to thank you personally, for what you did, you gave us back our lives and we can never repay you," James said, his voice betraying the strength of his feelings.
"This is from Millie to you." Clare handed over a small gift bag. "Thank you. It's not much but thank you. I can't help saying it, thank you!"
With a little help from Chris Buck got the box inside the bag open. Inside was a watch. Chris had reluctantly explained to Buck the night before; that his own beloved watch, a graduation present from his mother, had been smashed into three dozen pieces when the truck rolled over his arm.
This watch was gold, it had a tasteful plain face with a date window, and like his old watch it had a traditional leather strap, Buck turned it over to see an inscription on the back.
For my hero. Millie
Ezra looked on; there was about two hundred dollars worth of watch in Buck's hand he reckoned. Buck spoke slowly he wanted to get all the words out.
"Tha n k you, b ut it ish, " he grimaced at the mispronunciation. "Not nec e ss ar y." He wanted to say more but that was all he could manage.
The family stayed long enough for everyone to fall in love with Millie and for her parents to meet all Buck's friends. They were very relieved to find their saviour had so many friends to take care of him while he recovered. When they left Sister Mary Grace came in with an orderly who was dragging a mail sack.
"What in Christ's name is all that?" Chris asked eyeing the grey sack with instant suspicion.
"What have I told you about blasphemy!" the nun fumed at Chris.
This was the first time Buck had been awake enough to really appreciate her in action and he had to admit she was impressive, and as Chris instantly backed down stammering apologies, entertaining.
"Sorry ma'am," the formerly formidable Chris Larabee said, suitably chastened.
"This," she turned to Buck. "Is your fan mail, ever since that story on the TV it's been coming into the hospital, we kept it until you were stronger, until you knew why," she explained. "Get Well cards, Christmas cards, letters, faxes and oh yes." She pulled a smallish box from the top of the bag; it appeared to contain floppy disks. "Lots of e-mails." She handed the box to JD simply because he was the one sitting next to the laptop.
"You're a genuine hero Mr Wilmington, enjoy it," she advised with a smile as she left the room.
JD came forward and opened one bag, he plunged his hands in and came out with a plethora of mail, which he placed on the bed in front of Buck.
"Jeez there's tons of it," he gasped.
"Language JD!" Chris warned mockingly.
Buck just looked at it, flicking one or two over with his left hand. It just didn't seem right, or fair. He had acted out of instinct; at least he assumed he had because he had no recollection of the incident at all. He had been very, very lucky. Lucky to have been successful, lucky to have survived. Luck and stupidity didn't make heroes in his book. His eyes came up off the mound of mail on the bed to look into Ezra's. Green eyes full of pride and compassion and friendship looked back at him. Buck held up the watch, and gestured to the letters and cards.
"Thish is for y ou too," he stated firmly.
Ezra shook his head. "You saved a life Buck, a delightful little child who would now be dead is alive and thriving because of you. I cannot say the same."
"There's more th an one kind er hero Eshra, some russh in 'ere angels fear 'oo tr...e d. 'An some work alone an' 'isk their life 'oo make t'er wor ld b b beter, 'aan they 'oo it over aan' over a'ain. Ann' some oo what day hav' to even 'f no one 'ees it." It was huge speech for him to make, and it had clearly taken a lot of effort, but that just gave it more impact.
Buck fell back against the pillows looking drained, he wanted to say more, needed to say more to make Ezra understand, but his body betrayed him. He just couldn't summon up the energy to say anything else, as it was he could hear his speech deteriorating as he got tired.
Josiah watched the interplay between the two men, he found himself analysing them as if he were drawing up a profile on them, and he believed he knew what Buck was trying to convey, if only he was able.
"He's right Ezra," he said, coming over to his side. "It doesnt matter if the person lives or dies, it's that you tried to help. It doesnt matter if it was an angelic child or homeless bum; they are all God's children. It doesnt matter if a whole city saw you do it or no one, you know and God knows, and in the end they are the only ones who count."
Ezra looked up to find all his friends around him nodding their agreement. He wasnt sure whether he believed in God or not but he did believe in his friends, so he shrugged as he accepted their support and admiration, with a half smile. Yes, Christmas since he came to Denver had taken on a whole new meaning.
In the days that followed Buck improved rapidly. He was allowed home once his CT scans were clear. This was just in time for New Year, which he spent at home, with Ezra and Josiah for company, since he refused to let anyone else give up their New Year plans for him. Dr Haas signed him fit for deskwork two weeks later and fit for fieldwork later in February, by which time his arm and skull fractures were completely healed. In truth he was still slurring the occasional word, and still got the occasional killer headache, but he had gotten quite good at hiding it, all the same JD reckoned it was more like March before all the symptoms finally went.
Ezra had a scare when his second TB test came back positive, but a chest X-ray showed only old scarring, most likely from a bout of bronchitis Ezra had once had. JD said that with his matching rose marks on the inside of each forearm, he looked like the guy from 'Kung Fu' with his matching scars. The final HIV test was, as everyone expected, clear. The next day he flew to Las Vegas and sought out the grave of Maria Campos, placing two lilies on it, one for her, one for her unborn child, in remembrance.
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