The Way of Things:
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
The third of The Way of Things story collection.
Chris walked into the hospital room expecting to find Buck up and waiting for him. He professed to hate hospitals, and he had been in this one for a long two months. But Buck wasn't ready to go; he was dressed but he definitely wasn't ready to go home. So Chris sat down to watch and wait and think.
"Pal, it's your big day, finally able to ditch this joint and what do you do? Sleep. Unless you're faking? No, you only lie like that, with one hand on the pillow right beside your face when you're really asleep. Sometimes I think all it would take is a little nudge and your thumb would be in your mouth. See, I know you, Buck Wilmington, I know all your little secrets, I know you need to be needed, I know you only give your loyalty when you think it will be returned, but, once given, it is never taken back. That's why you're still here, beside me, isn't it? Because even with all the shitty things I've done, I haven't lost your trust yet. Except, I'm beginning to think I have. That, this time, I did something that pushed you too far, but I don't know what.
"Do you know how scared I was when we when I realised you were hit? I froze as Nathan ran to you, convinced you were okay. You're Buck, after all, you don't get hurt, not real hurt, not ICU hurt. But I could tell by the way Nathan was shouting at people, the way JD was hanging on to you, the way he was trembling, the way Josiah was praying, that this was bad. Vin was trying to get to you, but I held him back. Maybe I shouldn't have, but he was concussed. Ezra was pacing, like some wild beast suddenly caged. I could tell then, that it was almost as bad as it could be. And even then, when I knew it was bad I told myself it wasn't, because if it was, I could lose you and I can't do that. I need you. Not the way I used to, not like we used to be, but I still need you.
"God, but it's been a long two months, and it isn't over, is it? The doc told me it'll be another four months before you're back firing on all cylinders. Now, normally, I'd have told him he could cut it by half, but now I'm not sure. You laugh and joke with the kid like always, but the laughter doesnt reach your eyes. You flirt with the nurses, but your heart's not in it and they know it, they've stopped flirting and started mothering and you're letting them. You hardly talk to the others. With me God, with me you're practically monosyllabic. Only with Vin are you the same why?
"I was amazed by the way you accepted Vin, the way you didn't blame him for the way it had changed between us. You probably think I just dropped you, traded one friend in for a new model, something less high maintenance. One who wouldn't challenge me, wouldn't question my motives, wouldn't try to stop me when I feel like a drink or three. Well, you've got a point, I guess. But I don't need Vin to do that, because I've still got you. You may not be at my side like you used to be, but you're still there. Watching my back, watching all our backs, like you always do. I still need you, big guy, but I can't be the friend I used to be anymore.
"You spent the best part of three years trying to get back your friend, Chris Larabee, didn't you? I'm sorry, pal, he's dead. He died that night, and even you can't bring back the dead. For a while all you had was an empty shell, one that was full of whisky. Can't think of anyone else who would have fought so hard to keep a dumb ass shell full of whisky alive for so long, while getting nothing in return. And you did get nothing, didn't you? Because you wanted your friend and partner back and you can't have him. This Chris Larabee is a different man, but he remembers the man he was and the man he became.
"I can't be close to you like I used to be, because all I see when I look at you, pal, is those damn fire trucks I see them, I hear them, I even smell them. Oh true, sometimes I remember the good times. I see you playing cowboys and Indians with Adam, pretending to be shot. I remember coming home from the movies to find you asleep on my sofa, Adam sprawled across you, fast asleep. I see you dancing with my wife on the back porch, telling her if she ever gets tired of the 'ornery cuss' she can have you, and her saying she'll bear that in mind. But, mostly, I see those damn fire trucks. I need distance. I can't keep being reminded of that night all the time. This new Chris needed a new start and a new friend. Vin came along just when I needed him.
"People think Vin is the other half of me, but they're wrong. He is me, the me I would have been if I had never married, never lost, never grieved. I wish I could explain this to you, I don't know why I don't because it would be too hard, I guess, because I'm a coward, because I'd get embarrassed and tongue tied. I pushed JD towards you, he needed someone to watch over him and you needed him. Was I wrong? Do you resent the extra responsibility? Do you think I was trying to placate you, while I ignored you in favour of that damn Texan? I guess you can't rely on him to watch your back, can you? I do, I watch it, I watch all of you, but not that night. That night, you were watching us, like always. Thats the problem, isn't it? You watch all our backs, all the time, but no one watches yours. We take you for granted. I take you for granted.
"I do, because you're always there, always where I need you, always available, always watching our backs. I don't have to check on you or ask you or order you, because you're always there. God, this is my fault, isn't it? I need you, I need you to always be here, to pull me up when I fall - 'cause we both know Vin won't, don't we -but for all I need you, I have never once considered what you need. We all ran to Vin, not one of us even considered you might be hurt; we just took it for granted you were all right, except Vin. He knew, didn't he? The first thing he said when he came round was 'Where's Buck? Is he okay?' You were awake, weren't you? You know, don't you? I will make this right, somehow I will make you understand. I will make this right. Sleep, old friend, sleep all you need. I'll be here when you're ready."
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