The Way of Things:
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Author's Note: This is a story in the series 'The Way of Things' by Ursula, and continued with my story 'I'll Make It Alright' and Phyllis' 'Aftermath'. This story comes after Aftermath.
Part of The Way of Things story collection.
I know Buck doesnt want to do this. And I hate deceiving him like this, especially the way he is now. But if I had told him what was going to happen he wouldn't have come, he might even have bolted. I can't risk that, I can't risk him leaving us, leaving me. He was down in the hospital, but we all put that down to the usual 'hospital blues' but it was more than that. I worked that out and if the others had any doubts theses last two weeks have show all of us just how bad things are. He is depressed. I thought I would never say that about Buck, I just didn't think it was possible for him to be this down. I hate the way he looks now. If we can't turn this round he going to end up back in hospital. Or worse he'll run.
I don't know why Chris want's me out at the ranch, but what ever it is it's useful, since I can't drive yet and I need to see him. Having the others around is going to make it harder, but their going to find out soon enough and I guess I owe it to them to tell them face to face. I never though I'd be asking for a sabbatical - God what a pertinacious word for running away! But I can't go on like this. JD doesnt need a minder anymore so there is no reason to stay any longer. I'm just too tired of it all. I'm tired of being Chris' whipping boy, I'm tired of keeping them all alive, I'm tired of being the butt of everyone's jokes and being 'big old dumb Buck' everyone's good old boy. JD made me see sense about that night, and made me look at my own insecurities but there's more to it. Once I'm fit again I need some space, think I'll go back to Vegas for while, maybe I'll come back, maybe Oh God it's my birthday next week. Shit! I hope to God this isn't some early birthday party, I'm not up to that right now.
I hate this, I wish we were there already. God I'm so nervous. Ten miles to go, nearly there, nearly. I wish this was over, I want it over soon, now, I want it over and everything back to normal. We're cool again, we had it all out, that night I busted my hand, damn but it still hurts, and it's been a week! But he's not the same yet, that inner voice is still there. Normally Buck likes riding in the Jag, but today he seems totally uninterested. Nearly there, God I hope this works.
I am a fool, that is all there is to this, I of all people should have seen this coming. I'm supposed to be able to read people. And this of all things, how could I not only have missed it but been party to it, I who have been in the very same position. I believe Chris has come up with a very imaginative way to correct the problem I just hope it works, because I can't comprehend what we are going to do - what I am going to do if it doesnt.
Some psychologist I am, so much for all my training and experience, I couldn't see what was under my nose. I couldn't see the signs, signs that were there, there for all to see. Now Buck is paying for my lack of professionalism. He won't talk about it, I've tried, we've all tried. But he is one stubborn man. Not that we didn't know that, but some how I didn't realise just how stubborn he could be. He's a good actor, he has been playing the part we give him to perfection, until now, until I guess he decided it just wasn't worth it anymore, it's all our fault, all of us, apathy is the worst sin of all.
I want to heal him, I want to do something to make him whole again. I wish I could turn back the clock and make a different choice. I know we all did the same thing, running to Vin like that, but I'm the medic, I am supposed to check everyone for injures. I know better than to make assumptions, I assumed he'd run of after the gunman, just like we all did, we just assumed Buck was okay. We always assume Buck is okay. How many times in the past has he been hurting and we all assumed he was alright, didn't see him hurting because we never look. God I wish I could make it better.
He treats me the same, like nothing has changed, like everything is the same - and it's not. He treats me like I'm the innocent one, and I'm not. If it had been Chris instead of me, I would have done the same. Chris told me there was something wrong, told me what happened, 'cause I can't remember it. Thats the trouble with concussion, it screws your memory. I didn't want to believe him, but I can't deny what I see. Of all people he should hate me. I took his best friend, after all that time, after all he did, after all they had been through together, and I just come along and take Chris. Okay logically I know I didn't take Chris, he's not a thing, but can see how that is how it would look to him, that Chris ditched him for me, that I took Chris from him. He has told me - in his own way - that he doesn't mind, that he understands, but I'm not so sure, not now.
+ + + + + + +
The Jag drew up outside the ranch house, Nathan's car and Vin's jeep were already there, and Josiah was standing on the porch waiting for them. He smiled broadly as they disembarked.
"Brothers I am entrusted with telling Brother Buck to go inside and make himself at home while we attend to our mounts as and I quote our fearless leader 'I'm sick and tired of looking after all your nags for you'."
JD frowned. "What am I meant to do" He held up his broken hand in its luminous green fibreglass cast.
"Well with that thing you could provided illumination," Ezra suggested.
Josiah smiled but continued. "Possibly but Chris suggested that since it it's your left hand that is out of commission you can re-write the feed board, since you were meant to do it last week and the week before." JD was best at remembering what all the horses feed requirements were but he had to stand on a box to reach the black board where all the information was recorded and displayed. In response JD just scowled and followed Ezra toward the barn. Buck knew this was a put up job to get the others out of the way. If he had been in any doubt, the fact that Ezra was off to the barn, without one word of complaint, with not so much as a rolled eye or dramatic sigh, was a dead give way.
Buck found Chris inside pouring two very big glasses of scotch.
"Am I gonna need that?" he asked his boss and friend.
"Maybe, take a seat."
"Chris I don't want to do this, I know what happened, me and JD had it all out, I'm cool," he lied.
"I know, he told me." To encourage Buck, Chris sat down, looking at Buck pointedly until he too sat. "But that was just the final straw wasn't it?"
Buck said nothing, he felt the envelope in his pocket, the letter asking for time of.
"You think I ditched you for Vin?"
Still Buck said nothing.
This Buck had not expected. He looked up, Chris' blatant confession of what he had almost convinced himself was an irrational fear, confused him, he had almost convinced himself that it was he who ditched Chris.
"I can't be the man I was, the man you tried to bring back, I just can't, he's gone " Buck heard his own words of just week ago in his own apartment, telling JD the old Buck was gone. " he died that night."
"No Chris, no he's not, he got lost for a bit, but he's right here "
"No old pal, no this is a different Chris and he needed a new start, he needed distance." Chris fervently hoped that would explain it, that intelligent and astute man that he was - how ever much he tried to hide it - Buck wouldn't need it explained any further.
Buck stood and walked to the big windows that looked out over the corrals. "I'm too close to the old Chris? I bring back too many memories?"
"Maybe I should go away."
"No!" Chris shot out of his chair. "No way in hell, I need you!"
"Yeah? Well I'm not here for your needs you know, you think you can ditch me, but keep me at hand just in case. In case it all goes wrong again, then good ol' Buck will be on hand to pull you back from the brink again? Just because you don't have the self control to deal with your own shit?"
Buck turned away from Chris, his body language making it clear he didn't want anyone close to him. But Chris was angry and hurt, he was acting on his anger, as always.
"My shit? I can't deal with my own shit! My wife and son were murdered! I watched my son die slowly, hideously burned, how was I supposed to deal with it?" Chris reached out and grabbed Buck's shoulder spinning him around to face him. "Go on tell me how I was supposed to deal?"
JD's words came back to Buck 'get over it'. He hadn't overcome his own self doubt, and he wasn't sure he could, but he sure as hell couldn't deal with all Chris's rage, not again.
"You deal the same way we all do, you ain't special, we've all lost people, JD was only a kid himself, but he had nurse his mother, watch her die, he didn't run off and hide in a bottle, he got on with his life, life goes on Chris. Shit happens, you deal and you go on - you deal. I lost I " Buck turned away pulling himself free from Chris grasp.
Great Larabee you did it again, you used Buck as your crutch, forget his needs just use him, just like you always do - you selfish bastard! He lost? Who - his mom? She was murdered I know that, but it was a hell of a long time ago. But then time is immaterial isn't it. His mother was murdered just like Sarah and Adam and the crime was never solved, just like Sarah and Adam, and he was what, eighteen then?
"Buck I'm sorry, I forgot about your mom, I "
"Mom? No that's not who oh forget it!" Buck turned his back fully on Chris.
The light of understanding finally dawned on Larabee.
"Sarah and Adam, you lost Sarah and Adam." He said it so softly it was no more than a breath. Logically he had always known Buck had been grieving too, that he had lost his family as well, that his offer to Sarah if she ever got tired of Chris, wasn't entirely a joke, that he couldn't have love Adam more if he had been his own son. But he never tried to see what that was really like for Buck. Buck who needed family, who could never be a loner, becaues he just wasn't built that way, had lost the only family he had.
No one was there to support him, no one was there to let him talk about them or how he felt, he wasn't even able to grieve at the funeral, because he was being me. He made the arrangements, he talked to the minister, he invited people, he dealt with the caterers, and the lawyers and the police welfare officers and the top brass. What did I do that day? Got drunk, passed out, woke up in his spare bed two days later.
"I know you lost them too, I've always known, but I didn't want to acknowledge it, I couldn't because that would make you human, and I didn't need you human, I needed you to be there, no matter what. But that was then, and I'm a different man now, I should have seen what was going on, I have been taking you for granted, never seeing that you have needs too "
"Chris I don't need anything, I just " He did have needs, he needed to be useful, to be needed, to feel he had value. Things that despite his talk with JD he didn't feel right now, in truth he hadn't felt for a long time. But he still couldn't express them, he wasn't even sure he understood them himself.
"Yeah you do pal. We all have needs, and we have all been ignoring yours, because you are a better actor than Ezra, more stoic than Vin, more enigmatic than Josiah, more selfless than JD, more stubborn than me and you worry about everyone else more than Nathan."
Buck turned from the windows. "You make me sound like a saint," he said with just a hint of amusement.
"No you're defiantly not a saint, I think there are enough women in this city who can attest to that, and as your boss I would second the motion that Buck Wilmington is defiantly less than saint like, he's far too too "
"Well go on, too what?"
"I can't, you're unique, and your many and various ways to; screw up, annoy, piss off, drive crazy; me, bad guys, the Feebs, the DA, the judge, and just about anyone else you ever have come in contact with, are equally unique. But whatever your faults - and they too, are many - you are the lynch pin of this team. Josiah calls us brothers, and I guess we are, like in Henry the Fifth ' We few, we happy few, we band "
"We band of brothers." Bucks voice joined him in the well-known quote, and continued it. "For he that sheds his blood with me today will be my brother, be he ne'er so vile." He'd miss quoted but it didn't matter. Buck looked up, 'vile', poor white trash, just like he told JD, that was what he was, and would always be. And that voice came back. You're not good enough.
For once the telepathy Chris sheared with Vin seemed to be on Buck's wavelength. "You're not 'vile' never were, never will be my friend, well except then you've been eating Josiah's chilli, but you are my 'brother' and we all need you."
Buck smiled at the chili reference.
"Come and sit down before Nathan kills me," Chris suggested.
"I'm not an invalid you know."
"No, but you are still on sick leave, come on this isn't over yet."
Now we get to it, Buck thought, now I find out why the others are here. He reluctantly followed Chris to the sofa again.
+ + + + + + +
Chris went out onto the porch and signed to JD, who had been set to watch by Vin once Buck was safely in the house.
The others all trooped in, looking amused and sheepish and worried all at the same time.
"Guys what the hell is going on?" Buck demanded.
JD stepped up and cleared his throat. "Well it's your birthday next week and " Buck groaned. "Now don't start " JD scolded. "We know we won't be able to celebrate it the way we normally do, for a month or two right Nate?"
"Correct, no way are you up to that yet." Jackson had told them in no uncertain terms that the very boozy trail riding weekend, that was their traditional way of celebrating Buck's birthday, was out of the question until he was fully healed, and that would take some time.
"So we decided you are going to be like the Queen of England this year, and have two birthdays. One now, one much later - actually your gonna do better than the Queen 'cause we'll most likely go out on the actual day next week, so thats three birthdays isn't it?"
"Get on with it!"
"Oh, right, yes, so we all got you a present today, a special present, to show you what you mean to us."
"Guys no, I don't need, that is I don't aw hell!" But it was no good protesting and he knew it. The first to sit down in front of him was Nathan. He pulled from behind his back a large flat parcel, which proved to be very heavy.
Seeing that his fate was sealed he set about opening it. Inside was framed photo of the planet Jupiter, complete with NASA authentication. There was also a CD of the Planet suit by Holst.
"I take myself too seriously, I know that, I worry too much, I can't always take a joke. But you've shown me how to lighten up, shown me the value of laughter, to see the funny side. The way I was going I'd most likely have an ulcer by now if it weren't for you."
Buck turned the CD over to see what this had to with Nathan's statement. Jupiter was listed as 'Bringer of Jollity'
"I know you don't want to be seen as just the team clown, and we don't, but don't underestimate the power and value of laughter and indeed the power of laughter to heal. How often have we said, 'if we didn't laugh we'd cry'? I don't know if you know the music?" Buck shook his head. "Jupiter contains the music for a hymn, I wrote the words to the first verse out, because it's about you." Buck opened the CD case and read the beautifully copied out verse.
"It's about all of us," Buck said quietly.
"I'd like to think so, but I know it's about you."
"Thanks Nate, I appreciate the though, all of it."
Josiah took Nathan's place in front of him as he continued to look at the beautiful, hypnotic patterns on the planet's surface. Finally he places the picture and CD beside him on the sofa, and looked up. The big profiler handed over a package that was of similar size to Jackson's but this was light and soft. Beneath the paper was a tee shirt. Once Buck had opened it up he could see a beautiful painting of a wolf, howling at the moon. He frowned at Josiah.
"It's not what you think brother, this has nothing to do with 'wolf whistles' or howlin' at the moon or 'wolfing your food' - not that they don't apply to you, but that's not what this is about. We have all called you a 'mother hen' and likened you to a mother grizzly. But they are bad analogies, mother hens are easily frightened, mother grizzlies only protect their own, but wolves Now wolves protect the whole pack, especially the young. When the pack hunts guardians are left with the cubs, not necessarily their parents, and they will defend the cubs to the death. Bears are solitary animals, but wolves live in packs, they need company. When the time is right, all the pack will play with the cubs and each other, even the alpha male. You my friend are a wolf. A guardian, a protector, a member of the pack."
Buck ran his hand over the picture, not looking up.
"You can't be other than what you are - 'to thine own self be true' - and we depend on you to protect us, all of us."
"Seems you are all intent to improve my knowledge of Shakespeare today" Buck said with a chuckle.
"What was that?" Josiah asked.
"Nothing, thank you, I guess I'm one of the pack, what ever I do."
"One of our pack. One of us."
Sanchez seeded his place to Ezra. His gift was ill disguised. A red bottle bag. Inside was a bottle of tequila with a worm in it and a small leather pouch tied to the neck. He reached out and retrieved the pouch and, carefully, as Ezra watched, he undid it and let the contents fall into his hand. Then he just stared at it, then he stared at Ezra.
"Wow!" breathed JD as the diamond twinkled in Buck's open palm.
"Is it? You know, is it real?" Buck asked.
"Mr Wilmington, I am shocked that you would ever think I would be so cheep and tacky as to give a fake diamond!"
"Sorry Ez, but tequila and a diamond?"
"It's not the tequila, it's the worm, I couldn't think of an nice way to give a worm. You wormed your way past my defences. You all did, but you were the first. After Atlanta I didn't think I could trust anyone again, I though I would just go through the motions, but you came along and taught me to have faith again. In the words Miss Bassie sings so wonderfully 'Diamonds are for ever I can see every part, nothing hides in the heart to hurt me Diamonds never lie to me, I've no fear that they might desert me.' Thats you, youre my diamond, you showed me there was nothing to fear and I have always know that you would never lie to me, or desert me. Whether you're standing behind me at a bust, listening in the van, or watching from across the street, I know I can trust you to watch my back. Trust is a precious thing, to live without it is painful, scary and tiring. You have mine, I hope I have yours?"
"I though I was a 'diamond in the rough'," Buck confessed.
"Well that too, but then I would have had to find an uncut diamond, this is much prettier."
"Thanks Ezra, you do have my trust." He closed his hand over the precious stone. "Maybe we'll do justice to the worm later today?" he added with a grin.
"Oh no you won't, one scotch was your limit for today," Nathan scolded. "Bet you didn't bring your meds with you, did you?"
"Um, well, er "
"I've got them." JD grinned as he took Ezra's place, "And I'm the one who needs babysitting?" JD lay his parcel on the table. "Don't open it now, I gotta say this first, alright?"
Buck obediently sat back, putting his diamond back in its pouch as he did.
"You gave me a home, a place to live is not a home, the people you live with are not necessarily family. After mom died I though I wouldn't have a home or family again unless I got married. I was so scared that would never happen and I'd be on my own forever. But the very first day I moved in you made me feel at home, made me feel like family, and no matter what's happened, I have always felt that bond of brotherhood, that what we have is more than friendship "
"You'll always be my little brother JD, always," Buck assured.
JD pushed the parcel toward Buck nervously. Buck unwrapped it carefully, sensing this was something very precious to JD.
"Oh JD I can't, I can't take this, it was your mom's right?" JD nodded. "She made it didn't she?"
"I want you to have it, I know it's corny but it's true, she she'd want you to have it."
The others could see it was something in a heavy wooden frame but not what it was. Finally Ezra asked if they could see it. Buck slowly turned the frame around to reveal a beautifully crafted sampler bearing the legend "Home is where the heart is".
"JD it is quite beautiful, you mother was most talented," Ezra stated, the others murmured their agreement.
"Please Buck, I want you to have it." JD waited while Buck decided what to do.
Buck finally nodded his acceptance. "We'll put it up someplace we can both see it."
"Guess it's my turn," Vin announced.
Sitting down he handed over a small wooden box. Buck opened it and removed the object from within. It was evidently hand made. Carved from a solid block of wood was an ansarte. A cross with a loop at the top, the symbol of life.
"Life, you saved my life in more than one way. Before I joined you guys I didn't have a life, I just existed, day to day, no direction, no purpose. Then I joined you guys and all that changed - and it was down to you." He looked at Buck. "Without Chris there would be no Team Seven and without you there would be no Chris. You gave me something worth while to do, friends, family, direction, a life. And you gave me Chris."
"You made this?" Buck asked.
Vin nodded, "I wanted it to be personal."
Buck knew Vin wouldn't want to say much more, he was less shy than he had been, but he was still uncomfortable expressing himself.
The accumulation of carefully chosen, highly symbolic presents, and the cumulative effect of the words that went with them was having an effect on Buck. He dropped his head as he thanked Vin. Finally beginning to accept what JD and Chris had told him, that he was valued, and needed. He was a force for good in his friends lives.
"Pal?" Buck looked up at Chris.
"Here, this is what you mean to me." With that Chris handed over a small package. Once the paper was off it proved to be a small leather wallet, which held a picture. A photo of Sarah and Adam, taken at a picnic just a few months before they died. It was a delightful image of happy family life.
Buck stood and turned to Chris. "Thanks pal, I'll always be here if you need me." With that he extended his had to his oldest friend and once he had it he pulled him in for a bear hug.
"Hey Buck you dropped something," Vin called as he too stood and picked up the envelope that had fallen from Buck's jeans pocket when he stood. "Cowboy it's addressed to you." With that he attempted to hand it to Chris.
"No!" Buck reached for the envelope, the sudden movement sent a dagger of pain across his still healing chest, and he hissed, as he grabbed for the paper.
"Buck? You okay pal? Nate." Chris called as he garbed Buck's shoulders as he gasped for breath. "Come on lets get you sat down again."
Buck allowed himself to be guided to the sofa and sat down gratefully. Nathan came to squat in front of him, a look of concern on is face. "Buck?" he asked.
"I'm okay, just moved to fast, is all, I just need to catch my breath." With out asking, a glass of water and two of his pain meds appeared in front of him. "Thanks JD." He knew it was him without having to look up.
Chris took the envelope from Vin, turned it over once and then handed it back to Buck, who took it quickly.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Nothing, it's nothing Cowboy, not anymore." With that he ripped it in two and stuffed it back into his pocket.
The hymn verse Nathan copied out was this:
I vow to thee my country
All earthy things above
Entire and whole and perfect
The service of my love
The love that never falters
A love that stands the test
That lays upon the altar, the dearest and the best
A love that asks no questions
The love that pays the price
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice
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