Mad Ladies’ Men and Undercover Agents Go Out in the Midday Sun

by Hombre

Note: Don’t own the boys but I sure enjoy playing with them. Apologies for the title being so long but it was the only one I could think of! This story is written at a time when we, in Europe, are sweltering. Us Brits aren’t used to such temperatures and I, for one, am wilting! Again the information for the topic was different in each source I checked so I have worked with the information gleaned from and as well as the book Emergency Care (4th ed) by Harvey Grant. So please do not take the details as correct!

The boys arrived at the ranch in dribs and drabs to help Chris with various longstanding repair jobs that had now become essential. They stood around in shorts and t-shirts waiting until the group was complete before the blond assigned them their duties. One man, inevitably, wasn’t at all happy about the prospect of hard manual labor and as usual turned up late.

Ezra swept into the yard and pulled up outside the ranch house in his Jag with a squeal of tires. He stepped out of the vehicle looking as though he’d just been strutting his stuff on the catwalk. He was dressed from head to foot in designer gear and sauntered nonchalantly toward his friends.

Buck shook his head in wonder and said, "Well, yer gonna get yer pretty clothes messed up if yer gonna do some hard graft in ‘em, pard." The ladies’ man reached out a hand and pretended to pick a speck of dirt off Ezra’s shoulder. "There you are. Yer dirty already."

Ezra snorted in disgust. "I’m not so scholastically-challenged that I didn’t contemplate bringing some more befitting attire with me," Ezra said as he waved the bag he held in his hand under Buck’s nose irritably. "It wouldn’t do to be seen where I live looking like a construction worker. We pay professionals to do our chores, not rely on friends or, heaven forbid, do it ourselves! That would lower the tone of the area considerably so I thought I’d change here in a more suitable location."

Chris blew out a sharp breath and said, "Well, just for insulting my house as being down-market, you and Buck can go and mend the fence where my ranch joins old man Johnson’s."

"Crap," Buck complained as he turned to glare at Ezra. "Now look what you’ve done, pard. You’ve gone and got Chris all riled up and mean. That’s the furthest point from the house and we’re gonna have to go on horseback."

Ezra looked dismayed. "Why? Horse riding wasn’t part of the bargain when I agreed to this escapade."

"It’s the only way to get to the area you want. Jeep can’t make it when you reach the mountains," Chris explained with a barely concealed grin.

"Damnation. This is exactly why I don’t do manual labor myself." Ezra felt a hand placed over his mouth.

"Shut yer yappin’, Ez. He’ll think up somethin’ else for us that’s ten-times worse in a minute. Just accept it and keep quiet. Come on, get changed outta that fancy gear or we won’t even reach there by nightfall," Buck said as he pushed the undercover agent toward the house.

Chris smiled broadly when the two men had gone. "Well, that’s the two troublemakers out of our hair for the rest of the day. Here’s what I want the rest of you to do. Vin, can you help me mend the barn doors? Josiah, the corral needs fixing so JD can help ya with that. Nate? I know you want to use the time getting ready for our team-building exercise tomorrow. Can I leave you to get the first aid stuff ready for that? Think it’s gonna be a hard one this time with the location they’ve chosen for us so take as much as ya can with ya. If you do finish early, a couple of the stalls in the barn could do with seeing to. Okay, everyone happy?"


The men split up and headed to their destinations while Chris went into the house to see what was keeping Buck and Ezra. As he reached the living room he heard his dog bark and then Ezra start shouting angrily.

"Hey! Leave that alone, mutt," the undercover agent yelled as he grabbed the set of clothes he’d brought with him.

The other end of the material was in Chris’s dog’s mouth and Arnie pulled for all he was worth thinking what a wonderful game he was having. He managed to rip the once carefully folded clothes and Ezra snarled like a dog as he heard the material tear again. The hound decided perhaps he’d outstayed his welcome and ran away after letting go of his prize, making Ezra suddenly stumble backward. The backs of the undercover agent’s legs met the side of the couch and Ezra yelped as he lost his balance.

"Stop playing with the dog, pard," Buck grinned as he watched Ezra fall back over the obstacle to land on the seat with legs waving in the air.

"This is no laughing matter, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra complained bitterly as he struggled upright and swung his legs over onto the floor. "Look at my clothes. What am I supposed to wear now? I’m certainly not putting back on what I came in."

"Well, if you’d come properly dressed to start with Arnie wouldn’t have grabbed them, would he? You’re too prissy for yer own good, Ez. Go as you are," Buck laughed as he looked at the only items of clothes that the man had on.

"Boxers and socks are not what I call suitable attire, Bucklin," Ezra disagreed as he looked down at himself critically.

"Fine. Go in the nude then. Just don’t nail anything important to the fence posts we’re gonna be putting in later. Could prove a mite painful, pard. Brings tears to the eyes just thinkin’ about it," Buck said as he pressed his knees together and winced.

Chris stepped into the room and hid the smile that had previous plastered his features. "I can lend ya somethin’ seeing as Arnie was the cause of yer clothesless state."

"If you’d made that proposal at any other time you’d have received a stinging reply. Since I’m in a quandary I will accept your generous offer, Mr. Larabee," Ezra said gratefully as he stood up.

"Alright, come and pick out what you want."

Ezra followed Chris to his bedroom and reappeared dressed from head to foot in black.

"Might be a bit warm in that, Ez. It’s gonna get a lot hotter later on, pard," Buck informed the undercover agent. "Could be one of the hottest days of the year, so they say."

Ezra nodded. "You know Mr. Larabee doesn’t possess anything but black. A most depressing color and I can feel the gloom descending upon me even now."

"No, that’s just the result of you thinking of all the work we’ve gotta look forward to, pard. I know you can hardly contain yer excitement just by looking at ya," Buck said as he slapped Ezra’s back hard and laughed.

The undercover agent scowled as he said, "Well, I won’t be overexerting myself, Mr. Wilmington."

"You will if I have anythin’ to do with it, buddy. You ain’t sitting in the shade watching me do all the work if that’s what yer hopin’. Come on, let’s get goin’ or we won’t get nothin’ done at all."

The two men went to the barn and found two horses already saddled for them so they mounted and set off in the appropriate direction.

"Where are the materials we will be using?" Ezra asked in puzzlement. "I hope this doesn’t mean we will be expected to hew down trees to complete this damned chore."

"Na, don’t get yer panties in a bunch, Ez. Chris got everything delivered to old man Johnson’s place. He’s put it all ready for us where we’re going ‘cause it was easier to get it there from his end. He ain’t got no mountains in the way on his land, only hills."

Silence reigned for a while except for the occasional sigh in response to the weather conditions. The further the two men rode toward the mountains, the hotter it became. The landscape shimmered and Ezra saw several mirages appear on the horizon.

He lifted the hat he was wearing and wiped his brow on his shirtsleeve. "Good Lord. We’ll earn our money today, Bucklin."

"What money, pard? This is being done out the goodness of our hearts," Buck said as he took a swig of water from his bottle before passing it over to Ezra.

"Yours maybe but I will obtain some recompense, I assure you," Ezra replied smugly as he took hold of the bottle and splashed some of its contents on his face.

"Good luck pard, but I won’t be holding my breath," Buck replied.

"Shame. I might have gotten some peace and quiet then," Ezra grinned as he avoided the playful punch that Buck sent toward him.

The two men rode up into the mountains and then down into the valley below that separated the two ranches. Ezra could see the fence between the properties was in very poor condition and would take a lot of work to mend. He also saw the pile of materials they would be using and he sighed as they dismounted and unsaddled the horses. The sun shone directly down the valley and the only shade was provided by a couple of small trees. Buck tied the horses beneath them and gave the animals a nosebag each. The two men then took the tools from their saddlebags and walked toward the fence.

Ezra stood and stared once more as he contemplated the amount of effort he was going to have to expend to finish the job.

Buck came up beside him and said, "If yer just gonna stare at it we ain’t gonna be finished anytime soon, Ezra. How about makin’ a start?"

"If we must," the undercover agent muttered as he let out a resigned sigh.

The two men dug out the first broken fence post and then put in the replacement. After only working on that one pole both men were sweating profusely. Ezra put the shovel down and removed his shirt and wiped the material over his body to try and mop up some of the moisture on his torso.

"One down, ninety-nine to go," Buck grinned as he took another sip of water from his bottle and looked along the fence into the distance.

Ezra grunted in disgust and growled, "How can you take pleasure in such a demanding task? I’ve got splinters in both hands already."

"Better there than in yer ass, pard. Told ya to put gloves on, didn’t I?" Buck said as he held out the items in question.

Ezra stared at Buck for a minute before snatching them irritably and putting them on.

"Very sexy. You look quite attractive, Ez," Buck laughed. "Now all you need is an apron and you could be a domestic goddess."

"Shut up, Bucklin," Ezra retorted as he scowled. He bent down and picked up his shovel and moved away to begin work on the next fence post.

Buck watched him walk away and had to admit that for a man who never overexerted himself, Ezra sure had a fine physique. Jeez. How does he get muscles like that when all he does is lounge around in bed all the time?

The ladies’ man shook his head ruefully before walking toward Ezra again. "Let me put some sunscreen on yer back, pard. Don’t want you looking like a boiled lobster." Buck slapped some of the cold cream on Ezra’s back and rubbed it in vigorously.

Ezra squirmed as the liquid hit his skin and waited impatiently for Buck to finish. "I s’pose you’re gonna ask me to return the favor now you’ve made me put these infernal gloves on, aren’t you?" Ezra moaned as he turned to face the mustached man.

Buck smiled and Ezra took off the gloves and covered the ladies’ man’s back with the cream as well. He turned Buck back toward him and put out a quick finger and smeared the remnants off his hands onto his friend’s nose. Buck’s eyes crossed as he looked at the lump of cream sitting right on the end of his nose before laughing and rubbing it into his skin.

The men turned back to work with a sigh and worked solidly in the deepening heat of the midday sun. Ezra stood still again after a while and wiped his brow wearily as he leaned against his shovel.

"Never knew there was so much moisture in my body."

"Yeah, sure is hot, ain’t it? Here ya go, pard. Drink some of that to replace the lot that’s leaking out of ya like a waterfall. Jeez, you’ll be gushing like Niagara Falls in a minute." Buck passed over a bottle of water and Ezra drank it thirstily.

Ezra gave the bottle back and wiped his mouth on his forearm. "Thank you, Bucklin. You can’t beat Adam’s ale for its thirst-quenching qualities."

"Let’s take a break and get out of the sun for a while. Don’t wanna overdo it, do we?" Buck said as he grinned at Ezra.

"Glad you’re coming round to my way of thinking, Mr. Wilmington."

Both men sat under the trees near the horses and ate their lunch companionably. After a while Ezra shaded his eyes and squinted up at the sky. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen and he sat and fanned his face with the brim of his hat. Even that usually simple task wore him out so he stopped and puffed in exhaustion. Sitting in the shade didn’t seem to be any cooler than being in the full sun and he felt as if he was wilting like a water-starved flower. He sat silently for a few minutes and then looked down at his body with a thoughtful gaze.

"I think I’m developing muscles on my muscles after our work this morning, Bucklin," Ezra said as he flexed his aching arms.

"God. You could turn into a mini Arnold Schwarzenegger," Buck grinned as he watched the sweat trickle in rivulets continuously down his friend’s face.

"What a concept," Ezra laughed.

Buck stood and stretched tall. "Ready to start again, pard? Let’s work another coupla hours and call it a day. Any later and we won’t get back to the ranch in time for the barbecue Chris promised me."

"Sounds good to me, Mr. Wilmington. I don’t think I shall be able to move without pain for the next week at least," Ezra said as he got to his feet slowly. He stood and put a hand to his back and arched backwards to try and loosen up again. The hours I’ve spent in the gym at home obviously weren’t as beneficial as I’d hoped, he thought to himself.

"You’re okay to carry on, are ya?" Buck asked as he studied the smaller man.

"Yes, I’m just not used to such physical work and it’s so hot that it makes it ten-times more arduous."

"Just yell if you want another rest and keep drinking, alright? I don’t wanna have to take you home in a bucket ‘cause you’ve melted into a puddle of goo."

"That sounds immensely unpleasant, Bucklin. I shall follow your advice to the letter."

As agreed the two friends worked until mid-afternoon but when they surveyed their work, they discovered they hadn’t completed even half the task.

"Takes longer than you think, don’t it?" Buck observed sounding very disheartened.

"Yes. Well, I haven’t got the strength to do any more and I think I am going to find it hard enough getting back on my mount. I think I will need one of those contraptions they used in the old days in England to get knights on their horses." Ezra laughed and turned to his mount and somehow clambered aboard after three attempts.

The two men headed home and rode in silence after Buck slowly pulled ahead once they’d cleared the mountains. Ezra put a hand to his brow and rubbed his fingers across his skin wearily. He had to admit that he was feeling increasingly sick and weak. He swayed suddenly and the landscape became very blurred as he looked around him anxiously. He clutched the pommel on the saddle tightly and felt dreadful.

"Got to stop, Bucklin. Got to stop," he said just loud enough for the tall man to hear.

Buck turned round in his saddle and looked back over his shoulder when he heard the quiet voice call his name. He frowned and turned his horse round when he saw that Ezra had stopped. He made his way back toward his friend and watched as the man dropped uncontrollably off his mount’s back. The undercover agent’s feet touched the ground but his knees buckled and he ended up sitting unceremoniously on his butt in the dirt. He landed with such a bone-jarring thud that Buck winced as he heard the man’s teeth clatter together. Ezra still had hold of one of the split reins in his hand and when his horse skittered away after his ignominious fall, the dark-haired man was pulled over flat onto the ground with his arms stretched over his head.

"What the hell ya doin’, pard?" Buck asked as he got off his own horse quickly and strode toward Ezra.

"Got off."

"Yeah, I can see that. Didn’t do it with yer usual style though, did ya? Come on, let go of the rein, pard," Buck said as he took the leather from his friend’s hand and tied the animal to his own horse. He then squatted beside the smaller man. "You been drinking whiskey behind my back, pard? You drank so much that you fell off?"

"No. Headache, dizzy."

Buck frowned and reached out an anxious hand. Ezra’s skin was flushed and tremendously hot but now very dry and Buck cursed for not noticing that last fact earlier.

"Shit, Ez. Yer way too hot, pard. Why didn’t you say you were feelin’ bad?" He moved his hand to Ezra’s throat and felt for a pulse. His frown deepened when he found the rhythm beating fast and strong.

"Want to go home. Get me on my camel, Bucklin. I need my camel," Ezra said in confusion as he tried to get up.

"Camel? What do ya mean, pard?"

"Camel…..fell off. We’re in the desert but can’t find an oasis. So hot, so hot… oasis."

Buck looked down at his friend. "Yer riding a horse, Ez. We’re on Chris’s ranch, not in the desert. Do you remember?" He received no answer. "Look, stay where you are, pard. Don’t move, you hear me?" the ladies’ man instructed worriedly.

Buck rose quickly and turned to the horse and collected his water bottle from the saddlebag. He pulled out a handkerchief, soaked it in the liquid and sat next to Ezra again and wiped his face and neck with the cloth gently. He pulled Ezra into the shade created by the horses and wiped the man’s face again and made him drink some of the water. He then stripped Ezra of his clothes but his hasty movements startled the horses and they moved away so putting Ezra back in the full sun.

"Dammit, ponies," Buck almost sobbed as he stood and reached out a hand to pull them back into position again. "Stay there, please," he pleaded.

He turned back to Ezra just as the man vomited and Buck hurried toward him anxiously. He pulled the rest of Ezra’s clothes off his body and began cooling his friend’s torso with the water rather than giving him anything else by mouth. He then sat and fanned Ezra’s body with his hat. "Jesus, Ez. Why now, when we’re away from home? Chris’s clothes ain’t helped neither being all black, have they? Always knew it was a bad color. Let’s put it to some better use." The ladies’ man picked up the discarded shirt and draped it over Ezra’s torso and poured water over it for a hopefully longer-lasting cooling effect.

"Bucklin?" Ezra mumbled as he looked up at the blurred shape above him and vomited once more.

"Still here, Ez," the ladies’ man said as he wiped his friend’s mouth gently.

The undercover agent’s eyes closed and didn’t reopen.

"Ez? Stay awake, will ya?" Buck said as he patted the man’s cheek but he wasn’t obeyed. He came out in goose bumps and a cold sweat despite the terrific heat that surrounded him. "Shit! Jesus Christ! What the hell do I do? Ain’t got enough water to stay here and I need to get you to Nathan ‘cause you ain’t sweating any more, pard. Can’t take you back on the horse neither ‘cause you’ll be back in the sun again. Oh shit, shit, shit," Buck muttered in despair. "Nathan! That’s it. If Mohammed won’t go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed."

Buck rose quickly and collected his cell from the saddlebag. He punched in Nathan’s cell number desperately and then squatted next to Ezra again to continue treating him. The ladies’ man couldn’t think straight and could feel panic rising up to engulf him as he looked down at his very sick friend. He groaned angrily when he received no reply from Nathan so he decided to try Chris instead.

"Chris? Where’s Nate?" Buck shouted as soon as the blond answered. "Where the hell is he?"

"He’s here. Is everythin’ okay? You sound upset."

"It’s Ez, pard. I think he’s got heatstroke or somethin’. He’s unconscious and I really need some help with him, Chris. I can’t bring him back so can Nate come here instead?"

"I’ll send him and I’ll get a chopper to meet ya to take Ez to the hospital. Hold on the line, buddy."

Buck could hear Chris talking to someone in the background and then Nathan’s voice came on the other end of the phone.

"Buck? I’m on my way now and Josiah’s driving so I can talk to you to give you proper instructions. Where are you exactly?" He listened to Buck’s reply and was glad that the sick undercover agent was nearer to the ranch than he’d thought. "That’s great Buck. You ain’t too far from us so we won’t be very long, alright? Okay, I need to know if your diagnosis is correct, so can you tell me Ezra’s symptoms? Is he sweating at all?"

"No, he’s dry as a bone now although he was sweating buckets earlier. His skin is real hot and red and he lost consciousness a minute ago. It all happened so quick, Nate." Buck tipped his water bottle to soak the handkerchief once more and applied it to Ezra’s boiling skin as he also put more water on the rapidly drying shirt.

"Did he say anything before he passed out?" Nathan asked.

"Yeah. He said he was dizzy and had a headache but he seemed real confused too. Thought he was riding a camel and that he was in the desert."

"How’s his pulse?" Nathan kept up the steady stream of questions to try and keep Buck’s mind occupied.

The ladies’ man reached out a finger to double-check and said, "It was real fast and strong to start with but it’s started to get weaker, Nate."

"Shit! How much water have you got?" Although Nathan knew he had to stay calm for Buck’s sake he couldn’t help but feel increasingly anxious about Ezra.

"Not much, pard. We drank most of it on the way back and there’s no creek nearby to get any more either. I gave him some to drink a while ago but he puked it straight back up."

"Is there any shade where you are?"

"Yeah and Ez is in it but it’s only what the horses are creating and they keep moving about."

"Okay Buck, I understand but just try and keep him in it," Nathan said quietly. "Look, if you ain’t got much water either, concentrate on putting it on his face and neck and also his armpits and groin. You’ve removed his clothes, have you?"

"Yeah, but……," Buck’s voice suddenly changed to outright panic. "Freaking hell! Alright, Ez. I’ve got you, pard. I’ve got ya."

Nathan’s heart skipped a beat at the fear he heard in Buck’s voice. "Bucklin? What’s happened?" He heard only silence. "Buck, talk to me."

"He’s convulsing, Nate," Buck replied sounding distraught. "Jesus Christ, I can’t stand much more of this, Nate. He’s dying right in front of my eyes."

"Calm down, Bucklin. I need you to be calm for Ezra’s sake or he could be dead, do you understand? Now tell me, is that the first seizure he’s had?" Nathan felt the jeep speed forward with a jolt as Josiah put his foot down after hearing the word ‘seizure’.

"Yeah but I don’t think it’ll be the last somehow. I really need yer help, Nate," Buck said shakily, sounding close to tears.

The medic looked across worriedly at the profiler before turning his attention to Buck again. "Come on, try to stay calm, Bucklin. We’ll be there as soon as we can. Just keep cooling him like you’ve been doin’ and I’ll stay on the phone so you can tell me what’s happening. Are you still alright to talk to me and treat Ez at the same time?"

"Yeah. Got the phone between my shoulder and head."

The ladies’ man talked continuously to the medic for what seemed a long time but, in fact, had only been minutes when he finally heard the sound of a motor getting nearer. Buck looked up and felt a tide of relief sweep over him at the sight as he put the cell phone in his pocket. He stood up and waved his arms in the air although Josiah had actually already spotted him and was heading straight toward him at high speed. Tha ladies’ man saw Nathan leap out of the vehicle and begin running toward him even before the truck had come to a proper halt.

"I’m here, Bucklin. Let me get a look at him. Ezra?" The medic dropped to his knees beside Ezra and first felt his skin before checking his pulse anxiously. He peeled open the man’s eyelids and then turned to Josiah and shouted, "Bring the water, the IV and the thermometer, will ya?"

The medic thanked his lucky stars that he’d gotten the correct medical equipment with him. It was only down to the fact of the team-building exercise being the following day that he had thought to include an IV in the pack. Josiah arrived at his side and handed over the requested items.

"Okay, Ez. Yer gonna be fine. Need to cool ya down and get you re-hydrated and yer salt level back up. Gonna put you on an IV, alright?" Although Ezra wasn’t conscious, Nathan hoped to get through to him on some level to let him know he wasn’t alone. The medic turned to Buck after taking Ezra’s temperature and finding it very high and asked, "Keep cooling him, will ya? Josiah, can you get the sheet, ice and oxygen that I brought too? We need to get his temperature down fast."

Ezra’s breathing was very shallow and rapid but sounded noisily in his chest with every inhalation. The medic picked up Ezra’s arm and laid it in his lap but before he could insert the needle from the saline IV into Ezra’s skin the man had another bad seizure.

Buck stood up and walked away a short distance while Nathan dealt with Ezra alone. The ladies’ man finally went back toward the medic and watched him treating Ezra and he couldn’t help shivering uncontrollably.

"Alright, Ez," Nathan said once the convulsion had ceased. "Let’s get you hooked up to this." He inserted the needle into his friend’s flesh and then held the bag above his head.

Buck sat down on the other side of Ezra again and rubbed his face wearily.

"You okay, Buck?" Nathan asked as he flicked a quick look at the man.

"Yeah, I’m sorry. You’ve gotten enough to think about without me going to pieces. I shouldn’t have left you to deal with him but it’s just so hard to watch when he’s suffering like that."

"It’s okay, Buck. I understand how yer feeling," Nathan replied kindly.

Josiah came back at that point with the previously requested equipment and asked, "What do ya want done with this, brother?"

"Start Ez on the oxygen first and then wrap him in the sheet and soak it thoroughly. Buck, can you wrap the ice up in some of the spare rags first and put one pack under each of his limb joints, except his elbows, one on each side of his neck and if you’ve got enough left put one on his groin. Just make sure it’s all well wrapped or he could get frostbite instead."

The two men did as they were told as Nathan continued to monitor the patient’s condition while keeping the IV bag held up over his head. The undercover agent still suffered periodically from convulsions and Nathan was getting increasingly worried about his friend’s welfare.

The heads of all three men turned skyward as they heard the familiar drone of the helicopter approaching their position. The aircraft came into view and Buck couldn’t imagine a more beautiful sight.

"Thank God," the ladies’ man sighed as he stood and grabbed the horses before they could scatter.

"Ez? Paramedics are here. Just hold on, son. Yer gonna get through this," Josiah said as he held Ezra’s hand tightly.

The chopper landed and the paramedics ran toward the huddle of men. They transferred Ezra to the helicopter and took off again quickly because Nathan had already done most of their work for them. The three agents who were left behind watched it leave until it was out of sight.

Buck shivered and turned to the medic. "Nate? Is he gonna be alright? I shoulda called 911 straight away but I couldn’t think straight. Don’t think they’d have been here much quicker anyway."

Nathan shrugged. "Heatstroke is life-threatening Bucklin and Ezra is suffering real bad. It all depends if his internal organs have been affected. You did everything you could before we got here but I really can’t say yes to him survivin’ at this time."

"Shit," Buck mumbled as he began trembling nonstop. He looked up at the sky and closed his eyes and cursed softly under his breath.

"Son? You okay?" Josiah asked worriedly.

"I’ll be alright. Just a bit upset."

Nathan reached out a hand and rubbed the man’s back. "Come on, I’ll drive ya back to the ranch. Josiah? Can you take the horses home on yer own?"

"Sure thing, brother. You go on ahead to the hospital and I’ll meet ya there later," the profiler agreed as he saluted.

"Go get in the truck while I call Chris, Bucklin." The medic pulled out the cell and called the ranch house phone. It was answered within seconds. "Chris?"

"Nate? How’s he doin’?"

"He’s on his way to the hospital but he’s in a real bad way, Chris. I’m gonna bring Buck back in the truck ‘cause he’s a bit shook up and Josiah will bring the horses on his own," Nathan said as he looked quickly at Buck to make sure he was alright.

"Set ‘em loose."

"What?" the medic asked, losing the thread of the conversation.

"Put the tack in the truck and set the ponies loose, Nate. They’ll find their own way home alright. We’ll wait ‘til ya get back and all go to the hospital together."

Nathan disconnected and went to help Josiah see to the horses then the two men joined Buck and set off for home. Buck leant his head against the window and thought back over events while staring into the distance. He crossed his arms over his stomach as if he had gut ache and hugged himself. He felt his stress levels rising again and he wiped his face with a shaking hand

"Bucklin? How ya doin’?" Josiah asked.

"Can’t stop shaking, pard."

"S’pect yer a bit shocked, son. Just take it easy," the profiler said kindly as he continued to watch the tall agent anxiously.

The men saw the ranch house come into view and their three friends standing in the yard waiting for them. Nathan drew up next to Chris and put his head out the window.

He spoke quietly to the blond. "We’ll go straight on, Chris. Wanna get Buck looked at too. He’s real shook up as I said and can’t stop shaking."

Chris nodded and looked worried. "Sure. We’ll see ya later."

The team of men eventually regrouped in the ER. Buck had been given a very mild sedative to calm him down and Chris wanted to take him home to rest because his oldest friend still seemed very unsettled. The ladies’ man inevitably wanted to stay and see Ezra so Chris gave in, not wanting to increase the man’s upset any more.

"If you start feelin’ sick, you just tell me and I’ll take ya home, Buck," the blond offered as a compromise.

"Thanks, pard. Sorry for lettin’ things get to me but it was a hard situation to deal with on my own. I thought I was losing him and I panicked."

"Didn’t sound as though you did to me, Buck. You did real well from what Nate’s told me and Ez was lucky you were with him."

"Mr. Larabee?"

The blond whipped round and saw a doctor hovering behind him. The black-clad man stood immediately and the doctor took a step backward to give himself some space.

"How is he?" Chris asked nervously as he tried to read the man’s expression.

"He’s improving slowly but is still deeply unconscious, almost comatose. He was very lucky indeed because any more of a delay in getting him here and he’d be dead. Heatstroke is a real emergency and it strikes without warning and kills its victim very quickly if not treated straight away. Mr. Standish’s friends did a good job in keeping him cool."

Buck felt a hand patting his knee and looked up to find Josiah smiling at him. The ladies’ man’s eyes filled with tears of relief and joy and couldn’t stop them from running down his cheeks.

"Bucklin? Everythin’ alright, son?" the profiler asked anxiously as he frowned in concern.

The tall agent felt all his friends eyes turn toward him and he dropped his head as he wiped his face on the back of his hand. He shifted uncomfortably on the chair in embarrassment as he nodded slightly.

"Come on, Bucklin. I’m taking you home. You ain’t doin’ yerself no good staying here," Chris said as he pulled his friend to his feet. He’d never known Buck to cry before.

"No. I wanna see Ez. I ain’t leavin’ him after what we went through today. I need to be here ‘til the end, pard. I need to see him wake up," the tall man pleaded. He fixed Chris with a pair of puppy-dog eyes and willed the man to let him stay.

Chris narrowed his eyes as he studied the man standing before him as he contemplated his decision. He flicked a look at Nathan and raised his eyebrows questioningly. He wanted the medic’s opinion on Buck’s condition before he made up his mind. Nathan nodded in reply so Chris reached out a hand and patted Buck’s shoulder in agreement.

"Come on then. Let’s go see him."

Buck sighed loudly and smiled gratefully and the two men followed the doctor along to Ezra’s room. Chris kept a hand on his friend’s back as they walked but let go when they split up inside the room.

"Doc? How long will he have to stay here after he wakes?" Buck asked as he studied the undercover agent critically.

"Couple of days, maybe. All depends how he seems when he regains consciousness. He needs bed rest and monitoring for a while just to be sure he’s fully recovered," the doctor replied before leaving the room.

Buck took hold of Ezra’s hand and sat down beside him while Chris moved to the window and stared out without speaking. After a few minutes silence had passed, Buck looked over at his blond friend and frowned. Chris had his quiet moments, granted, but Buck felt there was something wrong this time.

"Chris? What ya thinkin’ about, pard?"

The blond sighed and bowed his head. "I shoulda known better than to get you two to work in that heat. The rest of us could at least go into the house if it got too hot but you were stuck out in the full sun all day. I know what it’s like where you were working and there ain’t much cover around to shelter in."

"It was just one of those things, Chris. Ez mighta been perfectly alright and there was no way of knowing he was gonna be affected like this. Why him and not me? We sat in the shade for a while when it was real hot and we kept drinking and he seemed alright until we set off for home. We both did exactly the same thing together. Ez didn’t do nothing different to me. It was just fate, Mother Nature or somethin’."

Chris sighed and sat down, still feeling guilty. The two men stayed quietly with their friend until Ezra finally stirred in the early hours of the morning. Buck stood up and saw the man’s eyes slowly open and squint up at him.

"Ez? How ya feelin’?" the ladies’ man asked as he patted Ezra’s shoulder.

"I think I’ve been to Hell," Ezra croaked and then coughed. "Wherever it was I was so very hot, Bucklin."

Buck frowned. "Do ya feel better now, pard?"


"Good. Do you remember what happened?"

"Unfortunately yes and I don’t want to go through that ever again," the smaller man replied quietly.

"I know what ya mean, pard. You sure scared the hell outta me, I can tell ya. I thought you were gonna spontaneously combust ‘cause you were so hot."

Ezra smiled weakly and said, "Now I know what it feels like to be in a microwave. I’ll never view those contraptions in the same way again. I think I’ll go and work in the North Pole instead, Bucklin. I reckon I could handle the cold weather much better."

"Yeah, least if ya got too cold you could always cuddle a polar bear to warm you up again," Buck laughed.

"No, Bucklin. I was thinking more along the lines of a nice Inuit lady," Ezra said with a grin.

The End

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