"Aw hell," Ezra breathed out as he and Buck stood in front of the arrivals and departures board. Their noon flight back to Denver from Baltimore was showing a delay of ninety minutes – a delay that was severely compromising Ezra's carefully planned timetable. They had arrived at the airport two hours before their flight was supposed to depart to allow enough time for them to clear through security. It had taken them just about a half hour to do that and make their way to their gate giving them a cushion of ninety minutes. That plus four hours flight time, another hour or so to deplane, get their luggage, and make their way to long term parking, and then another 45 minutes to drive to his townhouse meant he'd be home and in his bed in just about seven hours. Now that seven hours was going stretch nine hours...or more. Just the thought of the additional time sent a sharp pain travelling from his ankle up his leg and he let out a small groan and swayed on the crutches he was using for support.

"Nothing we can do about it," Buck said grimly as he put out a hand to steady his injured friend. What he was really thinking was that he wished they'd known about the delay and could have stayed at the hotel a little longer to give Ezra more time to rest. "Let's get you off your feet."

Since the arrivals and departures board was located at the gate their flight was departing from, they didn't have much further to walk. Scoping out the area, Buck saw four unoccupied seats that were together and led Ezra to them. He dropped their carry-ons to the floor and draped Ezra's overcoat over a chairback, then helped Ezra lower himself to one of the seats. He put the crutches on the floor as well and helped Ezra to turn so he could stretch his injured leg across the unoccupied seats. As gently as he could, he slipped his carry-on under Ezra's splinted ankle to elevate it. Despite the gentleness, he caught the grimace of pain that flashed across his friend's bruised face. "Sorry about that."

Ezra waved off the apology. "Not your fault." He grimaced again. "I don't think there's a single spot on me that's not sore."

"Taking a tumble down a flight of stairs will do that to you." Buck didn't mention the punch that had precipitated that fall. He grabbed Ezra's carry-on, unzipped it, and started rooting around in it. "Why don't you take one of those pills the doc gave you. It might make you more comfortable."

"Not right now," Ezra said with a shake of his head. "I'd rather wait until we board." He took a deep breath and let it out, biting back another groan when it made his bruised ribs twinge.

"I just hate seeing you in pain. Why don't you at least take off your tie and unbutton your shirt collar." Where Buck had dressed for comfort in jeans and a chambray shirt, Ezra had on his usual attire of suit and tie.

"Must I remind you, Mr. Wilmington? Appearances are everything."

"Suit yourself. I was just trying to make you a little more comfortable." Buck zipped up the bag and pushed it closer to Ezra's seat. He nodded in the direction of the gate podium. "I'm going to make sure we can get you boarded early. No sense in you getting jostled by everyone else."

"Thank you. When you return, would you mind getting me a bottle of water. I'm a bit parched."

"I'll get you water and something to eat. You haven't had much all day."

For a moment, Ezra was going to counter that he wasn't hungry but knew if he did, Buck would just start worrying and insisting he had to put something in his stomach. Instead, he nodded and smiled as much as he could without causing his split lower lip to start bleeding again.

He watched as Buck approached the podium and spoke to the young woman who was on duty there. He could tell from his friend's posture that he was using all his considerable charm. If Ezra knew Buck as well as he did, he'd probably come back with a phone number...and maybe he'd even remember what his mission had been. Shifting slightly, he tried to rest his arm on the back of the seat so he could lean his head against it but aborted the movement and winced in pain as it put pressure on his ribs. Buck chose just that moment to turn and point in his direction.

7

"Hello there, darlin'," Buck said with his most charming smile as he approached the gate podium. He took in the blonde-haired, blue-eyed angel and nearly forgot what he was supposed to be doing. He gave himself a mental shake. He was supposed to be helping Ezra, not making new acquaintances. Of course, if he managed to get a phone number, what would that hurt?

"Can I help you, the gate agent asked.

Buck rested his forearms on the podium and leaned forward slightly. "You sure can…" he hesitated a moment as he read her nametag. "Ariana. Can I just say what a beautiful name that is? Almost as beautiful as your eyes but I don't think anything could be more beautiful than they are."

Ariana smiled patiently at Buck. She'd heard more than her fair share of pick-up lines in the past. This was one of the tamer ones she'd heard. "Thank you. My fiancé tells me that all the time," she said pleasantly. "Is there something I can help you with?"

For just a second, Buck was caught off-guard as he was so neatly shot down. "Um…yeah," he said trying to recover. "I was just wondering if it would be possible for my friend and I to board early."

"You're boarding pass should have the group you'll be able to board with," Ariana pointed out.

"Oh, yeah. I know all about that. It's just that my friend had a little accident yesterday and he's none to steady on his feet. I just thought it would be easier if he could board before everyone else, so he doesn't get jostled around. That's him over there." He turned to point to Ezra. Just as he did, he saw him try to move and then wince in pain.

Ariana looked in the direction Buck pointed and caught sight of Ezra. The air cast on his ankle, split lip, bruised face, and left eye nearly swollen shut immediately made an impact. "Oh. That poor man. Has his doctor cleared him to fly?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah." Buck reached into his pocket and pulled out the doctor's note they'd had to show when they checked in for the flight to prove that Ezra was medically fit to fly. "Got a letter from the doctor right here."

Ariana took the proffered piece of paper and quickly read through it. "Of course, he'll be able to pre-board. Just listen for the announcement for medical pre-board and we can get him on then. Will he need any assistance?"

"I can help him. That is, if it's ok for me to board with him."

"Of course, and if he needs any more assistance, just let me know and I can arrange it."

"Thanks. Will do." Buck returned to where Ezra was sitting. "Just wanted to check on you before I got your water. You ok? Looks like you were in more pain."

A fleeting smile crossed Ezra's face. Since the accident, Buck had been more than solicitous of him. He wondered how much of it was guilt and how much of it was the fear of having to explain to Chris exactly what happened. "I just can't seem to get comfortable. That's all."

"Don't think they made these chairs with comfort in mind." He took off his coat and folded it to put between Ezra and the seatback to give him some cushion. "See if that helps."

"Thank you." Ezra settled himself as best as he could. "Seems you have a paramour," he told Buck as he saw the gate agent hurrying in their direction.

"Sir," Ariana said as she stopped behind Buck. "If you'd like, we can make arrangements for the two of you to access the lounge. I'm sure your friend will be much more comfortable there."

"Thank you, darlin'," Buck said with a smile. "We'd really appreciate that."

"Down, boy," Ezra said once Ariana had walked away. He was surprised to see Buck's face fall. "Don't tell me the mighty Buck Wilmington has struck out."

"Nah. She's engaged." He turned back to face Ezra. "Guess she'll never know what she missed out on," he said with a wide grin.

7

Not only did Ariana arrange access to the lounge for the two of them but she also called to have a golf cart transport them to it with the promise that there'd be one to get them back to the gate for their flight. All they had to do was let the receptionist at the lounge know.

Ezra had been relieved to see the couches in the lounge. Although not his bed at home, at least he'd be able to stretch out comfortably until it was time for them to board.

Buck got him settled on couch with one of the carry-on bags elevating his broken ankle then got him a bottle of complimentary water from the cooler of drinks. Once sure Ezra was settled and comfortable as possible, he went to see what other complimentary food and beverages were available to them.

Checking his watch, Ezra saw that only about a half hour had gone by since they'd seen the flight was delayed. "Eight and half hours," he whispered to himself counting down how long until he'd be home.

The corner of the lounge he was in was practically deserted and, therefore, quiet. He thought of pulling the novel he had out of his carry-on but just didn't have the wherewithal to concentrate. Instead, he felt himself drifting off in a doze. He wasn't sure how long that lasted when Buck's voice startled him. "Wha…"

"Didn't mean to wake you, Hoss." Buck pulled one of the armchairs closer to where Ezra lay. The small table between them had a plate with finger sandwiches and salad. There was a bowl next to it and a can of Coke. Buck pushed the bowl toward Ezra. "I got you some soup. You should try eating a little of it. And I've got some bad news. There's an arrival/departure board over the bar. Our flight's been pushed back another thirty minutes."

Ezra let out a defeated sigh. "Nine hours again," he whispered in disappointment.

"What about nine hours?" When Ezra made no move to pick up the bowl of soup, Buck nudged it a little closer to him.

"Nine hours until I see the inside of my home," Ezra answered. He nudged the bowl of soup back towards Buck and picked up his bottle of water instead. "Nine hours until something approaching comfort."

"Didn't realize you had a countdown going." Buck again nudged the bowl of soup in Ezra's direction. "You need to eat some of that and then take one of the pain pills and don't argue with me. I can see you're hurting and that headache's just going to keep getting worse if you don't put something in your stomach."

"If it means you'll stop being a mother hen for at least a few moments, I'll eat it." Ezra picked up the bowl of soup and gingerly spooned some into his mouth. He let out a hiss when he couldn't completely avoid his split lip. He didn't eat more than a half dozen spoonfuls before he put the bowl back down. "I've no appetite, Buck. Please don't keep trying to force me to eat."

"Ok." Buck knew it was likely his friend wouldn't be up to eating anything until he was finally in his home. It was normal for him to eat very little when travelling. With the addition of his injuries, it only made sense that he'd have even less of an appetite. "You need to make sure you're drinking, though," he admonished as he pushed the bottle of water closer. "And I'm getting those painkillers for you. No argument. And for crying out loud, take of the damned tie."

Letting out a sigh, Ezra loosened his tie and pulled it off then sipped from the bottle as he again tried to avoid the injury to his lip. "I'd prefer to wait until we're closer to boarding so I know I'll have the benefit of the painkiller during the flight but," he let out another sigh, "I'm not sure I can wait that long."

"Knew you were hurting." Buck pulled out the bottle of painkillers and shook one out into Ezra's hand. He took the tie and shoved it into the bag heedless of any creases that might be inflicted on the silk. "We're gonna be here for a while. Why don't you try to catch some z's?" He balled up his coat and slipped it under Ezra's head for a pillow.

Ezra swallowed the pill with some water then tried to get as comfortable as he could. As he felt a chill go through him, he pulled his suitcoat tighter around himself. "Don't let me sleep long."

"You have my word," Buck promised as he draped Ezra's overcoat over him as a pseudo blanket. He wasn't sure if Ezra fell asleep quickly or if he was just resting with his eyes closed. Regardless, he did his best to keep quiet so he wouldn't disturb him. He poked half-heartedly at the plate of food he'd put together for himself. He couldn't get it out of his head that it was his fault Ezra had been hurt.

As the minutes ticked by, Ezra's breathing grew deeper and slower until Buck knew he was finally asleep. He was just pulling out his cellphone when he saw one of the staff members approaching him carrying a blanket and one of the small airline pillows. "I thought your friend might like this," she said as she held the items out.

"Thanks," Buck said as he took the offering. He was now so deep into guilt it nearly didn't register with him it was an attractive female handing him the pillow and blanket, and he made none of his usual attempts to flirt. He took the overcoat off Ezra then shook out the blanket and draped it over his friend's sleeping form. "Just a blanket," he whispered when the sleeping man moved restlessly and let out a little moan. "If you can lift up a little, I've got a pillow for you." He slipped one hand behind his friend's back helping him to lift up enough that he could replace his balled-up coat with the pillow. "You just go on sleeping, now," he soothed once the pillow was in place. Once he was certain that Ezra had settled down once more, he picked up his phone again. Taking a deep breath and bracing himself, he speed-dialed Chris.