A/N: Takes place a few days after Sarah and Adam's deaths, a year or so before the pilot episode.
Buck Wilmington cast an uncertain eye on the sky when he heard thunder rumble in the distance. The wind had picked up and he knew it wouldn't be long before the rain the dark clouds had been threatening to spill all day was released. Buck sighed, why was the weather always terrible the day someone was buried? He hadn't lost many people he was close to, there weren't that many to lose, but it had rained the day of his mother's funeral and Sadie's too. It seemed only natural it should rain for Sarah and Adam's funeral as well.
Sarah and Adam. It wasn't right that he had just taken part in laying those two to rest. Sarah had been more than a friend to Buck, a sister would be a more appropriate title, and was one of the dearest women Buck had even known. She had a sweet disposition that wouldn't allow her to intentionally hurt anyone, and in some way that sweet smile and gentle manner tamed the reckless and rowdy Chris Larabee. As for little Adam, well, the only way Buck could have loved him more would have been if the boy had been his own. Adam was barely five, there was still so much he had to do and see, but he'd never do any of those things now. They were both far to young and innocent for their lives to have ended and the pain at losing them so suddenly and so violently was unlike anything Buck had ever felt before. He couldn't even began to imagine the torment Chris was going through.
He took a deep breath and slowly blew it out before he let himself look over to Chris. The blond was sitting on the ground in front of the two freshly covered graves, still and silent. That silence shook Buck to his core. Chris wasn't one for a lot of idol chatter on the best of days but in all the years he'd known him, Buck had never seen Chris this quiet. Even for a man in mourning the silence seemed eerily unnatural, and the guilt Buck already felt intensified every time he had to look at his friend.
This was his fault, Buck knew that. Him and his stupid want for women and beer could be blamed for this. He could have left Mexico when Chris wanted to, he should have, but he'd had to be difficult. He had adamantly claimed a few hours one way or the other wouldn't make any difference. He'd never dreamed he could be so wrong, and he wished more than anything he could go back and live that night over.
"Why are you so hellbent on stayin'?" Chris asked, his irritation obvious.
"Why are you so hellbent on startin' back?" Buck shot back.
The two men glared at each other before Chris finally broke the silence. "I got a woman waiting for me at home."
"Well, I could have a woman waiting for me down here." Buck replied, not quite keeping his grin in check.
Chris rolled his eyes but Buck could tell he was fighting a smile of his own. "If we leave now we could get a good four of riding in today."
"That's right. Four hours. We couldn't get home tonight anyway and since we're gonna have to be gone another night we might as well spend it in a town. Sleep in a real bed, eat a real supper."
"Keep the company of a real woman." Chris added, suspiciously.
Buck laughed. "You never know. I always keep the possibility open." Chris scoffed but Buck knew he was wearing him down. "Think about it Chris, do you really want to spend the night on the ground when you could be in a hotel? We could have a steak tonight, get a bath, maybe a beer or two; or we can chock down more dust, jerky, and beans. Now believe me, I understand you wantin' to get home but you're going to have to spend the night alone in any case so why not enjoy it as much as you can?"
Chris sighed and was silent for a moment but he finally allowed his smile to break through. "A beer and a bath don't sound bad."
"Now you're talkin'."
"Fine, we'll leave tomorrow. Early."
"Whatever you say, Stud."
After a trip to a bathhouse and a cantina they ended up in a little bar near the edge of town. A man in the cantina had told them the best beer in town was at this hole-in-the-wall and it didn't take long for Buck to come to the conclusion the man knew what he was talking about. He was just finishing up on his second glass when he caught the eye of the Mexican girl who'd been dancing. He gave her a wink, which she returned with a smile, and ordered another beer. About that time Chris pushed back from the table.
"Where you goin'?" Buck asked in surprise. As far as he was concerned the night was just getting started.
"I'm goin' to bed." Chris replied flatly.
"Bed? You're getting old, Stud. You used to drink me under the table."
Buck started on his beer. "You sure you don't want to stick around?" He leaned around Chris to get another look at the girl who had started dancing again. "Things could get fun real soon."
Chris gave the girl a backwards glance and shook his head. "I told you, I got a woman waiting for me at home. Which is why I want to leave early in the morning." He said with a very pointed look at Buck.
Buck laughed. "You just go get your rest, grandpa, and don't worry about El Buck."
"I mean it, Buck. Early."
"Early." Buck repeated, but as the girl looked his way once more thoughts of tomorrow morning vanished. Buck had bigger things to worry about tonight.
Buck took a shuddering breath as his mind started to whirl with what ifs. What if he'd agreed to leave when Chris had first asked him to. What if he hadn't met Carmen that night. What if he'd been on time to meet Chris the next morning. Buck felt tears began to burn behind his eyes. Why had it been so important for them to stay in Mexico that night? Had they left when Chris wanted to they would have been back over the border by nightfall, they would have pulled out a daybreak the night morning, and maybe Chris wouldn't have come home to a burned out cabin and a murdered wife and son. But he'd hadn't left, he'd stayed and he talked Chris into staying with him. Because of that, because of him, his best friend was having to deal with the most severe pain imaginable.
Buck heard the thunder again, closer this time, and the first few cold raindrops pulled him from his musings. With a heavy heart Buck turned to check on Chris again and found that the grief stricken man hadn't moved from his spot by his wife and son's graves. Buck's guilt grow once more. This unnatural silence Chris had been plunged into was his fault as well. For as long as he'd known Chris the blond's emotions had mostly manifested themselves as anger. When Chris was hurting, he got mad; when he was irritated or confused, he got mad; when he was truly mad Chris' wrath was certainly something to be avoided; but after nearly ten years Buck know how to handle an angry Chris. However, this stoic version of Chris, Buck had no idea how to help that man.
Buck started to feel the drops of wetness with more frequency. The rain was coming in fast and so far Chris hadn't acted as though he'd noticed any of what was going on around him. Buck continued to watch his friend, conflicted as to what he should do. He was tempted to go get the man and at least get him to the barn but he held off. Chris was mourning the loss of his family and Buck felt he had no right to interrupt that mourning. But when the rain began to fall in earnest and Chris was still sitting, unmoving, in front of the two wooden crosses Buck decided he had to do something.
Slowly Buck walked over to the graves and squatted beside his friend. "Chris." He said gently. "Don't you think we should get someplace dry?" When he didn't receive an answer he tried again. "Chris?" When the blond still said nothing Buck moved around to face him and found that Chris was staring, unseeingly, straight ahead. "Chris!" Buck yelled, slightly panicked, giving his friend's shoulder a shake.
Chris jumped in surprise. His green eyes were suddenly full of fear and his breath started to come in heaves.
"You all right, Stud?" Buck asked gently, his worry for Chris growing at how disorientated the man seemed.
Chris looked around trying to get his bearings, recognition growing when his eyes landed on Buck again. "Buck?" he asked, sounding relived.
"Come on, Cowboy, we need to get out of the rain." Buck offered a hand-up but just before Chris took it, his gaze went back to the crosses.
Chris' eyes clouded with pain again, pain so intense it broke Buck's heart just to see it. "Buck..." Chris chocked out. "Why would anyone do this?"
Chris started to tremble and Buck's anxiety spiked. His friend was enduring something Buck couldn't even began to imagine and he had no idea how to deal with grief this intense. If only that anger would come back. Hearing an irate Chris Larabee cast blame at his feet would be far easier for Buck to deal with then this. "Come on, Chris." Buck said. The rain was soaking him through and he shivered as he tried to pull the other man up. He wasn't sure what the best way to help Chris was but he was pretty sure getting Chris out of the wet and the cold before he caught pneumonia was a good place to start.
"Why..." Chris mumbled.
To Buck's horror he noticed Chris was starting to glaze over again. Buck knelt in front of Chris and got in his face. "Chris, listen to me. We have to get out of the rain." Chris didn't respond and Buck cursed inwardly. He'd already lost Sarah and Adam, the closest thing to family he had, he wasn't going to let Chris get away too. "Chris!" He gave the blond man another none-to-gentle shank. Chris blinked and looked at Buck as though seeing him for the first time. The pain and confusion was still in those green eyes but there was also a flicker of anger in them, and that anger almost made Buck laugh out loud with relief. "We need to get inside."
Chris gave the crosses another look before nodding mutely. Buck offered his hand again and this time Chris took it, but as soon as he was back on his feet Chris shoved Buck's hand away and started walking stiffly towards the barn. Buck felt a grim smile come to his face at the silent outburst. Chris was still hurting, still tormented in a way Buck had never seen before but the anger was returning. For Buck seeing that spark of anger meant there was hope, it meant that he had Chris back. As Buck followed his friend he make a promise to himself that he would do whatever he had to keep Chris together because, for what it worth, at the moment he was all Chris had.
A/N: A couple of weeks ago I re-watched the episode Nemesis for the first time in a long time. After the conversation Buck and Chris have on the way back to Chris' old ranch I got to thinking and this is what happened. As always, thanks for reading and reviews are appreciated.