That's What Friends Are For

by Lisa S. and Sue M.

Author's Notes: Thank you to Phyllis for her suggestions/comments and to Antoinette/RiverOtter for betaing the story. Also a special thanks to Sarah for creating this wonderful AU for us to play in.

Disclaimer: Mag7/Las Vegas alternate universe was created by Sarah (aka Midnight Profit) and is based on the “Las Vegas” TV series. This AU is not related to the Mag7/Las Vegas RPG created by Lisa O. and Ruby. Trilogy, MGM, and the Mirisch Corporation own “The Magnificent Seven” characters. NBC Studios, NBC Universal Television, DreamWorks Television, and Gary Scott Thompson Productions own “Las Vegas.” They are not mine. The only purpose of this story is for entertainment. No money is being made.


The bright sun hung high in the Las Vegas sky making for an extremely hot day. It was Wednesday afternoon and time for the weekly security meeting at the Montecito Resort and Casino. Chris Larabee, Chief of Security, was seated at the head of the table and was waiting patiently as the few stragglers on his team arrived.

"Can you believe how hot it is?" commented JD as he and Vin quickly walked into the conference room and took their seats.

"Heard it's supposed to be over 100," commented Vin softly.

"Dang . . . hotter than a burnt boot," remarked JD and then quickly silenced further conversation when he saw Chris was looking in their direction.

"Ok, ladies and gentlemen," started Chris as everyone settled down. "Let's get this meeting started. The first item, we all know that they are calling for above average temperatures for the next couple days . . . temperatures that are going to be over 100 degrees. And when that happens people tend to get a little weird . . . case in point, it seems we have some junior scientist who is trying to fry eggs on car hoods in the parking lot . . . there have been two complaints so far."

Everyone around the table nodded and JD chimed in, "Chris, we've repositioned the parking lot cameras so hopefully we can catch the egg bandit in the act."

"Egg bandit?" repeated Chris.

"That's what folks have been calling him," explained JD.

Chris nodded as he said, "In the meantime I'm asking everyone to be on the lookout for this individual and I also want personnel to periodically patrol the parking lots."

Everyone nodded as Chris continued, "Ok, conventions . . . we have the poetry writers' convention coming in tomorrow and we'll need a volunteer to meet the president of the club today for the walk through, make sure everything goes smoothly, and to oversee any issues that might arise during the convention."

At the mention of the poetry convention, Vin sat up a little straighter as he suddenly became interested. When Chris asked for a volunteer the quiet man decided he would do it. It would give him a perfect opportunity to learn more about the group. "I'll do it," said Vin in response to the Security Chief's question.

Chris nodded as he jotted in his notebook and then continued, "We also have coming up the International Swizzle Stick Collectors Association convention and the sun tanners convention. That means I am sure the adult pool area will most likely be very busy. . ."

The meeting continued for several more minutes where they discussed other security incidents that happened at the Montecito, recent alerts sent to all the Las Vegas casinos, and the upcoming maintenance upgrades to the computer systems.

"Ok, that's, it," declared Chris. "Let's get back to work."

As the security members filed out of the room, Vin turned to his friend, JD, and said, "Hey JD, I heard on the news this mornin' it was gonna be hot enough to wither a fence post."

A smile tugged at JD's lips as the two men stood and he countered, "Hot enough to sunburn a horn toad."

"Yep," replied Vin. "It'll be so hot we'll have to put the chickens on ice to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs."

"Vin, will you stop eggin' him on," commented Chris who was following the two men out of the room. The two men groaned at the egg pun as they returned to their desks and back to work.

No sooner had Vin, JD and Chris returned to the control room, one of the staff already watching the monitors looked to JD as he answered the phone.

"Pick up, JD . . . line one."

With a nod, Dunne did so, frowning at the message from the caller.

"Okay, will do." Without even taking a seat, JD looked at Vin. "Someone at reception to see me. I shouldn't be long."

Vin nodded. "Sure thing, kid."

JD stepped from the elevator and approached Sandy Merle, the front desk manager.

"Hi Sandy, Paulette called up to say I had a visitor."

Sandy nodded and gestured toward a sofa. "He's over there, honey."

Turning, the youth scanned the room, his eyes resting on a familiar figure on the sofa.

"Scott?" he whispered to himself, instinctively moving toward the man.


The man stood and flashed a huge smile. "Jay!"

In seconds the men were embracing. Five years melted away as JD clung to the man who had seen him through the last six months of his mother's life, mostly emotionally, but had helped him a little financially too, as the boy had barely enough money to live, let alone bury his only known relative. His last communication to Scott was two years ago, when JD had sent him a check to repay him. He smiled at his friend's use of his nickname . . . Scott could never be bothered with the 'D' in JD. Scott Tunstall was five years older than JD and the man now held Dunne at arms-length to get a good look at him.

"You're still a might scrawny, pup," he teased.

"Can't say the same of you," JD countered, grinning like a loon. "What brings you here? Are you on business?"

Scott's smile faded a little. "Not as such. Jay, can we talk somewhere?"

The young tech nodded. "Sure, how about a coffee?" He spoke into his mic. "Vin, is it okay if I take my break now?" He grinned at the Texan's teasing remark at having not actually done any work yet, let alone take a break, but took it anyway.

JD smiled at Inez as she placed two cups of coffee in front of the men as they sat in a booth in Mystique, squeezing JD's hand affectionately as she left them.

JD loved Inez. Oh, not in the way Buck loved her . . . but in a way a young man loved his older sister. He loved the way she cared about her friends, especially the seven, but most of all, he loved how much she wound Buck up. He felt sure one day, Inez and Buck would finally get together, their attraction to each other was obvious, but watching the elaborate posturing in the meantime, was . . . wonderful.

"So . . ." JD finally said, "What *are* you here for?"

Scott shifted awkwardly in his seat, leaning forward over the table, his fingers interlocked as he rested on his forearms. Finally he lifted his gaze from the foam on his cappuccino to look at JD.

"Jay . . . I'm in a shit-load of trouble. I got into gambling about two years ago . . . almost went under then . . . man, your check was a Godsend . . . really saved my neck. But, I did it again, and now I'm running."

JD frowned. "Running from what?"

Scott sighed. "A loan shark by the name of Birdman. I owe him . . ." he sighed again and looked back at his coffee, ". . . I owe him twenty thousand dollars."

Dunne whistled. "God, Scott . . . what are you gonna do?"

"Hide here for as long as I can. He says, if I can give him half . . . he'll give me some time . . . but the interest just keeps mounting. If I don't pay him . . . he's gonna rip body parts off me."

JD winced. Scott looked up at him.

"Jay . . . I hate to ask, but I'm desperate. Can you loan me anything?"

The youth was shocked, sitting back in his seat as his mind raced. He hadn't seen this man for five years . . . now this. But all he could think of was how Scott had been there for *him* in his time of need. He made a decision.

"I have almost six thousand dollars saved . . . got my eye on a nice bay gelding at stables a friend of mine owns. I . . . I guess you could have that." JD sighed inwardly. He had been saving hard to buy that horse. When he first rode him, it was as if the pair was meant to be together. He wondered how long Nettie would be prepared to keep him. JD snapped back to reality as Scott grabbed his hands.

"Aw, kid. . . I can't tell you what this means to me. Thank you so much, it'll help a lot.

JD nodded. "Do you have a place to stay?"

Scott shook his head. JD got up.

"Let me see if I can get a personal day . . . you can come stay with me. Wait here."

Without looking back, JD left, so he didn't notice the three men in another booth watching the discussion with interest.

Dunne tapped on Chris' door and entered. Larabee smiled.

"JD . . . what do you need?"

"Chris . . . I hate to ask at such short notice, but . . . can I take a personal day?"

The blond looked at his junior tech for a few moments. JD never did this, so now Chris was more than a little curious and . . . concerned.

"Can I help with anything, JD?"

"No . . . no, I just need to do a few things . . . so . . . is it okay?"

"Sure . . . but JD . . . don't make a habit of giving such short notice, okay?"

Dunne smiled, but Chris was quick to notice it didn't reach his eyes like it usually did.

"Thanks." In seconds he was gone.


Tanner hopped up into Larabee's office.


"JD's taking a personal day . . ."

Vin frowned.

"Yeah . . . I know . . . I thought the same. Could you call Mac and ask if anyone on the floor can come up here for the day?"

"Will do."

As Vin left, both men felt a little uncomfortable about the way the day was going. JD returned to his friend, his laptop and car keys in his hands.

"Come on . . . let's go. We'll go back to my place and then head on over to the bank."

As Scott and JD left, they were oblivious to the three men leaving directly behind them.

The friends had enjoyed reminiscing on the short journey to JD's apartment. Scott's mood had lightened considerably, in contrast to JD's fading a little. But JD was nothing if not resilient, and he shrugged it off as an opportunity to repay a favor. Just as JD opened his apartment door, he suddenly went hurtling through it, landing on the floor with a thump. He turned to see what had happened when three men came in through his door, one was holding Scott, while another watched the third fist JD's shirt and haul him to his feet.

"What . . . ?"

Before JD could say another word, he received a hard backhand to his face and for a moment thought he actually saw stars.

"Shut up."

"Please," Scott pleaded, "He has nothing to do with this . . . he's trying to help me put some money together . . ." A blow to his own face silenced him. The third man walked over to him.

"Is that so? So . . . pretty boy here is gonna get me my money?"

"S. . . some of it. . ." Scott winced as the man holding JD punched the young tech in the face again, then the stomach, doubling JD over as he gasped for breath.

"Wrong answer . . . but for now, I'll take what I can get. Tomorrow . . . 4 P.M., in cash . . . here. I'll be waiting."

Like rag dolls, the two friends were thrown across the room, hitting several pieces of furniture along the way. A smack to the back of JD's head was more than he could take and he was unconscious before he had finished rolling.

JD jolted as a face came at him through the haze.

"Easy, easy . . . give yourself a minute." Scott helped his friend sit up, still holding a damp cloth to the back of the younger man's head.

"Oh God . . . what . . . ?" JD looked around, a little afraid. "Have they gone?" he whispered.

"Yeah, they've gone. Jay . . . I . . . I'm so sorry, I didn't know they'd found me. I think you should go to the hospital."

Dunne shook his head as he rubbed his sore belly. "No, I'm fine. Just need to get to bed."

Tunstall frowned, it was still quite early, but the kid had taken quite a few knocks. "Erm . . . Jay, about the money?"

The easterner nodded. "Help me up."

After a few minutes on the phone, JD turned to Scott. "The bank said I can pick it up first thing tomorrow. I'll do it on my way to work." He caught sight of his face in a mirror.

"Oh God. . . look at me. Chris is gonna go mad, not to mention Buck."


JD waved it off. "Never mind, I'll see you in the morning. Are you coming with me tomorrow?"

Scott nodded, "Sure. Jay . . . thanks."

Again, JD nodded. "Sure." He gestured to the couch. "It's a pull-out, everything you need is stored in there." He shuffled wearily into his bedroom and slowly undressed, wincing at the soreness and stiffness in his body. He noticed a text message from Buck, but all he wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep . . . so he did.

Vin Tanner was walking through the Montecito ballroom which was now set up as a huge marketplace for the poetry writers' convention that had started that morning. Weaving his way through the crowd of convention-goers, he noticed a make-shift stage had been set up in one corner with a microphone stand. A crowd had started to gather around the stage and Vin wandered in that direction to see what was going on.

"Ok, ladies and gentlemen, we've got open mic all day," explained the man. "If anyone would like to read their poem, please come on up . . . we'd love to hear them."

Sure enough an older lady immediately made her way up on the stage and to the mic. Vin smiled as he noticed she seemed a little nervous, her hands shaking slightly as she held her paper. Shoot he would be nervous too, he thought. Quietly she introduced herself and then began to read the poem she wrote in honor of her grandson who was currently serving over in Iraq. When she was finished, Vin joined the crowd in the applause, finding himself touched by her words of courage and patriotism. He never told a soul but in his free time he wrote poems, too. He didn't think he was any good at it but he enjoyed it, finding it relaxing, especially after a hectic day at work.

Deciding to move on and to explore the merchandise, he checked out the tables, lingering at the one that sold fan-created poetry books. Picking one up he flipped through it, deciding he wanted to buy the book to read later, he took out some money from his pocket and handed it to the female staffing the table.

"Thank you," she said. "Do you want a bag for that?"

"Yea, that'd be nice," replied Vin who knew he would probably get teased by some of the guys if they knew of his interest in poetry. As she placed his purchase in a bag, he noticed a pamphlet announcing the poetry writers' competition that would be held at the conference.

"Are you going to enter?" asked the older woman as she gave him the bag that now held his book.

"Not sure," replied Vin as he took a pamphlet.

"You should," encouraged the woman. "They have all sorts of categories you can enter . . . they're all listed on the back."

"Thanks, maybe I just might," he said before he continued on his journey of looking at the displays.

"Ahh Mr. Tanner," said Dwight Buchman, the club's president. He had seen the Montecito security officer in the marketplace and headed in his direction to greet him. "So glad you were able to join us."

"Mr. Buchman," said Vin as he nodded at the tall, distinguished man. He had met the man the previous day to go through all the details for his convention and was invited to come back anytime to explore the conference. "Thought I'd check and make sure everything was ok for you all."

"Oh yes, it is," replied Dwight. "We really appreciate how attentive the Montecito staff has been."

"That's good to hear," replied Vin.

"So, did you find something?" asked Dwight as he gestured to the bag in Vin's hand.

"Picked up a book that looked interestin'," replied Vin.

"Good, good," replied Dwight. "You know our club has a website?" He pulled his wallet out from his back pocket and removed a business card from it, handing it to the security officer. "In case you want to get more information. Visitors are always welcome."

"Thanks Mr. Buchman," said Vin as he took the business card and slipped it into his pants pocket. "I appreciate it."

"Well, I hope to see you at our other functions," said the club president.

"Thanks, you just might," said Vin as he headed out of the ballroom to return to work.

It was a couple hours later and Vin decided he would check out the poetry club website during his break. Removing the business card from his pocket, he typed the web address and hit enter.

"Whatcha lookin' at?" asked Buck who had decided to stop by the security office to see his friends. "Checking on the latest football scores?" The Hospitality Host peeked over Vin's shoulder looking at the computer monitor and seeing instead of football scores, there was a poetry website.

"Poetry club website?" said Buck in a loud voice, causing some of the other members of the security team to look in their direction.

Deciding he would lie his way out of the situation, Vin responded, "Yea, just doing some research for the convention we've got going on."

Buck nodded, sensing it was something more but deciding not to question any further. "Well, I hear the ladies really fall for that poetry stuff . . . maybe I'll go check out the convention and try my hand at writin' a poem or two . . ."

Vin nodded and Buck continued, "Well, I better get back to work . . . I've got a whale to tend to."

Vin said, "Catch you later," as the Hospitality Host headed out of the surveillance room.

Deciding he would see what all the hoopla was about at the poetry convention plus thinking it might help him woo the ladies if he could pick up some tips, Buck snuck into one of the presentations – The Ancient Art of Haiku. Sitting towards the back of the room he listened as the presenter began. . .

"Haiku is one of the most important forms of traditional Japanese poetry," explained the older woman behind the podium. "It is a 17-syllable verse form consisting of three metrical units of 5, 7, and 5 syllables." She then went to explain the origins and rules for writing haikus.

Buck held back a yawn as he quickly glanced around the room, noticing everyone was listening intently to the speaker. Unfortunately he didn't understand a word of it. His idea of poetry was something like "There once was a man from Nantucket . . ." or "Roses are red and violets are blue . . ." The whole five, seven, and five syllables in three units were totally foreign and confusing for him. Deciding he didn't need any help writing a poem, he got up and slipped out of the back door, heading for Mystique to get a cup of coffee and work on his "epic".

Slipping into a booth, Inez came by a moment later and asked, "What can I get you?"

"How about a cup of decaf coffee," said Buck as he grinned at the pretty club manager. "And a glimpse of that pretty smile of yours."

Inez couldn't help smiling at the Hospitality Host's flirting. "One cup of decaf it is," she said.

A few moments later, she turned with his coffee just the way he liked it, with cream and two packets of sugar. "Here you go," she said.

"Thanks Darlin'," replied Buck. "Keep 'em coming . . . I'm gonna be working on a masterpiece here."

"Sure thing Buck," replied Inez as she raised an eyebrow, curious as to what the man was working on but deciding not to ask.

Buck watched as the pretty Hispanic walked away and shook his head. He was attempting to wear her defenses down and hopefully one day soon he would succeed. Taking a sip of his coffee he started working on his poem . . .

An hour later, Buck was reciting what he had written, to himself.

"I wandered, lonely as a cloud. . ." murmured Buck as he read the poem he had started on a cocktail napkin. Deciding he didn't like it, and feeling pretty sure he'd heard it somewhere before, he crumpled it up into a ball and tossed it into the growing pile of discarded napkins and failed poems that now littered the table. Pondering for a moment Buck started on his new poem. . . 'I walked and wandered for a bit, went through a field and stepped in sh . . .'

"Oh crap, that won't work," murmured Buck as he crumpled that napkin into a ball and tossed it with the rest. '

"Whatcha doin', Buck?" asked Vin. He has seen his friend in the club and thought he would see what he was up to. Taking a seat across from the Hospitality Host, he picked up a crumpled napkin and slowly unwrapped it to see what it read.

'If I had a dollar for every time I declared my love for you.
I'd end my grief with all I'd saved and jet off to Peru.'

Looking up at Buck, Vin raised an eyebrow. "Tryin' your hand at poetry?" asked Vin while trying not to smile.

Buck hastily started snatching the napkins, quickly grabbing the one from Vin's hand. "No . . . yes . . . uh . . . uh . . . it's not done yet . . . I'm workin' on it . . . you'll have to wait until I'm finished with it. . ."

"I can't wait," replied Vin as he smiled.

"Well, I should be going," replied Buck as he stood with his arms full of crumpled napkins. "Lunch break is over . . . gotta get back to work." He turned and made a hasty retreat.

Vin started to chuckle softly.

"What's so funny?" asked Inez who had come over to clean their table.

"Oh, nothing . . . just remembering a joke JD told me," said Vin as he stood. "Well, I should be makin' my rounds. Catch you later, Inez." The security officer had one more stop to make before heading back to the surveillance room. He wanted to drop off his submission in the poetry writers' contest. Sure, he didn't think he had a chance in hell of winning but he figured it couldn't hurt.

"Bye Vin," said Inez as she watched the security officer walk out. She then turned to cleaning off the table where the two men were just sitting. Seeing some discarded napkins on the floor, Inez picked them up. Buck's handwriting on one of them caught her attention and she opened it and began to read . . .

'I see your face in all my dreams,
I hear you call my name.
I come to you, you punch me hard,
I hate this stupid game.'

His short poem touched Inez. Sure it was silly and definitely not an award-winning prose but it was something Buck wrote and it surprised her. Deciding she would check the other napkin to see if it too had a poem on it, she opened it and read . . .

'My heart, my sweet, belongs to you,
My mind is also yours,
I'd give you everything I have,
To get into your draws!'

'Damn him!' she thought as she crumpled the two napkins into tight balls and was now just itching to deck him. The next time she saw him she was going to make sure she gave him a piece of her mind. Gathering the coffee cup and other trash, she headed back into the kitchen to dispose of the items.

JD handed over the swollen plastic wallet to Scott as they exited the bank. "Maybe you should go back to the apartment. I know it's a long time until four, but it'll be safer."

Scott nodded. "I will, but I need to pick something up. Can I ride in with you? I promise I'll make it quick, then get back."

JD shrugged, "Suit yourself, I can take you in, then we'll meet at my place at four, yeah?"

Tunstall smiled and nodded. "Four it is."

At the elevators in the parking lot, the two friends parted company. JD looked at his reflection in the elevator mirrors. 'Oh God. . . what's Chris gonna say?' Larabee happened to glance out from his office as JD arrived in the monitor bullpen.

"Jesus H Christ. JD!"

Dunne sighed, he thought he might at least have gotten his jacket off. He stepped up into the security chief's office.

"Chris?" He noted the gesture to sit, by the blond and did so, grateful for the respite, he was still aching from the beating.

Chris paced in front of him, pursing his lips. "Okay . . . I'm listening."

He hated to lie, rarely needed to, but JD felt this was best kept between him and Scott. He spoke, not looking at his boss once.

"A friend from Boston flew in yesterday. I took him to a bar last night, and something he said upset the locals and we got into a fight." He pulled at his clasped fingers as he waited for Chris to respond.

"I see," Chris said softly. "And now, how about telling me the truth?"

JD looked up, startled, but couldn't maintain his gaze. "That is the truth."

Seconds ticked by that felt like hours. Finally Chris spoke. "I don't know why you're lying to me, son, but for now, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. You can't work like that so go home and rest. I'll drop by to see you tomorrow . . . at your home . . . and we'll talk again."

JD's head shot up. "Chris, I'm fine . . . I . . ."


The finger pointing toward the door and that one word told JD he was dismissed. He nodded his head and hastily left, grateful that Buck and Vin had seemed to be busy elsewhere and hadn't met up with him. As he traveled down in the elevator, JD rested his head against the mirrored wall, his eyes closed in an effort to block out the misery his friend's visit was causing. He felt sure if he had seen Buck today, he would have told him everything. Chris didn't believe him, and that made him feel terrible. Would Chris ever trust him again once he learned the truth? As the elevator stopped, he went to his car and headed home.

Vin Tanner stood by the backdoor of the ballroom, watching as Dwight Buchman, the President of the Poetry club, addressed the convention members. The club president had invited him to join the final conference event but since he was on duty he could only drop in for a few minutes.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is now the moment you've all been waiting for," said Dwight. "The awards!" The group cheered and he continued.

Meanwhile Buck snuck into the ballroom and spotted Vin, heading in his direction, he asked softly when he reached him, "Whatcha doing?"

"Just thought I'd check to make sure everything was going smoothly," replied Vin.

Buck nodded and the two men were silent for a few moments as Dwight continued to present awards.

"How's the poem going?" asked Vin who remembered the Hospitality Host was earlier trying to write one.

"Don't ask," replied Buck as he grimaced at the memory of all of his failed poetry attempts. "Figured I would just stick with the animal magnetism. It hasn't let me down yet with the ladies." He winked at Vin while a big smile spread across his face.

Vin shook his head while holding back a chuckle. Meanwhile the club president announced on the stage, "And now I have the honor of presenting the New Writer's Award . . . first I have an honorable mention award to give out . . . this individual had turned in his first poem during this convention and now I have the honor of sharing it with you all."

A surprised Vin listened as Dwight Buchman read his poem to the audience and when he finished, applause rang out through the crowded ballroom. As the appreciation died down, he heard his name as he was being summoned to the stage.

"Go on, Vin, they're waitin' for ya," said Buck as he lightly slapped him on the shoulder, urging him on. Slowly the security officer made his way up to the stage, shaking the Poetry Club President's hand as he accepted his certificate declaring he was now an honorary member of their guild. He heard Buck whistle out in the audience and a deep blush covered his cheeks as he thanked Dwight and then quickly exited off the stage.

As the rest of the ceremony continued, the two men snuck out the back entrance.

"So, you wrote a poem?" asked a grinning Buck.

"Yep," replied Vin as he looked straight ahead as they walked.

"Do the others know?" asked Buck.

"Nope and if they find out, I just might have to tell 'em about your poems," replied Vin. He stopped walking as he continued. "You know like . . .

If you were a flower, you'd be a rose,
A smell so sweet to tickle my nose.
But then again, roses have prickles,
So you'd likely stab me more than tickle.

"Ok, ok, I won't tell a soul," replied Buck quickly as he held up a hand to stop Vin.

"Good," replied Vin as he smiled. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the pretty manager of Mystique walking towards them. "Hey Inez, how's it going?"

"Doing pretty good," replied Inez as she smiled back. Her gaze then moved to Buck and she suddenly remembered the poems he had written and anger flared in her eyes as she whacked him on the shoulder with her purse and proceeded on her way to Mystique.

Buck who was expecting a quite different greeting was caught by surprise as he stood there with a stunned look on his face.

Vin chuckled softly as he commented, "Must be the animal magnetism . . ." before walking away, leaving Buck standing there still in shock.

Ezra eyed the man at his blackjack table with suspicion. He had a good memory for faces and was sure this was the person he had seen greeting JD yesterday. The young man had come to the table with a considerable sum of money and high expectations, but as time had gone on, his chips had dwindled to nothing and now the man looked distraught . . . no . . . afraid.

Standish watched him get up from the table and trudge away. Noticing a plastic wallet on the floor, under the table where Scott had been sitting, Ezra picked it up, intending to chase after him, but the name on the bank-issue wallet stopped him in his tracks, 'Mr. John D. Dunne'. He called to one of his staff to stand in for him and headed for the security room.

Buck and Vin looked at Chris, waiting for the blond to speak. He snapped a remote toward a monitor in his room to show a still picture of JD in the elevator. Both men leaned forward, shocked at the image.

"What the hell happened to his face?" Buck asked.

Chris looked at him. "I was hoping maybe one of you knew."

"How did he say it happened?" Vin wondered.

"Bar fight . . . his friend from Boston caused a ruckus and this is the result . . . so he says."

"But you don't believe him." Tanner's words were not accusatory, just fact.

Larabee shook his head. "No. . . I hate to say it, but . . . no. I've sent him home, said I'll call on him tomorrow. Care to join me?"

Both men nodded. Buck stood. "Maybe I'll go right now."

Larabee shook his head. "No, Buck . . . let him stew for a while . . . maybe he'll be more prepared to share tomorrow. Whatever it is, his friend seems smack dab in the middle of it."

They all looked up at a knock to the open door and Ezra arriving.

"My apologies for disturbing you, gentlemen, but. . . good Lord, what has happened to JD's face?" His eyes were transfixed to the frozen image on the screen. Buck shrugged.

"We don't know, but tomorrow we're sure as hell gonna find out."

"Well. I am afraid I may have something of my own to add to that."

"Go on," Chris urged, taking the offered wallet from the southerner and examining it.

"JD's visiting friend lost a considerable amount of money at the tables today. This was at his feet as he left. I may be jumping to conclusions here. . ." he turned to Buck, "Would JD have money saved by any chance?"

Vin answered first. "He's saving to buy Nettie's little bay, reckons he's real close now, why?"

Buck pointed to the wallet. "You think . . . ?"

Ezra nodded. "It's only speculation, but . . ."

Stan popped his head around the door to Chris' office. "We got a gun in the lobby!"

The pounding on the door woke JD from his slumber. He had taken a painkiller and fallen asleep fully clothed on top of his bedcovers. Sleepily, he wandered to the door, but before he could answer it, it crashed open and the three men from the previous day burst in. Before JD could react, the main man had him by the throat.

"It's 4.15 . . . where's Tunstall? Where's my money?"

Struggling to breathe, JD sputtered. "I . . . I don't know."

The other two men had gone off and searched the apartment, nodding to confirm Scott wasn't there. The leader released JD's throat and the tech instinctively put his hand to it, soothing the bruised skin by rubbing it.

"When did you last see him?"

"This morning, at the Montecito . . . I work there." JD yelped as the man roughly grabbed his arm.

"Come on, let's go find him."

Josiah waved at another departing guest. It was close to shift end and he wondered if any of his six friends might care to join him for a drink in Mystique before they headed home. He smiled as he saw JD arrive with three men, his smile fading at the look of terror on his young friend's face. He watched them enter the Montecito, alerted as something vibrated in his pocket, a clever little device JD had come up with to send a silent alarm. Josiah knew what it meant and he called for assistance to handle the main entrance. There was a gun on the premises.

Chris, Vin, Ezra and Buck were heading for the lobby, Chris issuing instructions the whole time. By the time they had reached the reception desk, the three gun carriers had been identified, seeing JD in the middle of them stopped them in their tracks. Tanner murmured softly.


"Can you see him?"

JD shook his head. "No . . . but this is a big place, that's even if he's here at all." Dunne winced as the leader applied pressure to his already bruised arm.

"You'd better hope he is, kid . . . or I'm takin' it out on you . . . all twenty thousand dollars worth."

Tanner growled, as Chris and Buck seethed on seeing JD clearly in pain.

"Wait." Chris was firm. He had no idea what was going on and he needed back-up before they waded in. They edged closer until JD could see them, the relief evident in his face. Unfortunately one of the two goons saw them too and sensing the threat, drew his gun, taking JD's free arm as he did so.

People around screamed and dove for cover on seeing the weapon.

"Back off. . . I'm warning you . . . BACK OFF!"

Now all three men were attempting to exit as they walked backwards toward the main doors, JD now in a tight hold between them. Josiah walked softly toward them hands outstretched.

"Now . . . no one wants to see anyone hurt here, let's all calm down."

The goon took the safety off and pointed the gun at Josiah. "I'm not gonna tell you again, back off."

The next few seconds were a blur. Someone screamed, the goon jerked and squeezed the trigger, JD's voice called out 'NO!' as the young man twisted in the goon's grip and pulled down on his gun arm. The firearm discharged.

In the pandemonium that ensued, Vin, Ezra and Chris ran and, climbing the sofas for leverage, launched themselves at the three men, Josiah and several security men joining in the fray. Buck was somehow frozen to the spot. He had seen something that had terrified him, finally propelling himself forward.


With all the confusion, it seemed no one had seen the young tech go down, no one that is, except Buck. Reaching his downed friend, he dropped to his knees, alarmed at the pale, clammy frightened face that looked back at him. Buck looked and could see blood oozing from JD's thigh.

"Get an ambulance!"

Those words caused a hush as, for a split-second, people stopped to see who had called out. Handing the now disarmed men over to security, the five men of Team Seven that were in the lobby, gathered round, comforted to see Nathan pushing his way through the crowds.

JD's breathing was fast and shallow. His leg hurt like hell . . . did he get shot? Nah . . . ordinary people like him didn't get shot. So why was Buck holding him and pushing hair from his face? Why did he feel so cold? Why did everyone seem to be in an ever-lengthening tunnel? What were Vin and Buck saying? Why did his leg hurt?

Ow. . . shit. . . his leg *really* hurt.


"Easy son, help's coming." Buck pushed sweaty hair from the youth's face.

Vin had squatted down next to him. "Gonna be just fine, kid . . . it ain't too bad."

JD tried to focus on Vin's face. "W . . . what?" He wondered if the word had come out or was just in his head. Now Nathan was in his face.

"B. . . Buck?" JD suddenly felt very odd and decided he needed to let go . . . just for a while . . . just until it stopped hurting.

"JD! Oh God . . . Nathan?"

"Easy Buck," the doctor assured as he applied pressure to the wound, "I got him."

Chris, Ezra and Josiah looked down in disbelief as paramedics arrived. "How did this happen?" Chris' words were soft but spoken in anger, and the question more rhetorical than intending to warrant an answer.

As JD and Buck eventually went off in the ambulance, the others stared down at the bloody patch on the carpet. Chris pointed.

"Get this cleaned up, I'm going to the hospital."

JD shivered and someone pulled a cover over his bare shoulders, followed by placing a straw to his lips. He sucked gratefully, but had yet to open his eyes.

"Gonna be fine, kid . . . no major damage . . . straight through, nice and clean. Gonna have a cool scar to impress the ladies."

JD nodded, or thought he did, but Buck's voice faded away as sleep called him.

When JD awoke properly, Chris was looking at him. Turning his head he could see Buck and Vin and offered a watery smile. He turned back to Chris.

"Thought it might be nice to have that talk now," Chris spoke softly.

JD nodded, looking to the door as Ezra entered with coffees.

"Well, good to see you awake Mister Dunne." Taking his cue from a nod from Chris, Ezra sat next to him.

"Go ahead, JD," Chris urged.

"I'm sorry." The youth's words were a mere whisper.

"How about you let us know what you're sorry for."

JD stared at Chris, suddenly nervous. "Is my leg okay? I mean, it's still there, right?"

Chris allowed himself a small smile. "Yeah, it's still there and doing fine."

Dunne closed his eyes in relief. "Good."

After a few seconds silence Chris leaned forward. "JD?"

The youth opened his eyes. "Oh . . . yeah, sorry."

He relayed all that had happened, finishing with an apology for misleading them.

All surrounding the youth were furious. JD had lost all his savings to a man who dared to call himself a friend. JD hadn't known about what had happened to the money and was now clearly distraught about it being gone. Ezra felt bad that he'd had to tell him and decided then and there he was going to do something about it. He stood and, nodding to them all and saying goodbye to JD, he left to do some thinking. A knock on the door brought a collective intake of breath as Scott's head appeared around the door. Buck and Vin stood instantly, fury evident in their faces as the man stepped into the room.


The angry men turned to the young man in the bed, swallowing, when again seeing the elevated and heavily bandaged limb.

"Can you give us a minute?"

With a nod and glaring as they passed Tunstall, the three men left. After a minute, Scott stepped forward.

"Jay. . . Jay, I'm so sorry. I was trying to win. . . I figured if I had a good win, I could double, maybe even triple your savings. . . Jay . . . ?"

Dunne looked at him, unable to stop the tears forming. "It's JD. . . and all I want to say to you is this. Debt paid. . . I neither want to see you or hear from you again. Goodbye, Scott."

For a moment, JD thought Tunstall might speak, but with a nod, he turned and JD watched the last connection from his home and his mother walk away . . . forever.

Buck looked through the window of JD's room as the young tech sobbed quietly into his hands as they covered his face.

"One minute, then I'm goin' in."

A minute later, he was in there.

The six men were in the hospital waiting room having just received an update from the doctor on JD who was now sleeping in his room.

"I still can't believe his so-called friend would do this to him," remarked Buck who was still hot under the collar, earlier that evening it took both Josiah and Nathan restraining him from tearing Scott apart when he left JD's hospital room.

"Well, luckily he's got us," replied Josiah. "We'll help him through this."

"You know Josiah, you raise an excellent point," said Ezra. "In addition to the physical recovery there is the financial loss he suffered." They knew JD had given his friend a nice chunk of money that he had been saving to buy a horse.

"Whatcha have in mind?" asked Chris cautiously.

"Well, I've been pondering the dilemma, if you gentlemen are willing to donate a small sum, I can take our combined amount and parlay that into something more substantial to help JD recoup his loss," explained Ezra who felt he needed to do something to help his friend. This group of men had become a surrogate family to Ezra and getting JD's money back was something he felt could easily do.

"As long as it's not illegal," replied Chris as he reached for his wallet. "I don't want to know how you do it." The others nodded as they agreed to the Pit Boss' suggestion.

Two weeks later found JD bored out of his mind as he recovered from his leg injury at home. There was only so many DVDs he could watch and video games to play before he went stir crazy and realized he was close to the breaking point. When JD first was released from the hospital, he had asked and pleaded that they let him return to work but Chris insisted he took a couple of weeks to recuperate.

The sound of his apartment door opening followed by Buck's voice brought JD quickly out of his boredom. "Hey Buck, what's up?" he asked, glad to see his friend. "How's work? Anything new happening?" The young computer specialist had been cooped up in his place and was anxious for any outside news.

"Work is good . . . the same," replied Buck. "The swizzle stick collector's convention has started . . . talk about a bunch of party animals . . . and oh, Chris said to tell you they caught the 'egg bandit'."

"Really? How?" asked an excited JD.

"Not sure . . . Chris will have to give you the details," replied Buck as he stole some M&Ms from the bag lying on the coffee table. He then continued, changing the subject, "So, I've got a surprise for you."

"Surprise?" repeated JD who noticed nothing in his hands. "What is it?"

"Can't tell," replied Buck. "But grab your crutches; we're going on a road trip."

"Road trip?" repeated JD who was starting to sound like a parakeet. "Where are we going?"

"Can't say," replied Buck. "But we ain't gonna get there if we continue with the chit chat."

Buck's words seemed to spur the young computer tech into motion as he grabbed his crutches and stood, swaying slightly as he adjusted the metal crutches under his arms. "Ok, I'm ready," declared JD.

Buck smiled as he assisted him out of the apartment, locking the door behind him.

About half way into the trip JD realized they were heading for Nettie's ranch. And then more questioning started.

"What's happening at Nettie's ranch?" asked JD. "You know I can't go riding while I'm recovering . . . doctor's orders."

"Oh . . . she invited us to dinner," replied Buck nonchalantly as he glanced over at him. "She thought you might like a home cooked meal." Which was true but there was another reason why he was taking JD out there too. One that he was sure would totally surprise the young man.

The other five men were already waiting at Nettie's Ranch for JD's arrival, standing around the corral when Buck's torch red Ford Mustang pulled up. Josiah moved forward to help JD out of the vehicle.

"Hey guys," said JD as he smiled at his friends, happy to see them. "I didn't realize you all were coming to dinner too."

"Nettie invited us," replied Vin who was leaning against the wooden fence.

"Hey, before we head inside for dinner, we wanted to show you something," declared Buck.

"What's that?" asked JD.

"Thought you might want to see your horse," replied Chris as he gestured to the beautiful bay gelding in the corral, the very same horse that JD had been saving all his money to buy.

"My what?" repeated a very surprised JD who swayed slightly on his crutches, suddenly feeling as if his world was spinning, surely the guys wouldn't be that cruel as to remind him of what he had been so close to owning. . . before Scott came along.

"Your horse," repeated a smiling Nathan. "He belongs to you."

JD's frown deepened. "But how?" asked JD as he moved forward on his crutches to get closer to the wooden fence that surrounded the corral and his horse.

"It was Ezra's idea," commented Josiah.

"Quite an ingenious one if I might say so myself," chimed a grinning Ezra, "with a little help from our friends, of course."

JD felt a lump gather in his throat as he suddenly got all choked up by his friends' very kind gesture. No one had ever done anything like this for him before and he blinked away the tears.

"We thought you'd need an incentive to get better soon," commented Vin as he tried to lighten the mood and fill in the silence from JD's inability to respond for the moment.

JD looked from one to the other, finally finding his voice. "I don't know what to say, except. . . thank you . . .thank you all *so* much. I can't believe you would do this for me . . . I . . . I'll pay you back somehow...I swear." He looked fondly at the bay in the corral. "I thought. . . I thought I'd lose him for sure."

Chris smiled as he stepped closer. "To quote a phrase you used recently, son...debt paid. Now, as soon as you get the all-clear, we're gonna take a personal day and all seven of us go riding. So no more complaining. Rest up and get that leg healed. The sooner you're well, the sooner we can ride."

As if sensing the moment, the bay came toward JD, and the youth hobbled over to pat him, smiling at the realization that, he was really his, Ezra must be some sort of genius to have pulled this off, and somehow the others had helped too. He hoped they'd explain more, later. JD was in no doubt he had the best friends a man could wish for. He looked at them all, his voice a mere whisper.

"Thank you."

"When you're all quite done fussing over a horse, dinner's ready," Nettie called.



The Las Vegas Chronicles