New Beginnings

by Sue M

Summary: A new town and new job for one young man gives him more than financial security…he finds a family

Characters: JD, and the others

Thanks to Phyllis and Antoinette for the betas, thanks girls.

Thanks to Sarah for LV/AU and for Lisa S for her help and encouragement

The Las Vegas Chronicles http://www.blackraptor.net/Vegas/index.htm

M7LasVegas http://tv.groupsyahoo.com/group/Mag7LasVegas/

And thanks to Blackraptor for giving my stories a home.

 

The hiss of air brakes caused the young man to stumble slightly as he alighted from the bus. He looked back at the driver, grinning his embarrassment.

"Hey, Boston…thought you were going with me all the way to Denver?"

John Daniel Dunne's smile widened as he peeked from under his Patriots cap. "Yeah, I was, but I kinda like the look of the place. I guess here's about as good a place as any to start again…bright lights, bustling streets, big money hotels…it's what I came west for…"

The driver nodded. "Well, take care of yourself, kid…it's got all of those things…and more…watch your back."

"Thanks, I will." With a small wave, John…or as his mom and friends called him, JD…walked away and out of the bus terminal, with nothing but a small case of belongings, an insubstantial amount of money left over from his mother's meager insurance policy after paying off her medical bills, her funeral costs and selling off his motorcycle and hope in his heart for a much-needed new beginning.

~~~

Christopher Larabee surveyed his new 'domain', smiling as owner of the Montecito Hotel and Casino Resort, Orin Travis, walked into his office.

"Chris, how's your security team coming along?" Orin asked, extending a hand toward his new Chief of Security.

Chris stood, shaking the offered hand. "It's going well…I think I have all I need now that you insist I take on Standish."

Travis smiled as he took a seat on the couch near the far wall of the office. "I know what you're thinking, but, trust me on this…sometimes it takes a cheat to catch a cheat. There's something about Standish…can't quite put my finger on it, but I have a good feeling about him."

Chris half-nodded, half-shrugged. They had already been over all this; he didn't need to re-visit it. "I just appointed the Head Valet position, and signed on a doc living and working out of a free clinic in the city, they're coming in later, you can meet them then."

Travis nodded. "Excellent. I see Buck's taken to his new role like a duck to water."

Chris laughed.

"Though, I thought for an ex FBI Special Agent he would feature more prominently in the security set-up."

Larabee walked to the bank of windows that overlooked the security bullpen, looking out. "Buck and I talked long and hard about his new role. He's a good people person and I figured I could put that to good use. Every one of the new men in my team will be working security; but some will have other roles to fill also. I feel I can cover this casino far better with men on the ground I can trust implicitly, while working alongside our clients. Vin is the only man, apart from myself who will be here in the main hub. I may need one more man…I'm not sure, yet, but for now, I'm operating as is. I'll update you regularly, but I think you'll be happy with what I've put together here."

Smiling, Orin stood and walked toward the office door. "I already am, Christopher…I already am."

~~~

JD stared at the address on the paper in his hand. A friend had given him the name of a small motel just off the main strip, along with similar addresses throughout several cities. JD hoped once he got a job, he'd be able to get an apartment, but for now, this would do.

Unwilling to pay out his precious little money for a taxi, the boy trudged his way along the busy road, hoping this place wasn't too far. A little way into his trek he startled at the sound of an air horn, the proximity and wind rush of a passing truck causing him to jump back. Losing his footing on the loose dirt, JD overbalanced, toppling and rolling down a small incline to the dirt and loose gravel below.

~~~

Ezra Standish walked the pit floor as his staff worked the tables. He was still in mild shock that Larabee hadn't just vetoed his appointment from the outset; he knew the man didn't trust him. He shrugged inwardly; it wouldn't be the first time he had worked in a hostile environment and likely wouldn't be the last. He never lasted long…anywhere.

He gave a nod to Larabee's second in command, Vin Tanner, as the security man walked the floor. Vin intrigued him. The man was quiet, only speaking when needed and saying only as much as necessary. On one or two occasions, Vin had shown remarkable wit. Ezra couldn't help wondering what this man would be like with others, instead of the ever-intense Chris Larabee. As Ezra was a little older, and not, in his opinion, of a particularly frivolous nature, he doubted he could draw the Texan out, but it gave Ezra something new to ponder, instead of which camera Larabee was using to watch over him, today.

~

Returning to his seat in the bullpen, Tanner dropped his jacket over the back of his chair and hopped the few steps into Chris Larabee's office.

"Seems pretty quiet, today. When's Buck coming in?"

Chris checked his watch. "He should be on his way. Once Josiah and Nathan start, our team will shift-roster together. I want my best men around me at all times."

Vin nodded. "Sounds like a plan." He paused for a moment, wondering how to put his next question, deciding to just go for it. "What sort of techs do you have workin' here? This computer system is pretty complex, what happens if it fails?"

"I'm not entirely sure. I'm assuming Travis has a decent staff in that department, everything's running smoothly…or are you telling me something I don't know?"

Vin shrugged. "No, nothin' to tell was just wonderin' is all. IT isn't exactly my strong point."

Chris laughed, making a mental note to check things out. "Mine either."

~~~

"Hey! Hey…kid. You okay?"

JD grunted as he pushed himself up out of the dirt. He looked up at the tall dark haired man with a moustache, standing over him, accepting his hand to pull himself fully to his feet. "Oooohhh, yeah…I think so. Jeeze, what the hell happened?"

"The truck ahead of me almost side-swiped you, that's what happened. What the hell were you thinking? Walking along a busy highway like that? You could have gotten yourself killed." He watched the youth pick up a red Patriots slouch cap and knock it against his leg to shake the dust off it. The man grinned.

"You'd think with a God-awful red hat like that, the truck driver would have seen you earlier."

JD glared at the stranger. "Well…thanks for your help, mister." He took a step forward but cried out in pain. The man was at his side in a second.

~

Buck Wilmington was on his way into work. He had only been the Montecito's Hospitality Host for a week and a half, and didn't really want to be late, but looking at this kid's knee, dripping blood, he reckoned that's just what was about to happen. He had no idea why, but he had the strangest urge to help the young man.

"Okay, hold up there, squirt. That's a pretty bad gash; we need to get you to the hospital."

JD looked up in alarm. "No!" He softened his voice; the last thing he needed this total stranger to know was he had no medical insurance. "I'm fine, really. I don't need any more than a band-aid, thanks anyway." He tried batting away the tall man, who was now crouching, inspecting the wound.

"Have to disagree with you there, kid…this looks real nasty." He grabbed the suddenly pale youth, helping him to the ground. "Hey…easy there, now…it's fixable…just a couple of stitches…"

JD groaned. "I…I can't…"

~

"Hello down there!"

The pair looked up to see a large barrel-chested man heading down the slope.

"Anything I can do to help here, brothers? Name's Sanchez, Josiah Sanchez."

Buck nodded, his hands still holding onto the pale youth on the ground. "Buck…and this here's…hey…what' s your name, kid?"

Swallowing back the nausea, the boy spoke. "John Daniel Dunne, but most folks call me JD."

"Well, JD Dunne," Josiah smiled, "Looks like a trip to the hospital is on the cards."

"No. Look, I'm real grateful an' all, but…I'm fine, really. I just need to get to the motel I'm planning on staying at and I'll be fine."

Buck looked at the boy's pale clammy features. "What is it you're not telling us, son?"

JD sighed, pushing fingers through his hair. He couldn't believe he was about to divulge personal information to this stranger, but somehow…he felt compelled to trust him…he had kind, smiling eyes. "I don't have medical insurance, okay. Happy now?"

Josiah smiled wider. "Well, it just so happens I know someone who can help you."

~~~

Vin could easily have picked up a phone, but he decided to go see Chris in person.

"Your phone line was busy so the front desk switched through to me. Buck just called, said there'd been an accident and he's running late."

Chris looked alarmed as he replaced the receiver. "Is he okay?"

"Oh yeah…he's just helping out some kid…"

The phone rang, interrupting them. "Larabee. Oh hello, Josiah. What, you too? Oh…no, it's just…look, never mind, you and Nathan get here when you can."

"Trouble?" Vin asked.

"Just how many accidents do you think could happen in the space of a half hour or so?" He held up his hand. "Don't answer that…this is Vegas…looks like Josiah and Nathan are running late, too."

~~~

JD had not been too thrilled about dropping his jeans in front of three strange men, but he was so darned grateful this black doctor was prepared to treat him for free he'd have stripped naked if they'd wanted him to. He hissed in pain as the doctor swabbed at his knee.

"Sorry, it's gonna sting some, but I have to clean it out."

JD nodded and tried to relax while his two new acquaintances watched Buck finally spoke.

"So," he addressed Josiah after the big man's phone call to his new boss, "you know Chris Larabee?"

Sanchez nodded. "Started working for him as of today, why, do *you* know him?"

"I already work for him," Buck smiled. Nathan looked up.

"Me too…I mean, I start working for him today, too."

Buck chuckled. "Small world, huh?"

JD cocked his head. "Is that the same Chris Larabee that cracked open one of the biggest organized drug cartels in America while working as a Fed?"

"He had a little help, you know," Buck pouted.

JD gaped. "You're *that* Buck…Buck Wilmington?" He frowned. "Did you leave the Bureau?"

"Yeah," Buck said, sadly. He tried not to dwell on the why. "Chris took over as Chief of Security at the Montecito recently, hired me straight off." He looked at Josiah and Nathan, smiling. "Looks like he's putting together one hell of a team."

"Aaahhh…"

"Sorry, JD…you need stitches."

Dunne turned away so as not to see. "Go ahead."

"So," Buck said, hoping to distract the youth, "how come you know so much about us?"

JD shrugged. "I use the internet a lot, keep up with things…especially Law Enforcement, security, high-tech stuff, you know…"

Buck didn't know, but he nodded anyway. They chatted until Nathan looked up.

"There ya go."

~

Eight stitches later and his torn jeans back on, JD was good to go.

"Here are five days of antibiotics, which should be more than enough. Keep it dry and come back to see me in seven days, y'hear?"

JD smiled and nodded, wincing slightly as he dropped carefully down from the bench he'd been sitting on. "Thanks very much. I promise as soon as I get a job, I'll pay you back."

Nathan never doubted his sincerity. "Do what you can, I set this clinic up especially for people in a similar situation as yourself, so don't worry none." He began to pack up his stuff. "Now…I really do have to get to work."

"Where can I drop you, kid?" Buck offered.

JD fished out his piece of paper. "The Happy Holidays Motel."

All three men flinched at the name of the seedy motel as they made their way out of Nathan's free clinic to head to the Montecito.

~~~

"Nice of you to join us."

Buck simply grinned as the three men entered the conference room and took their seats. Chris looked around the table. Twenty men and women were seated there, with Travis next to him. Chris addressed the group.

"Welcome. The nametags on the table in front of you will be worn at all times when on duty. You are my security team, with myself and five other men the core. These are the men you will go to when you need assistance or guidance. We work in rotation, at the end of this meeting you will be introduced to your team leaders and the other five in your group. "This is," Larabee put his hand on his chest, "where the buck stops. Even if I am not on duty, you will keep me in the loop. I want no surprises and I will not tolerate incompetence or excuses. The 'on floor' security guards are my responsibility and you will only dislodge them from their posts when a situation warrants it and for no other reason; you have six other team members to call on for any other concerns."

He took a breath as he watched them absorb the information.

"My team will be unique. Some of my core members will also have jobs on the floor, mixing with the clientele. I want this security set-up to be as integrated as possible. Any questions?"

The colleagues gathered seemed content with his instruction. Chris smiled.

"Good. Well, beginning tomorrow, there will be a briefing at o-seven hundred every morning shift and a half hour before the start of any other. We work twelve hours on and twelve hours off with a two day break between a five day run. If anyone's got a problem with that, I suggest you consider your position now." He looked at Standish, grinning inwardly at the man's lack of reaction.

"Okay, today is your 'getting to know' day. Walk around, get familiar with your colleagues and the Casino, but never forget…you are now officially on duty, so no screw-ups. Before we get to it, I'd like to introduce you to two new members of the staff." He pointed. "Nathan Jackson…on-call physician and Josiah Sanchez, Head Valet." He addressed the two men. "Guys, I see you've met our Hospitality Host, Buck Wilmington, this is Vin Tanner, security and Ezra Standish, Pit Boss. You five will be working closely with me. Nathan, I don't expect you to wear a headset, but I need you to carry a cell at all times. That goes for the rest of you, but the remainder of us will always wear headsets when on the floor." Chris stood.

"Okay, thank you…let's make this day a good one."

As the group dispersed, Chris gestured to his 'core' group, first addressing Buck, Josiah and Nathan. Buck knew exactly what Chris required.

"On my way in, some kid got blown down the side of an embankment by a big truck. I couldn't leave him there, could I?"

"Knowing you…no," Chris half-smiled.

"I was directly behind Buck and went to assist," Josiah offered.

"So…you took him to the hospital?"

"No, they brought him to me," Nathan replied. "Kid had no insurance…looked like he was new in town."

"Where is he now?" Chris had no idea why he asked…he just suddenly found himself doing so.

"We dropped him off at a motel."

"Where?" Vin inquired.

"The Happy Holidays Motel," all three chorused.

"Good Lord," Ezra grimaced, "I hope you left him a gun and ammunition."

"Hey…I live at that end of town," Vin protested.

"And your point would be, Mister Tanner?" Standish teased.

"Don't have one…was just sayin' is all."

"Y'know, stud…I was wonderin' if we could get him in here…bus boy, maybe?"

They all turned to Orin. "I'll look into it." He smiled, moving to leave. "Gentlemen."

Once Travis had gone, Chris' tone changed as he addressed Buck. "I thought you'd left picking up strays for good, Buck."

"Aww, come on, Chris…he's just a little itty bitty thing…can't be more than sixteen…he ain't gonna last five minutes in this town if he's not earning."

Vin, Josiah and Nathan grinned.

Ezra smiled. "That's quite some halo you have there, Mister Wilmington."

Buck chuckled, Chris sighed. "Let's get to work."

~~~

"AaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAA AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH HH!!!"

JD lifted his sneaker to examine the squished cockroach. "I've seen bigger than you, buddy." He looked around the dingy room. "Bring it on, guys…I can take it." Wincing and limping a little as he put weight on his injured knee, JD put on his new uniform. One week on and he had wasted no time acquiring a position with 'Pizza Palace'. Not at all what he was looking for, but it would, for now, keep a roof over his head and food in his belly until he had a chance to get to know his new home and go for a job he really wanted. He rubbed at his scratchy throat, popping two aspirin before heading out. He figured it was likely due to the arid Vegas air, Boston's climate was very different.

~

It had been a reasonably busy day. Coming up to 9:00pm and, sitting on the bike they had given him to deliver the pizzas, he checked the address. 'The Montecito'…why did that name ring a bell? Well, maybe he'd figure it out…while meeting this 'Vin Tanner'. This guy was either huge with a big appetite or ordering for several, seeing as he had four 'specials' and four sides of cheesy garlic bread…oh, and the salad…let's not forget the salad. He grinned, one salad…guess there was one health nut in there somewhere. He wiped his brow with the back of his hand, surprised he was sweating so much, then rubbed his aching knee, damnit…just one more hour to go…why did it have to ache so much now?

~

Josiah Sanchez was a contented man. He was thoroughly enjoying his new position as Head Valet. He was sure, to many, it seemed a demeaning job, but to Josiah it opened up a world of opportunities. He got to meet people from all walks of life…yes…even ordinary people came to the Montecito…but by the time they left, they felt as special and important to the staff at the resort as those worth millions.

Josiah checked his watch. Chris was not a happy man. A day of computer glitches had seen the demise of a particularly nice snow-globe on his desk and a very tense security team. The problem was still unresolved and Vin had suggested a 'time out' …partly because he was hungry, and partly because he feared for the safety of the third resort tech to have worked on the problem today, the other two likely now languishing at home clutching a doctor's script for meds and a leave of absence. Josiah spotted the delivery bike approaching and pointed to direct him to the kitchen entrance.

"Is that…?" He turned as a hand dropped on his shoulder. "Hello, Buck…heading to the bullpen?"

Buck nodded. "The mood Chris is in today, that's a darned good name for it right now."

They both laughed. Nodding his goodbye to his replacement, Greg Sidney, Josiah joined Buck and headed up to the floor where security was stationed.

~

They had only been in the bullpen five minutes when the unmistakable waft of hot pizza drifted in, followed by the boy delivering them.

"JD?"

All eyes turned to the boy Buck was addressing.

~

JD walked into the high-tech room, his eyes widening at the array of monitors. He turned at the mention of his name, his heart and stomach flipping and a goofy grin crossing his face…he had no idea why he was reacting like that, but it felt kinda…nice.

"Hey, Buck. Oh…yeah…that's why this place was so familiar." He grinned as Nathan and Josiah joined them. "Hi guys…how are the new jobs working out? I hear this Larabee dude's a real hard-ass to work for."

Vin choked on the coffee he was drinking, watching as Chris approached the group.

"How did you get in here?"

"I walked in the door…why?"

"We don't encourage delivery boys in here."

JD shrugged. "Sorreee…but I don't know any of you and I aim to collect my money…not wait for some bell-hop to come back with it after he's skimmed my tip, thank you very much."

Vin cackled and showed no remorse for it, much to the amusement of Ezra.

"So this is the little guy you helped the other day?" Vin asked.

JD frowned. "Hey…who you calling little?"

"Sorry, kid…was just wonderin' is all. Name's Vin."

Beaming, JD approached. "Pizza guy…" He offered the tab. "Guess this is yours then." He watched as Vin laughed again and pulled out his wallet.

"You came to Vegas to be a pizza delivery boy?" Buck asked.

JD frowned. "Hey…don't knock it, it puts food on the table. I'll get something better, just as soon as I work out where to apply."

"Quite right, John Daniel," Josiah commended, "nothing like good honest work."

"Well…gotta feed the cockroaches…" JD smiled, shyly. "That motel's a real dump…still…it' s warm, dry and cheap." He jerked as he realized Nathan was right next to him.

"You're limping quite badly…and you're flushed. Is your knee okay?"

"Sure…it's fine, just a little sore is all." His attention drifted to the tech almost cowering under Larabee's gaze, suddenly moving forward. "What are you doing?"

Chris and the tech looked up; JD was now next to the tech guy and staring at the bank of snowy monitors. "What's wrong with your system?"

"That's what I keep asking Einstein here," Chris snapped, surprised he'd even answered. He watched JD nudge the tech.

"Move over."

Chris was just about to complain when five men's expressions of 'wait' halted him. Curious, he allowed the youth to continue. They watched in fascination as JD took a seat and the youth's fingers flew over the keyboard for the next five minutes while he talked himself through his actions with something that sounded more like a foreign language than English. All at once, the monitors jumped to life and JD turned to Chris.

"You have a problem with your motherboard. I've managed to re-route the systems for now, but your Northbridge and Southbridge aren't interfacing properly and need to be changed and re-aligned now or this system's gonna crash."

As if a light bulb went on over his head, the tech nodded, jumped up and scuttled off. Trying to ignore the slight tilt to the room, JD missed the silence that had greeted his diagnosis.

"How did you do that?" Ezra spoke first.

JD shrugged. "Hell, if I can't do that, my degree isn't worth the paper it's printed on."

"Degree?" Buck asked, moving closer. "Since when did they hand out degrees to kids, hotshot?"

"Hey, I'm no kid…I'm a twenty one year old, Mensa card carrying, MIT graduate. I got my degrees in CIS and Applied Mathematics two days before my birthday, a few weeks ago."

Buck laughed. "Get outta here! What do your parents think of their little precious heading out west now they've put up all their hard earned cash into his fancy education?"

Swiping damp bangs from his eyes, JD stamped into Buck's personal space. "Excuse me? You think you've got me all figured out, don't you? I never knew my father and after years of working her fingers to the bone, my mom died before she could see me through college. I've worked up to six jobs at a time to pay for my education, so fuck you."

Fuming, JD tried to make a grand exit but instead of moving he swayed. Before he knew it, he was on the floor with Buck supporting him, oblivious to the five men around him except Nathan who was tearing his pants.

"Aw hell…they'll take that out of my check…"

"JD…your knee's infected. Did you take the antibiotics? "

JD nodded at Nathan, pointing at the monitors as he did so. "You…you have a guy with a light wand on the slots."

Vin checked the monitors, cursed and ordered to have the guy taken down.

"You're gonna have to go to the hospital," Nathan warned.

JD shook his head. "Can't…have no…insurance. " He just heard a distant voice telling him 'he'd worry about that' before it went dark.

~~~

Blinking hard at the bright room JD sighed. His throat was dry and he felt kind of…'spaced out'. A straw touched his lips and he sucked gratefully on it. He realized Buck was standing next to him holding the cup. He pushed the straw out with his tongue.

"Thanks."

"How are you?"

Panicking, JD tried to sit up. "They didn't…do I still have my leg? I can't feel it."

Easing him back down, Buck spoke softly. "Yeah, it's all fine, kid. It's clean and re-stitched and they've put you on new antibiotics. If you're feeling a mite detached, it's because they got you on the good stuff for the pain."

"Oh…thank God. Why…are you here?"

Buck grinned. "Well someone needed to keep an eye on you. By the way, I've moved your stuff into my apartment for now, you're not going back to that dump."

JD frowned. He was too tired to argue, and couldn't for the life of him think why this man would want to help him.

"I…" Buck stammered, "I'm real sorry about what I said to you yesterday…I shouldn't have assumed anything about your life. For what it's worth, my mom died too…and I never knew my father, either. I guess we got more in common than we realized."

JD slowly absorbed the information, nodding. "Yesterday? How long have I been out?"

"Eighteen hours." Buck noticed JD's panic returning. "It's okay…really. Nathan said between the antibiotics and painkillers you'd be a little groggy for a while."

A nurse came in, smiling. "Your brother's awake. Hello there, nice to see you back with us."

"We…we're not…"

Buck clamped a hand over JD's mouth. He grinned at the nurse, reading her badge. "Well…Leona…it' s obvious I'm the more handsome, but…do you think we look alike?"

She chuckled. "Yes, you do…and who says you're the most handsome?" Winking at JD as she finished checking his IV, she grinned and left.

"Why did you say we were brothers, Buck?"

"Oh, I don't know. It sounded kinda nice when she said it, and…I've always wanted a little brother…"

JD grinned, but clearly, by Buck's chuckle, it was heavily affected by his meds.

"Besides…think how adorable I must be in her eyes…taking care of my little brother so attentively. "

JD wasn't sure if Buck was kidding or not. "You're crazy."

"Like a fox, li'l bro…like a fox."

"Well…look who's awake." Ezra was first in the door, quickly followed by Vin, Josiah, Nathan and finally Chris.

The boy was shocked, attempting to ease his tension with humor. He looked at Vin. "Hey…you never paid me."

"I didn't? Well…no wonder the pizza tasted so darned good."

"Don't listen to him, John…" Josiah smiled, "we were all so concerned about you no one ate a thing."

'They were concerned about him…why?' "Call me JD…all my friends do."

Josiah grinned wider. "JD it is, then, though I confess I do like the name John Daniel."

"How are you?"

JD looked up at Chris. "I…I'm good thank you, sir." Then at Nathan. "I am, aren't I?"

Jackson nodded. "Yeah…you are. They're discharging you tomorrow."

"And you're coming home with me…" Buck reminded. "Hey…come to think of it…there's an apartment free on the floor below mine."

"Yeah, 'cause a pizza delivery boy can afford an apartment," JD scoffed, stifling a yawn.

"It would be a stretch," Chris cut in, "but not for a security officer at the Montecito."

JD tried to figure out what this guy was talking about before he gave in to sleep. "What, now?"

"When you're up on your feet…come and see me…and we'll talk."

Feeling his cheeks coloring, JD nodded. "Okay." He looked at them all. "Is this how you all spend your spare time…together? "

The six men looked at each other. "Actually…" Ezra answered, "…I believe this is the first time we've ever spent our leisure time together."

Six smiling faces were the last thing JD saw as he drifted back to sleep.

~~~

"You going somewhere?"

Buck exited the kitchen of his apartment with two coffees when he spotted JD tying the shoelaces of his battered sneakers. The boy had been with him a week while recuperating from his injury and while attempting to secure the lease on the apartment on the floor below.

JD smiled. "Mister Larabee asked if I could come to the Montecito to talk about my new position."

"And you thought you should go dressed like that?"

JD frowned, looking himself over then back at Buck. "What?"

"Don't you have a suit?"

JD spluttered a laugh. "I lost my job, Buck, a suit is the last thing on my shopping list right now. Hell, it looks like I'm gonna lose the apartment, too. The deposit's way out of my league, the leasers won't accept I have a job to go to next week and I have no permanent address, and you have to have a permanent address before they let you sign anything."

Buck put the coffees down on the coffee table. "But…it's an apartment. If you had a permanent address, you wouldn't need it."

JD shrugged. "Apparently, I have no history for them to call on, my mom's apartment was in her name, and I'm just twenty one…I need a sponsor, in case I default…or something."

"Where do I sign?" Buck approached the smaller man.

"What?"

"Where do I sign? Get the lease out."

JD offered a sad smile. "Thanks, but I told you…I don't have the deposit, either."

Buck moved to stand in front of JD, placing his hands on his shoulders.

"How much do you need?"

"A month's rent as bond and a month in advance, but…"

"Will they take a check?"

JD stared up into Buck's eyes. "What?"

"I'll sponsor you and put up the money. Will they accept a check?"

For a moment JD was lost for words. "I…I can't let you do that…hell, you've taken care of me this past eight days…and we barely knew each other when you took me in. It's okay, Buck, thanks but I'll…"

Buck drew him closer. He didn't understand why, but the need to take care of this kid was overwhelming. They'd had a great eight days…almost as if they'd known each other all their lives. He eyed him up and down.

"And you need a suit…and shoes, too. Come on…I know a store that caters for short-stops like you and long gangly guys like me…let's go."

JD decided not to fight it. Perhaps a suit might not be a bad idea…he wanted to impress Larabee as much as possible. He'd just pay Buck back when he had his first paycheck.

~

Chris was mildly impressed. The kid scrubbed up pretty good, he actually looked like he'd fit in with his team, now.

"Okay, I think that's everything. When you start next week, I'll put you with each of the guys for one day, starting with Josiah. It'll be good for you to see what each man does before you fully take up your position. Any questions?"

"Just one." JD hated to bring it up, but if there had been a mistake, he'd rather it be drawn attention to now. "Is this figure for my salary correct? I never figured security as being a particularly lucrative profession."

Chris grinned. Honesty…yep, he quite liked this kid. "Son…this is no ordinary security set-up. This is a massive operation, our actions dictate the smooth-running of one of the biggest casinos on the strip. Plus…you're my tech guy. You're a fully qualified professional and your salary should reflect that. In short…yes, it's correct. Are you unhappy with it?"

JD held up his hand. "Oh, no…no…it's great, thank you."

Chris nodded. "Kid…I'm not gonna lie to you…at first, I figured you weren't the type for the position. Too young and cocky by far. But…now I'm thinking that might just work in your favor. You'll be the youngest on the team by seven years…don't let me down."

JD grinned as the two stood and shook hands. "Oh I won't, I promise…thank you."

Chris nodded. "See you Monday."

~

As JD traveled down in the elevator to the garage where Buck's car was parked, he couldn't help grinning to himself. "Who'd have thought falling in a ditch could lead to all this?" He looked to the Heavens. "I think I cracked it, mom…wish me luck."

~~~

For most of the morning, JD watched Josiah in fascination as he assisted the Head Valet. The guy was amazing with people and never missed a thing. The youth had always thought himself reasonably fit, but after half a day of humping bags to trolleys and generally running from cab or car door to the hotel's front door he was feeling the strain.

~

Josiah smiled broadly as he watched JD attack his lunchtime sandwiches with gusto while they sat together in the break room. "Hungry, John Daniel?"

JD simply nodded, his mother had taught him it was rude to speak with your mouth full. Grabbing his can of coke, JD took a few gulps and spoke.

"How do you do this every day? I'm beat and it's only one o'clock."

Sanchez chuckled. "I may be going gray, but I keep fit. Plus, I love this job…it gives me the strength and energy I need to get through my day."

"I gotta say, Josiah, until I spent time with you, I never would have thought of this job as so demanding and so important. You do great work."

Josiah grinned at the young man, inwardly praising Chris Larabee's insight into placing the boy with a new member of staff each day. Though he feared a little for tomorrow…he was with Buck. "When do you move into your new apartment?"

"Next week," JD said as he stuffed his last piece of sandwich into his mouth. "I don't have anything to go in it, but it'll be all mine." He paused for thought. "'Course, I'll miss hanging out with Buck every day…"

"I'm sure you will," Josiah agreed. They sat in companionable silence for a minute until JD spoke again.

"So…are you from around here?"

Josiah shook his head as he struggled with the top of a yogurt container. "Nope. you could say I'm from all over."

Eyes widening as he watched the yogurt splash out when the top was removed, JD pushed for more information. "Define 'all over'."

Obviously enjoying the yoghurt, despite its attempts to splatter his clothes, Sanchez answered, surprised at how much he was prepared to share.

"My father was a missionary. We traveled to many countries to spread the word of God and help wherever we were needed. He was not an easy man to be around, but my experiences have prepared me for many of life's treacherous pathways." He watched in amusement as JD absorbed the information. 'Lord, I really mustn't let Ezra get him into a poker game any time soon', he thought as he watched JD's face reveal everything he was thinking.

"So, that's why you wear that big ol' cross around your neck…you're a religious man?"

"Me and the good Lord parted ways some time ago, son. But, I suppose I could never fully forsake him."

JD sighed. "I know what you mean. Mom and me went to mass every week for as long as I remember. Then she got real sick…suffered… " he swallowed hard. He hadn't really talked about this to anyone since his mother died. He wasn't sure he was ready to yet. "All she ever did was work hard and raise me, I never really understood what made God so mad he let her suffer like that," he said softly. He looked up, surprised to see Josiah standing in front of him.

~

Josiah had no real words of comfort. It was things such as this, famine and flood that had shaken Josiah's own faith to the very core. He squeezed the boy's neck. "God has a plan. It's rarely one we would choose for ourselves, and often leaves us confused and disillusioned, but I believe that's part of it…all we have to do is figure out the message, stay strong and one day, all will become clear."

JD wasn't sure he fully understood, but he nodded anyway. Disposing of their rubbish, the pair returned to work.

~~~

"Watch me…stay sharp and let me do the talking." Buck fiddled with his attire as he and JD waited in the lobby. JD snorted.

"Don't trust me much, do you?"

"I trust you fine, kid…but you learn nothing unless you observe first. You'll be hearing things only I have ever been privy to, my position is one of discretion."

JD nodded, staring at the lobby doors and trying not to yawn at their 7am start. "So…who are we waiting for?"

"A whale."

Frowning, JD tried hard to push out the image in his head of a big fat whale in a suit with a cigar and a suitcase. "What's a whale?"

Buck turned to him. "A gambler so wealthy he can pretty much dictate how he spends his time here…he'll likely lose more than you and me between us will make in five lifetimes."

JD whistled. "Dictate? In what way?"

"Whatever he wants…I get. This one today has a liking for hookers."

"Isn't that illegal?"

"Hookers, yes…escorts…no. " He noted the look of disapproval on his new friend's face. "Hey…if the guy wants female companionship while he's spending millions here, who am I to argue? It's his vacation."

"I guess if the woman's willing…"

"Hell yeah they're willing. This kind of deal will set them up for life." He stiffened. "Here we go."

~

Despite wanting to dislike the man, JD warmed to Waylon Baxter III. An oilman from Dallas, he had originally gambled everything to set up his business and toiled around the clock to make it work. JD figured the down-to earth man had earned his status. The companion Buck had set up for him was a stunning 5' 10" brunette by the name of Emma-Lee and he and JD escorted the pair to Waylon's suite where he intended to 'freshen up' before heading for the tables, telling Buck he'd call him when he was ready.

~

Several hours later, that moment came, with a request for magazines, champagne and chocolates to be taken to the suite for Emma-Lee to enjoy while she rested. JD acquired the items from Gloria and Annie at the gift shop and, while Buck turned his full attention to Waylon, delivered them personally to the suite. He knocked on the door.

"It's open, honey."

As he entered, JD gawped at the huge room. He hadn't been inside one of the suites before and he was stunned at how spacious it was.

"In here, sweetie."

Following the woman's voice, JD found himself in a large room with a bar and sitting area, staring at a foam-filled Jacuzzi with a naked woman sitting in it. He blushed and turned his head away.

"Oh…sh…err…sorry, ma'am."

Emma-Lee giggled. "Hey, cutie-pie…not shy, are you?"

Still not looking, JD replied. "Err…no…it's just…aw hell…I'll leave your things and be on my way, ma'am." He heard the bath water moving and swallowed as he realized she was stepping out.

"Don't go…will you stay…just for a few minutes?"

Relieved to see her pass him dressed in a large white fluffy robe, he watched her take a seat in the large living area and followed her.

"Sure…what can I do for you?" He blushed again as she smiled at him.

"Well, what just went through my mind would probably get you fired, so how about we just talk, instead?"

Not sure if she was teasing or not, JD sat in the chair opposite her. He quickly realized she wasn't that old.

"How old are you?"

"You don't ask a lady her age," she scolded, "but if you must know, I'm twenty-six."

JD nodded. "Do you enjoy your work?" He winced at the question, grinning back at her beautiful smile.

"Yeah, I guess I do. There are strict guidelines and I get treated really well. Plus, one more year and I could retire if I wanted to."

JD raised his eyebrows, a glint in his eye. "Maybe I should think about it," JD joked, liking the idea of early retirement.

"Sweetheart…the ladies would be fighting over you," she smiled.

Damnit, he was blushing again. He smiled and took one of the offered chocolates, relaxing back to chat a little longer.

~

"JD, where the hell are you?"

Dunne jumped as Chris Larabee's voice reverberated through his earpiece. He smiled coyly at Emma-Lee as he answered. "With a customer, Mister Larabee."

"How nice," Chris growled. "Get your ass back to the bullpen. Buck's been looking for you."

"Yes sir…sorry, sir." He rose from his seat. "I have to go." To his surprise, she stood, approached him and gave him a hug.

"Thank you for talking to me. I'm usually invisible to the staff at these places. You've made me feel very comfortable here. Maybe I'll see you around?"

JD nodded as he headed for the door. "Yeah, I'll be around. It was nice meeting you."

~~~

"You do NOT go off the air for half an hour without telling someone where you are…do you understand?"

JD nodded. "Yes sir, Mister Larabee…sorry… but Buck knew…" he winced inwardly at the glare.

"Do I need to repeat myself?"

"No sir."

Chris nodded. "Good. Now get to Mystique…Buck' s waiting for you there."

JD scurried off, barely glancing at Vin as he passed him on the stairs. Tanner entered Chris's office and stared at the Chief of Security. Chris stared right back.

"Little hard on him there, weren't you?"

Larabee huffed. "Better hard on him now than find out the next time he's off the air he has a major problem. I don't mind him switching off his mic…just not for half an hour…unless he's on a break."

"Then tell him."

"I just did…"

Realizing Chris was in no mood to negotiate, Vin nodded. "Yep…you sure did." He left the office, hoping he and JD would have a better day together, tomorrow.

~

"Buck Wilmington…behave. "

The big man chuckled. This woman captivated him and he was fast realizing he would give up his womanizing ways just for one night with her…or even maybe a kiss…yeah, he could settle for that.

"Oh darlin'…you know how much you mean to me."

The manager of Mystique, Inez Recillos glared at him. "No senor…I do not. I barely know you, but I know your type. Kindly stop trying to kiss my hand." The words came from her mouth, but her heart was saying exactly where she would like his lips to be and it shook her to the core. No man had ever affected her like this before and it unnerved her, sending her into a defensive stance. She looked up and waved.

"Ola, chiquito!"

Buck looked away to see JD come in. "There you are." He winced at the withering look JD threw him. "Something wrong, kid?"

JD huffed. "Yeah…thanks to you I just got my ass chewed out by Larabee."

"Me? Why me?"

"He said you'd been looking for me for half an hour. Jeeze, Buck…you were the one that sent me up to Mister Baxter's room in the first place."

Buck glanced at Inez…her expression was none too accommodating, either. "Now hold on there li'l bro…Chris asked me where you were and all I said was I hadn't seen you for half an hour. I wasn't complaining…"

"That's not how he put it across."

Buck moved to look into the boy's eyes. "Well, that's how it happened…okay?"

JD eventually sighed and nodded, smiling at Inez as she offered him an orange juice. "Thank you, ma'am." He looked at Buck. "Yeah…okay…sorry."

Inez smiled at JD. "I'll see you boys later then. Oh and JD…it's not ma'am…it's Inez."

JD bobbed his head. "Sure, ma'am…err…Inez."

"Nothing to be sorry for." Buck continued. He turned JD toward him. "Kid, when are you gonna drop this act? You're not fooling anyone y'know."

JD paled slightly. "What act?"

"This 'front' you keep insisting on throwing in our faces. I've seen you at your most vulnerable, remember? You aren't so tough, so why snap mine and the guys' heads off when you think you're being challenged? No one's out to deceive you, kid. Hell, we even kinda like you a li'l bit."

The youth sighed heavily, his shoulders slumping. "I…I'm…" he swallowed. "I don't mean to. I've had to take care of myself a long time, y'know? Mom got sick when I was around twelve. I've worked hard all my teenage years, not one person ever stepped up to help us." He smiled thinly. "Mom said I was like a little terrier…always nipping at something until I got what I needed. But I had to, Buck…nothing's ever been handed to me on a plate.

"Mom's savings were wiped out by her illness. Any money I earned was gone almost as soon as I had it. I guess I just got a little tough…to stay focused. Her dying wish was for me to go to college…so I did. Had to work my butt off to keep up with the fees and get through both degrees…" he smiled wider, "…turns out I was a whole lot smarter than I'd realized and I got through college two years earlier than expected." The frown was back. " And now, here I am…earning my first real big paycheck…and I'm screwing it up."

Buck squeezed the back of JD's neck, blinking back moisture welling in his eyes. "Y'know," he said softly, my ma had a saying, 'Life is hard…and then you die.' My thoughts on that? Sure…but let's have a little fun and friendship on the way, huh?"

JD grinned, nodding. Buck slapped his shoulder.

"Good…settled." His eyes twinkled. Now…our job just got harder…we've been asked to assist some ladies in conference room one."

JD grinned wider. "The beauty pageant? Wow…tough assignment."

Buck placed his arm on the smaller man's shoulders. "Yep…tough assignment…but I guess we're just gonna have to be brave and get in there and see what needs to be done."

As they headed out, Buck frowned at JD's huge grin. "What?"

"Li'l bro?"

Wilmington chuckled and nudged JD playfully. "Ahh…don't mind me…it just seemed to fit…"

JD grinned wider. "Actually…I kind of liked it…'big brother'."

Buck's grin matched his own as they stopped just outside conference room one. "You ready for this?" he said, pointing toward the room.

With mock seriousness, JD nodded. "It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it."

Both laughing, they headed on into the room.

~~~

The next day and sitting in front of a bank of monitors, controls and keyboards was right in JD's comfort zone, but Vin was having none of it.

"Okay, kid…let's go do a sweep of the casino floor."

Grabbing his jacket off the back of his chair, JD spotted Larabee looking down at him from his office window. The young tech shuddered, glancing toward Vin.

"I'm not entirely sure he likes me, y'know."

Vin grinned as they headed toward the elevator. "Sure he does…or you wouldn't be here."

JD pulled a face as they stepped into the car. "Sure has a funny way of showing it."

~

The pair patrolled several areas, Vin pointing out things to be mindful of and how to 'fend off' over-enthusiastic female guests.

JD glanced at Vin. "I didn't think I'd be with you until last…figured Mister Larabee would want me to learn from the others, first."

Vin grinned. "Mister Larabee? His name's Chris, JD…and I believe he wanted me to give you 'the tour' before you settled in properly."

"He plans on letting me stay, then?"

Vin stopped walking and eyed the younger man. "Why'd you think otherwise?"

JD turned on realizing he was walking on alone and stepped quickly back to the Texan. "Just a hunch. He watches me a lot…never talks, just watches. It's creepy."

Vin laughed and resumed walking. "That's just his way, kid…he likes you, like I said, if he didn't, you'd be gone already."

"Or he's just waiting for me to screw up."

As they continued on, Vin couldn't help wondering why JD felt so sure Chris would kick him out…or why he'd screw up. Something told him it was something JD had become accustomed to at some point during his short life.

"So…you usually screw up…is that what this is all about?"

Dunne shrugged. "I've had my moments. I don't mean to…mom said I shouldn't think of myself as accident prone…just a little out of sync with my body."

Again Vin laughed, pleased to see JD laugh too. He liked this kid… taking him on had been a good move.

"So, is it true you used to be a Ranger?"

Vin raised an eyebrow. "Bucklin been talkin' again?"

JD chuckled, giving Vin his answer.

"Yeah, I was a Ranger. Felt I needed a change. This came along just at the right time."

"I bet you made a great Ranger…"

Despite the random statement, it warmed Vin to his soul. Yeah, he had been a good Ranger. He'd hated having to leave under a cloud.

"Crossroader… table six."

As the message came through their earpieces, Vin grabbed JD's arm. "Let's go."

Both men ran for the elevators. "What's a Crossroader? " JD asked.

"A cheat."

Nodding his understanding, JD followed Vin into the elevator.

~~~

Ezra had marked the guy from the get go. He led the man along while he waited for back up from JD and Vin, Chris had warned the others to stand by for now. Before JD and Vin could get close, the man sensed something was up and, pushing himself back from the table, stood and ran.

"Shit…the hard way," Vin mumbled, pointing a pathway for JD to follow as he took another.

~

JD took off. Vin had gone over this with him, explained that he may have to physically take someone down, and the accompanying adrenaline rush as he raced off was dizzying. Quickly realizing the cheat was closer to him than Vin, JD changed direction slightly to barrel into the running man from the side in a move his beloved Patriots would be proud of. What he hadn't accounted for was the impact two running bodies would have on each other as he took the man down to the floor, gamely hanging on until a familiar voice could be heard.

"Hot damn…nice move, kid."

As the perpetrator was taken from him, JD would have liked to answer, but realized his lungs and side burned as the air that had been knocked from him tried to make a return. Handing the man over to Josiah and two security guards, who had now joined them, Vin squatted to check on the pale youth.

"Y'alright there?" He offered JD a hand up.

"…Breath…knocked… " he took the offered hand.

Nodding his understanding, Vin hauled the younger man to his feet, placing a supportive hand on his back as JD bent over and rested his hands on his knees while he waited for his breath to return. When he eventually straightened he winced at the pain remaining in his side, realizing quickly it was more than just a lack of breath. He hid his discomfort as he nodded.

"Thanks, Vin…I'm fine."

~

Chris appeared and took in the situation, looking at JD. "You okay?"

"Yes sir…I'm fine."

Gesturing to Josiah and the guards, Chris and the men moved to the elevator to question the man in Chris's office. Vin took sympathy on the still pale youth.

"Come on, let's go to Mystique for a coffee."

 

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