Live and Let Diet

Helen Adams and Karen Fedderly

Email: virginiacitygirl@comcast.net and Fedderly1@comcast.net

January 2004 Challenge by Helen: Show me two or more of the guys involved in a sporting event, game or contest - anything as long as it's physical.

Rating: PG for a couple of bad words

Authors' Note: This story was done just for laughs. The two of us started the New Year by agreeing to be coast to coast diet buddies. Our latest check-in happened to coincide with the weekly Improv. challenge on one list (using the words shirtless, coffee, fence and light) and the January Challenge on another. We decided to kill two birds with one stone and answer the two of them together. A diet isn't exactly fun and games, but it is most definitely physical so we were inspired to share our trials with two of our favorite Mag7 characters. J

Moved to Blackraptor November 2009


Team Seven's weekly meeting in the conference room of the Denver ATF building came to a dead halt as team medic Nathan Jackson dropped a bombshell.

Chris Larabee scowled down the length of the table at him.  "Say that again, Nate."

"I said, our team's in danger of losing two men if something ain't done right away." Nathan swiveled and leveled a stare at Buck Wilmington and Josiah Sanchez, who had paused in the middle of a soft-voiced argument over the tray of donuts, each with a hand centered over the top of the one chocolate-frosted left on the plate.

"What're you talking about, Nate.  Spit it out."  Vin Tanner's quiet voice penetrated the silence as everyone turned to lend their full attention to the proceedings.

"Word from the top brass.  If we don't all comply with the departmental guidelines for weight then they'll ground us.  Or at least the team members who aren't in line with the regs, and guess who's over the top?"  Nathan's stare grew even more accusing if that was possible.  "I been telling you two that those donuts were going to come back to haunt you, and I was right."

"Now wait a minute," Buck drawled as he licked a smear of chocolate off his upper lip.  "You're saying the department'll ground me 'n Josiah just because we're a pound or two over the limit?"

"A pound. Ha!" Nathan pounded his fist on the table.  "Ten's more like it. You both got to lose at least ten to make the cut."

"I am not ten pounds over weight!" Buck squawked indignantly.  "I've weighed exactly the same amount since I left the navy!  If it was good enough for the feds then, it should be good enough now."

Nathan shook his head.  "That's not what your last physical said.  You had your annual check-up just last week and you've gained better than fifteen pounds since the last one."

Still not willing to concede, Buck gestured to Josiah.  "Well, what about him?  He weighs more than I do but it's all muscle.  They gonna force him to quit lifting weights just so he fits into a new narrow-minded regulation?"

To Buck's dismay, rather than agreeing with him, Josiah grimaced and shook his head.   He had caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror as he was getting dressed that morning, and he could not deny that the shirtless figure in the glass had been somewhat thicker through the middle than he was accustomed to seeing. "Sorry, Buck, but I think Nathan is right.  I've been leaning a little more toward table muscle than the useful kind lately."

Crossing his arms over his chest, Buck sat back in his chair, sulking and refusing to give in.

"Buck, this is not something that's open to debate," Nathan pressed.  "You either lose that extra weight or I'm gonna be forced to have you deactivated until you do. Right, Chris?"

The team medic turned to Larabee for support just as Buck also turned pleading eyes on him.  Chris sighed.  He hated it when they put him in the middle but he had to go with the regulations on this one.  "Sorry, big dog, but you heard the doc.  He wouldn't do this to either one of you if it wasn't in your best interest and neither would I."

"A diet," Buck muttered sourly.  "I don't believe this.  I'm as fit as I ever was."

Next to him, JD Dunne, tried to help by saying,  "A diet's not that big a deal. Give yourself a few weeks without sweets, maybe one or two less beers in the evening, and I'll bet you everything will be back to normal in no time.  Besides, you shouldn't feel bad about it. I heard Lydia from Secretarial saying that you were kind of cute since you've gotten a little chubby."

Chubby?  That did it.  Buck's expression instantly went from indignant to mortally wounded.  Lydia Barnes was just about the most gorgeous creature ever to work at the Denver ATF office and he had been angling for a date with her for weeks.  Was that why he'd been unsuccessful?  Did the ladies look at him now and see Pop'n'Fresh?  Caught up in his misery, Buck did not realize he had spoken that last thought out loud until the rest of the team broke into laughter and Vin reached across the conference table to poke a finger into his tummy.

"Cut that out!" he shouted, making them all laugh harder.  Pack of heartless bastards!  See how hard they'd be laughing if somebody was trying to force one of them onto a diet!   Then he remembered.  One of them did have to join him.  "What do you say, Josiah?  Think we can do this?"

Looking a little glum, Josiah answered, "I guess we're going to have to.  How much time have we got?"

"The departmental review will be in a month's time," Jackson answered, nodding in sympathy at the looks of dismay on both their faces.  "You're really gonna have to buckle down to it if you're gonna pass.  Both of you."

Not wanting to see his team broken up any more than the rest of the men, Ezra Standish spoke up for the first time.  "Don't worry, gentlemen.  The rest of us will endeavor to assist you in any way we can.  We'll see to it that no donut shall cross your lips for the duration of that long four weeks."

"I bet it won't even take half that long," JD said enthusiastically.  "I'll bet you two can drop ten pounds each in just two weeks."

A sly grin spread over the face of the team's undercover agent and resident gambler.  "A bet?  For how much?"

"Now hold on a minute," Josiah said sternly.  "This is my job and life you two are talking about.  Mine and Buck's."

"Of course it is, my friend," Ezra purred.  "Which is why we are going to help.  Now, should you do a little better than expected, that would just be frosting on the proverbial cake, would it not?"

Buck groaned theatrically, "Don't say cake!" at the same time Josiah chimed in with "Don't say frosting!"


The men chuckled, then Vin declared, "I think that's a pretty good idea, actually.  It's always easier to get through something you don't like if you've got a buddy helpin' you along.  Why don't you each pick a partner to root you on and keep you from eatin' the things you shouldn't?"

"I'll be Buck's partner," JD decided, surprising no one.  "We'll clean out the fridge tonight and go fill it up with healthy stuff.  It'll be great."

Not about to be left out of this, a chance to appear magnanimous without having to suffer any actual consequences, Ezra said, "And I would be more than happy to help Josiah. Assuming you are in agreement, Mr. Sanchez?"

The big man sighed mournfully.  "Well, I sure as hell don't want to be doing this all alone.  All right, but no bets!"

Ezra waved a dismissive hand.  "Just a side wager is all I'm proposing. Say, fifty dollars that I can guide your efforts to a more satisfactory conclusion in two weeks time than JD can Buck's.  After all, we want you both to pass. This will simply provide a bit more incentive."

"For you," Buck said testily.  "Me and Josiah gotta eat nothin' but low-fat, no-taste, rabbit food for two weeks and one of you gets fifty bucks for it?"

"Make it a hundred and we'll split the prize down the middle," he countered smoothly.  JD nodded his agreement and after a moment, so did Buck.

Thinking it over, Josiah asked,  "We're just talking about ten pounds here, right?"

The healer nodded.  "I checked your charts and you're both just about that far above where you should be, so ten oughtta do it."

"I'm not too sure that I can lose that much in so short a time and I'm even more sure that I can't drop more weight than Buck. He is, after all, a good ten years younger than I am. Plus, I already work out so I'm not going to get any sudden metabolism shift by starting up, whereas Buck's not much given to exercising anyplace outside the sheets."


Wilmington grinned, agreeing with that assessment.

"So," Josiah continued.  "Why don't we just go for two weeks. If one of us loses ten pounds in that time, that man splits the hundred with his trainer.  If neither one of us does it, it's a moot point and everybody just keeps what they started out with."


Everyone was in agreement over that.  Vin, Chris and Nathan declined to get in on the action, though Chris did agree to hold the fifty dollars each of the others contributed to the pot.

"Excellent," Ezra said, the bright sparkle a wager always brought dancing in his eyes.  Helping himself to the donut tray still poised between the two contestants, he offered it around to everyone except the new weight-watchers.  Winking at the outraged Buck, he took a big bite of the chocolate covered donut the other man had been eyeing and garbled, "Let th' games begin, gen'lemen."

************************

JD was true to his word. Bustling home that evening, he ceremoniously cleared the refrigerator of anything remotely resembling real food. A leisurely prowl through the vegetable and diet aisle of the supermarket on the way home now turned the apartment into a virtual health food spa. Buckís groan of protest as his favorite beer was handed over to Vinís eager hands was not just a theatrical pose, but when JD moved to dispose of Buckís private stash of potato chips and beer nuts as well, it was more than he could take.

"JD," Buck growled. "Touch those nuts and Iíll chop your fingers off with my Bowie knife."

JD stared him down defiantly. "Look here, Buck, itís for your own good. You know if youíve got this stuff lying around youíre going to eat it. Better that we get rid of it now so that you donít have to worry about temptation." And with that, JD popped the top off the can of beer nuts and tossed a handful into his mouth.

Buckís cry of outrage echoed around the small apartment. "What the hell do you think youíre doing?" He lunged for the can only to have JD scamper back out of his reach while swallowing another mouthful of the treat.

"Iím saving you from yourself, Buck. I donít want to waste food and I canít let you eat this stuff. Better me than you, right?" JDís virtuous expression couldnít hide the twinkle in his eye as he darted from the kitchen clutching his treasure.

Buck hightailed it after him, but the slam of JDís bedroom door, followed swiftly by the clicking of the lock thwarted his efforts to snatch back at least one of the bags of chips. He banged on the door for a full minute to no response. A muffled crunching could be heard when he finally lapsed into silence. "Iím gonna get you for this, kid. I swear, youíre gonna pay."

Head held high, Buck marched back to the living room and snapped on the TV. With another growl he hoisted a bottle of spring water to his lips and stared blindly at the football game. The rumble of his stomach drowned out the roar of the crowd.

 

**************

 

Meanwhile, across town Ezra had moved through Josiah's well-stocked kitchen like a one man wrecking crew. Bag after box after bowl of food was pitched mercilessly into the garbage bag he held in his hands. Chris had already come by to support the dietary effort by taking all the beer, pretzels, cookies and freezer preserved chili off his hands and as Josiah looked mournfully on, Ezra poked through every cupboard, removing anything that might contain a hint or two of flavor.

When he was satisfied, the self-appointed diet coach hefted the bag in his hands and quipped, "Feels like a good ten pounds right here. Without this in the house, we'll have you slim and trim in no time at all."

Josiah smiled; shaking himself out of his melancholy as he reminded himself that Ezra was doing this for his own good, and the good of the team. "So, what's next? We going grocery shopping or do you just plan to starve me until you win that bet?"

The wolfish smile Ezra flashed at him was not entirely reassuring but he said, "We are going to buy the perfect array of culinary supplies to make your ordeal both productive and pleasant, my friend."

"Pleasant." The word was flat but a small kernel of hope welled up in Josiah's heart.

"Yes, indeed. You see, Buck and JD both seem to believe that a few low-fat foods and some wishful thinking will achieve their goal but the secret to a fast and successful diet is sugar."

Caught totally off-guard, the best Josiah could come up with was, "Huh?"

"Sugar," he repeated. "It has been proven in case studies over the past several decades that if a body takes in too much sugar it produces too much insulin. This makes it virtually impossible to digest the dozens of extra carbohydrates you consume in every helping of pizza and beer, burgers and fries, or coffee and donuts, all of which you normally consume in large quantities. Then there is the high degree of starches and natural sugars in things such as bread, potatoes, pasta and desserts. All you need to do is eliminate these items for the next two weeks and the weight will disappear like magic."

"How the hell do you know all this?" Josiah demanded, laughing at the almost professorial tone Ezra had taken on during his little speech. "You fall asleep to the Food Network every night?"

A haughty sniff was the southerner's only response as he carried the bag of foodstuffs outside and dumped it in the garbage, safely out of harm's way. When he returned, he said, "As a matter of fact, I did some research on the matter after Nathan's announcement this morning. There are some extremely strict diets on the market that might produce decent results but in my opinion, they would do very little good in the long run. I have put together a plan based on several different dietary programs in the hope that you won't be so miserable you give up before the goal is met."

A raised eyebrow seemed to call for some sort of response and Josiah had to admit that he was grateful for the consideration. "You're the coach," he said lightly.

"I thought you'd see it that way," Ezra said smugly. Then he laughed. "Besides, would you really expect me to go into battle with a starving lunatic whose fondest desire is to strangle me with his bare hands? Not the kind of odds I like to play!"

Josiah burst into a hearty guffaw as he followed his friend out the door. This whole thing was beginning to look a lot more appealing suddenly.

**************

Buck just knew this diet was going to be the end of him.  He had figured that if he stumbled at the first fence, JD would torment him mercilessly, so heíd tried to resist the cravings that had come over him with alarming regularity. It hadn't been so bad at first.  He had allowed JD to call all the shots, in part to humor him, but also out of a real desire to show the team that he could get back to fighting trim.  Even the sight of Vin eating a bag of McDonald's french fries at work hadn't swayed him.  The smell had almost been his undoing but Buck had held strong.  He would lose ten pounds if it killed him.  Hell, he would lose ten pounds if it killed JD! 

It had been bad enough when his roommate had thrown out all the good stuff in their apartment.  He had then come up with a ban on all alcohol, sweets, and even the little bowls of nuts and chips at The Saloon.  With every passing day, the kid seemed to be getting worse and Buck knew he'd have long since given up if JD hadn't conceded, grudgingly, to allowing him cream and little blue packets of fake sugar in his morning coffee. However, after three days even that one small victory had grown stale.  He was hungry, damn it, and he was going to have to put JD in his place before things got violent. 

Staring moodily at the elevator buttons, Buck hardly noticed when the door swished open on the third floor and a pretty blonde stepped aboard, her eyes lighting up when she spied the elevator's other occupant. "Good morning, Buck," she cooed. "Iím so glad I ran into you today. Iíve got something for you!"

Buckís instincts snapped into place and he favored the woman with his best smile. "For me? Aw, Suzy, you spoil me."

"A nice guy like you deserves a little spoiling," she replied, and she dug in her briefcase, triumphantly holding aloft a brown lunch sack. "I put extra chocolate chips in them, just the way you like them."

Buckís sugar-deprived stomach rumbled in anticipation and he had a sneaking suspicion that he was drooling. "Suzy. You made chocolate chip cookies for me?" He wrapped his arms around her and planted a kiss on her cheek. "Youíve just made me the happiest man on earth."

"Oh Buck, you say the funniest things," Suzy replied, her face flushed, her breath quick and shallow.

She watched with a smile as Buck reverently pulled a cookie from the sack and sniffed it appreciatively. He took a large bite and almost groaned aloud in pleasure. "Youíre the best, honey," he mumbled around a mouthful of crumbs. The cookie disappeared rapidly and Buck had another already in hand when the door opened on his floor.

With a wink and a smile, he took his leave of the blonde, leaving her rosy-cheeked and happy. Taking a large bite of his second cookie, Buck headed for his desk.

"Buck, what do you think you're doing?"  JD snatched the sack of cookies from his hands, hastily shoveling a handful into his own mouth. "This stuff is what caused your problem in the first place."

Buck glared at his partner, although he had the grace to flush and shuffle his feet.  "I can't help it if Suzy in Purchasing has the hots for me, JD. She's always baking these things and I couldn't hurt her feelings, now could I?"

JD shoved the last of the cookies into his mouth and glared at Ezra, who was snickering at his desk and watching the scene with avid interest.  "Well, you just stay away from Suzy until this is all over.  I mean it, Buck.  Your health is important to me!" He walked away muttering under his breath, "And I don't aim to let Ezra...I mean, Josiah, win this thing."

 

*******************

 

"I do not believe I am seeing this."

A deer caught in the blaze of oncoming headlights could not have looked more shocked than Josiah Sanchez did as he heard the soft southern tones, dripping with disgust, sound from behind him. There was no denying that he had been caught. His mouth was too full to speak and one hand was frozen inside the box of assorted chocolate candies that he had smuggled out of his desk, thinking Ezra was still occupied elsewhere.

"Where, may I ask, did you get that?"

Josiah shrugged guiltily as he worked on swallowing down a mouthful of chocolate and chewy caramel filling. "Leftover from Christmas," he mumbled, not meeting the other man's eyes. "Figured one little taste wouldn't hurt anything."

Ezra's eyes narrowed. "Is one all you've had?"

Wondering how this free-wheeling, freely-parented, childless man had ever picked up the ability to sound so much like a scolding father, or why he felt like squirming under the power of that tone, Josiah muttered, "Um, not exactly."

Ezra heaved an exasperated sigh, sounding even more unbelievably parental as he continued, "Then perhaps you had better tell me exactly how many you have had."

This time the older man did squirm before he could stop himself. Squeezing his eyes shut in self-disgust he confessed, "Four."

"Well I hope you enjoyed them to the fullest," Standish scolded, snatching the box out of his hand. There were still half a dozen chocolates nested within the box's decorative gold covering and one by one, like pieces on an assembly line, the southerner popped them into his own mouth, chewing and swallowing them while all the time glaring at Josiah. When the last piece was gone, he finished his thought. "Because these are the last such items you will be eating for the next ten days!"

Irritated at having his prize stolen, Josiah shot back, "And I suppose you've never cheated on anything even once! What about Buck? I know for a fact that he's veered off the path a time or two."

Surprising him, Ezra grinned and sat down on the edge of his desk, the disciplinarian stance disappearing as if it had never been. "When are you going to learn that I don't have to cheat; at anything," he asked with a hitch of the eyebrows. When Josiah relaxed a bit he continued. "As for the other, I witnessed Mr. Wilmington's latest fall from grace myself, just yesterday. It was a sight to behold. JD stuffing another batch of Miss Suzy's latest baking masterpiece in his mouth like a deranged Keebler Elf while Buck chased him through the office shouting out dire threats of vengeance."

Laughing at the image, Josiah said, "I'm sorry I missed that and I really am sorry about the candy. It's not that I haven't been trying, you know, and the program you designed for me is a lot more flexible than I had any right to expect. It's just that, well, I saw that box of candy sitting in my desk drawer and I-"

"Cracked," Ezra supplied. "I know. I suppose I shouldn't have been so harsh with you. Do you know it's been five years since I quit smoking and there are still days when I pass a smoker and feel as if I could happily mug the poor soul for a single puff?"

Josiah grinned. "So, you don't think four pieces of candy will undo four days of discipline?"

"I hardly think so. Just try not to eat any more sugar today, all right?"

With a wink, the older man crossed his heart. "Scout's honor."

Shaking his head, Ezra continued toward his original goal; the coffee cup sitting atop his desk. Running the tip of his tongue across his teeth, he again tasted the creamy chocolate of the profiler's secret stash. It did taste awfully good. He hadn't had a dessert of any kind in ages, partly because he simply didn't crave sugar the way a lot of people did but mostly because he did not want Josiah to see him indulging in something the other man was banned from. That would be rude and more importantly, it wouldn't do his odds of winning that hundred dollar bet any good if he drove his partner straight into a frenzy of unhealthy bingeing.

A devilish thought suddenly brought a twinkle to Ezra's eyes and just a hint of a dimpled smile to his face. It would be cruel and unusual punishment to eat sweets in front of Josiah but it wouldn't hurt to pad his chances of winning by indulging in a bit of sweet temptation in front of Buck. After all, if the man didn't lose his whole ten pounds before the two weeks were up, he'd still have another two weeks to pass the department physical.

With that rationale turning over in his mind, the little smile became a full-blown grin. Josiah was lactose-intolerant. As a result he wouldn't touch ice cream, even under normal circumstances, and would never be tempted by somebody else eating that substance in his vicinity. Buck, on the other hand, could have been happy making his living as a sample-tester at Ben & Jerry's. Whistling a jaunty tune, Ezra breezed past his desk, forgetting all about refilling his coffee cup. He suddenly had a strong craving to enhance his pre-packed lunch with a little dessert.

 

************

 

Buck slumped down on the edge of Josiahís desk. "How ya doing with this whole thing, pard?"

Josiah shook his head. "Itís tough going. Every time I think Iím making progress I get hit with a craving for something. I never wanted junk food so much until I couldn't have any of it! How about you?"

"About the same. Some days I'm so hungry I feel like taking a hunk out of my desk. I'll tell you what makes it worse, though. JD! That kid is going to drive me crazy." Buck raised his voice to a falsetto. "Donít touch that, Buck! You canít eat this, Buck! Buck, get out of the kitchen!' Youíd think I was about ten years old the way heís acting."

With a nod, Josiah said, "Ezra, too. He even snatched a box of Christmas candy away from me this morning. The way he was glaring made me feel like my father was in the room with me."

"What are we going to do about them, Josiah?" Buck sighed heavily. "I know weíve got to lose weight and all, but I just donít know how much more of this I can take."

"Now, now, Buck. Theyíre only doing it for our own good, you know." Josiah patted his friendís shoulder in commiseration. "Things are tough now, but itís only another week or so, and itíll all be over. We can last that long, canít we?"

With a sigh, Buck heaved himself off the desk. "Youíre right, I can do anything for another week." He headed back to his own desk, but stopped and turned back to Josiah. "I can, canít I?"

Josiah chuckled. "We can, Buck. We can."

 

************

The moment of truth had arrived. Or at least half-truth. Josiah smiled slightly at that, for he had indeed been only half truthful the last time he'd reported in with Ezra about the things he'd been eating. The other man's demeanor had slipped steadily over the past few days, going from best buddy and support counselor to manic diet dictator. JD was even worse. Every day now Buck either phoned him or made a trip past his desk to moan about the insanity overwhelming his roommate. In all honesty, if it hadn't been for knowing that Buck was suffering just as much, if not more, than he was, Josiah was pretty sure he would have given up by now.

He sighed, reluctantly pulling out the scale. It had been one week exactly. It was time to see if the pounds had dropped at all. If Ezra had been right in his insistence on no starches and sugars, he would owe him thanks for this week of watch-dogging. If Standish had been wrong, then he would be free to tell him where to stick his next piece of expert advice. In all honestly, Josiah couldn't decide which result he would enjoy more.

"Well, here goes," he told his reflection, dropping his bathrobe and stepping on the scale. His eyes nearly popped when he took in the number that appeared. "Holy shit!" He was over five and a half pounds lighter than he had been the week before.

A huge grin stretched from ear to ear as he hastily got dressed and made a beeline for the telephone. "Buck!" he said when the other end was answered. "You weigh in yet? How'd you do?"

"Five down, five to go!" the other man crowed. "How 'bout you?"

"Almost six. I about had a heart attack when I saw it," he replied, laughing.

"Way to go, buddy! You tell Ezra yet?"

Josiah groaned. "No, but I can already hear the 'I told you so' I'm gonna get. He's been on my trail like a bloodhound all week. Somebody left a couple of jelly donuts in the break room yesterday, which everyone knows are my favorite, and Ezra pounced on those babies before I could even think about touching them."

Voice dropping a touch, Buck told him, "I think JD mighta been responsible for that. He knows that jelly-filled are the only kind I won't eat."

"Revenge for that big tub of chocolate chunk ice cream that Ezra somehow 'forgot' he'd left in the freezer a few days ago, I suspect." Josiah told him, a deep chuckle rolling through the receiver. "He had to eat the whole thing himself when Chris asked him what he was saving it for. Vin might've got a few spoonfuls too, but I doubt it."

"Probably not," Buck agreed. "Last I saw, ol' Ez was really going to town on that stuff. JD's been doing the same thing. I've never seen either one of them put away so many sweets before!"

"And all in the name of saving us from ourselves."

Buck laughed at the dry comment. "Y'know, it's almost worth all this just to see those two drive each other crazy trying to out-tempt us."

"I'm not even sure they remember we're involved! It's become a personal grudge match between them."

Buck's soft chuckle sounded again. "Guess we'd better remind 'em. Congratulations again on that six pounds."

"Same to you on your five. Stay strong, my friend."

"You know it! Later."

The connection dissolved and Josiah considered the phone in his hand. Might as well get it over with. Hitting a familiar number on the speed dial, he muttered, "Lead me not into temptation and deliver me from Ezra."

 

************

The weigh-in was approaching and both JD and Ezra were growing increasingly paranoid about the amount of junk food their respective charges might be consuming. Buck would enter the office every morning to find that JD had gotten there ahead of him. The kid would be going desk to desk, snatching up any outlying goodies, half of which ended up in his own mouth.

Buck stepped out to the restroom one day, only to return to see a near-brawl in progress between JD and Vin. Vin had stopped by Inezís Saloon for a take out order of chili and JD was trying to wrestle if from his hands.

"You canít eat that stuff in here, Vin. Are you crazy? The fumes alone will drive Buck mad and heís doing so well, too," JD gasped between attempts to snatch the Styrofoam container. "Do you want Buck to fail his physical because of you?"

"Aw, lay off, JD," Vin snapped, grimly hanging onto his lunch. "A manís gotta eat, and Buckís doing just fine."

If the truth were told, Buckís stomach was growling fiercely at the enticing scent of Inezís trademark chili, but Vinís faith in him was inspiring enough to quell his hunger pains.

"Boys, boys," he shouted. "Knock it off! JD, Iíll be fine. Let poor Vin eat his lunch, for pityís sake. Heís scrawny enough as it is." He shooed JD away from Vin with an apologetic glance at the teamís sharpshooter.

Vin winked at Buck, and made a deliberate show of sitting down with his back turned to the rest of the office as he enjoyed his food.

Buck herded JD into the break room, one arm locked firmly around the shorter manís neck. With a small push, he settled the kid into a chair and braced an arm on either side of him so JD couldnít get up.

"JD, son. Youíve gone too far." Buck smiled as he spoke, but JD immediately flushed with anger.

"Iím only looking out for you, Buck. And Iím not sure you appreciate it." JDís voice shook with barely suppressed anger.

Buck straightened up with a booming laugh. "I do appreciate it, more than youíll ever know. Of course, thatís not to say I wonít be happy to walk in the kitchen next week without tripping over a stack of aluminum pie pans someone Ďjust happenedí to leave lying in the middle of the doorway. Or open the refrigerator without tripping an alarm that same someone has rigged on the damned door."

He slapped JD on the shoulder and allowed his roommate to stand up. "JD, youíre doing a great job. You just need to relax, boy."

JD didnít hear the last sentence. His eyes were riveted to the break room counter. Someone had left a whole plateful of rice krispy treats lying in plain view. With a gasp of horror, JD raced for the plate, snatching it to his chest as if Buck were going to wrest it away from him.

"Who could have left these here?" he demanded, then promptly answered his own question. "Ezra! He knows these things are your favorites."

Buck doubled up with helpless laughter as JD dashed off, presumably to confront Ezra, all the while stuffing rice krispy treats in his mouth as fast as he could.

*******************

"As if I would," Ezra blurted, seeming not to care that he had started his argument in the middle as he jumped out of his chair and began pacing back and forth between Josiah's desk and his own. "Do I seem like the sort of person who stays up late baking, or cutting or whatever it is that one does to produce rice krispy treats?"

"No, I'd have to say you don't," Josiah agreed amiably, stifling a sigh. This was the third time in an hour that his work had been interrupted by a similar event. The unusually high level of sugar in his bloodstream combined with the heady fever of competition with JD had Ezra too keyed up to sit still. As he came to a halt by Josiah's desk, leaning forward to rest both hands on the surface, the wild look in his eyes rivaled some of the most dangerous criminals the Team Seven profiler had ever studied. Frowning, he squinted up as the unusually close view of his friend brought something else to his attention. "Not to change the subject but what the hell happened to your face?"

Self-consciously, Standish lifted a hand to his cheek and rubbed his fingers over the sprinkling of red bumps decorating the skin there. "I don't know. I seem to have developed an allergic reaction to something. Perhaps somebody brought some unusual variety of plant into the building."

A loud snort from the desk next to Josiah's drew both men's attention as Nathan tried and failed to suppress a laugh. "That ain't no plant rash. You've got a world class, chocolate overload case of zits that would put the average teenager to shame! It's no wonder the way you been sucking that stuff down lately."

"I certainly have not," Ezra argued. "It's an allergic reaction to something, I tell you. I've always had sensitive skin. Besides, a few pieces of chocolate here and there to assist Mr. Sanchez in his efforts to avoid temptation could hardly be responsible for such damage."

The physician snorted again. "Yeah? Tell that to those two chocolate eclairs you saved him from this morning. Or the candy bar you rescued from the vending machine just in case it might decide to call out Josiah's name."

"And didn't I see you washing it down with a can of Coke this afternoon?" Josiah added, enjoying himself immensely. "Since when do you indulge in soda pop?"

"I was thirsty!" he protested. "The water cooler was empty and someone had drunk the last of the coffee."

"Uh, huh," Nathan agreed, his tone making it obvious that he was not really agreeing at all, "and I suppose a little walk down to that convenience store on the corner to buy yourself a bottle of water would have been too much of a risk right? I mean, who knows, a rogue Twinkie could've walked in here and held Josiah at gun point until he took a bite of it!"

Tilting his chin into the air, Ezra pivoted away from them. "I refuse to stand here and be insulted for trying to offer aid to a friend in need. You just don't appreciate what a difficult job this has been."

As he stalked from the room, fairly reeking of wounded dignity, Josiah and Nathan shared a grin. Josiah tilted his head. "The team's resident medic and psychologist, and we don't appreciate how hard it is to force somebody to take better care of themselves?"

Nathan laughed. "Kinda fun watching somebody else handle that kind of aggravation for a change." Philosophically, he added, "At least it's only two more days. After that I'll weigh you guys, JD and Ezra will calm down, and you won't have to put up with all this any more."

Reminded of the deadline, Josiah sighed. Two more days. It seemed like both too long and too short a time.

**********

It was over. Buck hadnít stepped on the scale since the weigh-in a week earlier. Heíd been afraid of what heíd see. Heíd tried to follow JDís strict regimen, but he had to admit heíd cheated every once in a while. What if heíd overdone it? Bad enough that Ezra would win the bet, but heíd also fail the physical. With a sigh, he peered into the mirror one last time. He felt thinner. He thought he might even look thinner. But the scales would tell the truth at the office.

"JD, weíd best get moving," Buck called out, wrenching himself away from the sight of his naked body. "Iím giving you ten minutes to get ready."

It wasnít ten minutes, but fifteen before both men were dressed and ready for the drive to the office. JD was at his most hyper, chattering non-stop until Buck threatened to shove a whole bran muffin in his mouth to shut him up. The kid was silent for the rest of the drive in to the city, but he couldnít stop drumming on his knee the whole way. Buck gritted his teeth in irritation, but refrained from comment. JD had a lot riding on todayís outcome too.

When they entered the teamís office, Josiah crossed the room to envelop Buck in a huge bear-hug. "We did it, Buck. Survived two weeks under the care of a couple of crazed diet-gurus. How does it feel to almost be a free man?"

Buck grinned and pounded Josiah on the back. "I canít wait for it all to be over. Whereís Nate? Letís get this over with. Iíve got a double-chocolate frosted donut singing out my name."

Nathan grimaced. "Now wait a minute, you two. No matter what happens here today, youíve still got two weeks until the department physical. You canít just start eatiní whatever you want, you know."

JD stopped glaring at Ezra long enough to pipe up, "Yeah, Buck. You donít want to go ruining all my hard work."

Buck glared, a sharp answer springing to his lips. He hesitated as he took in JDís bleary eyes, and noted the small twitch that quivered next to his right eye. The kid had put his heart and soul into the project. He softened the glare into a bright smile. "Síokay, JD. Iíll be careful." Turning to Nathan, he added, "So whatíre we waiting for. Let get this show on the road."

 

**************

 

Normally, Nathan conducted all examinations in strict privacy but just this once he made a slight exception, allowing the two nervously fidgeting diet coaches and the two amused spectators, Chris and Vin, to stay in the examining room as first Josiah, then Buck ducked behind a screen, stripped to their underwear and stepped on the scale. Nathan kept the results to himself as he weighed the two men, but after they had redressed and waited anxiously for a few minutes while he stalled for dramatic effect, the proud grin on his face gave him away. The news was good.

"Congratulations, boys. You both did great. Keep an eye on that weight for the next couple of weeks and you're both gonna pass that departmental exam with flying colors."

Whoops and cheers burst explosively from everyone in the room as they celebrated the news that their team was going to stay intact for another year. Then, JD blurted out, "Wait a minute! Who won the bet?"

Ezra and JD both stepped forward, trying to see the chart but Nathan evaded their attempts. "Take it easy, now!" Turning to the two happy dieters he asked, "You want to know?"

"Hell, yeah, we want to know," Buck said emphatically. "After all the crap I've had to go through over the last two weeks, I'll bet I've lost more than ten pounds!"

The physician smiled. "Well, I'm sorry to tell you this Buck, but you didn't." Seeing the stricken look in the man's eyes and the fury in JD's, he added, "You lost ten pounds right on the nose."

"What?"

"Yep," he confirmed with a laugh. "Not so much as an ounce over or under. You set out to lose ten pounds and that's exactly what you did. Pretty impressive, actually."

Ezra's mouth had dropped open a fraction. "What about me? I mean, what about Josiah? How much did he lose?"

"I don't know what kinda diet Ezra put you on, buddy," Nathan continued, turning to Josiah, "but he oughtta market it. You've lost twelve and a half pounds."

Delighted, the big man reached out and wrapped a brawny arm around Ezra's shoulders, dragging him over for a quick but hearty embrace. "I knew it! Haven't weighed in since last week but the waistband of my jeans told me the story. You've been acting like a heartless, maniacal, pain in the ass dictator for the last fourteen days, my friend, but I couldn't have done this without you. Thank you."

"That goes for me too," Buck agreed, giving JD a bear hug as well. "You could give a Marine drill instructor hard-ass lessons, kid, but I appreciate every day you stuck with me."

JD beamed. "Thanks, Buck." Then suddenly, he grimaced. "Sorry we didn't win the bet though."

Intercepting Ezra's smug grin at those words, Josiah told him, "Don't feel bad JD. We didn't win it either." Ignoring his partner's sputter of outrage, he pointed out, "The bet wasn't about who could lose the most weight. It was that whoever lost ten pounds or better by the time two weeks was up would be the winner. We both lost that much so we both won, or we both lost, depending on your point of view."

Running the parameters of the wager through his mind, Ezra's face fell. "Damn. I knew I should've worded that agreement more strongly."

His drive to win having evaporated with Josiah's words, JD tried to cheer the other man up. "It's okay, Ez. We still each get to keep our original fifty. Right, Chris?" In answer, Larabee dug out his wallet and extricated the four fifty dollar bills from the inner pocket in which he had stashed it, handing them back to their rightful owners. "Maybe we can use it at Inez's. Have pizza and beer night to celebrate Buck and Josiah's victory."

Josiah slapped him on the back and Buck rubbed his hands together in eager anticipation, crowing, "Whoo-boy! Now you're talking!"

Ezra nodded, looking a bit more cheerful as the money in his hand soothed his outraged gambler's heart. "I suppose you're right. We didn't lose anything, even if we didn't incur any gains either."

From his place standing behind them, Vin tilted his head down significantly and quipped, "That ain't the way it looks from where I'm standin'."

Every eye instantly became riveted to the two shortest men in the room, taking note of the unusually tight fit of their clothing.

"I hope you are not implying that we've put on weight, Mr. Tanner!"

"Ain't implying anything, pard. Evidence kinda speaks for itself."

Chris chuckled. "We've all been watching the two of you inhale every bit of junk food in the building for the last two weeks. You really think that wouldn't have any effect?"

"Aw, you guys are crazy," JD protested, shifting nervously as he remembered all the cookies, donuts and other snacks he had intercepted on Buck's behalf recently. "Two weeks can't have made that much of a difference."

Buck's hoot of laughter had him blushing as he reminded, "Didn't you just help me lose ten pounds in that little amount of time?"

Nathan was eyeing the two suddenly nervous men with a critical eye. "You know, every single one of us has got to pass that physical. Maybe you two better just step on back here and let me check you."

Their sudden frantic spate of protests was easily silenced by five determined and amused teammates who hastily got them stripped down to boxers and undershirts and shoved behind the concealing screen. The crestfallen looks on the two men's faces spoke for themselves when they re-emerged.

"Aw, no way!" Vin said, eyes widening. "I was only kiddin'."

Ezra grimaced. "No, it seems we've both been overindulging to an alarming degree. I have somehow slid more than three pounds over the weight parameter for my height and body structure."

"Almost five here," JD concurred glumly. "Guess there won't be any pizza for me tonight."

Catching each other's eye over the downcast heads of their two friends, Buck and Josiah nodded and each wrapped an arm around his partner's shoulders. "I think we can allow the condemned one last hearty meal," Josiah told them with a grin. "Starting tomorrow, though, we'll be keeping an eye on you."

"After all," Larabee cut in with a grin, seeing the protest beginning to form on Ezra's lips, "you wouldn't want to jeopardize the team, would you?"

Defeated before he had even begun, the southerner shook his head. "I suppose this means that the condemned are prohibited from having beer with our final serving of decent food tonight?"

"I'm afraid so," Buck said, not sounding particularly sorry at all. "Too much sugar and calories in that stuff for a couple of health-conscious boys like you."

***********

Later that evening, after a couple of drinks and two or three hearty slices of pizza each, Buck and Josiah were engaged in a game of nine-ball at Inez's. They had watched with growing amusement as JD and Ezra each removed one narrow slice of pizza to their plates and clinked two glasses of water in a grim salute.

Watching the two men now, playing a half-hearted game of darts and casting longing gazes at the loaded drink trays passing them by, Buck grinned. He had no intention of going crazy and undoing all his hard work of the last two weeks. He would still avoid junk food as often as he could, at least until after the physical, and he was sure that Josiah would be equally careful, but being on the other side of things suddenly made life sweeter than all the mouth watering cookies Miss Suzy would ever bake.

When he shared that thought with Josiah, the older man laughed. Lifting his mug, he said, "With apologies to Mr. Shakespeare, here's to revenge; a dish best served over cold beer."

 

The End

 

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