Full Circle

by KT

Out side the federal building early spring snow was falling, silently blanketing the city. Team seven or 'The Magnificent Seven' as they were known were bored. It was Friday and they had finished all their back paper work and with their leader Chris Larabee in meetings all day they had nothing to do until they were due to go home. Chris stuck in a budget review meeting was even more bored than his team, they at least could amuse them selves. Buck Wilmington was reading Ezra's newspaper. Normally he only read the front page and the sports page but to day he had been forced to read almost all of it. It was then that a local headline caught his eye.

The article plunged him into a foul black mood. It was a mood that lasted all weekend and his young roommate JD took the brunt of it. First he just ignored it, he usually ignored Bucks rants about how messy or loud he was, then he got upset because it seemed Buck was going out of his way to be mean, and finally as Sunday evening came, and the situation had gotten even worse, he realised something was wrong, whatever Buck might say it wasn't JD that was at fault, he was just there, who or what ever Buck was mad at wasn't. Any attempt by him to find out what was wrong was firmly rebuffed.

On Monday morning JD was just emerging from his room wearing an old pair of sweat bottoms when he practically ran into Buck already dressed and heading out.

"I'll see you at work later, okay kid?" he mumbled as he opened the door.

"Sure, where are you going, is everything Okay?" JD asked, he was concerned about Buck.

"You ain't my keeper I don't have to tell you were I'm going all the time, I'll see you at work!" Buck snapped, without even looking at JD. Then he slammed the door behind him.

JD stood and looked at the door.

"When you're ready I'll be here," he said. Hoping that in some way Buck could hear him.

Buck's old truck was parked about a 100 yards down the street, he was cursing the fresh snowfall and didn't see young Jorge waving at him from further up the street as he headed for it.

"Hey Buck," the young man called, "heads up."

Buck looked back to see who had called. Jeorge was in the process of throwing his football at Buck. Normally Buck would have been happy to spend a few moments to help the lad practice his throwing arm but right now he wasn't in the mood. So he made a half-hearted attempt to catch the ball and missed. Jorge cringed, as he saw what Buck could not, the ball was heading strait for the windscreen of Buck's truck.

The explosion rocked every house in the street, every car alarm went of simultaneously. JD instinctively ducked, then a terrifying thought entered his head.

"BUCK!" he screamed in panic.

He ran out without even pulling on any shoes. The first thing he saw was Jorge sitting in the snow looking dazed. He looked up the street, where Buck's truck should have been there was just a flaming heap of twisted metal. Desperately he looked for his friend, then he saw a dark form lying face down in the snow. Relief and fear in equal portions drove him as he ran bare-foot through the snow to Buck's side.

+ + + + + + +

Chris ran into the hospital looking for JD, first he had to prove who he was to the policeman outside, then one of the nurses, who recognised him, directed him to the recovery room where JD was sitting next to Buck's bed. The tall agent was on his side his back to Chris. The sheet had only been pulled up as far as Buck's waist and Chris could see all too well the numerous lacerations and burns marring his back, some bruising was already evident. He walked around the bed to the side JD was sitting on watching Buck as he slept off the anaesthetic.

"What the hell happened JD is he OK?"

JD looked up, unsure how to start, this was going to be so hard on Chris.

"He's OK Chris, remember that, concussion, multiple cuts and bruises, some minor burns and cracked ribs but basically he's alright, they put him under to remove a piece of metal from his arm, he lost some blood but they put it back."

For the first time Chris noticed the large dressing on Buck's right arm.

"What happened?" Chris asked again.

"His truck exploded, luckily he wasn't that close to it at the time and he must have been facing away from it. Chris; the cops said it was a bomb."

He thought Chris would fall down he went so pale, JD stood up and pulled up another chair.

"Come on Chris sit down."

Chris didn't resist, the memories came back all at once, their assault was almost physical in its effect on him. He sat for a long time his head down. JD just sat quietly and watched Buck sleep, content that Buck was going to be okay and wondering how much he would remember when he woke up. Eventually Chris sat up, some of the colour had come back but his eyes had a vacant hunted look.

"Have you spoken to the others?" he asked.

"Vin and Nathan are at our place, Josiah's with the cops and Ezra is checking past cases."

"You've got it all covered, well done," Chris complemented the young agent.

"Well it was mostly Vin," JD had to admit.

Chris sat back and taking a deep breath running his fingers through his short fair hair, willing his mind to focus on the present, and not the past. He turned to the youngest member of his team, he and Buck were as close as any brothers.

"JD, has Buck said anything?"

JD shook his head, "He didn't come round before they took him to the OR, he probably has no idea what happened." Then JD thought a moment. "Chris it probably has nothing to do with this but Buck was in a funny mood all weekend."

"Funny how?" Chris enquired.

"A bad mood not just normal Buck balling me out this was really bad, and it just got worse and worse, this morning he left very early, said I should meet him at work."

Chris was puzzled, Buck and JD always came to work together, and Buck found it hard to be annoyed with the kid for more than a few minutes let alone a whole weekend.

"Did you ask him where he was going?" Chris asked.

"Sure did and got my head bit off for my trouble," JD explained.

JD looked at Chris, he looked terrible, when Buck found out what had happened the first thing he saw should not be Chris looking like his world had fallen in. He was not sure he had the courage to ask Chris to leave, but deep down he knew it would be better for both of them.

"Chris," he started, "I know all this, it brings things back and well…"

"Spit it out JD."

"I'll be hard for him too, he'll think of you he won't …well he won't…" JD found he couldn't articulate his concerns.

"You don't want him any more hurt than he already is?"

JD nodded.

"It's alright JD I think your right, you tell him."

"I'm sorry Chris." JD wasn't sure why he was apologising it just seemed the thing to do.

"Don't apologise for doing you job JD."

"My job?" JD was confused.

"Your job to protect Buck, that is you job isn't it?"

For a moment JD thought Chris was angry, but he could see gentleness behind the steely eyes, he gave a wry smile.

"Yes and I don't mind who I have to fight," he said quietly and defiantly.

"See that you don't, I'm relying on you to look after him."

+ + + + + + +

As he stepped out into the chill morning air Chris took a few deep breaths, his head was so filled with memories and conflicting emotions he couldn't think straight and he needed to, he had to be detached. The idea of losing Buck, his last link to Sarah and Adam, in the same way he lost them was too terrifying to contemplate, if he let his mind dwell on it for even a second, it would overwhelm him and then he would be no use to anyone.

Chris first aim was to get the case signed over to him and not the local police, if someone was gunning for Buck or all of them they were going to find them and stop them and no one else. Whether it was JD or Vin who sent Josiah to the station house I was a good choice, Chris knew that being an ex cop just like himself, JD and Buck, he would know who to talk to and how, being a trained hostage negotiator wouldn't hurt either.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah spoke quietly to the lieutenant; he never let his rage at what had happened penetrate his outward veneer of calm professionalism. He explained with infinite deference and politeness that ATF tactical unit 7 would require a copy of everything relating to the bombing, that furthermore they required a copy of every case Buck had been involved with while he was on the force, with or without Chris Larabee. He agreed it was a lot to ask but pointed out they were all brother officers under the law and they had to work together to protect one of their own. It took him and one civilian aid several hours to down load all the files and copy them onto disc, but once done Josiah felt he could return to their office with at least something to go on.

Vin and Nathan being both ex military and not police were not as welcome at the actual crime scene, the officers were sympathetic, but determined it was their case. Nathan got further with the firemen, who were more open and more willing to share what they had found. Eventually Vin, much against his better judgement was forced to pull rank and as a Federal Agent demand access to the crime scene. He hated doing it but in these circumstances he wasn't prepared to wait around for the niceties to be observed. The cops had done a good job and if Josiah had done his job, of which he had no doubts, then all the information they had would be shared but he wanted a look around himself just to be sure nothing was missed. Around the wreckage of the truck there was nothing, every inch had been swept clean and gathered up by the police, he widened his circle looking for something, anything that could shed a little light on what had happened. He was just on the point of giving up when he found an area of snow that had been trampled in one spot, someone had stood in the snow in just one spot for some time, they hadn't moved much, but had stamped their feet a good deal. Vin squatted by the disturbed area; they had arrived and left from the same direction. Their footprints were there for all to see. Calling over the forensic team he pointed out the snow patch and asked them to dust the prints in soot and take a picture.

+ + + + + + +

It was nearly two hours after Chris left before Buck showed any sign of coming round the doctor had warned it might take a long time, the combination of concussion and blood loss, would make it harder for him to overcome the anaesthetics. Buck was trying to work out where he was, he wasn't at home, he wasn't in any bed he recognised, not that this was unusual for Buck but he didn't think this was the bed of any young lady. Besides he hurt too much, he hurt every where. He tried to work out what had happened, he remembered snapping at JD, he remembered walking toward the truck, there was something else that happened but for the life of him he couldn't work it out. After some time Buck came to the conclusion that he was in hospital, he decided he wasn't that badly hurt, because it didn't sound like ICU, he'd spent enough time as patient and visitor in ICU to know that. If he was right and he opened his eyes he would see JD watching over him like a mother hen. He couldn't be angry because if the positions were reversed he would be right there watching too.

JD you better be there or I'm going to be very disappointed in you, he thought to himself as he risked opening his eyes.

He wasn’t disappointed JD was right there, where he was supposed to be. JD smiled at him, a look of relief on his young features.

"Hi," he said quietly.

"Hi yourself," Buck replied and instantly regretted it. It hurt his head to talk and his mouth was dry. He must have looked bad because JD immediately offered him drink, for which he was grateful. After he'd had the water he felt marginally better; JD was watching him earnestly, and a little nervously.

"Well," JD began, "what do you want to know first, where you are, what happened or what's wrong?"

"I know where I am thanks, so I guess tell me what's wrong before I do something I'll regret."

JD told Buck about the injures to his back, mostly minor but in combination very unpleasant, he explained about the piece of metal extracted from his arm and the cracked ribs and the concussion. Buck took all this in, experimenting as JD talked to see how painful each injury he described really was. JD explained that the doctors were going to keep him overnight and all being well release him in the morning. With this out of the way it only left the big question, what had happened?

"Go on then tell me," Buck prompted.

"Buck what's the last thing you remember?"

"I was going to the truck?" Buck asked hopefully, he hated the idea that much more than that had happened with out him remembering.

"So you don't remember Jorge throwing the football to you?"

That was it! Now he remembered. He frowned "I missed it?" he offered.

"Yes, the ball hit your truck, it detonated the bomb prematurely."

JD held his breath as Buck processed this information.

"Bomb?" he asked.

JD nodded.

"A bomb in my truck?"

"Yes, I'm sorry Buck the trucks gone."

"Damn the truck, is Jorge alright?"

"Yes, shock that’s all, he's at home."

"Thank God." There was silence for a while, then a look of pure horror came across Buck's face.

"Does Chris know?" he asked quietly, JD nodded. "Oh God, oh Jesus," Buck breathed, "how did he take it?"

JD considered lying to Buck but only for a second, Buck didn't need to be lied to, besides he was terrible at lying to Buck it never worked.

"Badly to start with but he pulled it together," he reported honestly.

Buck looked vacant for a moment and JD thought he would go back to sleep, but then a look such as JD had never seen passed across his friend's face. Buck looked JD in the eye.

"This is all my fault, Oh God it's all my fault me and my temper."

JD was distressed, Buck had tendency to blame himself for things he had no control over, why JD had yet to figure out but it sure didn't help. Unfortunately before he could say anything Buck's weakened system had lost its fight against the fatigue, blood loss and drugs, he was asleep again. By the time the others were on their way back to the office for a case conference with Chris, Buck had been moved to his own room. They called in to see their friend, JD ever the protective kid brother shooed them out lest they wake him. Outside the room he wanted to know what they had found out which wasn't much.

"Does he know what happened?" Nathan asked.

"Yes, he came to in recovery for a short time," JD explained.

"How did he take it?" Vin wanted to know.

"You know Buck, how do you think?"

"He worried about Chris and blamed himself," Josiah's gentle baritone said with sad resignation.

"Exactly," JD confirmed.

+ + + + + + +

While Buck slept on and off for the rest of the day, and JD watched over him, the others tried to find some lead as to who was responsible. They were singularly unsuccessful. The next morning Buck woke early, JD was asleep in the chair next to his bed. He knew he had to get to Chris, he had to stop the pointless investigation, he knew who was out to get him and why, and he had to face up to the consequences, before someone got hurt. Someone other than him, he didn't matter after all, it was his fault.

He managed to get out of bed, in the corner of the room he spotted his old duffel, the kid had had one of the guys pick up some fresh clothes. He looked back at JD, he hadn't stirred. Buck took the bag and slipped into the bathroom, so he could change without waking him. It took a long time, and it hurt especially when he put on his shirt over his cut and burnt back. He found he couldn't bend enough to put on his socks so he didn't bother. Outside he found that JD was still asleep. His wallet and watch were in the bedside locker and with these in his pocket he said a silent goodbye to the kid and slipped past the policeman on watch and out of the hospital.

Buck knew Chris would be in the office early, he had to speak to him first, the taxi dropped him in front of the federal building just after seven thirty. As he mounted the steps at the front of the building he had to fight a wave of nausea and pain, but he wasn't thinking straight, it didn't occur to him that being discharged would mean getting medication and being sent home to rest.

Chris had arrived only a few minutes before Buck, he was still getting himself a coffee when Buck walked in. He came out of the coffee room to find his oldest friend standing in the office, looking like shit.

"Buck?" he asked tentatively, he didn't want to startle him.

"I have to talk to you I know who did this," his voice was monotone and tired.

Chris wanted to get Buck back to bed, but he knew better than to argue with him when he was like this. Just then the phone in Chris' office rang.

"Come on Buck come and sit down." He pointed to his office, watching Buck follow him in stiffly, as he sat to answer the phone.

"Calm down JD…he's here....yes…he's ok...come over now…What? Yes bring it."

He looked up at Buck. "You scared the kid half to death," he explained.

Buck suddenly looked upset.

"I didn't mean to, I had to talk to you; in private."

"Go on tell me who did it."


It took a while for Chris to place the name then he was surprised, then confused and finally incredulous.

"No pard you're wrong, he has no need to do this, after all this time, why?"

"I saw it in the paper on Friday, did you know he left the force and set up a personal security business?"

"Can't say as I did why?"

"He also went into politics, now he's up to be the next member of the zoning board, you know how much power a zoning board has? He's still dirty Chris he has to be, man that dishonest don't change."

"And you can prove it?"

"I can prove he was dirty, probably enough to block his appointment. Doubt it'a hold up in court, but it don't have to, just the whiff of scandal and he won't get it."

Buck leaned back in the chair and then suddenly sat up right again, pain flashed across his face. Chris didn't see this, and Buck quickly masked the pain. The two of them talked over the possibilities, for some time but couldn't get over the point that so long as O'Halleran had Buck on the assault charge he was no threat. Their conversation was halted when JD came running in followed by Nathan and Josiah who he'd met in the hall.

Chris and Buck came out of Chris' office into the main office.

"God Buck what were you thinking, I wake up and you were gone and no one knew were you were and...." the kid sounded desperate.

"I'm sorry JD I never meant to scare you I guess I wasn't thinking straight, I had to see Chris."

"Come on Buck, sit down before you fall down," Nathan insisted. "JD you got those meds the doctor gave you?"

Buck sat down reluctantly, and accepted a drink of water from Josiah. JD came over to he best friend with two bottles of tablets.

"What are those?" Buck viewed the medication with suspicion.

"These are pain killers and these are antibiotics, the doctor said you don't have an infection as far as he can tell but your very vulnerable 'cause of the burns and that chunk of metal they pulled out of your arm."

JD was determined to look after Buck the way Buck always looked after him. He tapped out two painkillers and a Penicillin and then stood over him while he tossed back the tablets. Satisfied he had taken the medication he continued.

"Doctor said you have to come back get you burns properly dressed."

Nathan swore under his breath. He collected the big med. kit from the back of the office.

"Buck take your jacket off for me and straddle that chair so as I can take a look at your back."

"I'm ok Nathan don't fuss," Buck growled.

Chris noted the look of concern on the medic's face.

"Do as Nathan says," he instructed.

Nathan was just slipping Buck's jacket off, when Vin and Ezra came in. They got an immediate view of Buck's back, his light shirt stuck to his back in a dozen places with a mixture of blood and the a yellow sticky fluid oozing out of the burns.

"Shit!" Nathan swore "Buck why did you put a shirt on over these before they were properly covered?"

"Didn't know they weren't," the big man said quietly.

JD explained that the doctor had been waiting until the morning to dress the wounds properly, they had only put on temporary dressings for the night and propped him in bed so he couldn't roll on them, he wasn't expected to pull a shirt on.

"Yeah, well the blisters have burst now and pulling on ya shirt has rubbed off most of the dressings," Nathan explained.

The others watched in silent sympathy as Nathan with infinite care eased the shirt up inch by inch, releasing the material and what was left of the dressings, as he went with water soaked swabs handed to him by Josiah. JD sat in front of Buck, every now and again Buck would squeeze the young man's hand as Nathan pulled at another burn. He had refused to go back to the hospital until he had told them what was going on, but Nathan insisted he had to do something about his back before it got any worse. After about an hour it was over, the burns were dressed, he hadn't pulled out any stitches and was now wearing a spare shirt of Josiah's.

+ + + + + + +

The pain killers had begun to work and Buck finally felt able to confess to the others how he had lost his temper and beaten up his partner, how he had blackmailed that partner to save his career and so letting this corrupt cop go unchecked, an ex-cop who was now a politician about to gain real power.

"I hope you will forgive me I've been a coward all these years I should a taken him down when I could, not worried about my own hide."

"You ain't no coward Buck," Vin affirmed. "Can't rightly say what I'd ha' done in that situation, but if it happened to me now, and I had t' choose between being an agent and letting some small time petty crook off, I'd let the bastard go."

"I concur with Mr. Tanner," Ezra chimed in. "You could not possibly have foreseen that this cretin would one day serve as an official of this city, it makes one weep for democracy."

Buck appreciated their support although he was still convinced it was his fault and his cowardice that had endangered innocent lives the morning before. He looked into JD's dark hazel eyes, if the kid didn't forgive him he was lost. But JD had forgiven the instant he had spoken; he and he alone among the other six knew why Buck had snapped.

"I'd have done him too," he said too quietly for the others to hear, "trouble is only you could have done that much damage, don't know your own strength that's your problem." Buck laughed and then regretted it as it sent a sock of pain through his damaged ribs.

"What I don't get is why this man is after Buck now if he knows Buck's still in law enforcement he still has him over a barrel, right?" Nathan asked as he put away the medical kit.

"Her-hu," Ezra cleared his throat dramatically, "I appreciate none of you gentlemen attended Quantico but even in your rudimentary law enforcement academies you must have studied a little thing called a statute of limitations."

A light dawned on JD, (who had graduated first in his class at his particular academy) and he smiled at Ezra.

"This all happened eighteen years ago?" the youngster asked his partner.

"That’s right."

"And the statute of limitations on assault is seventeen years." JD looked to Ezra for conformation. The southerner nodded.

Buck looked from Ezra to JD and back.

"Swear to God?"

Ezra nodded, as Chris came to Ezra side. "You're absolutely certain?"

JD got the reference book out and showed Buck and Chris the relevant passage. Chris looked at his oldest friend questioningly.

"What do you say pal you ready to take him down?"

Buck hesitated, he had to do this, if he didn't the city would suffer, who knew who might get hurt, just the same he was terrified. He looked over at JD, his young partner tried to convey to him that what ever he chose to do he would back him. Finally he nodded.

"Yeah, lets do it."

"Right," Chris began, "Buck tell JD where the evidence is, Vin go with him to get it, Josiah and Nathan take Buck back to the hospital, when…."

"Won't work," Buck interrupted. "Only I can get the evidence."

Chris looked puzzled.

"Safety deposit box, needs my signature and my key. I'll go and copy it there JD can bring the portable scanner there's a copy of the tape in there," Buck explained.

"Which bank?" asked Chris.

"Would you believe 'my' bank." Buck grinned, ever since that fateful December visit to the bank the two of them had always refereed to it as 'Buck's bank'.

"Buck you gotter go to the hospital, what I did is only temporary," Nathan pointed out.

"Well Buck and the kid are gonna have to stay at my place," Chris decided. "Vin, Nathan, and JD go with Buck to the bank, JD bring the evidence straight to the ranch, Vin, Nathan go with Buck to the hospital, come out to the ranch when he's released, everyone check your vehicles, and watch your backs. Ez, Josiah and me 'll start background checks."

All members of Team Seven kept a fully packed weekend bag in their vehicle for just such situations, only Buck and JD whose bags had gone up along with the rest of the truck would need to pack.

At the apartment Buck and JD shared, the police were still standing guard. Buck went strait to the kitchen, and as JD watched he had Nathan pulled out the washing machine, then disconnecting the waste pipe he pulled out a piece of fishing line that was hanging in it, on the end was a key. He turned to JD and grinned.

"Bet you didn't know that was there?"

JD shook his head. "You got any more surprises round here?"

Buck just winked. "Now go and pack me and you a bag."

At the bank JD and Vin started to scan the documents and photos into JD's laptop. Nathan looked worriedly at Buck, who was looking terrible as he sat and watched the other two work. Nathan checked his watch, it was another five and a half-hours before he could give him any more medication.

"Hey Buck, you hang in there for me, we'll be at the hospital soon."

Buck looked up at him "I'm just tired," he said wearily. He rubbed the aching muscle of his right arm. "You know the last time I was in this bank I got shot, in this arm too, that was eighteen years ago as well." He looked up at the medic and smiled.

Nathan smiled back, but he was concerned, yes it was true none of Buck's injuries were in themselves serious, but he had a lot of them and was only due for release on the understanding he went home and rested, something he'd done conspicuously little of so far today. The man needed rest soon, very soon.

They were finally done scanning the evidence, from what JD had seen Buck had done a good job back then. The young agent looked over at his big brother, he remembered what Chris had said about doing his job no matter who he had to fight. He knew what he had to do.

"Vin you go to the ranch, I'll go to the hospital with Buck okay?"

Vin frowned, "Chris wants you back at the ranch, you need to down load this lot."

"Ez can do that just as well as me and I'll be there once Buck's fixed up. If Chris asks any questions just say I'm 'doing my job' he'll understand." He gave Vin his best puppy dog eyes. "Please Vin."

+ + + + + + +

The three of them rode to the hospital in Nathan's station wagon. Nathan drove while Buck lay across the back seat his head in JD's lap, it was the only way to travel without putting pressure on his back. He was beginning to get sleepy when he suddenly said.

"Sorry JD."

"I told you this is not your fault," JD chided softly.

"No, I'm sorry for treating you like shit all weekend I wasn't mad at you, it wasn't fair."

"What are friends for if you can't take your frustrations out on them occasionally, you of all people should know that."

Buck had spent six long months after Chris' wife and son were killed in a car bomb absorbing his frustrations, anger and guilt, he was still doing it to a degree. It was his lot, he felt, his appointed task, so long as he was there no one else would be in the firing line when Chris exploded. He knew even if the others did not, that Chris' inner volcano was only dormant, not extinct, and when it blew he would need to be there to shield the others. Buck hated to think what would happen if he weren't; Josiah or Nathan could take it for a while but he doubted they would stick around for long, Ezra, well his self esteem was still too fragile, the kid would be destroyed if his hero turned on him and he didn't even want to think about the consequences for both men if, God forbid, Chris ever turned on Vin. No good ol' Buck was the firewall, he just hoped he could stand the heat.

Nathan had called ahead to the hospital as they drove, they needed a police officer to watch the car and they couldn't afford to hang around at the hospital, Buck was still a target, and the killer didn't seem to care who else got hurt. As they walking into the hospital the three of them met up with the doctor who had originally treated Buck and proceeded to an out of the way treatment room. The doctor was impressed with what Nathan had achieved and unimpressed with his patient's behaviour.

"I'm sorry doc, but having some one gunning for you with a bomb tends to distract a man some, I just wanted to get the bastard caught fast, didn't think about nothing else," Buck apologised.

The doctor and two nurses redressed the burns with specialist burn dressings, he showed Nathan what he was doing and let him have a go so he would be able to change them later. Nathan had explained that until the killer was caught Buck was going to have to be out of sight for a while. The procedure was long and painful, although not as painful as removing the shirt had been. Buck made no sound, no protest even in jest as it went on, which JD found a bit worrying. Normally Buck would have kept up a running banter with him and the nurses. It was especially suspicious, as one of the nurses, Louisa, had dated Buck more than once over the last few years. She looked at him critically, no doubt the man was in pain, no doubt he was tired, but even so he was unnaturally subdued. She put a practised had on his forehead and swore silently, then she picked up a thermometer and before Buck could react stuck it in his ear.

"Hey!" the patient protested.

Louisa showed the reading to the doctor and Nathan.

"Shit," was Nathan's response. A hundred a one point four wasn't very high but it meant he'd got an infection and it was certainly enough to make the man feel ill.

"Mr. Wilmington have you started those antibiotics I sent?" the doctor asked.

It was JD who answered, "He had the first one about four and a half hours ago."

"Good see he takes them regular as clockwork eight hours apart, all of them." He turned to Buck. "Seems you managed to get an infection after all."

The doctor and Nathan than checked his arm, it was, as the doctor had feared, since there was no sign of infection in any of Buck back injures, red, angry and inflamed. Once that was redressed and elevated it in a sling, and the doctor satisfied himself that Nathan had all the dressings and topical antibiotics he needed, the three of them then left and headed out of the city toward Chris' ranch.

+ + + + + + +

It had started to snow again before they left the hospital, and up at the ranch it was now coming down thick and fast. Chris was furious with Vin for letting JD persuaded him to change the plan.

"JD said 'he's doing his job' said you would understand," Vin explained patiently and then waited impassively for the reaction.

"Damn kid!" Chris breathed. "Well I guess it's my fault I told him to do his job and he told me he wasn't afraid who he had to fight to do it."

'His job?' Ezra mouthed silently to Vin, who shrugged, as mystified as the southerner as to what Chris was talking about.

The car turned up the track to the ranch in steady snow as JD reluctantly shook Buck awake. They were late because of the weather. Nathan suspected JD and worse still Buck had missed breakfast, with this in mind and a desire to get Buck inside and out of the snow as quickly as possible they exited the car in haste. Nathan practically pulling Buck inside as JD carried the bags.

"Hope you got some food on," Nathan said, as he pushed Buck toward the sofa, where he sat heavily. Ezra stood in the door of the kitchen.

"Give him twenty minutes Mr. Jackson and Mr. Tanner I am assured will provide," the southerner said, looking concerned. Just then JD let another blast of icy air in as he dumped Nathan's bag on the floor.

"Man it's bad out there," he commented brushing snow off his collar, and pulling off his snow encrusted boots.

Then mindful of his 'job' he went over to Buck, who was leaning forward supporting his elbows on his knees.

"Hey Buck, let me help you take of your boots off you're making a puddle on Chris' rug."

Buck started to pull his boots off but his whole body protested the action, and he grunted his acceptance of help. JD knelt down and tugged off the boots revealing his bare feet.

"Jeas' Buck aren’t your feet cold?" he commented.

Nathan came over to his patient he felt his brow even though Buck pulled away and protested he was alright, but Nathan begged to differ, he was hotter than in the hospital, he was looking noticeably more tired. Nathan made JD get Buck some socks and insisted he drink a whole glass of water, he made him promise to go to bed straight after lunch, which Vin and Ezra were at that moment bringing in. In truth Buck didn't have much appetite even for Vin's usually excellent pasta, but Nathan nagged until he'd eaten at least half. Nathan checked his watch.

Finally he thought, I can give him some more medication.

"JD have you got those tablets?" he asked.

JD looked up from his third helping of pasta. He fumbled in his pockets and finally produced the two bottles then watched as Buck downed all three tablets in one go. Afterwards Buck just sat at the table staring vacantly ahead.

"Hey Buck you ok?" JD enquired gently putting a supportive hand on his best friend's arm. Buck nodded and looked up.

"Sorry just tired I guess," was his only response.

"I seem to remember some one promising to go to bed," Nathan said trying to keep his tone light.

"Sounds good to me," Buck agreed.

His lack of protest yet another worry to all of them. He made his way to the small back bedroom he usually used when he stayed at the ranch and sat down gratefully on the bed. He didn't bother to undress, he just lay on his relative undamaged side and curled up under the covers.

Chris and Ezra worked on the evidence Buck had provided, the others watched an old football game on TV, JD pretended to watch while in truth he was too worried about Buck to concentrate on anything else. He knew why O'Halleran's attacking a prostitute would distress Buck so much, a secret only he was party too, Buck had agreed to use what he knew to bring this corrupt man down and JD knew what it might cost him more than any of them. To make matters worse Buck was hurt and sick, just one more thing to make his brother's life a misery at the moment.

Ezra and Josiah made their way home for the night. Vin bedded down in the living room, JD got the couch, as he was the only one short enough to lie on it. Nathan took the bed in Adam's old room, he didn't feel he could leave Buck yet, he'd woken him to take the third dose of antibiotics and some more painkillers. Buck couldn't face supper and after changing and washing went back to bed voluntarily. Chris took the first guard duty, even with the heavy snow falling outside, he hadn't lost sight of the fact that Buck was still a target.


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