The light of day improved everyone's outlook, the fresh snow was undisturbed no one had been near the house all night. Vin and Chris went out early to check the perimeter and the stock, both were fine. Fresh coffee and a good breakfast made everyone feel more optimistic, even Buck. Nathan had hated to wake him to insist he take his medication but once up, shaved and having washed as much as he could, he felt able to face the day, if not the huge cooked breakfast Chris offered him, settling for coffee and toast. Nathan wanted him to go back to bed but Buck insisted he was fine, or if not fine he was at least doing okay. Eventually a compromise was reached, Nathan could redress the wounds and take his temperature if it was up he would go back to bed, if not he would stay up. Buck was quietly confident because he knew how much better he felt. His back was healing, his arm was red and angry with a spiders web of red radiating out from it under the skin. But his temperature was still one hundred and one point four. Nathan thought about arguing that the same was not down but thought better of it.
Josiah and Ezra had called in to say they were going to follow up leads on some of O'Halleran's employees and on some of the people O'Halleran had extracted money from all those years ago, it was all they had. On O'Halleran they could find nothing; Buck could have told them that, O'Halleran never left any evidence behind. Chris was at the computer going through Buck's evidence, he turned to the others in the room.
"You were wrong back then pal," he said mysteriously to Buck.
"Your evidence would have held up just fine in court, maybe not now but then no problem."
"No it wouldn't," was all Buck said, in a voice that brooked no argument.
There it is again.Vin thought, That look between Buck and the kid.
Chris frowned but wisely said nothing, he remembered Buck's flat refusal to explain himself all those years ago, knew he would get nothing from his old friend, and whatever the man said he was far from okay, so for now Chris let it drop. Chris and Vin went out to check no one was around and to feed the horses. JD and Nathan continued to work on the documents. Occasionally they would ask Buck to clarify something, eventually JD asked a question and got no reply, he looked over to see his friend had curled up on the sofa and fallen asleep.
"Damn I thought he'd never go to sleep," Nathan breathed. JD smiled he'd been thinking the same thing.
Vin had been waiting to get Chris alone to ask him something. "So what's really going on?" he asked.
"Meaning?" Chris asked.
"Meaning, Buck didn't need to half kill the guy to save a girl."
Chris shook his head, "I don't know, I asked him, not long after; if he was ever going to tell me what had really happened, waited 'till we knew each other some, 'till he trusted me, 'till he was nicely drunk, know what he said?"
Vin shook his head.
"No. Just that, no, never mentioned it again not in eighteen years."
"The kid knows," Vin said flatly.
"For an ex detective your not very observant you know Larabee." Chris fixed Vin with a look that was a mixture of annoyance and puzzlement. "They, JD and Buck, exchanged a look, once just after Buck told us what was going on, then again when you told him his evidence would have been okay, and he said it wouldn't. The kid knows what the real story is. There's a guy out there gunning for Buck and he's non-too interested in who else he hurts. Now don't know about you pard but I like to know the full story when I go up against vengeful, sadistic, murderous ex cops."
Chris shook his head. "Me too but your not going to get it, trust me on this pal, he will not tell us unless he wants to, and the kid won't betray his trust, if and I emphasise if, he really does know."
"Go any ideas?"
"Not a one. Man's got secrets though, known him eighteen years still know nothing about his childhood, family, his life before the academy, other than what's in his file."
"Did you know about Cindy?" The fact that Buck had a mother had come as a surprise to the team; she'd turned up at the hospital a year ago, when Buck had been so sick, the doctors thought he would die.
"He had to fill out the same form you did, he put her number as an emergency contact in case of his death, doctors said it was looking that way so I called, the forms are confidential I couldn't say anything you know that, but I had no idea who was on the end of the line."
In the end it boiled down to the fact that they could discredit O'Halleran enough to stop his political carrier but as for criminal charges, let along Buck's attempted murder they had nothing. They were discussing this over lunch while Buck continued to sleep on the sofa, or at least appeared to sleep.
"I can get him to incriminate himself." They all turned to look at Buck standing in the doorway of the kitchen. True he looked like hell, a sheen of perspiration covered his unnaturally flush features, and he was leaning heavily on the doorframe, but his voice was strong and determined. "It's the only way, I been thinking on it and I know I can set up a meet and make him feel safe then he'll spill it all."
"You been awake all morning?" Nathan asked.
"Most of it," Buck admitted.
"Well come and sit down before you fall down, I'll get you some lunch and some pain killers, and don't say you don't need it 'cause a blind man could see that you do," Nathan instructed, not bothering to keep the worry out of his voice.
Buck downed the medication and picked half heatedly at the food, then winced and grumbled as Nathan checked on his arm. The tendrils of infection were longer and angrier, it was hot to the touch. Nathan looked over at Chris and gave him the smallest shake off the head, he didn't like the look of that arm one little bit.
"I think you need to go back to the hospital, and have a doctor check out your arm, looks like it's getting worse," he said to Buck.
"Oh come on Nathan I'm taking the antibiotics aren't I, even I know infections get worse before they get better, " Buck protested. Nathan went to put a practised hand on his brow but Buck pulled away angrily. "Leave it Nathan I'll be okay, we have to get O'Halleran before some innocent person get hurt."
Buck was terrified someone other than him was going to get hurt next time O'Halleran tried to kill him, it had been a miracle no one was the first time. What frightened him most was that that person would be someone close to him, and God forbid it should be JD.
Chris looked at Nathan. "Could that be true, he's not been on it long?" he asked.
"I guess it could be, but I still think it should be checked out. "If, " he conceded, "it doesn't improve by tomorrow morning you go back."
"Tomorrow afternoon," Buck offered. "If what I have in mind works it'll all be over than any how."
O'Halleran took the bait, just as Buck knew he would; he might be slippery, cunning, cold and ruthless but the damn Irish man was also vain, he wanted to gloat, he needed to see the younger man brought down finally, so he could prove he was the better man. He believed he still held the ace, his miscalculation was to endanger innocent lives, to endanger JD, for there was nothing absolutely nothing Buck wouldn't do to protect JD. To protect his family, Buck would let his friends, fellow law officers, even the people of Colorado find out he was the son of a whore, if he had too. If they thought growing up on the wrong side of the law compromised him, too bad; so long as JD and the others were safe.
It took only two calls to get O'Halleran to agree to the meet, once that was accomplished Buck had to get the others to prepare the venue. But first they had to get access to the venue. The owner of the gallery was non-to keen, his last encounter with team seven had destroyed a sculpture and necessitated the re-printing of a huge photograph of a youthful Chris Larabee. In atonement the six offending federal agents had worked free of charge as guards. In their time they had thwarted two attempted thefts, and the owner knew no ordinary by the hour security guard would have been so successful; over all they had probably saved him more than they cost him. All this Ezra laid out for him in honeyed tones. Promising that this time there would be no guns and no art would be at stake. Eventually he gave in and allowed JD to wire a high zoom miniature cameras into the existing CCTV system as well as a directional mike hard wired to a digital recorder. All this equipment was wired into the gallery security office where the meet would be monitored.
After a restless, mostly sleepless night Buck was sure to rise and dress before Nathan could get hold of him. He knew he was in bad shape, he knew he was headed back to hospital as soon as the meet was over but he had to finish this, once and for all, and no damn fever, especially one caused by that bastard was going to stop him. He took his medication and a heavy dose of painkiller but no food, he doubted feeling as he did, he could keep it down. He guessed the others knew what kind of shape he was in, but they said nothing, even Nathan held his tongue.
A nine thirty when the gallery opened Buck walked in. He made an effort to walk in tall and strong, his increasing pallor helped to balance out the fever flush so he looked at least to the casual observer relatively normal. He tried to walk normally, even though his arm demanded to be supported and his back stung and ached something fierce. Sitting on the low wide bench in the gallery he was surrounded by images of his friend and boss. Now they knew Chris had no objections to his image being on display even sold, he no longer found the pictures disturbing. Vin had not quite got used to the fact that many had been sold to men, but Chris had admitted to Buck one drunken night, that he was quite flattered. In fact, in this particular instance he found it quite reassuring to see good ol' Chris watching over him from every wall.
O'Halleran came in about fifteen minutes later. He had changed little except now he looked like he took care of him self a little more. He was still a bull of a man, strong and intimidating, not that Buck even in his current weak condition, and he was, he realised weak, was intimidated by the man, actually Buck was never intimidated, by anyone, ever, but that was beside the point. O'Halleran sat down next to his erstwhile partner and opened the small brief case he was carrying.
"You don't mind if I check do you?" he asked in an amused tone. Buck only shook his head. He knew this would happen, counted on it. The instrument he took out was familiar to Buck. It detected bugs, listening devices, and other such apparatus of the surveillance operative's trade. He found none, his equipment was, as Buck knew it would be, too sophisticated for the low tec, hard-wired system Buck had had the others install. Satisfied he was not being recorded O'Halleran relaxed. But he never turned the detection device off, laying it gently on the bench between them.
"Guess Buck my boy you don't want good old mom's dirty linen out in public." Buck bristled but did nothing. "Especially in front of your nice respectable ATF friends."
God! Thought Buck. If he thinks team seven are respectable he doesnt know much.
"You afraid of me Pat?" Buck asked. "After all car bomb thats a big hammer ain't it?"
"What are you on about boy? Afraid of you! I ain't afraid of no one least of all a bastard like you."
"So why you do it? I ain't no threat to you. You had no need to try'n take me out, like you said I got things I don't want out in public so why Pat, why? You think I was going to try and take you down?"
"Well boy you just might, you always were too honest for your own good, in your own twisted way. You know I always wondered what was it like for you to be a cop knowing you dont belong? That you and your sort are at odds with the law you're supposed to represent."
This nearly did it, Buck nearly lost his cool, his head hurt, and it was making him short tempered, well more short tempered than usual. But there was too much at stake to lose his cool now, he was so close to his goal.
"You wanted to prove you were right, prove I didn't belong once and for all, and get at Chris. Why Chris he don't offend your sensibilities, what you got against him?"
"You don't deserve to be a cop or even a fed, you're no more fit to walk a beat or carry a badge, than you whore mother is fit to mix with descent folk."
Buck frowned, What was that got to do with Chris? But then it dawned, Chris had saved his career, not to mention recruited him into the ATF. The fact that it took what seemed like an age to follow O'Halleran's thinking proved how fuzzy his thinking was getting. Time to wrap this up, he thought.
"It must have pissed you off when the bomb detonated prematurely, it was you watching wasn't it, we found your foot prints?"
O'Halleran looked disgusted. "Oh yeah I was watching, think I'd miss that. Damn kid and his football, you make a perfectly good bomb and some snot nosed Hispanic and a butter fingered whore boy fuck it up."
Buck smiled a smile of pure satisfaction, a smile of pure retribution.
"What?" asked O'Halleran.
"Bye Pat," was all Buck said, as Josiah stepped in to the room followed by Nathan and Ezra.
"Patrick O'Halleran," Josiah began, his ATF badge clearly displayed on his jacket, "I am arresting you for attempted murder." He continued to read O'Halleran his rights.
"It's your word against mine Buck, who do you think their gonna believe?" O'Halleran taunted, as he was hand cuffed by Ezra
"You," Buck said enigmatically as Josiah lead him away.
Buck stood up and immediately regretted it, his head swam, the room began to spin and suddenly the floor was where the wall should be. He could hear Nathan shouting his name but he was too far away to answer and beside he was too tired, he decided it would be much nicer to go to sleep.
+ + + + + + +
In the security office a nervous JD, along with Chris and Vin watched and listened. The other three waited out of sight. As O'Halleran's taunts and accusations were heard Chris was confused what 'sort' was Buck that he didn't belong, didn't deserve to be a cop. Then he heard that word, and he bristled. Was that what Buck was afraid off? Was that what O'Halleran had said all those years ago to get Buck so mad he nearly killed the man? If O'Halleran was the only example he had as to other cops reaction, well no wonder Buck let people think she was dead. The fact that he had not only let her meet them, his new family, but also spend thanksgiving together spoke volumes for the man's trust in his friends.
JD had watched and listened with fear, fear of what O'Halleran would say, fear that he wouldn't say what they needed him to say, fear for the hurt what he might say would cause Buck and fear for Buck's physical wellbeing. He caught his breath when O'Halleran began to taunt Buck. Keep calm brother, he willed Wilmington not to lose his temper, to play it out. Then he did it; O'Halleran admitted he planted the bomb, with that JD was out of his seat and heading for the door. He found Chris blocking his way.
"Is it true what he said about Buck's mom?" Chris asked, still unable to believe that having been as close as he and Buck were he didn't know. JD looked him in the eye and nodded, just then they heard Nathan shout out Buck's name. Both men looked back to the monitor to see Buck sink to the floor. In an instant JD was past Chris and on his way to his brother's side. Vin who had been silent all the time they had been watching came to Chris' side.
"Like I said; the kid knew, like you said; man's got secrets," he said quietly.
Chris looked at his young friend. "What kind of friend am I that in all these years he couldn't tell me. Like it would make any difference?" he asked, as they both left to check on Buck.
JD ran into the gallery, dropping to his knees he slid to Buck's side, his eyes looking into Nathan's for reassuring answers.
"Ambulance is on its way, he burning up." the medic explained. He'd rolled Buck in to a safe position on his side. JD could see how flushed Buck was, perspiration beaded on his brow, his breathing unnaturally fast. JD dropped even lower so his face was close to Buck's.
"You did it Buck, he incriminated himself, now you have to get well." He pushed the sweat-matted hair back off Buck's brow.
"Here," JD looked up to see Vin walking toward him with a cup of water and a clean handkerchief. JD moved around to lift Buck's head on to his thigh. Then accepted the damp cool cloth he used it to wipe down his friends fevered brow. Buck moaned softly, his hand found JD's knee and he latched on the younger man.
"That's right Buck I'm here and you're safe, every things going to be okay," JD soothed, trying to sound as reassuring and strong as Buck always did when he was hurt or sick.
+ + + + + + +
At the hospital Buck was settled in to a bed with IV antibiotics and fluids, JD was ever constant as despite the doctors efforts his fever rose and the wound on his arm became ever more inflamed. All the rest of that day and night the fever rose. At first he was just restless occasionally conscious, then he became confused and delirious. As Chris and JD sat with him and tried to keep him still and quiet they learned more of his childhood and his self-doubts. They were just fragments, odd phrases and coherent words among the incoherent ramblings.
"Not true not true do deserve," he mumbled, Chris frowned.
"What pal what do you deserve?" But Buck continued to mumble incoherently.
"Do belong," he suddenly stated.
"Yes Buck you do belong, you belong with us, with me come on Buck stay with us," JD pleaded.
"Not true am fit, good at my job, helping."
Chris understood now, understood the damage O'Halleran had done.
"Yes pal you are fit to be a cop, you do belong, you deserve to walk a beat, be a cop and an agent, and yes you are good, very very good at your job," Chris stated firmly. He looked up at JD. "And you do help people all the time, you make a difference pal."
Now JD understood why Buck blamed himself for things he couldn't help, why he doubted himself when things went wrong. The doubts O'Halleran had planted had taken root, slowly festering in Buck's subconscious. These doubts were added to childhood hurts that also surfaced.
"Why mom? Why can't I be in the team no more?" he pleaded in a child like tone.
"Don't you say that about my momma!" he shouted repeatedly.
"You take that back, I'll fight you I'll fight all of you!" There was the unbending defiance of a seven-year-old in the challenge.
Why do kids have to be so cruel JD asked him self as he tried to break through to his Buck, and let him know he was wanted and would never be rejected or pushed out or ostracised because of some out moded sense of morality.
"Why honey, why does it make a difference, I'm the same guy I was before?" Buck voice was angry now.
JD took his hand in both his.
"Come on Buck calm down, it's me JD, hush now everything's okay. Your safe and everything is alright."
Suddenly Buck's eyes opened he stared into JD's eyes but there was no recognition there.
"Suzy please what difference does it make? Well to hell with you!"
JD looked up at Chris on the other sided of the bed. They both knew what had happened, he'd told someone the secret, someone he cared about, someone he trusted and she had hurt him with her narrow-minded reaction and betrayal. After this outburst he closed his eyes again and went quiet for a while. JD sat back in his chair, although he never let go of Buck's hand. He was sure this was one time Buck must never feel he was being abandoned. Chris put his hand on his old friend's shoulder making sure he was gentle enough to not disturb the injured arm.
"She hurt you good didn't she pal." He looked up at the kid on the other side. "Well now we know why he kept it a secret so long, I suggest we keep it between ourselves." JD agreed; Buck was as open, caring and as generous a spirited man as he had ever met, knew in fact he would never meet another like him, but he kept his own feelings, emotions, hurt, concerns and worries very close. He wouldn't thank them for sharing his past with anyone, not even the other members of the team and they would not let him know they knew unless he asked them.
Although he was restless for a while longer, slowly Buck became quieter as the night drew on and his temperature continued to rise. By dawn he was ominously silent and still, the doctors had put him on oxygen as his breathing became more laboured. The other members of the team came and went, ever worried but knowing that there was nothing they could do to help. Chris couldn't understand why the drugs weren't working, he could see the sight of the infection, the wound on Buck's arm was swollen and red. By dawn the doctors were so concerned by his fast decline they concluded further surgery was needed to investigate. The surgeon found a bit of the truck still in the wound, it was about quarter of an inch square and still had paint on it suggesting it was not sterilised by the heat of the explosion. It had slipped down to rest flat against the bottom of the plate Buck still carried in his arm (after the bank incident) and had been missed by the first surgeon and hidden by the plate from any X ray. The doctor than took the opportunity to clean out the wound and remove all visible infection, it would leave a bigger wound that would take longer to heal but it would help to clear the infection quickly. The surgery on top of the fever was an ordeal that weakened him considerably.
After he was released from recovery Buck was settled into an intermediate care bed. The problem was that it had only been a year since he had had septicaemia and his body seemed not to be responding to the drugs as it should. After changing the drug mix and draining the wound however he stopped declining. As his fever began to drop he once again became restless but he was now so weak very little of what he said was understandable. JD found that if he just talked quietly repeating the same reassuring litany he would quickly settle. Only JD's voice would do, even Chris could not get through to him. It was hard on JD he refused to leave, except for quick trips to the rest room, which he only made when he was sure Buck was resting quietly. The others kept him supplied with coffee and candy bars. Finally on the second day after the surgery, the young man fell asleep his head resting on Buck's good left arm, his hand intertwined with his brother's.
Out in the waiting area the other members of the team gathered, it was late almost midnight. Chris looked some what rested, he had gotten some sleep during the day, when Vin had dragged him out threatening to shoot him so he would have to be admitted if he didn't come.
"How come you don't threaten the kid?" Chris had protested.
"You kidding! Think I want 190 pounds of irate Wilmington on my tail! Don't let that weak as a kitten, sick as a dog unconscious act fool you cowboy, I point a gun at the kid he'll be up and on me before you can say unreasonable force!"
Both JD and Chris grinned, it wasn't far from the truth and since it was clear only JD was actually doing his friend any good Chris agreed to leave for a bit. Returning in the evening he found the rest of the team assembled. Looking in he was reassured to see Buck resting quietly and JD slumped equally quietly beside him. They periodically looked in on the brothers but the rest of the evening they sat and chatted over coffee, Ezra had brought his own in a flask from home but the others were content with what came out of the vending machine. The events of the last few days occupied them.
"Can't have been easy for Buck as a rookie on the force, he must have felt like he was in enemy territory," Josiah speculated. "No wonder he let them think she was dead."
"I wonder why he chose the police as a carrier in the first place? Don't seem like the obvious choice like you said he must have grown up seeing them as the enemy," Nathan wondered out loud.
"He once told me it was all he ever wanted to be for as long as he could remember," Chris explained.
"Maybe he thought if there were more cops who understood rather than, well, ones like O'Halleran, things would get better for people like his mother," Josiah speculated. "And you have to remember Buck's natural instinct is always to care for others and help out, for him the police would be a chance to do just that."
"To serve and protect," Ezra quoted.
"Just so," Josiah confirmed. The wise anthropologist looked at Chris, "You never knew not in all those years?"
Chris shook his head.
"But you called her last year," Nathan realised.
"I called a number, thats all I had no idea until she answered who was on the end of that number."
"I would speculate," Ezra began, "that in the past Mr Wilmington, ever the trusting soul, told some one, some one he trusted, maybe even loved or thought he loved, and they...no she, couldn't handle it or was repulsed or betrayed his confidence, what ever happened he learned never to risk losing a friendship that way again." The southerner looked over at the profiler for his conformation. Josiah nodded.
"But he told JD," Vin said quietly, "and thats the most important friendship in his life."
"Well after she and JD spent all that time at the hospital together and JD got to know her, I guess he knew he was safe," Josiah speculated.
Chris winced inwardly, God his team was good, they'd figured out the whole story. They would no more let Buck know what they had worked out, than he and JD would ever tell what they knew.
Buck woke slowly, his head hurt, his back hurt, his arm not just hurt it burned with white-hot pain. He found he couldn't move his uninjured arm, which panicked him for a moment. Then he took the time to workout what was wrong. His left arm he found was trapped under a mop of unruly dark hair. The smiled to him self, of course where else would he be.
"Hey JD," he said softly, moving his elbow as much as he could.
"Hurr." JD pulled his head up to find himself looking up into midnight blue eyes.
"Hello little brother," Buck said quietly.
"Hello yourself." JD grinned back.
"So I guess they all know now?" he asked.
"Yeah, they know and it doesn't change a thing, not for anyone, you're still their friend, their brother and they still like Cindy, still reckon she's a hell of lady." He could see the pleading in those expressive eyes.
"Of course, you know it would never make a difference to us, to them." the younger man smiled his reassurance. "You gonna be okay while I tell the nurses you're awake. I could get the guys if you want?"
Buck was more tired and in more pain than he was prepared to admit to and in all honesty he didn't want to talk to anyone.
"Do ya reckon they'll mind if I don't, kind'a tired here kid? "
"No I don't think they'll mind, you can see them in the morning."
JD walked out of the room and spoke to the nurse who immediately made a phone call and then went into Buck's room. The others seeing this activity immediately and as a body rose anxiously to their feet. JD then crossed to them.
"What's going on?" Chris demanded.
"Nothing he woke up thats all." Chris looked past the young agent to the door, then he began to move, but JD put a hand on his leader's chest.
"He asked if he could see you all tomorrow, he's very tired right now," JD explained.
JD was speaking to all of them but he was looking at Chris, who was still standing beside him with JD's hand on his chest. The blonde leader nodded and JD dropped his hand. Vin watched the encounter with interest, it took guts to deny Chris Larabee anything, especially access to a sick friend. He remembered Chris rambling on about JD's job and how JD would fight any one who stood in his way. So this was JD's job, to look after and protect Buck, Chris had abdicated his responsibility as he saw it to the kid, knowing the young man was now mature enough to be up to the job. He looked at Ezra, who smiled and mouthed "His job," Vin nodded returning the smile.
They waited for the doctor to arrive and then to report to them. He confirmed that Buck was on the mend, he'd have to stay in the hospital until his fever was gone, the wound was healed some, and he no longer needed IV medication but he was going to be just fine. The nurses took pity on JD; he promised them if Buck continued to improve he would go home for the night the next day but not yet, so they found a spare mattress and put it on the floor for JD beside Buck, along with a pillow and some blankets. When the nurses' shifts changed at midnight the new nurse was shown the scene.
"Don't it break your heart, kid won't leave," the leaving nurse explained to her colleague. Asleep JD looked even younger than usual.
"Who is he son, brother?" the new nurse asked.
+ + + + + + +
In the year since JD had met Buck's mom and found out what she had done for a living he had tried to find out more about his childhood, after all Buck knew practically everything about his. But every time he attempted to do this he got almost nowhere. He did find out that Buck had been good at sport; football, basketball, baseball, swimming and what he had received on various birthdays and Christmases. Any attempt he made to move away from these safe subjects was skilfully deflected. Once he called Cindy to ask her, even though she was sympathetic she was loyal to her son's wishes not to talk to anyone about him or their past. However she thought it would be a good thing if Buck would tell JD about some of the incidents in his past that she was well aware had affected him deeply. So she encouraged JD not to give up, and to continue to try and get her son to open up. Now with the small fragments of his past JD had gleaned, he thought he had, if not the key to unlocking Buck's past, he might have a picklock.
He waited until Buck was in his own room, no longer connected to any monitors and until JD was fairly sure he was no longer having to make a conscious effort to hide the pain. He did not yet know how he was going to start the conversation, but in the end he didn't have to because Buck did it for him.
"Yeah," JD answered.
"The doc said I was delirious for a while, talking of my head?" JD confirmed this.
"Well I was wondering if I said anything I shouldn't have if I insulted anyone or. " JD put his hand on his friend's forearm.
"You said nothing you need to apologise for, trust me." JD decided it was now or never.
"There was something you said I was curious about?"
I'm about to do something I might regret, I'm about to either lose the most important thing in my life, or make it stronger. Before he even had time to think about his own thoughts he heard him self say
For a long time Buck's cobalt eyes were riveted on him then he turned away and stared out of the window past JD's shoulder. As much as JD wanted to prompt his friend, he knew better. Eventually the silence had gone on so long, JD was working out how he could leave as quietly as possible, thinking he had made a horrendous mistake, when Buck said.
"She was my high school sweet heart." He continued to stare out of the window.
Finally after another silence he looked at JD. "Because of mom's work we moved around a lot, by the time I was fourteen I'd been to about ten schools, but then we moved to Las Vegas, mom got a job in this 'gentlemen's club', and she rented a trailer. This was the first home we ever had, before Vegas we lived in motels, hotels, rented rooms, places like that. The lady who ran the club got sick and mom ran it for a while. She did it so well the guy who owned it asked mom if she would go to Denver and run his new club. It was a great opportunity for her, a regular salary, profit sharing and most of all a real apartment, so just before I was sixteen we moved to Denver."
He looked at JD with a smile, it was only a shadow of his usual dazzling grin but it was a smile.
"You know I had never lived any place cold before, I'd never seen snow on the streets, Vegas to Denver in March was a bit of a shock." Then he turned back to studying the window. "I didn't start school again until the summer semester. I went to the furthest high school from the club that had room for me. They, the school, quickly found out my studies were a bit behind, what with moving schools so much and I wasn't exactly an attentive student, especially after I started to notice the girls."
This JD could quite believe, even now Buck had a notoriously short attention span when it came to paper work, and JD didn't even want to think about how young the big man was when he first 'noticed' girls. Buck continued his narrative.
"I did get on the baseball team but my grades were real bad so the principal said in September I'd have to have a student tutor and do extra study, I wasn't too keen; her name was Susan Hamilton."
"Suzy?" JD asked. Buck nodded.
"She was small, skinny, plain, blond, wore glasses to read and she was real smart. We didn't get on to start with, but after a few weeks I stopped trying to get out of it and she stated to enjoy teaching and we got on fine; by Christmas we were friends. In the summer my grades were much better and the principal said I didn't need a tutor anymore. When we realised we wouldn't be seeing much of each other especially as I wouldn't be seeing her in the summer 'cause I was working. We both found we felt more for each other than just friendship."
JD asked what he had done all summer. He explained he had worked as a counsellor at a kids summer camp. JD could just see him as a 'den mother'.
"In September we met again," he continued, "and started going steady, I think we surprised a few people. Everything went okay for a bit, we took it slow, then in the Easter vacation, we well, we got serious. I was her first, I taught her." He fell silent for a bit, finally he continued. "That made it the real deal, important, official, not just kids stuff, love."
He was looking at JD again. "I never accepted invitations to other people's homes because I'd be expected to invite them back. I had been avoiding her invitations for months. Not long after the first time we well you know." JD nodded. "Well she kept asking about my family, I told her I didn't have a father that my mom wasn't married. She didn't take it too good, but I'd never lied about that, I'd never said he was dead, or they were divorced or overseas." There was an angry passion in his voice.
"Sorry JD, It's just that well before then I believed in honesty."
He went back to studying the window. "I should have known then, I should'a," he said almost to himself. "Well any way the vacation was intense, and so a few weeks into the summer semester she invited me to some big family lunch and I couldn't get out of it." He looked back at JD.
"You gotta understand she was rich, I don't mean rich rich like Mark but to me she was. Her dad had his own store, sold hunting stuff, guns, tents, clothes you know the kinder thing. He was also big in their church, her mom was on committees and Suzy taught Sunday school, the whole respectable middle class deal. It's not that mom and me were poor it's just that we saved every extra penny, we had to, my collage fund, mom's retirement fund."
JD was struck again by the similarities in their backgrounds, he and his mom had saved every spare penny, and like Buck, he had never resented the sacrifice.
"Like I said we were serious," Buck continued, "She said she loved me and I loved her and I said so. I always thought that meant, the truth, no secrets, that you could be totally open with each other and it wouldn't matter, that no matter what you had to say, if you loved each other that was all you needed, no one could hurt you, so long as you had each other. So so I told her where I lived and what my mom did. I had to I couldn't bear the idea of meeting her family and knowing I hadn't been honest with her."
He could still hear the argument.
Your mom runs a club and you live above the club? she'd asked seeking conformation.
"What kind of club?"
"A gentlemen's club."
"As in lots of old guys sitting around in leather chairs?"
He wanted to say yes, it was a nice respectable, stuffy club that her father might one day join, but his innate honesty and belief that if you love someone you don't lie to them and nothing you say will change their love for you, made him screw up his courage and tell her the whole truth.
"No, as in a place where men go for a good time with women."
She had taken a while to process this then she turned to him for clarification. "You mean your mom's a madam, she's a prostitute?"
She'd got off the bed in the motel room they had rented and began to pace.
"How long, how long has she been ?"
"What do you mean, always, all my life, always is always?"
"Does this mean you don't even know who your father is?"
"My father? What does he have to do with it?"
"Do you?" she had shouted as she paced.
"No I don't know who my father is or was," he had made an effort to keep his voice quiet and calm.
"Oh my God," she gasped, "the things we did, the things you taught me, you learned that from them, from those women, didn't you?"
"Some of them, I never claimed to be virgin, but I ain't never paid for it, and I ain't never been unfaithful to you, never! Not since before the summer."
"This is impossible, this is an impossible situation," she'd ranted as she paced.
"What is so impossible? Why honey why does it make a difference I'm the same guy I was before?"
"No you're not! My parents have invited you into their home, they will expect to meet your parents, a a non-existent father and a madam!"
"Suzy please what difference does it make?"
"I can not take a whore into my mother's home! Nor the son of a !"
"Well to hell with you!"
He hadn't realised he had been quiet for so long until JD asked him if he was all right.
"Sorry I was just remembering something."
"She didn't take it well did she?"
He shook his head. "We broke up then and there, apparently I didn't fit in her social world. I could have handled that, if that was all she did."
JD noted he was now looking down and the bedclothes, he hated to think what Suzy had done that was worse than what he had just heard.
"This all happened on a Saturday, on Monday when I got to school it was clear little miss 'clean cut apple pie America' had been on the phone all weekend. I never did find out what she told them but I became the school pariah, no one would sit with me, eat with me, talk to me. I got kicked off the baseball team 'cause I was bad for moral, (not the first time I was kicked off a team) and I never got on the swim team even though I had the second best times in school. Couldn't get a date, never went to the prom, never even got my photo in the yearbook, 'cause my former teammates on the football team, used my face for a punch bag that day. I went along; but the principal said looking like I did my picture would 'bring the school into disrepute'."
JD couldn't even imagine what it must have been like for such an out going, gregarious, big-hearted person like Buck to be treated like that. He hadn't had many friends in high school and he hadn't been to his senior prom but that was because he had been two years younger than his classmates and, small for his age and a bit of a nerd. JD had just assumed Buck's senior year would have been spent in the centre of the popular inner circle that always seemed to exist in any school. He desperately wanted to say something to help, to comfort, but what could he say? He had no idea what torment it must have been to be so totally and publicly rejected, just because of an accident of birth, and what ever lies Suzy had spread.
Buck sat up, his usually clear blue eyes were clouded with emotion. "In a way she did me a favour."
"How can you say that?"
"Well with no sport and no social life all I had to do was study, got my grades up, even got into collage, now that surprised the principal I can tell you! If I hadn't studied so hard, I'd never gotten into collage, and I wouldn't be a federal agent now and we would never have met."
Buck sat even further forward; his expressive eyes locked on to JD's hazel brown ones. "And meeting you is the best thing ever to happen to me kid."
"Don't make what she did right or fair."
"No it don't. I did go to graduation," he suddenly changed the subject, " mom too, wanted the bitch to see she was just a regular mom just like hers, well not just like hers 'cause mom was younger and thinner and more beautiful than her mom," he explained with pride. "Actually she was younger and prettier than all the other moms." JD noted his eyes were brighter and the weak grin was almost back.
"She still would be," JD pointed out.
It was not an idle comment to cheer up a friend, Cindy looked ten years younger than she was, and that was ten years younger than her contemporaries would have been at Buck's graduation. By now Buck was sitting up on the bed cross-legged, JD's hand still wound around his forearm.
"You should have been there JD, the men; graduates, staff, dads, they were drooling, had their tongues dragging on the floor and the women were seething with jealousy, mom was so cool, so polite, an' graceful an' charming." His voice began to crack. "She showed them, showed all of them."
Suddenly all the pain and hurt and injustices of that time came back, the silences, hurtful looks, seeing former friends point from huddled conversations as he passed, the beating he'd taken, the total rejection by people he had thought of as friends, the betrayal of his love. His head dropped and JD could see his shoulders heave, hear him trying to control his breathing as he tried to hold back the emotions. The younger man stood up and without letting go of Buck's arm placed his other hand on the back of his brother's neck. Even without knowing he was doing it Buck leaned in to rest his head against JD chest, they remained like that for a long time, not speaking, not moving, Buck drawing solace from JD's closeness, his unconditional acceptance, and love. JD happy he could give back just a little of the love and support he'd received from Buck ever since they'd met. Eventually JD realised that the back of his friend's neck and shoulders were wet with perspiration, he'd almost forgotten they were in hospital and Buck was still very sick. He was about to persuade Buck to lie down when he realised that; exhausted by the emotional release, he had fallen asleep, his deep even breathing vibrating against JD's chest. With some difficulty the smaller man eased his big brother down on to the pillows again, untangling the IV line and again took his seat, never once did he let go of Buck's forearm.
+ + + + + + +
Buck made a rapid recovery, a little too rapid for Nathan's liking, but he was back at work and his old self in no time. Even to JD's practised eye he was the same as ever, it was only on the weekend before the trial that he became noticeably quieter and somewhat reflective. They had been going over their testimony with the DA for most of the week and Buck had appeared to handle that okay, he was after all the team's best court performer.
Chris hated the idea of losing any case in court and had drawn up an unofficial league table of how his team performed in court, it helped him and the prosecution to plan their strategy. If any of them ever found out about it, they would probably argue about their position, except Vin who would not argue with his place at the bottom of the league. Vin did not like standing up in front of people, he liked speaking in public even less and his lack of education and dyslexia made him vulnerable when clever lawyers tried to trip him up, as a result his testimony often sounded stilted and forced. JD came next, he had improved but he still got nervous and talked too fast and since he looked five years younger than he was, he lacked authority. Chris currently had Ezra at five in the table, he was a confident performer, smooth and unshakeable, unfortunately he was a bit too smooth, his fancy language often confused juries, and made them feel they were being condescended to. Then Chris placed himself, he was well aware he was often intimidating and even threatening, although he had eventually been persuaded by Ezra to replace his black suit with a grey one. "It does not do Mr. Larabee to take the stand looking like a funeral director," he had explained. In third place came Nathan who was the very image of dependable, honest, law enforcement but he lacked life on the stand. He placed Josiah second he had gravitates and integrity in spades and no jury ever doubted him. That left Buck on top, he could read and work a jury like no one else, he never lost his temper, unlike Chris, and drove defence lawyers crazy making them look desperate and weakening their cases.
The trouble was Buck had never had to testify in a case with such personal connections. Had never had to testify to his own wrong doing, however long ago, and never had he faced the prospect of exposing in a public court a secret he had kept from the world all he adult life. Outwardly he was calm and composed inwardly there was turmoil, he had tried to hide it from all of them, even from JD, but come the weekend his mask was slipping. He had been finding it harder and harder to sleep and the fatigue was making it difficult to keep up the pretence that he was handling the situation, that he was in control. Although JD had not detected any of the emotional stress his friend was in, at least until the weekend, logic told him it was there, the lack of evidence just proved Buck was as good an actor as Ezra, and with this in mind he took matters into his own hands.
As was their custom, Team Seven sat in court as one, taking up most of the seats just behind the prosecution, as always immaculately turned out in suits. Vin always grumbled and fidgeted with his before they got there but once inside he was, like the others, the picture of calm professionalism. When ever one of them rose to take the stand they all rose until he had passed the small gate separating the public from the court proper, then they would sit, repeating he operation when their team member returned. The tape made in the gallery had already been played to the court. Buck had remained poker faced throughout. Then he had had to take the stand for the prosecution, that had been relatively easy. He was due to take the stand to be cross-examined by the defence after the lunch recess.
As Buck took the stand to face the defence's cross-examination, JD did not return to his seat. Instead he slipped out and made his way to the back of the court, it was an action that was clearly as much of a surprise to the team as it was to Buck, who, distracted by JD's exit took the oath and stated his name without ever taking his eyes off the door at the back of the courtroom. O'Halleran's lawyers were trying to prove entrapment, the DA had assured Chris that so long as everyone kept their cool there was no chance of this succeeding. That put a lot of pressure on Buck, as they all knew the defence team would use every opening, every personal detail, to discredit him and make him lose his temper. The defence team must have thought they had stuck gold when the witness stared distractedly at the door. Just before the first lawyer got to her feet the doors opened and JD re-entered. With him came a tall, elegant, stunning woman, her eyes locked on to the eyes of the man on the stand, and a familiar unspoken massage passed between mother and son.
So long as we have each other no one can hurt us.
Buck just had time before the lawyer started her questioning to wink a 'thank you' to JD, then he turned a dazzling smile on the attorney. Team Seven breathed a collective sigh of relief, and sat back to watch and enjoy a vintage performance as Buck charmed the jury, slowly driving the defence team crazy and O'Halleran's fate was sealed.
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