A Survivor's Soul

by Phyllis

Seven Investigations Universe

Buck stood next to the bed and studied the face of the boy that he had raised. The idea that he had almost lost the kid terrified him. He stroked the dark hair and clutched the cold fingertips that clutched his in return.

A nurse came over and began to disconnect the different monitors. She attached an IV pole to the head of the bed and hung the IV bags from it. Then an orderly appeared and they started to move JD out of recovery. Buck walked alongside as best as he could. He released the younger man’s hand only long enough to allow the bed to move through the doorway. JD was just starting to get restless when Buck reclaimed his hand. They stopped momentarily at the doorway of the waiting room.

The nurse stepped in and told the five men that they were moving upstairs to room 312. "If you could give us about twenty minutes, then we should have him settled in." Chris nodded.

The blond suggested they grab some breakfast and allow Buck time to settle as well. They were all aware of the kid’s reaction earlier and knew that it was likely to be a problem they would have to deal with for the next couple of days. Hopefully, JD would allow the other men to offer him a sense of security as well as his cousin.

+ ++ + + + +

Over an hour later, the men made their way to JD's room and entered. They found the young man sleeping. Some of the tension seemed to have left his youthful features. Buck had pulled a chair close to the bed. He sat in that chair asleep, his head pillowed on his arm as it rested on the bed. The rail was down on the right side of the bed and the two cousin's hands were firmly clasped together, the man's large hand wrapped around the boy's thumb, practically obscuring the smaller hand.

Chris approached the bed. He gently placed a hand on the slumped shoulder. The man was awake in an instant. To his credit, he sat up without releasing the hand he held.

"Chris! Hey, guys." He looked around to acknowledge the others as they took seats around the private room. His eyes were pulled back to Chris as the man waved a plate of food under his nose.

Indicating Buck’s hand, he said, "Trade?"

Buck started to shake his head. Chris dropped a hand on the man’s shoulder. "Buck, you need to eat. You need to rest, also." Both men glanced at the form in the bed. "Let’s give it a try." Ezra took the container of food as Buck rose and passed JD’s hand to Chris. Before he sat down, Chris leaned over the young man and spoke softly into his ear. JD moaned and rolled his head from side to side for a few moments and then he settled down. Chris pulled the chair closer and got comfortable.

Buck sat down and ate the first meal he had since this whole nightmare started. He looked around and scrutinized the men sitting around the room. When he and Chris resigned from the police force and opened the investigation office, they were hard pressed to find work. Slowly, the work started to come to them and soon they were turning clients away. That was when they decided to hire more people. Buck glanced around the room again and felt that they had made excellent choices. The four men were exceptional at what they did. Vin had been a bounty hunter before he joined the office. Josiah was meticulous in his organizational skills as an archeologist. His eye for detail and his organizational skills had served the agency well. Nathan’s medical expertise, honed while working at the free clinic, had come in handy on more than one occasion. That, as well as the calm demeanor he managed to maintain. Ezra was the coup de gras. His work with the CIA brought a whole new dimension to the agency. But the thing that surprised Wilmington the most was the way they had come together and formed a connection that went beyond just co-workers to one of family. Oh, they had their problems, but each one was hammered out to the satisfaction of all parties.

Buck looked over at Chris. What he saw was his oldest and best friend, a man he had known for years. Larabee was a man Buck Wilmington would follow into hell. In fact, he had already done that, Chris’ personal hell. The man had lost his wife and son when a police investigation the two of them had been working on had gone bad and been made personal. Buck almost lost Chris then. He managed to pull Chris back from that hell and they had decided to move on. They had resigned from the police force and, for a few months, led carefree lives. While fun for the two young men, it wasn't very practical. They finally decided to open the "Seven Investigations" detective agency. The rest was, as they say history. So, safe within the bosom of this family, Buck leaned back in his chair and dozed.

+ ++ + + + +

For the next thirty-six hours, two men stayed in the room at all times. JD seemed to be able to relax only when he had physical contact with one of the six men he trusted. They would trade off, each man talking softly into the boy's ear to reassure him and allow him to recognize their voices. He was not fully conscious until late the next day. He had drifted in and out up until then. When finally awake, he had pulled his fingers away from Buck’s hand. He wore a small, embarrassed smile on his face.

The young man tried to put on a strong front, but they soon discovered that he suffered panic attacks if left alone. The first day after JD woke up, he had told them to go eat and let him rest. He was aware that the six men had spent hours in the small hospital room watching over him. He jokingly told them he couldn’t rest for all the snoring going on. It had been mid-afternoon and everyone felt it was all right to leave for a short while, but they had not even made it to the vehicles before Buck’s phone rang. He was needed back upstairs immediately. It had taken the six men less than a minute to race back up the stairs, foregoing the elevator, and arrive back at room 312.

The scene was a hard one for them to watch. Two nurses were standing near, but not next to, the bed. JD was screaming at them. His eyes were wide and he clutched at the bedrail, causing it to rattle violently because of his trembling. Buck moved into the room and spoke softly to the frantic youth.

"JD. JD, you’re fine. It’s okay, kid. I’m here."

JD’s eyes filled with tears as he listened to Buck. "I’m sorry. Buck, I’m sorry. I don’t know.. I don’t.. I can’t.." His arm came up to cover his face, his words muffled by the arm. "I’m sorry. I’m sorry." He continued apologizing as Buck moved close and pulled the arm down.

Buck wrapped his arm around JD’s head, creating a protective cocoon. The boy gripped the other arm and rolled his head toward his cousin. Buck continued to talk as they formed their small world. "Nothing to apologize for, kid. It’s okay. Just calm down, okay? You don’t need to be getting all worked up like this. I’m here. Everybody is here. You just lay back and rest. We’ll keep ya safe."

JD nodded. He closed his eyes, but he continued to mumble apologies until he drifted into an uneasy sleep. Buck maintained his contact as the boy slept. The man had just convinced himself that the boy was on the mend. That illusion had been shattered as soon as he had returned to the room and witnessed the display of terror. He could now see the long road that stretched out in front of them.

The others stood quietly, watching the cousins. Chris turned and indicated that they leave. Slowly, they moved out and regrouped in the waiting room.

"I fear that our co-employer has, at last, opened his eyes to the long term effect this occurrence has had on our young companion."

Chris stood leaning against the window frame, staring out at the late afternoon horizon. "I know that the kid's got a long road in front of him, but Buck was really hoping.." He stopped talking and scrubbed his face with his hands. "Well, I think we should go back to the office, work out a schedule to relieve Buck. We still have clients and cases that need to be worked. I'll go tell Buck that we'll bring back some food."

Nathan nodded. "I have my van, so I'll take the others to eat and we’ll meet you back at the office."

Vin moved closer to Larabee. "Chris, I'll stick with you, if that's alright?"

His answer was a nod. Sanchez and Standish followed as Nathan left. Vin turned to Chris. "You think Buck will be able to handle this?"

"He can handle it. He'd do anything for that kid. It'll be rough, but they'll come through, stronger for it."

The two men moved out the door.

+ + + + + + +

Three days later and Buck had left JD twice. Both times, it was only to go home, grab a short nap, a shower and change of clothes and he was right back. In that time, JD had improved physically. He was taking very light doses of pain medication and was due to start physical therapy in a next day or two. But, mentally, the young man was still suffering. He made very little eye contact with anyone and spoke even less. Detectives Simmons and Gaffney had come by four times, only to be turned away at the door by a member of the Seven Investigations agency. The last time it was Chris Larabee who barred them entering the room.

"Mr. Larabee, I understand you wanting to protect the boy, but we have a job to do. Please do not make it necessary to get a subpoena. I don't want to force him, but we've.." the detective implored as his hand waved between his partner and himself, "..been on this case a long time. We're both aware that we might have never solved it if not for your agency, but we're ready to close it and move on. We can't do that until we get Mr. Dunne's statement."

Chris stood stone-faced as the man spoke. When the detective finished, Chris took a deep breath and nodded. "I understand your problem. Now try to understand mine. The boy is sick. He's scared. Strangers set off a panic response that he's just not up to dealing with. Before you go in and make him think about what happened, he needs to come to grips with it." Chris watched the posture of the men in front of him. They were tense and that is not what he wanted to see. Holding up one hand, Larabee continued. "How about this? We talk to JD, get him prepared to talk about what happened? Can you give me, say, two days? I need two days with just us and then I let you talk to him? Deal?"

The two detectives glanced at each other. Simmons nodded. "All we need is a formal statement. We pretty much know what happened. Listen, we're glad the he's getting better. You tell Wilmington he's got a hell of a kid there."

The three men shook hands and the detectives headed down the hall to the elevators. Chris turned and reentered the hospital room. That problem solved for a while, he decided he needed to work on the problem within the room. He had watched as JD drew further away each day, while Buck was ready to blow. The man had a big heart and seeing the kid he had raised hurting was killing him. To Wilmington's credit, he had managed to keep his mouth shut for several days, but the pressure was building. Something had to give soon.

Not long after Chris took a seat and got comfortable, the other four men joined them, as had been their habit each day after work. All of them wanted to help the youngest member of their firm move on, but no one was sure what to do. When the phone rang, Buck reached out and picked it up.

"Wilmington." His eyes darted to JD as he listened. "Hang on a minute, darlin."

Buck covered the receiver with his hand. "JD, it's Casey again. She really wants to talk to ya."

"No." The black haired youth stated as he looked out the window at the sunset.

"JD, it's the third time she's called."

JD shook his head. "Not yet, Buck. I can't."

Chris saw his oldest friend's eyes narrow and darkened. He put the receiver back to his ear. "Casey. He's not feeling up to talking yet." "Yeah, darlin', I'll tell 'em."

He slammed the phone back onto the cradle. Standing, he moved to the bed and glared down at his cousin. "JD, I think that it's about time we had a talk."

Movement behind him caused him to glance over his shoulder. "Where do you think ya'll are going?" Ezra and Nathan had stood and moved toward the door.

"We thought you might want some privacy." Nathan explained.

"No. This is something we all need to address. Sit back down." Buck turned back to JD and the two men glanced at Larabee. Chris gave a small nod and the pair moved back to their seats.

Buck continued. "JD. Turn around and look at me." He waited. After a few seconds, Buck reached out and gently turned the pale face toward him. "JD, I know you don’t believe it, but it helps to talk."

JD slowly shook his head. His eyes were locked with Buck’s. Buck nodded.

"Yes, JD."

Josiah moved to the end of the bed. He propped a hip on the young man’s bed and placed a hand on his knee. "I am well aware that speaking of the things that happened is a hard thing. But I know from experience that saying the words is a sort of release." JD was still looking at his cousin and did not look at the man. Josiah patted the young man’s knee before raising and walking away.

Buck leaned over the bed rail, his fingers trailing along the boy’s arm. He looked into the pleading eyes of his cousin.

"Please don’t make me do this" he whispered. "I don’t want to think about it."

"Kid, you tell me that you haven't been thinking about exactly that for the past three days and I'll drop it, right now." Buck's voice was low as he spoke. He watched as the young man swallowed. JD's eyes were closed and when he opened them, he was looking at the window again.

"Just tell us what you remember." Buck prompted.

JD continued to look at the scene beyond the window. Finally, he took a deep breath and drew his eyes away from the sunset to stare at the tiled ceiling.

"I remember Vin falling. He told me to get back inside the youth center. I was trying to lift him when I felt the dart." He absently rubbed at the spot the dart had pierced his arm. "I tried to get to the doors, but someone was standing there. He tossed me over his shoulder. He said something about having one left, I think."

No one moved as the story unfolded.

"When I came to, it was cold. I couldn’t see anything. I finally figured out that I had something over my head. I could feel it when I rubbed my head against my arms. I felt the air on my skin and I kind 'a panicked when I realized I didn't have.." He fell silent for a moment as he squeezed his eyes closed. Then he continued.

"He had taken my clothes, but left my boxers. I was pretty relieved about that." He felt the blood rush to his face. "Weird. I wasn't so much scared at that point as I was embarrassed. But then I heard a noise and I knew someone was there, watching. Then I got scared."

Buck saw the tears well in the hazel eyes and his hatred for the man flared.

He rolled his shoulders to relieve the tension in the muscles as JD continued.

"He said my name, like we knew each other. Then he grabbed my legs. I kicked out. Guess I connected cause I heard him grunt, but then he grabbed my throat and started choking me." JD paused as Nathan held out a glass of water. As he took a sip, the youth noticed that the others had moved closer. Josiah and Vin stood in front of the window while Ezra stood at the foot of the bed, near Chris. Nathan was standing behind Buck.

"I kicked him a couple of more times and he turned me loose. He started ranting about me and 'the old lady' being the only fighters. All the others had died without fighting. He started talking about God giving him the power to see the evil in people." JD looked at Josiah as he spoke. The anthropologist's brow was pulled low over his blue eyes. The boy could see the anger that smoldered in those blue fields.

"He was talking about cleansing the people that he took. He talked about his daughter. I think maybe he killed her, the way he talked. Do ya'll know who he was?" He scanned the faces before him. His answer was in those faces.

Chris turned to Buck. He saw a slight shake of the head. "Yeah, we know, but it doesn’t matter. So, he hinted that he killed his daughter?" the blond prompted.

"Yeah. Called her Tammy. Said she was 'stained with her mother's sin' or something like that. He said something about the mother and her lover, so I think he might have killed them as well." He looked at Chris as he said that. The man nodded encouragement to him.

JD took a shuddering breath. "He really started to get worked up then. Talked about purifying and cleansing souls and the devil and God. He talked about the evils of lust and immoral ways. Said that 'they' saw the evil on his daughter and didn't say anything, just let to grow. That's why he killed them. They were evil. He said he was going to banish the devil and show me the way of the Lord. That's when he started hitting me."

Buck could feel the tremors that ran through his cousins arm. He gripped that arm and said, "You're okay, kid. Take a deep breath and relax."

He followed the instructions and finished his story. "I guess that I passed out then, cause next thing I remember was hurting and I thought I was going to throw up, but I couldn't because of the gag. Then I heard him come in. He started talking about how tired he was and how he was almost finished and could rest. I just wanted it to end. I was just so scared. I was hurting and crying. I just wanted it to end." His voice dropped in volume and the last words were barely audible.

JD felt the hand on his arm tightened. He couldn't look at the man that the hand belonged to. He took as deep a breath as he could without the pain flaring in his ribs. "I felt him grab my boxers and I guess I just.. I don't know. I think maybe I brought my knees up. I think I hit him again, but I passed out and I don't know.. "

He pressed his lips together to conceal the trembling, but his chin quivered with emotion. The men now knew why the boy had been so quiet for the past few days.

Ezra was the first to regain his voice. "Your assessment was correct, Mr. Dunne. You connected with the malefactor and he went down like the proverbial 'lead balloon'. You can rest easy on the thought that is preying on your mind."

JD's gaze stabbed into the ex-CIA operative's. He saw the truth, but he also saw the mask of deception close down the man's face. "What aren't you saying, Ezra?"

Ezra's eye flicked to Chris. Chris sighed. There was no way to avoid this. "JD, when you hit Jaquiss', that was his name.."

The boy's eyes widened. "Was?"

Buck placed a hand on the suddenly still chest. "Hear him out, kid."

"When you kicked, we figure he was leaning forward, over your legs. You connected with his face. His nose was shattered, the cartilage penetrated his brain." Chris spoke gently, but the words still hit the young man hard.

"I killed him?" JD's eyes flashed from Chris to Buck. "Oh, God, I killed him?"

Wilmington leaned in and cradled the boy's head. With his mouth close to his ear, he said, "No, you didn't kill him, JD. He did that to himself a long time ago. What happened is awful, but it is not your fault."

JD looked from one man to the next. Normally he would have been comfortable in their company, but now it felt awkward. He tried to compose his thoughts and feelings. To gain time, he asked for a glass of water and pushed the button to raise the head of the bed some. As he took the water, he studied the faces gathered around. There were no accusations in those faces, nor recriminations or signs of reproach, only concern. He handed the glass back to Buck.

It occurred to the youngest member of the firm that these men do not blame him for being made a victim. Nor did they hold him responsible for the man's death. Suddenly, he felt foolish. That thought caused him to chuckle. He saw Chris' frown deepened, while Ezra's eyebrow raised at the sound.

"Sorry, I just realized something." He smiled the first genuine smile in days. "I was all worried about what ya'll think. That I screwed up and caused this thing, but it just hit me. Ya'll don't care about what happened except how it's going to effect me."

It was Buck's turn to frown. "And this is a revelation to you, kid?"

"You haven't changed in our eyes, JD. That's why we're all here. To help you understand that."

"Certainly, Mr. Dunne. Any assault can be a demeaning incident, but you must not allow it to dictate your self worth. You are surely the victim here, innocent of all blame." Ezra stated.

"JD, do you think we would blame you for this?" Chris asked.

The young man looked around and nodded. "I would have ten minutes ago, but now I think I'm beginning to understand."

Buck grinned and ruffled the dark hair. "Kid's smarter by the minute."

+ + + + + + +

That conversation was the turning point in JD's recovery. Once assured of his place within the seven men, his mental as well as physical condition improved daily. While he still had dark days, JD was quickly becoming the sweet natured and energetic youth of before. He attended physical therapy and rebuilt his muscle strength. The fractured bones would take longer to heal, but they were knitting straight and Doctor Eubanks was pleased.

JD had started going to counseling. He had protested that he was fine and didn't need to go to a 'head doctor', but after Josiah, Nathan and Ezra all admitted that they had been to counselors, he had relented. He went by himself the first time or two. After hearing the boy's story, the young female counselor asked if a group session would be agreeable to the men. After some protests were lodged, it was agreed that they would go to support the young man.

Group sessions lasted for only one session. The young woman lost control of the men almost as soon as they had gotten started. They had tried to comply with her rules, but it quickly dissolved into a free-for-all as they became more rowdy. Finally, she had stormed out, whether in frustration or anger they would never know. Flowers and written apologizes were issued the next day and JD continued his sessions on a one-to-one basis.

Five days after the conversation that the kid referred to as his 'new beginning', a strong knock at the door startled both JD and Buck. Wilmington had brought the young man his laptop to occupy his time. JD had plugged it into the phone and immediately checked his emails.

At the moment, he was writing to Casey. He wanted to tell her how he missed her and that she would have to come over as soon as he got back home. Buck was engrossed in a magazine about rebuilding old trucks. Their heads jerked around at the sound.

"Sorry, guys, I didn't mean to startle you." Detective Simmons stated.

Buck laughed. "No problem. Come on in." He gestured to the extra chairs that littered the floor. Gaffney followed his partner into the room.

The two men were introduced to the 'victim' though they avoided that usage in front of JD. The next thirty minutes were spent going over details of the kidnap. After recounting his story to the detectives, JD asked if Chris had informed them about the wife and her lover.

"Gaffney talked to Mr. Larabee about your suspicions and we followed up. It seems that Mr. Jaquiss had lamented to neighbors that his wife had run off with another man and asked that they not mention that fact to his daughter. The neighbors, and I have to say that there were still several people around the area that knew the man, remembered a man that visited during the day. We scanned the area, specifically the backyard. We found the remains of two people, one male and one female. They were buried behind a shed out back. The man still had a wallet in his pocket. We've notified relatives. He was reported missing one month before Jaquiss' daughter died."

JD hung his head as he listened. Part of him wanted to believe that the two people were alive somewhere, happy. He realized that he was the soul survivor of the man's sick mind. It made him sad that so many people, eleven all together, had died. Nine of those were people that he had known. He had tried to remember, but it had been too long ago. He wanted to remember them, to acknowledge their lives. His counselor had told him that was a normal reaction when he confided his feelings to her. Survivor's guilt was a real emotion that he would have to deal with. And he was dealing with it; it would just take time.

The two detectives had thanked the cousins for their help. This was a case they had feared might never be solved. The connection to victims was so obscure it would have, in all probability, never have surfaced.

JD leaned back against the raised head of the bed after they departed. Buck stood for a moment and then walked over and rested one hip on the edge of the bed.

"You okay, JD?"

The kid's face pulled into a sad smile. It was a smile that did not touch the hazel eyes. Buck patted the hand lying at his knee. They sat in silence for a long time. When the others showed up, they found them still in the same positions. Buck was staring out the window as his hand rested on JD's. The boy was sleeping.

Buck turned to them as they moved quietly in and took up positions around the bed. Chris approached the bed and looked at the slack features of the young man.

"He doing okay?"

Wilmington nodded as he moved slowly off the bed. "Simmons and Gaffney came by earlier. They found the wife and her lover. He buried 'em in the backyard" Buck informed the others.

Chris nodded. "Yeah, they came by the office after they left here. Mitchell Garner stopped by also. Wanted to tell us thanks and settle his bill."

JD's restless movements drew the men's attention back to the bed. Nathan walked over and checked him over. "He's still sleeping."

"He's pretty wiped out. He went down to physical therapy today. He tires out pretty fast."

"What do they have him doing? He's got casts on." Vin wondered.

"Stretching exercises mostly. They said the muscles would start to draw up if he didn't keep 'em stretched." Buck told him. "About Garner, Chris. I don't.."

Larabee's raised hand halted Buck's statement. "I told him to put his checkbook away, Buck. Don't worry."

Wilmington smiled. "Turning into an old softy in your old age, pard?"

Ezra spoke up. "Mr. Garner was quite adamant about his desire to reimburse us for our contribution in the realization of the conclusion in this case. We feared we might never persuade him that no monetary compensation would be accepted."

"Yeah, man about pissed Chris off with his insisting." Vin added.

The men chuckled at the thought of the conversation that had taken place earlier in the day. Chris shook his head.

"He said to tell ya thanks, both of ya. He was pretty upset about JD getting hurt."

"But you explained to him, right?"

Josiah's deep voice rumbled. "We did indeed, brother. If the man hadn't have asked us to help, we wouldn't have had a clue as to where to look for the boy. JD was a target from day one. I think we made it pretty evident to the man that it was his involving us in the case that saved young John's life."

"Yes, and that is worth more than any amount of money the man would pay." Chris stated, giving voice to everyone's thoughts.

Buck nodded as he glanced over at his cousin. A frown creased his face as he noticed the boy's color. JD's face was flush, his cheeks deep red. He looked over at Nathan, who was still standing by the bed. The man reached out and laid his hand on the boy's skin, afraid he would feel heat. He drew back quickly when JD flinched at his touch.

The color on the young face deepened even more. Buck slapped at the dark hair.

"Boy, you laying there playing possum and listening to us?"

One hazel eye popped open, followed by the other. "Well,..yeah. But that wasn't what I .. I mean. I just awoke up and ya'll were talking and ..Sorry."

He flushed at the fact that he got caught listening to them talk about him. But some of the color in his cheeks came from the fact that he was once again assured of how much they thought of him. The company wasn't rich. Nor were the men that worked there. Well, except for Ezra maybe. The idea that they had refused payment meant a lot to the youngest member of the firm. He realized the implications of that act.

He looked each man in the eye. Then he put on his best smile and said, "Thanks, guys. What ya'll said, what you did, means a lot. Thanks."


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