Before the Dawn

by Beth Green

Author’s Notes: This is not quite the same version originally posted to Blackraptor. JD is most thankful for that fact. Thanks to Phyllis for the beta. Any remaining mistakes are mine. Thanks to Mog for the ATF AU, as well as the helpful guidelines site. Please note: there be owies ahead, both emotional and physical, with enough left over to put the hurt on one of the other Seven besides JD and Buck.

Part 1
JD couldn’t help but at laugh the song which was currently playing on VH1. He heard the words, "I hate Monday," and thought how absolutely inappropriate they were; at least, at the present moment. He and Buck were idling at home, enjoying a rare Monday free from work. He glanced at the sun slanting through the windows. By its present angle of ascent, he’d guess-timate that it was almost noon. He and Buck had only just finished a leisurely late breakfast. Buck was energized, bustling around the apartment. JD nestled comfortably in the sofa cushions, enjoying the freedom of not needing to do a damn thing.

Buck was practically dancing around the apartment, his body unconsciously swaying in rhythm with the music which drifted from the television. He two-stepped up to his roommate, tucking his wallet in the back pocket of his jeans as he spoke. "Hey, JD, I thought I’d check out the sale at the Home Depot. You want to come along?"

While Buck and Chris could happily while away an entire day at the home improvement mecca, JD could think of a hundred other things he’d rather be doing, one of which he chose to continue acting on. "No, thanks." He lazily gave his body a long stretch, punctuated by a jaw-cracking yawn. "I had a long weekend. I’m liking the fact that all I have to do right now is to sit here and do nothing."

Buck laughed, shaking his head. "Yeah, your head did seem a little bit in the clouds this morning. Guess you and Casey had a good weekend, huh?" Buck gave JD a friendly grin and wink, inviting further confidences. JD and Casey had spent the weekend at a remote mountain cabin. Buck was eager for the details which JD had so far been withholding. He waited expectantly.

JD merely gave a satisfied smile. "Yep, we sure did." He smile grew wider at Buck’s obvious frustration when he declined to say another word.

He wheedled, "I don’t suppose you’d care to tell big brother Buck about it?"

JD paused in his reach for the TV’s remote control. Sparing him one last glance before focusing his attention on the TV screen, he confirmed, "You’re absolutely right." He began to click through the channels, settling on ESPN as Buck stood there a minute before he finally figured it out.

JD smiled at the snort of disgust which reached his ears as Buck headed out the door, muttering under his breath. "I tell him everything, but just ask for one little crumb of information, and he goes quieter than Vin."

Just before the door slammed behind him, JD tossed out, "I’m not the sort of fellow who’d kiss and tell." The implied, "Unlike some people I know," didn’t need to be said.

JD’s attention drifted from the sports program he’d been watching, to reflect on the weekend he’d just spent. A few weeks ago, Josiah mentioned that a friend had offered him the use of his cabin. The same friend hated to see it going idle over the summer, and had extended the offer to any of the members of Team Seven who cared to take advantage of it. JD’s ears perked up at the offer. Between Casey’s schedule and his own, they never seemed to have enough time to spend together. It had been wearing on the both of them. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. When he’d phoned Casey, she’d enthusiastically agreed. It had taken a lot of advance planning, as well as a postponement or two, to arrange their getaway. Finally, this past weekend, they’d been able to go.

As the weekend progressed, JD felt that it was easily the best two days of his entire life. Not only had the weather and the surroundings been perfect, but so had his companion. As their shared time together came to its inevitable conclusion, JD found it difficult to leave when the time had come to escort Casey home. They had to leave Sunday morning, so that Casey could attend a bridal shower. She confessed, "If it weren’t for the fact that I’m the maid of honor, I’d skip the party." In tune with her mood, he was not surprised at the tears which shone from her eyes. "I wish we could just stay like this forever." JD, his heart filled to overflowing, agreed, as he took her into his arms and kissed away each tear.

When JD had delivered Casey safely to her door, it was still early afternoon. JD had driven around town, missing the woman who’d been his constant companion for the past two days. He could easily see himself spending the rest of his life the way he’d spent the past weekend.

He impulsively made a U-turn after he’d passed a local jewelry store, deciding to go in. As soon as he walked through the door, his eyes were drawn to the central display case. One ring in particular drew his attention. The sign noted that it was a 2.59 carat radiant cut diamond. The large central stone was surrounded by two smaller stones in a platinum setting. It was absolutely perfect; as perfect as Casey. He refused to let the figure on the price tag serve as a barrier. He pulled out his credit card, charging its maximum limit.

Now in the cold, sober light of the day after, he was having some serious second thoughts. He went to his room, pulling the velvet-lined box from the top drawer of his dresser. He gazed at the ring, its stones mesmerizing in their brilliance, and allowed his thoughts to drift.

Frankly, the thought of marriage scared him out of his mind. The past weekend had been all fun and no responsibilities. Marriage was nothing like that. It was about commitment, and compromise, and God!, kids; not just about how much you loved someone. He sighed. He suspected that, realistically, neither Casey nor himself was ready for marriage. He’d let himself get so caught up in his emotions that he’d ceased thinking yesterday.

He jumped, nearly dropping the ring as a voice intruded on his thoughts. "Damn, boy. Is that what I think it is?"

Shit! JD had been so wrapped up in his thoughts, he never heard Buck come in. Angry at being caught out, he answered, "It’s not what you think it is."

Buck replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm, "Sure, it isn’t. And I don’t know an engagement ring when I see it." Buck was happiest to see other people happy, and it thrilled him to think that JD was getting hitched. His long arms surrounded JD, trying to get at the velvet-lined box. "C’mon, JD, let me see." He didn’t realize that JD was truly angry.

JD aimed an elbow hard into Buck’s midsection, using his body to block Buck from his goal. "Dammit, Buck, leave it be!"

Buck backed off, rubbing his midsection. "Hell, boy, you can really hit hard when you’ve a mind to. I was just asking."

JD frowned in response. "And I’m just telling you: It’s none of your business."

Buck raised his hands in surrender. "Okay. I understand. It’s none of my business." What Buck understood was that JD hadn’t got up the nerve yet to pop the question, and was understandably a bit touchy on the subject of the ring. Buck had to admit it was a beauty. It must’ve set JD back more than a few dollars to pay for the thing. Ah, well. It was worth it, for the right woman. Damn! Who would’ve thought it? JD, getting married! Buck couldn’t wait to share the news.

As if he’d read his mind, JD said, "And it ain’t nobody else’s business, either." He made sure he had Buck’s full attention, making eye contact with the man. "This isn’t what you think it is. All is means is, I’ve been doing some thinking, is all. I don’t want anybody else to know about this. You hear me?"

Buck nodded. "I hear you."

JD was still unsure of his loquacious roommate. "Swear to me that you won’t mention this to another living soul. You promise?"

Buck raised one hand, while the other, hidden behind his back, held crossed fingers. "I promise."

Part 2

Tuesday dawned gray and gloomy. JD reflected that it was a perfect mirror of his mood. Today was the day he would return his prematurely purchased engagement ring. Right now, the only thing he knew for certain was that his purchase had been a mistake. What was that saying: "Marry in haste, repent at leisure?" JD loved the idea of marriage, someday; maybe even to Casey. He loved the woman, but did he love her enough? Did she love him? Hell, if he was still asking himself that question, there’s no way he was ready for marriage.

Buck was well aware of JD’s dejection, attributing it to pre-engagement jitters. It was only natural that the kid would be having second thoughts. He tried to talk to JD about it. "Y’know, kid, if you’re worried about Casey not accepting that ring of yours, I’ll tell you right now, you ain’t got nothing to worry about." He squared his shoulders, trying to convey a knowledgeable, man of the world-type bearing. "Trust me, I know when a woman’s got that certain look. I guarantee you, that girl loves you as much as you love her."

JD frowned. Buck was not making this any easier. JD’s feelings were tangled up enough, without Buck putting in his two cents’ worth. Buck seemed to be reading his mind. The problem was, JD was in no mood to share his thoughts. Especially, not with Buck. Much as he cared for his roommate, the ladies’ man had the fidelity of a rabbit. Buck was definitely not the man to be discussing a long-term relationship with. JD’s words were a mixture of his pain and anger as he responded. "Listen, Buck, whatever Casey and I do and do not do, is up to us. I’d appreciate it if you would keep the hell out of my love life. And, for your information, I never said I was going to marry the woman."

Buck raised his hands in surrender. "Okay, boy, simmer down." Buck knew it was time to back off. He got the message loud and clear. Truth be told, he was actually glad to hear that JD was doing some deep thinking on the subject of marriage. The kid was obviously weighing the pros and cons, with the cons seeming to hold the upper hand at the moment. Buck really thought that it would help JD to talk it over with someone; but, he wasn’t going to push him on it. Hell, Buck certainly was no expert on the subject of marriage. Now women, on the other hand . . . A smile brightened his face, as his thoughts turned to his favorite subject.

+ + + + + + +

He and JD strolled into the conference room, exchanging greetings with the fellow members of Team Seven.

"How’s it hanging?"

"Better than ever."

"Looks like you enjoyed your weekend, cowboy."

"Hey, JD, the cabin still standing?"

"Looks like you could’ve used a few more hours of beauty sleep. On second thought, never mind. It wouldn’t have helped."

Their joking comments were abruptly silenced when their leader strode into the room. In typical Larabee style, he never bothered with such mundane things as a "good morning" greeting. As soon as the last man was seated, Chris said his piece. "In spite of an extra day to raise hell, the criminal element has not shown fit to grace us with any new cases. You all know that this weekend is the takedown of them gun-running idiots, the Madisons. Until then, you get to occupy yourselves with the true work of the ATF." A collective groan arose as the assignment sheets were passed out, while Chris continued. "With the latest tax increase on cigarettes, there’s more incentive for illegal tobacco dealers to open up shop. There are too few ATF agents to keep up with all the criminals, and they know it. Any contribution you can make in apprehending the scofflaws, will assure the continuation of your paycheck."

Vin had only been half paying attention, and was not afraid to let Chris know it. He was really hoping that he’d heard wrong. "Huh? Would you mind repeating that? Damn, you’re getting to be as bad as Ezra."

At the mention of his name, Ezra cheerfully clarified, "If more people pay the taxes owed to the government, the government can more readily continue to fund the ATF. It is our current assignment to assure that they do so."

Buck grumbled, "Special Government Agent: a glorified tax collector. For this, I left the Denver PD."

Josiah was no more pleased than the others at their assignment, but he tried to put a more positive spin on the subject. "It’s only because we’ve been doing such an excellent job at getting the major criminals off the street, that we now have the time to assist our brethren with the minor ones."

Nathan frowned next to him, reviewing the list of sellers he was to investigate. With an utter lack of sincerity, he replied, "Hooray for us."

After glancing at his similar list, Buck peeked over at JD’s, dismayed to see that it was much shorter than his own. He tried to read over JD’s shoulder, while JD purposely hid the page from view. Nevertheless, Buck had seen enough. "Hey, how come JD’s list don’t even fill up half a page?"

Chris replied, "Not that it’s any of your business, but JD gets to make his own list. JD’s going to check out the internet dealers."

As Chris rose to leave, he added, "Once everyone’s done what they can for the day, there’s one more ATF inspection to attend to." Six faces stared at him expectantly. "Alcohol. The saloon. At six o’clock. Be there."

Having something to look forward to at the end of their day, the Seven scattered to carry out their various assignments.

At the appointed hour of six o’clock, all of Team Seven except for one member were comfortably seated at their favorite establishment. Buck looked around, noting the absence of his roommate. "Hey, where’s JD?"

Chris replied, "He’ll be along shortly. Said he had a few errands to run."

Buck said no more, having a suspicion as to the nature of the errands. His suspicion was turned on its ear when Inez arrived at their table with the first pitcher of beer. Smiling, she stated, "JD’s not with you? Of course!"

Buck questioned, "What do you mean, ‘Of course?’"

Inez’ hesitation was merely for show. She had been happy to see the men arrive, anxious to receive confirmation of something she’d seen earlier in the day. "Well, this afternoon I saw Casey coming out of Henri’s bridal salon. She was gone before I could catch up with her. Is there something you have to tell me?"

Buck slapped the table top in his enthusiasm, jarring the beer mugs. "Who-o-e-e! He did it! I just knew it!" All eyes focused on his face with its ear-to-ear grin. "I came home yesterday and saw JD holding the prettiest engagement ring I’d ever seen. I tried asking him about it, seeing as he spent the whole weekend with Casey and everything, but he was more ornery than a hibernating bear: quiet, and grouchy when prodded."

"When I talked to him this morning, he seemed a little off on the whole subject of marriage. Good to know he finally got it straight in his mind." He raised his beer mug in salute. "To JD, who’s boldly going where I ain’t never been."

His tablemates echoed his words, "To JD."

They’d had a chance to make fair inroads on another pitcher of beer or two before JD finally arrived. As he sat down between Chris and Buck, he was startled by Chris’ hearty slap on his back, with an uncharacteristically warm, "Congratulations." His puzzlement increased as the sentiment was repeated in various forms by his friends.

"All right, JD!"


"Better you than me."

"Felicitations on your impending nuptials."

Buck gave him a one-handed hug, the other being occupied with a beer mug. "Hey, JD, I knew she’d say yes."

JD shrugged off Buck’s grip. He felt the blood leave his face, then return in a heated rush, as his shock gave way to anger. He was rocked to his soul by the sudden realization. "Goddamn it, Buck, you told!"

"Well, hell, I’m sorry if it was supposed to be some big secret."

JD cut him off before he could say anything further, his face red with fury. "There is no secret! There’s nothing to tell! I ain’t getting married, and Goddamn it all to Hell that you had to go and make people think that I was."

Buck paled, speechless in the face of JD’s anger. JD wasn’t finished with him yet.

"You promised me! I asked you not to say anything, and you promised!"

Buck closed his eyes in pain, suddenly reminded of JD’s intense pleading of yesterday, and the promise he’d made. He reached out a hand, only to have it slapped away. He said the only thing he could. "I’m sorry."

"You damn well should be. You got a bad case of diarrhea of the mouth. If this is what your word means. . ." He stopped, unable to find the words to express his intense feelings. He shook his head in disbelief. His anger was accompanied by a deep sense of betrayal. He’d just come from doing one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do: returning the ring to the jewelers. Buck, in his typical talk first and ask questions later way, had just managed to increase his pain a hundred-fold. He backed away, the hurt etched in every line of his expressive face. "I’m sorry, but I’d better leave before I do something we’re both gonna regret." He turned, almost running as he quickly left the saloon.

Buck needed a moment to catch his breath. He felt as if he’d been physically attacked, the beer churning in his belly. He rose, intending to follow. "JD!"

Chris stood with him, holding out a restraining hand. "No, Buck. Give him some time."

"But, Chris. . ." The kid was hurting, and Buck was hurting right along with him. "This is all my fault."

Although privately Chris may have agreed with that statement, he knew how badly Buck had been hurt by JD’s words. Confronting the kid now wouldn’t do either of them any good. He offered what comfort he could. "This is about more than you and JD. That boy’s got a lot on his mind. You’d best give him some room to wrestle with it."

"But Chris, I gotta make him understand." Buck wasn’t sure exactly what he had to make JD understand. He only knew that he could not leave things lie as they presently were between the two of them.

"Dammit, Buck, if you go after him now, he ain’t gonna hear a single word you’re saying. He’s got too good of a mad on him. Like as not, he’d just take a swing at you."

Buck hugged his arms around his aching belly. "Maybe he ought to."

"Yeah, well that ain’t gonna solve anything. Leave him be." If any of the other men seated at the table found it odd to hear Chris Larabee, a man who usually thought with his fists, urging his friend to nonviolence; well, they were wise enough not to say anything about it. Buck seemed to be listening, and not going anywhere.

Josiah felt the need to comment, however subtly. Raising his glass, he quoted, "Blessed are the peacemakers."

Nathan toasted him in return. "Amen."

Part 3

Buck resisted his friends’ efforts to get him drunk. His stomach was as unsettled as his thoughts. The dull aching pain in his gut kept time with the dull ache of his conscience. He appreciated his friends staying to keep him company. They did their best to keep his mind off of JD, with a wide ranging discussion of anything and everything, as long as it didn’t involve JD Dunne. Buck was grateful for the distraction they provided as well as the pleasant conversation. Not that he had a whole lot to say; mostly, he just listened.

Vin didn’t realize how comfortable he’d become with Buck’s constant chatter, until he’d been faced with the man’s unnerving silence. He was quite pleased with himself when his efforts to engage Buck in conversation were finally successful. It had been worth the effort of saying more in one night than he usually said all week. Damned if Buck didn’t seem to be rubbing off on him; on all of them, really. They all stayed at the saloon until closing time, despite the fact that tomorrow was a work day. They were united in their efforts to distract Buck from the subject of JD. However, he had to go home sometime. Soon after Inez announced last call, the six men bid each other good night, heading for their respective homes.

Buck was the last to leave. He felt the loneliness tugging at him as soon as the last of his friends departed. He slowly made his way to his truck, his feet dragging with each step. He did not immediately start the engine. Instead, he sat for a moment, then bowed his head over his arms where they rested on the steering wheel. He released his breath in a long, drawn-out sigh. Seeing as he wasn’t planning on sleeping in the truck, he figured he might as well head home. Somehow, he did not expect JD to be there.

When he eventually pulled up to the condo, JD’s ride was parked in its usual spot. Buck wiped a hand across his face to make sure that his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. Yep; still there. He let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. He’d half expected that JD might have taken advantage of Buck’s absence to pack up and leave. Thank God he hadn’t.

Buck entered the apartment prepared to catch whatever JD intended to throw his way.

However, JD had retreated to his room with the door tightly closed. Buck cautiously approached, knocking lightly at the door. "JD?" He was not surprised to receive no answer to his hesitant call. He offered a soft, "Good night," and headed for his own bedroom.

JD had not heard Buck return. The only thing he could hear was the music coming from his headphones. JD had headed straight home after his confrontation with Buck, retreating to the sanctuary of his room. Normally when he was troubled, he’d talk to Casey or Buck. Right now, neither of them was an option. He sank down on his bed, his head in his hands. "Oh, Buck. Oh, Casey." The last word came out as almost a sob rather than an actual name. He tried to shake himself out of his black mood. It wasn’t easy. He was so mixed up about Casey, and Buck hadn’t helped. He really didn’t want to think about the embarrassing scene he’d lived through in the saloon.

His feelings were all over the place. He couldn’t decide right now which was uppermost: sadness or anger. He decided to go with anger. It was easier to deal with than the sadness he’d wrestled with last night. He’d spent a sleepless night, unable to turn off his brain. He needed a break from his thoughts. The last thing he needed was to talk to someone about them. He needed a distraction, and went for his time-honored ones. He put on his headphones, with an appropriate selection of repetitive, hypnotic music. Now that he had his background noise, he was ready for the brain-numbing activity of his favorite video game. He dropped off to sleep somewhere on the fifth level, exhausted from the emotional upheaval.

Due to his early bedtime, JD was up with the first rays of dawn. He stood a moment at the door of his room, listening. He was immensely relieved when he heard Buck’s soft snores drifting down from upstairs. He didn’t want to deal with Buck this morning if he could avoid the man. He crept cautiously out of his room, careful not to do anything that would disturb the sleeper. If awakened, Buck would just want to talk, or worse yet, apologize. JD was not ready to forgive him.

Buck did not stir until the sound of JD’s motorcycle roused him. He sat up abruptly, with a cry of "JD!" He rubbed a hand over his face, shaking off the remnants of a vague nightmare. Although he could not recall any details, the fear still lingered. Somehow, he knew it had involved JD. He stared blearily at the clock, grimacing at the early hour. "Man, six thirty in the morning. Guess I don’t have to ask if JD is still mad at me."

As he slid out from under the covers, he frowned at the spasms in his belly which greeted the activity. He rubbed at his midsection, the action seeming to help as the pain eased. "Damn! That’s what I get for drinking on an empty stomach." He made his way to the kitchen, not daring to try anything stronger for breakfast than a slice of toast. He swallowed carefully, waiting to see if his tender stomach would rebel. When everything seemed to settle down, he headed to the bathroom, unconsciously rubbing at his still tender belly.

He was actually grateful that the new day brought no new assignments. Chris directed Team Seven to continue with their previously assigned tobacco inspections. That meant that JD would remain in the office while Buck and the others did on site inspections. Buck did not mind. He was hoping that, for JD, absence would make the heart grow fonder. Unfortunately, that did not prove to be the case.

When five o’clock arrived, Buck walked up to JD’s desk. His voice was quiet as he asked, "See you later?"

JD’s gaze was remote and unfocused, his voice emotionless as he replied, "I don’t think so."

Buck had his mouth open, all set to yell, "Just what do you mean by that?" However, he quickly recalled how upset JD had been yesterday. Now that the kid was calm, he decided not to risk making him mad all over again. Besides, he was sure he wouldn’t have liked JD’s answer to his unvoiced question. Instead, he simply said, "Okay. I’ll leave the light on for you."

Their little exchange had not gone unnoticed by the other members of Team Seven. Once again, they extended the invitation to Buck and JD to join them at the saloon. Both men politely declined.

Buck was still half hoping that JD would change his mind and head on home. However, Buck had nothing but the echoes of his own footsteps to keep him company at the condo that evening. For a time, he paced aimlessly from room to room. Eventually his body tired of the activity, and he slumped onto the sofa. He had skipped dinner, as his stomach was as upset as his soul. He reached a long arm for one of the sofa pillows and hugged it close to his midsection. Usually he’d have his arms around a woman. Tonight he was not in the mood. He deserved to be alone. He’d hurt JD, however unintentionally. His own personal idea of Hell involved himself, alone, without another soul to keep him company. He would suffer in silence.

The room grew dark around him but he made no effort to turn on the lights. He eventually turned on the TV, unable to stand the silence any longer. His eyelids drooped closed as the droning of the TV lulled him to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

JD admitted it. He was a coward. Why else would he let the thought of Buck Wilmington lead him to spend an evening wandering the mall, followed by the mindless entertainment of attending some bang- bang shoot ‘em up movie? However, twenty four hours had not changed the pain and confusion that he felt. He had no desire to add to it. He knew that if he talked to Buck, he’d just try to make him hurt in return. That wouldn’t solve a damn thing. At least, not in the long run. In the short run, he still felt like he owed Buck a good ass kicking. Damn the man!

JD decided to exercise his right to remain silent when he finally returned to the apartment. Buck had been dozing on the sofa when JD walked into the room. Buck’s eyelids fluttered open when he heard his roommate arrive. Before he could say more than, "JD," the kid had walked past him and into his room. When Buck attempted to follow, the door closed firmly, not quite slamming in his face. The unspoken "Do Not Disturb" would have been evident to a blind man. Buck’s shoulders sagged, his body mirroring the rejection he felt down to the marrow of his bones. He was almost glad to feel his stomach kicking back at him. He deserved to be kicked by somebody, somehow. Before heading to bed, he took one of the antacid tablets he’d been popping like candy the past day or so. Between the churning in his gut and the churning in his brain, it was hours before Buck wearily dropped off to sleep.

JD once again found himself tossing and turning. He began to develop the nagging suspicion that he’d been acting like a kid. Maybe that’s why he was so undecided about getting married. It would involve big-time adult responsibility. The more he thought about it, the more sense it seemed to make. Maybe the reason people called him kid all the time was not just because of his youthful looks. Could be, they were just treating him the way he was acting. He tossed his video game aside in disgust. It was a kid’s game, after all.

The next two days, JD continued to avoid Buck, as well as any efforts the man made to speak to him. He had enough to deal with, wrestling with his own thoughts. If he wanted to be treated like an adult, he had to start acting like one. He didn’t necessarily need to get married to do that. Before he tried making a life forever with Casey, maybe he ought to try living on his own for a while. He didn’t say anything to Buck, as he knew that his friend could easily talk him out of it. This was something that JD needed to decide on his own. As he withdrew from Buck, he was already feeling the pain of loneliness. How in the heck was he gonna handle actually moving out?

Buck tried a time or two to talk to JD, but his friend made it clear that he wanted to be left alone. Buck didn’t handle the rejection well. His body objected, his belly pain a constant companion. The older man was convinced that he’d developed an ulcer. He was also convinced that it was no more than he deserved, so he made sure that any suffering he did was in silence.

Saturday brought with it a change in the unhappy existence of Buck and JD. Today was the day when Team Seven would be taking down the Madison gun running operation. Madison himself would be returning from a trip to Mexico, to personally close the sale. As soon as he did, they were going to bust his ass.

Buck added some Tylenol to his antacid breakfast as he prepared for his assignment. A sudden spasm nearly caused him to double over in pain. He hoped that the Tylenol would take care of the pain, as well as the fever he suspected he was running. He could be sick tomorrow. Today, he had a job to do. He was not even going to consider the possibility that what he’d thought was an ulcer was actually the stomach flu. He made sure to steer clear of Nathan’s assessing eyes. He ducked into an empty room when he heard the man coming.

Once he’d figured the coast was clear, he took a step to come out of hiding when he heard JD’s voice. He ducked back into the room, not wanting to be seen. He didn’t want to risk upsetting the kid before an assignment.

JD was not alone. Josiah’s deep voice asked, "JD, have you talked to Buck about this?"

Buck froze at JD’s answer. "No. I was kind of hoping to wait until it was a done deal before I tell him I’m moving out." Buck heard no more of their conversation. The sudden rush of blood to his head drowned out everything else. He slid down the wall, arms wrapped around his aching gut, as his heart broke. He whispered, "JD."

He had no idea how long he sat there before he finally got a hold of himself. "C’mon, Buck, you got a job to do. Get off your ass and do it. Quit feeling sorry for yourself." Seeing as no one was going to kick his ass, he was doing his best to take care of it himself. He guessed he succeeded, as no one made any comments on his appearance when he joined the team for a last minute briefing.

Chris waved for everyone to stay at their desks, rather than gather in the conference room. "This won’t take but a minute." Before Chris could say another word, he was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. He tilted an eyebrow in Vin’s direction, gesturing for him to answer the call.

Vin listened for a minute, then handed the phone off to Chris, stating, "It’s for you." Vin realized the mistake he’d made as soon as he handed over the phone. Office phones had a way of disintegrating in Chris Larabee’s presence. As a matter of fact, Chris had destroyed so many of his own that the ATF was now deducting the cost of repairs and replacements from his paycheck. Vin didn’t want his phone added to the toll. He winced as Chris’ grip on the receiver tightened, his eyes flaring in anger at what he was hearing.

To the casual listener, Chris remained distant and business-like. Team Seven knew better, and braced themselves for the impending explosion. It was not long in coming. He finished the call with, "Yes, sir, I understand. Goodbye." Instead of returning the receiver to its cradle, he used it to launch the phone off of the desk and across the room, where it impacted heavily with the wall. He followed it with an impressive string of curses.

Josiah, who had just managed to dodge the missile prior to impact, was the first to speak. "I take it that the news is not good."

Chris answered, "You take it right. Madison ain’t gonna be at the meet."

This statement was greeted with varying expressions of incredulity. After his men had said their piece, Chris continued. "It seems that Mr. Madison has been detained indefinitely across the border. In fact, the bastard may never make it back here. So, you can forget all the hours we’ve put in trying to nail that gun-running asshole. We’re to proceed with today’s bust minus the big fish we were supposed to catch. Instead, we’re just going to reel in the small fry that we’ve had more than enough evidence on for the past month."

"It won’t hurt any to put a few more nails in their coffin. Ezra, Buck, you’re gonna go in just like we planned, as the buyers. As soon as they produce the goods, you give the word, and we’ll haul ‘em in. Nathan and I will have the front and back covered. Vin will be up in the rafters, keeping an eye on things. Josiah and JD will be recording everything from the surveillance van, and ready to provide additional manpower if we need it. Okay, boys, the time is now 0900. We head out in fifteen minutes."

Josiah took advantage of the wait time by escorting JD to the conference room to continue their previous conversation. "So, JD, why this sudden desire for independence?"

"What do you mean? Are you talking about what I said earlier, about moving out?" He answered his own question. "Of course you are. It’s just, everyone, but Buck especially, treats me like a kid. The thing is, if I want people to start treating me like an adult, I’ve got to start acting like one."

Josiah gently chided, "And running away from home is going to help?"

JD quickly denied the accusation. "I’m not running away."

Rather than restate what he’d already said, Josiah offered JD a different slant. "Seems like more than once I’ve seen Buck trying to talk to you this past week. You always manage to avoid him, even now. You still that mad at him?"

"No, it ain’t that. I’m not, really. More like, I’m beyond tired of listening to him apologizing all over the place. No amount of apologizing is going to change the fact that he told you something that he’d promised me he wouldn’t." The anger that JD had tried to deny was still evident in the tone of his voice.

Curious, Josiah asked, "Did anyone tell you what Inez said before Buck told us about the ring?"

When JD questioned, "What Inez said?" it was obvious that JD did not know. Josiah hastened to inform him. "Seems like Inez saw Casey coming out of a bridal salon. She asked if there was something we weren’t telling her. Well, you know Buck. I guess to him, Inez had let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. He just added two and two and came up with the wrong answer."

JD sat back, stunned. "The bridal shower. Damn!" He could easily see the scene playing out in his mind. He supposed he did know Buck. To him, if Casey was shopping for a wedding dress, the engagement was a done deal. He wouldn’t try to deny something Inez had seen with her own eyes. Oh, hell!

Josiah offered, "Seems like the adult thing to do here would be to talk to Buck about all this."

JD couldn’t deny it. Josiah had certainly given him a lot to think about, that was for sure.

He couldn’t deny that he really did like his current living arrangements. He certainly didn’t need to move out to increase his personal space. He’d had more than enough personal space this past week, and found himself time and time again wishing for someone to share it with. It wasn’t that he needed to move out to be independent. He was absolutely free to come and go as he pleased.

So, then, it must be that his roommate is what he wanted to move away from. The question is, why? Although he was upset that Buck had broken a promise, it did not change the fact that he loved Buck like a brother. Also, with the additional information supplied by Josiah, JD realized that Buck’s betrayal did not go as deep as JD had originally thought. Maybe he was even ready to accept Buck’s apology. So, why had he been ducking Buck all week?

He thought on it a bit. Maybe the problem is that Buck knows him too well. The fact that he knows that Casey loves him. The fact that he knows how chickenshit JD was to back off on even the idea of marriage to her. The fact that Buck knows him for the coward he is. That fact that Buck represents his conscience staring him right in the face. "Shit."

Josiah decided to seek further clarification after JD’s profane response. "Does that mean you have your answer?"

JD sighed, not caring to look Josiah in the eye at the present time. "Yeah. I suppose that moving out is maybe me dreaming I could just leave all my problems behind that way. As nice as that idea seems, I guess I know better. I gotta stand my ground and face ‘em. It’s the adult, responsible thing to do." Glancing at his watch, he added, "Later. Guess it’s show time."

JD hurried off to join the other members of Team Seven.


Comments to: