Old Foes

"RNLI" Alternate Universe

by KT

Part 5
Coming into work on the Tuesday after the holiday librarian Sheila Cornell logged onto the library computer and out of habit pulled up the list of how many hits the new website had got over the weekend. She then selected specific sites to see what all those people had been looking at. The Chronicle's on-line archive had received a huge number of hits in the last week, more than it had got in the whole of the past year. Sheila was a convert to computers and like most converts she was fanatical about it. She had quickly mastered the basics and then sat down to work out what else it could do. She was able to find out which pages had been viewed and by whom. It turned out they were all accessed by one e-mail address. The e-mail address was just a number and she couldn't get more information. The back issues of the paper had been scanned in page by page, so if you needed a particular story you had to download the whole page … and there were a lot of pages. Curious as she was, Sheila didn't have time to review each page and see if she could find a common denominator. Eventually she printed off the log page with the intention of giving it to Mary when she saw her next, then on a whim she e-mailed the list to the editor.


The summer was shaping up to be a good one, even before the schools broke up. The cricket team was doing well, winning more than they lost. Ezra did indeed cater out his team tea but he gave the job to a small local company working out of someone's kitchen and giving their small firm a huge cash injection. Everyone agreed it was very good and the firm even got some new work out of it.

"One should always support the local business community," Ezra explained.

JD began to understand not just how the score a cricket match but to understand some of the tactics, Buck even caught him watching the Test match on TV a few times. Josiah's ankle improved and by late May he had the cast off and was beginning to put weight on it. Everyone was doing very well, everyone except Vin. Ever since the shout to the Nero he'd been having nightmares. He couldn't explain why, but times from his military service came back, times he would rather forget. He hid his worry and tiredness well, but both Chris and Nettie had noticed. Chris put it down to his discomfort about the huge increase in the town's population, he knew how Vin disliked crowds, Nettie had other ideas.

One hot June day he was using his day off to clear out the drain in Nettie’s yard. A particularly unpleasant, messy and smelly job he refused to let Casey do, and she flatly refused to let her aunt even attempt. By the time he was done water did indeed flow freely through the drain and down into the sewer. Vin was hot, sweaty, and what parts of him not covered by the overall he had been wearing were covered in a noxious black slime. He washed off what he could with the cold water out of the hose.

"Son," Nettie looked at him from her kitchen doorway. "You are not coming in here like that. Take off your boots and that filthy thing, then you better take a shower, then a bath. I've opened all the doors between here and the bathroom so you won't have to touch anything. There's shampoo and soap in there."

"It's okay Nettie, I'll go home and clean up there," Vin offered.

"You will not!" she responded indignantly. "I have tea all done, sandwiches - ham with redcurrant jelly, and tuna. Scones and coffee cake."

Vin mouth was watering already. "I'd love to, um …I'll come back after I'm cleaner."

"Why? You've cleaned up in my bathroom before?"

"I… er… I… don't have anything on under here, 'sept my boxers," he admitted quietly.

"Good grief boy, is that all? I'll lend you some of my husband's old clothes to put on. I can wash that one and dry it before you go home. In now, no more arguments." She stepped to one side and pointed at the interior of the house.

Still Vin did not move.

"Boy, I have seen more men in their underwear than you've had hot dinners! Now strip that thing off so I can wash it." Still Vin did not move. "Come on I don't have all day, chop, chop!"

When he came back downstairs his overall was already in the spin cycle. He stood in the doorway and smiled shyly at Nettie, who stood back to view him. It had to be said her dead husband’s old bowling trousers and shirt did nothing for Vin, who was a good three sizes smaller but three inches shorter than her Frank. The baggy trousers were held up by an old pair of braces, he had rolled up the bottoms but they still cascaded over his bare feet and trailed on the ground.

He sat at the table and waited, as he always did for Nettie to pass him the sandwiches, then he helped himself to a goodly number while she poured him a mug of hot sweet tea, with plenty of milk - just the way he liked it. Then, as she had before, and while he ate, she stepped behind him with a towel and dried his damp hair. She had done it the very first time they had met, and it always seemed to her he enjoyed it, certainly he relaxed when she did it. But not today, today she detected there was some residual tension.

"Son?" she asked, a term of endearment she bestowed on any man more than ten years her junior.


"What's worrying you?"

"Nothing, I'm fine." He took a huge bite of his sandwich so he wouldn't have to say more.

Nettie changed tactics.

"Why don't you cut this mane of yours more often? I don't really see you as the hippie type."

Vin said nothing for a while as she continued to gently dry the straggly ends of his hair. Finally he said. "Mam like it long."

Nettie stopped a moment. He had told her and Chris that first day his mother was dead and that it had happened a long time ago, but had never mentioned it again.

"Do you remember her?" she asked gently.

He shook his head a little. "I was five when she died, she died in her sleep, it was very sudden. I remember…" he stopped for while as if trying to find words to describe what were only feelings. "I remember," he continued. "…she used to brush my hair every morning, and every evening I had a bath and she washed my hair and dried it in the kitchen. She used…she used to stroke it." Nettie could hear both emotion and embarrassment in his voice. "I guess it was softer then."

Nettie finished with the towel and walked around to face him. "It sounds like a good memory to have. Now, how about some scones with clotted cream and home-made blackcurrant jam?

His face split into a huge smile as he handed the now empty plate over to be loaded up with the offered goodies. Nettie waited until he was on his third scone before she asked another question.

"What happened to you after your mum died?"

"We were living with Mam-gu and Tad-cu so I just lived with them, my dad… well he wasn't around. Tad-cu had a small farm, sheep mostly, but I had a pony - Tippy - she was the best…" He sounded wistful as he remembered his sturdy little Welsh Mountain Pony. "When I was eight Mam-gu died, we found her, me and Tad-cu, on the kitchen floor, same thing happened to her as Mam. A stroke." He stopped speaking and sipped his second mug of tea.

"What happened to you and your granddad?" Nettie prompted.

"He …well he was alright for a while, a few years anyway, we were alright, then he started to forget things, sometimes he forgot my name. I could handle it, I could look after myself but they… they said we couldn't live at home no more…"

"He was senile?" Nettie asked gently.

"Yer, I guess, I didn't understand at the time. See, he and Mam-gu had know each other since they were both five, I guess he just couldn't go on without her, he just sort of left."

Nettie's husband had always told her he wanted to go first, because he wouldn't be able to cope alone. He got his wish, but a lot sooner than she or he expected. A lifelong smoker, a heart attack had taken him from her more then twenty years ago.

"They, the authorities, sold the farm, they sold all the sheep, the pigs - we had three - they killed the chickens and Lloyd George, the rooster, they … they had the dogs put down 'cause they wouldn't obey anyone but me and Tad-cu." He had to stop, he didn't want to Nettie see him cry as he remembered the dogs, two collies much like Chris', being literally dragged away from him to be muzzled and locked in the back of the vet's van.

"And your pony? They sold it too?"

He nodded silently, keeping his head down. Finally he sniffed and rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes. "The cats ran away, guess they went wild, cats can look after themselves, can't they?"

"Yes of course, better than we can. Is your grandfather still alive?"

He shook his head.

"Vin honey, what happened to you?"

He shrugged. "The usual, children's homes, foster care, you know?"

Nettie did, she knew all too well. A shiver ran through the old lady as she stood and walked back around the table to stand beside the young man wearing her dead husband's clothes. He might well be a former Royal Marine, a Green Beret no less, but right now he was just a lost boy in need of a good hug, and she was going to see he got just that. She placed her arms around his powerful shoulders and pulled him to her, relieved to find he made no resistance. Finally she released him, feeling much of the earlier tension had gone, much, but not all she noted.

"You still got room for my coffee cake?" she asked brightly.

For the first time since he had stepped into the house that day he smiled, a real smile.

"Always, Nettie, you know that, I got your tin out on the back of the bike." Whenever he did work for her she always not only fed him tea, but also sent him away with most of the uneaten cake in a big tin. He always brought it back, only to leave with it full again.

"I bet you have, and you're going to be leaving with it too, and well you know it!" she laughed.

"Cake? Did someone mention cake?" Chris stepped into the open doorway.

"Indeed, coffee as if you didn't know Christopher Larabee. Sit down man, while I put Vin's things in the dryer, then I'll brew a fresh pot of tea. She was about to turn to the washing when she caught sight of Vin scowling at Chris.

"Young man!" she barked, causing him to snap his head up at her. "Don't think I don't know what that face is all about, there is plenty of cake for both of you and some left over, now cut Chris a slice while I do this for you."

Nettie was standing on the step two hours later watching Vin secure the refilled cake tin to the back of the bike when Chris came past her on the way to his own car. "How much did you hear?" she asked quietly.

"Enough." Was the equally quiet reply.

Part 6

JD opened the letter from the Dean's office at St Andrews somewhat mystified as to why the Dean should be writing to him. Quickly scanning the letter, the mystery only deepened. According to the letter someone had been enquiring about him at the university, his results had been looked up and someone had been to his old address. The Dean's secretary asked did he know about this and if so could he let her know what was going on, she even offered to help if that was what he wanted. JD quickly e-mailed her, saying he had no idea what was going on and asking her to contact him if it happened again. That done he went back to studying the Highway Code, his driving test was ominously close now.

Mary had been too busy with Billy and the paper to take a look at the information Mrs Cornell had sent her from the library. But it intrigued her so one weekend while Billy was at his grandparents she decided to investigate. It took some doing, but once she had entered all the topics covered on a hastily set up data base and asked it to sort it one topic became clear. Every page downloaded contained an article about the current lifeboat crew, this included the death of Buck's mother and Chris' family. There was even stuff about services Josiah had officiated at. She supposed someone was getting ready to do a story on the crew.


Buck paced, he fidgeted, and then he paced some more. He was meant to be helping Vin with the brass work on the boat, it wasn't his job but Inez had thrown him out of the Pub because he was driving her crazy. Vin had thrown him off the boat for the same reason. Now he was pacing up and down beside the boat, and still driving Vin crazy.

"Christ Almighty man, will you stand still. You're making me dizzy!" Vin complained. "You look like an expectant father, they will be back soon. It's no wonder JD asked Ezra to go with him." Vin went back to polishing his brass, oblivious to the gaggle of scantily-clad teenage girls watching him from the top of the harbour wall.

"I know, I know, but what if he fails, what do I say to him, he's built this up to be such a big thing, I …"

"Will you stop that!" Vin interrupted. "You're trying to cross bridges that aren’t even built yet, go some place, do something - I know, wash the car, God knows it needs it!"

Just then Ezra appeared beside the gaggle of girls. "Gentlemen," he greeted formally, causing both men to look up. "We have returned. Since Mr Wilmington was not at his hostelry, I volunteered to seek him out and tell you we are home."

"Well?" Buck asked expectantly.

"Oh no, I am sworn to secrecy." But by now Buck had bounded up the steps three at a time and was standing beside the much smaller man.

"Ezra, tell me now," he demanded. "I'll pretend I don't know."

"No, that was just what he said you'd say, sorry." Standish smiled an entirely fake smile at Buck.

"Ezra, you may be built like an Olympic swimmer, but I can still toss you and all that designer gear you're wearing in the drink, soon as look at you." He placed an ominously large hand between Ezra's shoulder blades. "Tell me now!"

"All I will say is that he is cleaning that Swedish monstrosity of yours, because - and I quote - 'no girl of his is travelling in something so filthy'."

"Yes!" Buck exclaimed, and set off at a run, heading back into town.

"I told him to wash it," Vin commented with a slight shake of the head.


"Guess what?" JD exclaimed as Buck ran into the yard behind the pub to find JD, shirtsleeves rolled up, soapy sponge in hand, cleaning the Volvo of nearly six-months-worth of grime.

"What?" Buck asked innocently.

"I passed!" JD all but whooped.

"Well done kid, I knew you'd do it first time."

"You didn't forget what you said did you?" JD suddenly asked, with evident worry.

"No kid, you can borrow the car first weekend you an' Casey are both free, with my blessing."

JD's smile grew even wider. "Tomorrow night."

"Really, that soon?" Buck grinned as he gestured to the bucket. "So you reckon my car's too dirty for a girl who lives her whole life in riding boots?"

"She does not! I just want everything to be right, you don't mind do you?" he suddenly sounded anxious.

"Why would I mind? If lending you the car gets it cleaned for free, hell you can borrow it every week, as far as I'm concerned."


"No, not really, but you can borrow it until you get your own."

"Which will be never," JD commented morosely.

"Oh I don't know, you never know what will turn up," Buck stated confidently with a wicked twinkle in his eye.

"Don't matter what turns up, I still can't afford the insurance." With that he turned back to the car and slammed the wet sponge down on the car's roof.

Well we'll just have to see about that, won't we? Buck thought to himself, very glad his car was both strong and well past the age where he worried about small scratches and dents, as JD worked furiously to get it clean.

"Tell you what kid, I'll make chocolate fudge cake and we'll invite all the boys round tonight to celebrate, how's that sound?"

"Sound's like we'll need more than one cake," JD added, his smile quickly restored. "One chocolate for me, one coffee for Vin and something else for the rest of you."

"In your dreams son, in your dreams."

Buck left JD to his cleaning and walked into the kitchen to find Inez watching JD from the window. She looked up as the man she not only worked for but secretly loved, came in to stand beside her, placing a hand on each shoulder.

"You know?" he asked.

"Oh yes, he told me. Are you sure he will be alright driving the car?" Inez worried about JD's safety almost as much as Buck's, although she only let her worry for JD show.

"He's a lot safer in my Volvo than some clapped out, ancient little hatchback."

"I guess so. You will need to use the kitchen for a while?"

"Yeah, about an hour or so."

"Fine, just don't leave a mess," she warned.

"Do I ever?"

Inez was about to make some flippant remark about the state of the flat, but she stopped. Whatever state his private accommodation was in, Buck was a professional and the pub kitchen was always spotless, if anything he was more fanatical about keeping it clean than she was.

"No, no you do not. He will want his own car now, some clapped out ancient little…"

"Well we will just have to see what his birthday brings him, won't we?"

Inez turned around and faced him, than she quickly gave him a kiss on the cheek, before he had even register what was happening.

"You are a good man Buck Wilmington," she stated, ducking out of his reach before he could return the kiss.


It was a good party, everyone was able to make it, even if they couldn't stay long. Buck had relented and made two cakes, it took the assembled crowd, including Nettie, Casey and Rain only ten minutes to finish of both of them. JD was enjoying himself, for once he was the centre of attention. Then she walked in. Heather Flint was back, beautifully manicured and elegantly dressed as ever, handbag and lap top hanging off one shoulder, weekend bag on the other. JD silently groaned as Buck leapt to his feet to greet her. He smiled broadly as he gently cupped each side of her face in his large hands and kissed her tenderly. Then after she put her bags behind the bar he led her over to the rest of them.

"Everyone, in case you haven't met, this is Heather. I told her you wouldn't mind if she joins us." With that he led her to a seat that Ezra had just vacated.

"Indeed, charmed to meet you." Ezra took her hand and kissed the back of it.

Buck disappeared to find her a drink. JD's heart sank. This was his party, his celebration, his special time. Now she was going to take over. Buck would come back and introduce her to everyone who hadn't met her before. Somehow she always took over the conversation, she got everyone to talk about themselves but she never talked about herself. He knew nothing about her other than her name. No matter how happy she seemed to make his friend, JD just didn't like her, he didn't trust her. Now he found he was angry with Buck for bringing her into his party where she wasn't wanted. As he watched she started to talk to the others. As ever she was charming and witty and she got everyone to talk to her about themselves, she even got Chris talking, if only about farming, everyone except Ezra, who kept his distance and was uncharacteristically quiet. Eventually JD and Ezra found themselves on the edge of the group.

"What is Miss Flint's profession?" Ezra asked JD quietly as he watched her chatting to Nathan while leaning into Buck.

"D' know, she's never said," JD admitted. "Why?"

"I have encountered such people, that is to say people who behave in such a manner, before."

JD turned to Standish. "What do you mean?"

"Nothing, forget I said it, just…"


"Be careful what you say to that woman."

"I am, very," JD stated ominously. "Trouble is Buck thinks the 'sun shines out…' and I don't know how or even if I can say anything to him."

"You can't, not yet, it will do more harm than good, all you can do is be watchful, and be here if or when you're needed."

JD nodded silently, grateful that someone understood his fears and his dilemma.


Whatever his feelings about Heather, who was staying the whole weekend, JD was too excited about his date with Casey to worry about it. The actual asking her had happened at the impromptu party. Buck had been gently coaching him for the past few months. "Keep it simple," was the main theme of his advice. "Don't try any fancy lines on her." So he had just gone with "Casey, would you like to come out with me to the cinema on Saturday night?" He was more nervous in the few seconds it took for her to say ‘yes’, than during the whole of his driving test. Buck hadn't been so taken up with Heather that he didn't notice the momentous event. He was totally confident in her reply, and it amused him to watch JD sitting there, rigid with worry and then all but melt with relief when she agreed.

Come Saturday he panicked when Buck took out the car to the cash and carry. He paced back and forth the whole two hours he was away in case it came back damaged and/or dirty. Never had he offered so quickly to unload the car. He disappeared into his room, and into the bathroom at three o'clock, some three hours before he was due to leave. But when he finally emerged Buck had to agree it was worth it, he looked more then presentable, he did in fact look like any girl’s ideal date, clean, smart but not formal, good-looking and, he hoped, charming.

"Well?" he asked as he stood by the back door.

Inez looked him up and down, and nodded her approval. Buck looked around the corner from the bar.

"You look great kid, go wow her. Just remember, getting nicked for speeding or dinking my car will not look cool."

JD rolled his eyes, he had no intention of speeding and had sweated buckets over the prospect of denting the car, not that it didn't have dents, but he didn't want to add to its collection. "I know, I know, don't worry, okay?"


It wasn't just JD who had the weekend off. Chris and Vin weren't on duty until Monday, and the forecast was for bright weather with a moderate wind, perfect sailing weather. Vin could handle the Lone Star on his own, but it was easier, less stressful and more fun with a crewmate. He didn't like to ask people for things, but asking Chris to come with him wasn't like asking for a favour. Larabee loved to sail and if he had the time would always come out with him, even so he still felt awkward asking.

Come Saturday morning the two of them set off at the crack of dawn. One of the things Vin loved to do but could only do with a crew mate, was sit on the top of the rail at the prow as the yacht rode the waves, his very own roller-coaster. By mid afternoon Chris was in control of the wheel and Vin was up at the prow, on top of the rail. To Chris he looked very precarious, but he had to accept that the former marine knew what was doing. He'd been even more silent than normal so far today. Chris remembered a conversation he'd had with Nathan at JD's party, only the day before.

"He looks tired," Chris commented to the doctor.

"So I've noticed, it is my professional opinion that he isn't sleeping."

Chris nodded his conformation, this had been his summation, thinking back it had started some time ago, maybe as far back as the first Bank Holiday. Now as he watched Vin's lithe body moving instinctively to keep himself balanced on the narrow rail, he tried to work out how to broach the topic. Suddenly Vin hopped down from the rail and made his way back to the stern.

"We need to jive," he announced.

Chris relinquished the wheel to Vin and moved to the winch cleat on the port side.

"Ready about," Vin called.

In response Chris released the sheet from the cleat and held it tight.

"Jive ho," Vin commanded.

Chris let go the sheet as Vin spun the wheel, then he crossed to the other side of the boat, took hold of the starboard winch and worked furiously to pull the sheet tight. The boom swung around and Vin ducked instinctively, as he brought the boat onto her new heading. With the sheets secured and the boat set on her new tack, Vin sat down behind the wheel, while Chris disappeared below deck. He re-emerged with a couple of beers, and handed one to Vin.

"Ta mate," Vin acknowledged.

Vin sat back and took a long pull on his beer, tipping his head back and closed his eyes, basking in the warm sunlight.

"Vin?" Chris started.


"I think I should tell you, I …er …I heard some of what you said about your family, the other day at Nettie’s," he confessed.

"Oh." Was his response, his head still didn't move, his eyes remained shut.

"I didn't mean to spy, I just was there, I didn't want to intrude, I …"

"Chris, I'm not bothered. Hell …" He sat up to look at Chris, who was squinting at him from under the peek of his navy blue RNLI cap. "… I know a lot about you. Private stuff you told me freely, I should have told you about me long ago."

Chris didn't comment. But eventually, after several more pulls on the beer, he spoke again. "Nathan … well, Nathan and me are worried about you, Nate thinks you're not sleeping properly."

Whatever he said, Vin was an intensely private man, and Chris knew he was walking a tightrope with his friendship.

"What did they tell you about me?" Vin finally asked.

"What did who, tell me what?"

"The committee, they must have something on record about me, my background, they are my employers after all."

"Right, well let me think. That you were a marine, that you joined when you were seventeen and left after 8 years. That was about it, er, you were a corporal when you left. You had an exemplary record, Queen's Award for Gallantry, though what you got it for wasn't revealed."

Vin shrugged, "Wasn't much really, nothing to do with being a marine, could have happened to anyone."

Chris wanted to ask what 'wasn't much' but resisted the urge. There was another long silence, as both men enjoyed the sun and sea. Eventually Vin spoke again. "I was a commando," he stated.

Chris said nothing; he just watched as his young friend took another long pull on his beer.

"I can't tell you about most of the stuff I've done, security …" he looked at Larabee, "…you know?" Chris nodded his understanding.

"Some of it wasn't ….well, stuff you don't want to remember. I'm not ashamed of anything I did, but some of it wasn't…" It was clear he was groping for the words to express himself. Finally he looked up. "What I can tell you, is that I'm one hell of a good shot." He left it there, Chris was astute enough to work out that meant he had been trained to be a sniper, maybe even an assassin.


After another silence Vin spoke again. "They offered me a shot at the SAS." He didn't say any more, hoping Chris understood enough to know he didn't have what it took mentally to be in the SAS. Most marines and soldiers dreamt of joining the SAS, but you needed a very special mindset to make it. A single-mindedness and ruthlessness Vin knew he didn't have. The physicality, the discipline he had no problem with, but Vin Tanner had learned that no matter what his natural talent with a gun, he was not a killer. He had nightmares about the people he had killed. Most of them were about to kill or maim someone when he took them out, some just deserved to be killed, monsters, ruthless indiscriminate killers, perpetrators of crimes most people couldn't even imagine, but beyond the powers of justice; it didn't help the nightmares though.

"Some memories are hard to live with," Chris stated neutrally. He knew the truth of that statement better than most. "Some memories won't stay where we put them."

Vin drained his beer. "Pesky things, memories, some of them have a mind of their own. Cach!" he suddenly exclaimed.

Chris had no idea what it meant, but he assumed from the inflection that Vin had just sworn in welsh. "What?" he asked.

"It is far too nice a day to let bloody nightmares and memories of things long since past make us miserable - right?"

Chris downed his own beer. "Right. You speak Welsh?" he asked, changing the subject.

Not all Welsh people could speak Welsh, not by a long way, whether you could depended on which part of the country you came from or how good a student you were. Vin had many talents, but student wasn't one of them.

Vin laughed. "'Till I went to school when I was five it was all I spoke, since everyone in school spoke it too, took me a while to learn English, I can tell you."

Chris had heard Tanner use Welsh to express emotion before, if English was his second language it made more sense for him to revert to his mother tongue in times of emotion and stress. It might also help explain why he was so quiet most of the time and his odd use of grammar on the rare occasions he got drunk. His brain was translating everything, and when he was drunk the translations got a little screwed up.

Vin looked up at the sun and then stood. "We better start back, make ready to come about."

Chris collected the now empty bottles and stowed them safely below before taking up his place beside Vin. He still didn't know what specifically - if anything - was giving Vin nightmares, but at least Vin had admitted he was having nightmares, that was progress of a kind.


The bedroom was remarkably tidy, the sheets crisp and clean, the vanilla scented candles gave it a warm glow and a seductive sent. Heather's negligee was barely decent, blood red, pure silk and very expensive, and it was going to waste. While she lay in the huge comfortable bed alone, Buck, who she had to admit was looking positively edible in a pair of black linen, martial art-type trousers and nothing else, was in the bathroom. He didn't need to be there, he was there because the bathroom window looked out over the back yard.

"He can look out for himself Buck, he's not a baby," she called.

The vision in black linen strolled back to the door. "I know, I'm worried about my car." He smiled at her, but didn't move into the room.

"Like hell you are! If you cared about that heap of junk it wouldn't look like it an entrant in a demolition derby."

"My car is not a heap of junk, it runs just fine, thank you, passes its M.O.T. every year, no problems," Buck stated indignantly. Perhaps it was because he was raised by women, but Buck didn't share most men's obsession with his car. He certainly didn't need a car to impress or entice women. No, all Buck cared about was, that it got him from A to B whenever he wanted it to, and could carry a month’s worth of supplies from the cash and carry, and on this occasion one very young novice driver and his date.

"It's nearly one in the morning, maybe he's gone back to her place?" she ventured.

"No, not the kid, he's not ready to go that far yet."

"For God’s sake Buck, he's a seventeen year old boy, he'll never be any more ready!"

"Trust me, he and Casey aren’t ready yet." With that he turned and went back to the window.

"Bloody hell!" Heather sighed. "JD come home, now, please." As if in answer to her prayer she heard Buck give a whoop of joy from the bathroom.

"He's back, car's fine, he looks happy." Heather listened to the running commentary from the bed. Eventually when he was satisfied JD was okay Buck joined her on the bed.

"Buck?" she asked.

"Yeah," he replied while nuzzling her ear

"Why…" Oh God how am I meant to concentrate when he does that? "…do you worry so much about him, after all he's just your lodger?"

Buck pulled away, which made it easier to think, but she missed the nuzzling.

"He's my crew mate too, besides…" he propped himself up on his elbow. "…he's just a kid, he's only seventeen you know? And he's got no one, no relatives."

"So you took it upon yourself to look after him?" she asked incredulously.

"I offered him a home, it was what any decent person would have done."

"A home, is a rented room in someone else's house a home? I mean he does pay you rent doesn’t he?"

Buck smiled. "Well, he doesn’t pay me as such," he explained.

"As such?" she probed further.

"He pays me in services, book-keeping, dog walking, stuff like that, he's a very smart kid. Are we going to talk about JD all night? Because…" He went back to nuzzling her ear. "…I can think of other things we can be doing."

Oh Jesus, yes let's do other things! "Well if you're through watching out of windows, I think we could do some of those other things." As if on cue they both heard JD come in and go into his own room next door.

"JD? Who's he?"


Despite this earlier statement at around three in the morning Buck left Heather sleeping in his bed and headed into JD's room. Something had woken him and even though he couldn't say what, instinct took him straight to his young friend’s side. He found JD sitting on the bathroom floor beside the toilet bowl. He looked up as Buck came in.

"Rough night?" Buck asked softly.

As if in reply JD turned back to the porcelain and heaved again. Wilmington picked up a flannel, soaked it in cold water and then knelt beside the stricken youth and waited for him to stop vomiting. When he was done, Buck washed his face then handed him a mug of water.

"Better?" he asked.

"For now."

"How long have you been here?" Buck asked worriedly.

"What time is it?"

"'Bout three."

"Then I've been here for about an hour I think."

"Sorry kid, you should have come and got me."

"I'm not a baby Buck, oh God!" With that he turned back to the bowl.


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