Too Late to Say I'm Sorry
by Carol Pahl
JD opened his eyes, seeing the hospital room clearly for the first time. He recognized the uncomfortable pinch of an IV needle in one hand. Somewhere, a monitor echoed his heartbeat. The blood pressure cuff regularly squeezed his arm. A wall of cupboards covered one wall while the others were swathed with curtains. A window reflected the overhead lights and was inky black beyond the glass. A painful lump on his back prevented a comfortable position.
As he regained more of his senses, he looked for a familiar body reclining somewhere in the room. He was alone, totally alone. Hadn't Chris been here? Had he imagined his boss talking to him?
Why wasn't Buck here? He never left when JD was recovered before. New pains assaulted his brain and he fought to stay awake, not wanting to give into the unrestful darkness.
As sleep finally overtook his body, and he willed his mind to stop thinking, one last name exploded. Buck! Buck wasn't here because he hated JD so much, hated him for defying him, for yelling all those horrible accusations at him.
They must all hate him to leave him alone. What had he done to deserve the scorn of the entire team, men he believed to be concerned about his welfare?
'Dear God, What have I done that they all deserted me? Was it my fault that last case fell apart?' His mind raced through different scenarios trying to find the answer. Loneliness squeezed his heart and self-doubt returned, yelling over and over. Alone, no one else cares. Alone! JD succumbed to the sleep inducing, serotonin, falling asleep to the belief now that Casey died, no one beyond the hospital walls cared if he lived or died and the people in this building only cared about keeping their 'patient' alive.
-- M - 7 --
"Where is he?" Buck demanded, seeing his long time friend sitting on a chair in the front lobby of the small hospital. His eyes darted around the area looking for answers, his temper simmering just below a boil.
"Buck, sit down." Chris held his voice low and menacing. "Some stuff you gotta know first."
When the two vehicles stopped along the highway and the men exchanged phone messages, Buck sat in the vehicle, numb to the actions of his friends. Ezra opened the door to quietly explain the situation but realized that the man wouldn't hear anything without a drastic, attention getting action. The pragmatic gentleman grabbed the agent's face and purred in his ear. "Mr. Larabee located Mr. Dunne among the living." Seeing no reaction, he squeezed Buck's cheeks tightly and spoke louder, "Chris found JD. He's alive. Do you care?"
Wilmington shook his head free and glared at the smooth Southerner, nonverbally challenging the question, while his mind replayed what Ezra said. His eyes opened wide as realization that JD had been found. When the distraught agent finally realized that the last grain of hope had yet to descend through the hourglass, he shed his lethargy and the others felt the force of his emotions. Josiah couldn't drive fast enough on the slushy roads and Nathan didn't know the answers to Buck Wilmington's pent up questions.
"My little brother needs me and you aren't stopping me. You gonna tell me where he is or do I gotta tear this place apart to find him?" The normally jovial man displayed his dark side. Too many obstacles stood between him and JD Dunne and he wasn't about to let any one, including Chris Larabee, keep him from getting to JD's side.
Guilt weighed him down and the belief that his young roommate may have died before the two of them had an opportunity to patch things up left him devastated. Now that spark of hope drove him to ignore normal protocols as he bulldozed his way to finding JD.
"JD's here. He needed surgery to remove a bullet from his upper arm, but..."
"BUT nothing, Chris. Where is he!?" Buck's voice raised as he sought answers.
Chris looked down at his hands as Josiah and Nathan approached the pair, leaving Vin and Ezra watching their backs. "The kid's under arrest for robbing a bank. The guard and I had words when I was up to see the boy. No one gets to see him till the sheriff gets here."
"Damn you, that boy needs me and..."
Chris shot out of the chair and grabbed Buck's arm. "You go making a scene and they'll throw you out without even laying your eyes on him. Ain't like Denver where they know who we are."
The nurse from the critical care unit approached the pair, her eyes dark with anger. Ignoring the battle of wills, she marched up to the blond man and stopped. "What did you say to him?"
"Ma'am?" The leader asked not sure of the woman's demand.
"That boy was getting better each time I checked him. After your little scene, he's given up. I need to know what you said to him."
Buck realized that this diminutive lady could be the key to him getting to JD. "Miss, JD is like my little brother. Please, let me see him. If'n he knows he isn't' alone, he'll "
She glared at the large man interrupting her conversation. "Who are you? Are you with him?" her eyes darted arrows at Larabee.
"I'm Buck Wilmington, ma'am." Buck turned on his charm. "JD is my best friend. We both work for this man, Chris Larabee. The boy's been missing for the past week. We'd feared we lost him. Please, let me see him. He needs me; he needs us to be with him."
She contemplated his plea before turning to look at the other four men surrounding the pair. "You all together?" The mismatched group nodded in unison and added a chorus of "Yes, ma'am."
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the deputy she kicked out, approach
with the county sheriff. Fearing more sparks as the two groups of strong-willed,
stubborn men collided, she announced. "You," pointing at Buck, "come with
me. The rest of you need to stay here and sort out the legal stuff."
Waiting for the elevator, she ordered. "If you upset that boy in any way, I'll have security removing you and your friends so fast, you'll wonder why you ever left Denver. My patients are my top priority and your so called egos don't hold an ounce of sympathy. I'll be watching you, Mr. Wilmington, but Mr. Dunne needs something or someone. I'm taking a chance you are it."
"Thank you. Thank you."
-- M - 7 --
Buck Wilmington hesitated before stepping into quiet room. Was he ready for this? Could he hide the emotional stress of the last week and be strong enough to face his little brother? Would JD forgive him? Taking a deep breath he pushed open the door and entered the hospital room. He did a quick inventory of the machines surrounding the bed before his eyes settled on the all too familiar form in the bed.
"JD? It's Buck. You awake?" Buck's voice, no more than a whisper, boomed through the silence. He saw an empty chair against a far wall and his heart fell. What dispair did JD feel when he woke up to an empty chair?
He grabbed the chair and dragged it over to the bedside. Settling his large frame into the seat, he rested his head in his hands as his elbows rested on his knees. "I'm so sorry, little brother, so sorry. Please, wake up little brother; let me apologize. I need you, JD. We all need you back. This week has been hell. Whole damn apartment flooded, guess you don't know about that yet. Josiah and I saved the electronics, got your computers and stuff high and dry but we lost everything else. But none of that matters, long as we got you. Come on, kid. Show me them expressive hazel eyes. You got a whole roomful of brothers waiting to see you. JD, you gotta know, I never should have said them things. Never should have busted in on you and Casey. I need your forgiveness, son. I need you."
Buck continued his litany, but the figure in the bed remained silent. The minutes passed, but JD didn't stir.
A nurse silently entered the room and adjusted the various machines. "Any change?" Her voice reflected care and compassion and held none of the aggravation of the head nurse.
A slight shake of his head gave her the answer she needed. This man cared deeply for the younger one and wouldn't leave his side.
"I'm sorry for the way you were treated before."
Buck held up his large hand stopping her apology. "She was doing what was needed for JD, ma'am. None of us hold that against you. If'n it weren't for her, and the doctors, you and the other nurses, this boy would have passed on to heaven. He'd join his mother, but them angels aren't ready for this soul. Just wish God would help him now ta come back to us."
She laid a gentle hand on his slumped shoulder. "I'm sure he knows you are here."
Buck looked up at her, his eyes so full of concern. "Miss, I realize hospitals got rules, especially about visitors but if you could see it in your heart to bend them regulations for a while, it'd go a long way on getting JD out of the dark hole he's in."
She tilted her head, wondering what he would request. "What rule do you want bent?"
"This isn't the first time JD's been in the hospital; getting hurt in our line of work happens. The rest of those men downstairs? Well, we all work together, that's for sure, but it's something more. The strength we share, all of us I'm no good at explaining this. Just know that when all seven of us are together, the one that's injured gets better a lot faster. Proven fact." Buck smiled seeing the soft smile on the nurse's face. "It's a proven medical fact, at Denver General. In fact they changed their rules just for us; don't kick out any of Team 7 when one is injured." Buck turned on his animal magnetism. "JD went missing a week ago. We thought he was dead. We were told to start planning his memorial service. Seeing as only me and Chris have actually seen him, would it be all right for the seven of us to be together, at least for a short while?"
Looking at her watch, she nodded. "Problem is the time. Visiting ended a couple of hours ago. If you are not immediate family, you must leave. I'll see if each one could see him, but then you will all have to leave."
Buck shuddered at the thought of leaving the boy's side, but JD needed to know everyone wanted to check on him.
While waiting for the rest of the team, Buck returned to the bedside chair. "Hear that JD? That sweet little thing is going to get the others; give them a chance to talk to you, let you how much we missed your stupid jokes. How much we need you, son. Please, wake up, please."
-- M - 7--
A half hour later, six men sat around the hospital waiting room. Each man took a turn, stopping by the bed, touching the youngest' shoulder and softly spoke a few words, but JD remained unresponsive. His body shifted in the bed but he never open his eyes, never acknowledged the fact that his friends surrounded him. The charge nurse hated to force the men to leave when she saw their care and compassion for the patient but administration demanded strict adherence to hospital policy. Visiting hours began at ten in the morning.
Chris Larabee stood beside the window, staring at the dark, silhouetted forest with an angry scowl and heavy heart weighing him down. Just a few hours ago, JD talked to him. Now the boy shut out the entire world.
A large hand rested on his hunched shoulder. "Chris, this isn't your fault."
The team leader turned and looked at Josiah, "I ought to have done or said something more than I did. Shouldn't have left him; shouldn't have argued with the guard."
"You through with the should haves and ought to's, boss? Boy's been through a lot this last week. We need to find out what made him shut us out, break down that barrier and be ready to help him cope with troubles he doesn't even know about. You're his one hope, Chris. You talked to him. What was troubling him then? What do we need to do to reach him now?"
"Casey. He's convinced he saw the girl in the car when it was burning."
"He saw the conflagration?" Ezra joined the conversation.
The rest of the men lifted their eyes at the revelation. "He saw the girl's face next to the car window. Said he couldn't get down to them before the whole thing exploded. He thinks his girl is dead. I tried to tell him otherwise but he didn't hear me. Kept asking why I bothered to find him. He was filled with so much guilt for not saving Casey, that it was all his fault."
Buck and Chris looked at each other, each remembering the same emotions from another time, another car fire, a time when they were too late to save Sarah and Adam.
"Can't we get Casey here? Let him see that she's alive?" Nathan asked.
Vin stood up abruptly. "I ain't called her, let her know we found him. Last time I talked to Nettie, Casey weren't doin' all that well herself. Too much blaming going on."
"Maybe she's harboring the same trepidation afflicting our young friend. The remorse of not saving the other is consuming each young person's psyche. She needs to be relieved of the burden of compunction. By ascertaining this knowledge, her recovery might allow her guardian to chauffeur Miss Wells to our locality where her presence would reach across the chasm our young friend sequestered himself."
Five pairs of eyes stared at the eloquent speaker before Vin shook his head and walked toward the door. "Ain't sure what you said, Ez, but I'm calling Casey, see if Nettie can drive her up here."
"Hopefully seeing, hearing and touching her will help bring him around." Josiah added.
"Isn't that what I just said?" The undercover man looked around the room. Was his elocution that impossible to comprehend?
A uniformed guard stepped into the room and spoke softly but with authority, "Time to leave. The patient can have visitors in the morning. Sorry, but the floors aren't allowed to let guests spend the night with the patients. A few rotten visitors ruined it for the considerate ones. I'll escort to you the door."
Buck's mouth opened but Josiah pulled the man with him as he left the room. "Tomorrow things will look brighter."
The five dejected men lumbered toward the elevator, Nathan and Josiah flanking Buck.
Standing in the shadows, Vin Tanner watched his fellow team members enter the elevator with a security guard. Buck's posture yelled defeat and Chris's wasn't much better. Nathan and Josiah held their heads high but took a final glance at the door separating them from JD. What happened in the few minutes he'd been gone? Before he stepped into the lit hallway, a man dressed in a white lab coat and carrying a patient's chart barged into the room next to JD's with another nurse scurrying along behind him. Vin melted back into the shadows and waited for the medical professionals to leave before he would return to sit by JD.
The minutes crawled by but Tanner's professional patience afforded him the ability to remain invisible to the busy nursing staff. The man in the white coat exited JD's room with the nurse on his heels.
"Doctor, family is always important."
He turned toward the woman and demanded, "Are you questioning my medical intelligence? I'll have you know I was the top in my class, straight A's and no lowly RN with only a BS is going to tell me how to practice medicine. My orders stand." The doctor's voice rose in volume, filling the hallway.
As the doctor dressed down the nurse, a shadow moving with the grace of a cat slipped into the room and slowly closed the door. Expecting to be discovered shortly, Vin sat in the chair located by his young friend's head and touched JD's face.
"Kid, don't have much time. You need to wake up or make some sign that you're still with us, 'fore that doc decides to hand you over to the local cops. Buck, now he's sick with worry, you missing and all. Yah gotta tell us what's wrong so we can help fix it."
"I just got off the phone, talking to Nettie. Casey was screaming in the background, real excited like. Wake up; give that girl a call. Nettie's got her hands full and yore voice. Tell Casey you're all right. It would go a long way to helping ta relieve some of Nettie's burden."
"You listening, Kid? Buck, Casey, hell the whole team, needs to hear your chatter. This silent treatment you're handin' us is downright scary. Casey's waiting on your phone call, JD."
Oblivious to the state-of-the-art hospital bed, the silent patient lay wrapped in a self-imposed cocoon. An arm moved, a leg stretched. The lungs inhaled and exhaled in a rhythmic pattern while his heart beat a steady cadence. The body continued functioning but his soul slowly shriveled.
Vin sat in the chair and leaned toward JD's head. He continued to talk; retelling many of the pranks the two youngest members had pulled on their older counterparts. He kept his voice low and non-threatening, his hand resting on the still one of his friend.
-- M - 7--
The door opened silently and an older woman quietly entered the room. She carried a clipboard to record the patient's vitals. JD didn't move when the cuff squeezed his arm nor did he flinch when the cold stethoscope touched his chest. He offered no reaction when she gently wiped the hair away from his ear to take his temperature. The nurse held his hand, checking his pulse, unaware of the one eye spying on her as she tended to her nightly duties. The woman's tender professionalism warmed Vin's heart; JD was in good hands.
Suddenly the woman stood up straight and her eyes raked the room when the hair on the back of her neck prickled and her own heart rate raced. Who else occupied the room?
Vin shrunk back into the darkness of the small closet and willed his heartbeat to slow down? What alarmed the nurse? Would she search the small space and discover him?
The woman moved the chair away from the bed, took another look around the dimly lit room before checking the room's bathroom and mumbled to herself, "Kathy, get a grip. You're too old to be hearing ghosts."
The hidden agent steeled himself to remain in the enclosed space. Something spooked the nurse and he knew she would return to check the room again. In the mean time he'd keep watch on JD, protect him, and insure he remained safe.
--M - 7 --
The late March sun rose, illuminating the crisp mountain morning and bathing the eastern hospital room with a luminous pink and blue luster. At the exact minute visiting hours began, the five men crossed the threshold of the nursing unit. They surrounded the patient's bed, providing a protective ring, leaving only a path for the required routines of the nursing staff.. None were surprised to see their longhaired friend silently keeping watch at JD's bedside. Vin now slept on the hard floor while Chris and Ezra dozed in the two recliners and Buck rested his head on the foot end of the bed. Josiah shifted his large frame in the too small chair and slowly opened his eyes.
Sanchez stood and gazed at the beautiful day and mused to himself. Was it only a week ago that this horrific nightmare began? He glanced at the patient and smiled when he saw two hazel eyes watching him.
"Son," he said softly. "Welcome back."
JD shut his eyes tightly before opening them again. He moved his head and started counting the number of men in the room. 'They were all here, all six were here.' His eyes returned to the older man and he said in a hoarse voice, "Why? Why are you here? I thought you all hated me. You've got every right to; I'm nobody worth sitting with."
"JD, you are important person to everyone in this room." Josiah returned to the empty chair beside the bed.
"Buck; he hates me. I can't go back. I said some pretty stupid things. He won't forgive me."
Josiah helped the young man with a glass of water before asking, "Do you forgive him?"
"Huh?" He glanced at the man resting at the other end of the bed.
"Buck's afraid he'd be too late to receive your forgiveness. He's a wreck, trying to find you, needing you. Chris hasn't been able to get a lick of work out of any of us this week." Josiah adjusted the blankets and watched the dark lashes drift shut.
"Whoa, there, son. Time to wake up and stay awake. We're not leaving you; and we sure aren't gonna let you leave us."
A deep sigh escaped the young man. "Don't matter no how." JD looked up at his older friend, "Can't escape the nightmare, sleeping nor awake. I shut my eyelids and I keep seeing her, seeing her burn, her hair on fire."
Josiah grabbed the boy's hand, "Look at me JD." His voice rose in volume. "Casey is alive; home with Nettie. They are waiting for you to call, to tell them you are all right."
"But I saw..."
Shaking his head, Josiah interrupted. "No, you did not. Casey was left at the store; that gang only took you after they found your badge. You saw the girl that shot you die, not Casey. She's scared JD. Scared she won't see you again; scared that you won't forgive her."
"She's not ?" Gradually the words sunk into his brain and as Josiah watched, the drama played out in the boy's expressive eyes. JD's slack face morphed into an expression of pure joy. "She's alive? Casey's all right?"
Laughing at the transformation he witnessed, Josiah nodded. "Yes, son. She's been waiting for you to call her. Are your ready to do that?"
The huge grin faded and the young brow furrowed. "Need to talk to Buck first, cause if he won't, aahh, I mean, if he won't, well then I..." JD sighed, the strength to speak coherently faded and he hung his head, letting his chin rest on his chest. "I need Buck," he whispered.
"Right here, kid." The tall, mustached agent stood on the other side of the hospital bed, resting his hand on the pillow beside JD's head. "I need to talk to you."
JD turned his head toward his 'big brother', taking in the compassion he saw in the older man's eyes. "I'm sorry, Buck."
"Me, too, kid. Was real afraid I wouldn't get the chance to tell you that, to tell you I was wrong."
A slight grin spread on the patient's face, "Accepted, if'n you accept mine?"
Buck's smile spread from ear to ear. "Deal!" He shook JD's uninjured hand, resisting the urge to envelop the boy in a huge bear hug. "How about we get you access to a phone, let you telephone someone who needs to hear you voice so she can heal?"
The other four men gathered near the door, offering the two 'brothers' and the Preacher a few moments, without eavesdropping on their conversation. Josiah joined the group while Buck helped the patient with the telephone.
"What about the sheriff? The kid still a suspect?" Vin asked, not being part of the group earlier.
The leader shook his head slowly, chewing on the inside of his lower lip. "Totally cleared. Talked to him late last night, after some of us left here."
Vin smiled, knowing the ribbing was in humor.
"Once he had all the details, the charges against JD were dropped. Ruled it coincidence, him showing up at that clinic with some young girl, with a bullet wound. Guess she matched the description of the robber's accomplice."
"Any idea of the identity of our young associates rescuer?" Ezra inquired.
Nathan nodded. "The receptionist faxed the sheriff the girl's name. A young Native American; lives up in the mountains with her step-father. He's a recluse, so no one in the town knows him. The girl comes down for supplies a couple times of year, but never this early in the spring. Busy-bodies report he's a wanted criminal; hiding from the law in some remote cabin. The girl was real anxious to leave the medical clinic, took off on her horse when the receptionist's back was turned."
Josiah's eyebrow raised and his large jaw moved up and down, his interest peaked. "Might be worth looking into."
Nathan shook his head at the idea. "We got what we want; JD back. Why stir up trouble for the family? They weren't responsible for the boy's predicament. He's fortunate someone found him, helped him get back to us, at risk to his own security."
"I agree with Nathan. We got no right barging into their business. What if he is wanted? We gonna report his location so whoever's looking for him gets a free ticket ta git him?" Vin added.
"The receptionist also sent a complete file of JD's treatment and symptoms." Josiah paused, making sure he had the men's full attention. "Weren't from the doctor, neither. Was from the girl's father." He passed the report to the team's medical expert.
"Looks like the man's got a medical background, a military medical background. Still don't seem right, investigating him, for helping JD. Unless the boy tells us differently."
"Casey, I, you, I'm so..." He smiled as he listened to the voice on the phone,
run non-stop with no break for him to interrupt. For the first time in over
a week, he felt confident that the world around him would no longer suffocate
him. Casey was safe and recovering from her injuries. He would soon be going
home, just a little worse for the wear, but he'd be going home. The other
team members cared about him, cared enough to keep searching for him even
after he'd been declared dead. Most of all, his heart healed with the forgiveness
freely offered by Buck Wilmington. All of the words spoken in anger were
washed away, leaving the two men an opportunity to resume their brotherly
"Hi, Mr. Dunne." The two men shook hands, each confidently acknowledging the other.
"I'm Doctor Rosse, filling in for Dr. Little. Sounds like you've had quite an adventure. How are you feeling?" The man examined the surgery site on JD's arm and smiled. "You ready to get out of here? Ready to go home to recover?"
A huge grin filled the young man's face.
"Looks like you got your answer, Doc. He ready to be released?" Buck's grin was just as goofy as the patient's.
"I'd like him to stay tonight, but if he continues to make as fast of recovery overnight as he has today, I'd say there would be a good chance Dr. Little will release him in the morning." He turned back to the patient, back in doctor mode. "You had any problems eating?" After a few more questions and responses the doctor exited the room, shaking each of the visitors' hands as he left.
"Guys, I sure appreciate you all being here, looking for me the way you did. I'm real sorry for causing you all the trouble."
The six men gathered around the bed. Chris spoke for the group, "Weren't no trouble, JD. You're one of us and we aren't complete without you. No matter what, we need to know we'll be there for each other. Sure, we might have problems and issues to work through, but like a family squabbling, they still care about each other. Let's get you well enough to get out of this town and back home."
Buck fidgeted nervously. "Ahh, Chris. You up to having a houseguest or two for a few days?"
"Buck, all I want to do is go home, to my own bed and sleep. Not that I don't mind visiting Chris, but I want to go home."
The other men laughed as they watched the ladies man squirm.
"Better tell him, Buck. Better he knows now." Josiah egged his partner.
"What? What happened?" JD looked around at the grinning faces, worry creeping across his own features. "What haven't you told me, Buck?"
Wilmington sighed, "Place got flooded while you were gone."
"You leave the tub on again?"
"No, no. Nothing like that." Buck tried to shush his roommate. "All the rain weakened a dam up in the mountains. Some reservoir busted open and the little creek behind the place, that pretty little stream, well, it sorta ran through your room."
"What? My room isn't on ground level. What kind of joke is this?"
"Ain't no joke, son. At least two foot of river water washed through the place. Everything that got wet had to get tossed."
"Perfect opportunity to acquire new furniture and accessories. The new carpeting and paint will afford you the opportunity to redecorate with something other than late dumpster and early remnant." Ezra offered.
Unable to speak, JD realized the tale was not the fabrication of Buck's somewhat twisted mind. His face fell as he realized the enormity of the disaster. Everything he owned was in that room; his electronics, his business records were all destroyed. The elation of past few hours crashed when the vastness of his loss struck him. The electronic equipment could be replaced and was covered by insurance. Paperwork existed electronically somewhere but the loss of his mother's few possessions were irreplaceable.
"Josiah and I rescued some of our stuff. Got most of the entertainment system carried up to the loft before we had to evacuate the building. Saved your records and computers too." Buck wished they hadn't had to tell JD about the flood until he was healed, but the disaster would be hard to conceal from him.
"Had to toss everything contaminated by the water; including all your clothes. We did save the denim quilt from your room and your motorcycle is safe at my house." Josiah offered.
"The quilt? You saved the quilt?" JD accepted the lifeline to his past and relaxed. All was not lost. He still have his memories of his mother painstakingly recycling well-worn jeans into a cozy comforter.
I'd love to know what you think. Carol