A Brother to Count On

by Phyllis

Little Britches ATF-teen years AU

Larabee glanced at his watch for the fourth time in a ten minute span, a fact not lost on the other four men seated around the table with him.

"Chris, they're only five minutes late. Maybe they had car trouble." Wilmington's voice sounded confident, but the blonde's worrying was beginning to stir doubts within the big man's heart also. The boys should have called if they had trouble. They both knew JD's curfew was eleven o'clock on weekends. Both boys wore watches and there was a clock in the truck. Buck found himself glancing at his own wrist.

The shrill ring of the phone split the tension filled air and five men breathed a sigh of relief.

"The young gentlemen simply lost track of time and are calling to say their arrival is imminent." Ezra stated.

As Larabee pushed away from the card game, his face remained dark with worry. "They better have a good explanation," he muttered under his breath. He didn't bother to look at the caller ID readout as he grabbed the phone and brought it to his ear. "Larabee" he growled.

"Chris Larabee?"

A brief look of confusion crossed the rugged face as he responded, 'Yes?"

"Mr. Larabee, this is Dan Marshall with the sheriff's department. You're listed as the contact person for Vincent Tanner."

Chris didn't hear anything else as his mind flashed back fifteen years, to another phone call, a call that destroyed his world, the call about Sarah and Adam. Buck heard the sharp intake of breath and looked up as Chris' face blanched and he fell heavily against the wall, his eyes closed tight. Buck, as well as Nathan, were instantly on their feet.

As Jackson placed a hand on Larabee's shoulder, Buck tried to pull the handset out of the man's clenched fist. "Chris, turn loose. Let me have the phone." Buck said firmly, trying to get through to the man. "Chris! Let go!"

Wilmington finally pried the phone loose and brought it to his ear. "This is Buck Wilmington. Who is this?" he demanded.

"Ah, Mr, Wilmington, this is the sheriff's department. I'm calling…"

Buck stood with one hand on Larabee's shoulder as he clutched the phone with the other. He was turned away from the others, but they could hear the fear in his voice. "Are they all right? Just tell me they're all right."

"Yes, sir. Both boys were injured, but nothing that was life-threatening."

Buck gave a shuddering sigh of relief as he squeezed the slender shoulder of his friend.

"What happened?"

All five men were standing at this point; ready to go as soon as Wilmington got off the phone. Larabee had regained his senses enough to acknowledge the others. Four heads turned at the sound of the phone being replaced in the receiver. A pale Buck Wilmington turned to face them.

"They had an accident and are both on the way to Memorial." He paused as Larabee looked away. "They're hurt, but the deputy said there was nothing life threatening."

"Thank the Lord." Ezra said.

"Praise be to thee." Josiah offered as he stood with his head bowed and one hand clamped around the cross that hung from his neck. Nathan nodded while remaining at the side of the team leader.

Chris stared across the room to the 'picture wall', as it had been dubbed. They had recently rearranged the photos in order to display the newest family portrait, a tradition that the four had begun the second year after the boys had come to live with them. A barn wood frame surrounded the mountain sunset background of vivid purples and pinks. The boys sat on a rail fence, their arms casually tossed over the shoulders of their fathers, one leg dangling and the other propped on one of the rails.

All four were causally dressed in western cut shirts, jeans and boots. Buck wore a dark blue shirt with pearl buttons in contrast to JD's deep red. Chris was dressed in a dark green that 'brought out the color of his eyes' according to Ezra, who had presented him with the shirt that same morning, stating that, "black, while very becoming, is beginning to merge the various years of portraits into one indiscernible image-of black.", in his usual sardonic manner. Vin had chosen a pale blue, the same shade as his eyes. The picture revealed the blush that had still tinged the boy's face after the endorsing comments of the young female photographer.

He tore his eyes from the face of his son to look at Wilmington and put the question to him that Buck had asked the deputy. "What happened?"

Buck's eyes flicked to each man before settling on Chris. "Someone ran a stop sign and broad sided 'em. Vin was knocked out. Deputy told me that EMT's said he probably has a concussion, no fracture, no swelling, no brain damage that they could detect."

Larabee smiled slightly at the news, but he would not be satisfied until he had talked to the doctor and Vin, himself. As he looked into the blue eyes of his friend, he realized that Buck was holding something back. "JD?"

The man swallowed before answering. "The truck got hit on his side. He was pinned inside, under the dash. His leg is broken, bad. But, except for that, and some bruising, he supposedly in good shape."

Silence hung heavily for a moment until Ezra spoke up. "I believe that we have tarried long enough, gentlemen. We should be on our way. As Josiah, Nathan and I arrived together, I suggest that Nathan and Josiah take Nathan's vehicle and I shall drive Larabee's truck with the fathers." A protest died on Wilmington's lips as Ezra held up a hand. "I will not allow either of you to drive in your distracted conditions. Now, we best leave. The young gentlemen will be waiting."

He spun on his heels and left without another word after retrieving the keys from the rack they hung from. The four men hesitated for only a moment before heading after the man.

They arrived at the hospital in record time and swept into the emergency room like a cold blast of artic air, blustery and no nonsense. A deputy turned toward them at a signal from the woman behind the desk and started in their direction, as. Nathan stated, "I'll check with Cherie while you talk to him", indicating the approaching officer. The medic moved away and the four men stepped out of the doorway as Nathan headed to the nurse's station to learn the location of the two adopted boys.

The deputy introduced himself and recounted what he knew of the accident. The four men listened for a few minutes and then the deputy answered questions on the specifics of the accident. Larabee and Wilmington shook the man's hand and they parted ways. Nathan had waited at the reception desk, knowing he could get the details later. Seeing they were finished, Jackson signaled the team and they moved with him to the elevators.

"Vin is on the third floor. They have him in a room, already." They boarded the elevator and the doors slid closed. Nathan punched two buttons and, as they ascended, he turned to Buck and told him. "JD is up in the surgery waiting area. They'll let you in to talk to him before they take him in."

"Surgery?" Buck's voice was low with none of its usual vibrato.

"They have to do some work on his leg." The elevator stopped on three and Chris stepped off, followed by Ezra and Josiah. They held the door as Nathan continued. "Cherie couldn't tell me much. You want me to go with you?"

Buck blinked several times before shaking his head. "Go with Chris. They probably won't let but one of us in anyway. What room is Vin in?"


"I'll see you there." The big man nodded as he spoke and Nathan stepped off the elevator. The doors slid shut taking Wilmington one floor up as the four men turned and headed down the hall.

Vin's room was only three doors down. Chris approached and slowly pushed the door open as the other three men continued down the hall to the small waiting room after stopping at the nurses station to ask for the doctor. Larabee do not notice he was alone as the door slid silently closed behind him.

His eyes swept the young man from head to toe and he was surprised to see no evidence of the accident. As he moved around the bed though, he saw the bruise over the boy's left eye. Chris' heart ached at the sight, at the implication of 'what could have been'. He reached out and lightly touched the bruised spot and flinched when the boy groaned.

"Sorry, son."

Blue eyes opened a fraction and then closed again as a shy smile pulled at his lips. "Dad" came out as a whisper, but it couldn't have sounded better if had been shouted from a mountain top. Larabee's heart soared as he smiled.

"Yeah, kiddo, it's me. Sorry I woke ya. You relax, rest. I'll be here when you wake up."

Chris watched as the young man's eyelids flirted with closing, only to flutter back open. Something wouldn't allow him to drift off, a thought that nagged at the back of his mind. Chris knew how it was. He had been there before, wanting to sleep, but needing to know something, not sure of what that something was. It was obvious when the thought crystallized in the young mind as Vin's eyes shot open and he gasped. "JD?"

Larabee was prepared with a restraining hand on the young chest. "Whoa, there. JD is upstairs. Buck is with him. He's fine."

"No, no, he's not. I heard him, just before... The truck jumped or lurched… something and then we bounced and JD screamed. He was hurtin'. He was hurtin' bad, Dad. I heard him." Vin's hands came up to cover his face. "God, did I run over 'im? Was he thrown out?" the boy sobbed.

"No, Vin. No." Chris gently pulled the trembling hands away from the terrified face. "Vin, listen to me. JD broke his leg, but he's going to be fine. Do you hear me?" The man clutched the boy's hands as he spoke, gripping them to draw his attention. He was rewarded as the boy took a deep breath and slowly opened his eyes to look at his father.

"Have you seen 'im yet?"

"No, we let Buck go up. They have to operate and set the leg." Vin's hands gripped Larabee's with a vise-like strength. "It'll be okay, Vin. I promise."

The blue eyes studied the man's face as if searching for the answers in the green eyes. Finally, Vin released his grip and relaxed into the pillow, satisfied with the answer he had found in his father's eyes. "You come let me know when he gets out."

Chris smiled and nodded and then qualified his agreement with, "As long as you get some rest."

Vin nodded and closed his eyes only to open them again. "The other car? What happened?"

"I talked to the deputy who worked the accident. He said that you did really well. It could have been a lot worse if you hadn’t reacted so fast. You saved JD's life, Vin. Deputy Randall said that the car hit JD's door and then ran up underneath the truck, under the front wheel, lifting it off the ground. When you veered away, you kept him from t-boneing the truck at JD's door." Chris read the doubt in the young man's eyes and continued. He wanted to make sure that the sensitive youth understood that he had done nothing wrong. "The GTO was speeding and ran a stop sign. There's nothing you could have done to prevent the accident, but you did prevent two deaths."

The man placed a comforting hand on the teenager's shoulder. "Vin, I'm sorry that boy died, but he made the choice to drink, to get drunk, and then drive. And as sorry as I am that he did those things and died as a result, I'm a hundred times gladder that he didn't take you boys with him. I don't know what I would do if I lost either of you. I pray to God that I never have to find out."

Feeling the trembling under his hand, the blonde stood and placed a hip on the bed and then pulled the shattered form into his arms and held him as he wept. For as long as it took, the man would hold the boy, concealing him from the prying eyes of the world while his soul once again came to grips with the harsh realities that life seemed determined to toss in his path.

+ + + + + + +

Buck approached the nurse in surgery and told her his name, asking about JD. She asked him to follow her and they moved through the electronic doors with the hiss of compressed air. The room was blocked off in small cubicles by curtains that half concealed the beds within, most of which were empty at this late hour, the only patients being emergency cases. The man quickly spotted a large machine being pulled out of the cubicle the nurse told him his son laid in. Buck headed that way and arrived to see the boy lying on a bed with his right leg, from the hip down, exposed. The bruising was dark and started at his hip and moved down to his ankle. The distortion of the shattered bone was obvious and the man inwardly cringed at the damage and the pain that must accompany it.

He stepped closer and saw that the boy's face was turned away and covered by his left arm. The right arm, the part that was exposed, was as bruised as the leg and there was a bandage across the back of his hand. A stain of betadine showed around the edge and blood seeped through the bandage, accentuating the stitches underneath. Buck had to swallow the bile that threatened to rise as the morbid thoughts of what he could have been looking at if Vin had not reacted as quickly as he did. Wilmington shook his head to displace those thoughts. He watched as a nurse came around the bed and pulled a sheet over JD's exposed leg and smiled at the whispered, 'thanks' that the injured youth gave her. She smiled as she moved back around and checked the IV in JD's left hand.

Her voice was gentle as she said, "You're welcome. And I think there's someone here to see you." And the arm came down to reveal hazel eyes filled with pain. "Dad?"

"Hey, Little bit." The nickname brought a weary smile to the boy's face, but it didn't last long and the man moved quickly across the floor to place a hand in the thick black hair and lightly tousle it. Tears pooled in the hazel eyes as they looked up.

"Vin? How is he? All they'll say is that he's okay, but that don't tell me anything. Is he okay, really?"

"Yeah, he's fine, JD. He has a concussion is all. Chris and the team are down on three with him."

JD nodded but his chin quivered as he tightened his mouth against the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. He looked at Buck and took a deep breath.

"The other car…"

Buck cut him off. "Don’t worry about the other car. You just worry about getting better."

"I saw 'im, Dad. I saw Trey, Trey Miller. It was Trey."

Buck's heart sunk. He had hoped to keep the fact that the other driver was a student at the same school the boys attended, a boy that played ball with Vin and had even been to the ranch, from his son for a while longer.. "I know, kid, I know. And I'm sorry. But you can't worry about Trey right now."

"I never passed out, Dad."

Misunderstanding, Buck's face formed into a bittersweet smile. "You're a strong kid, JD. Always have been. Shoot, you could have an artery spurting blood across the room and you'd say you was fine."

Wilmington looked at those hazel eyes and frowned. There was pain there, pain other than the physical kind.

JD took a deep shuddering breath and restated, slowly, softly, "I never passed out."

Buck listened to the words and looked into those eyes and realized what they meant; JD had seen it all. The next words out of the boy's mouth confirmed his fears.

"The car was on fire…when it slammed into the pole…it was already burning. Vin was unconscious. I didn't know if he was even alive." JD closed his eyes for a moment "I could hear Trey…" His voice was a hitching sob as he tried to speak. "I could hear him screaming. I couldn't do anything, can't move and Vin was out.. Trey was burning…"

"Oh, JD." Buck crouched over the boy's head and placed his forehead against JD's. "God, I'm so sorry."

JD continued, oblivious to the words. "He was dying. And you know? All I could think about was Vin, if he was okay, about I would tell Chris if he wasn't."

As Buck pulled back, JD looked into his eyes. "I wanted to help but I couldn't. But mainly, I wanted him to stop screaming. I yelled at him, 'Stop screaming! STOP it." The last word faded into nothingness, it was spoken so softly.

All Wilmington could do was stroke the dark hair and listen.

"And…then he did. And I was glad. Glad." Tear filled eyes searched for absolution.

"Oh, JD…"

"What kind of person does that make me? What kind of person is glad that someone's dead?"

"It makes you a good person caught in a bad situation, son. You weren't glad that Trey was dead; you were glad that his suffering was over." Buck still had a hand in the thick hair and he now placed his other hand against the cool, tear stained cheek, his thumb stroking away the tears. "JD, your reaction is a normal one. Our world begins with ourselves and spirals out from there-me, my family, my work, my country, my world. It's the way we are. People look at situations and think about how it will affect them. And there's nothing wrong with that. I've had to shoot people on the job, you know that?

The boy nodded and the man continued. "When that has happened, my first thoughts were 'better him than me' and my second were of you and Vin and Chris. Always."

"But…" he tried to say.

"No buts, son. You are one of the best, biggest hearted people that I know. Never would you wish harm on someone." Doubt lingered in the reddened eyes. "JD, I know that you don't believe me right now, but it's the truth, little bit. You are a great kid and you're my son. I love you." Buck continued to stroke the side of the boy's face, watching the simple motion calm the upset teen. After a few minutes, JD's breathing slowed and the tremors stopped. His eyes were closed, his features relaxed, but Buck continued the simple movement as he gazed at the youthful face. Out of the corner of his eye, the ATF agent saw the nurse approaching along with a man that Buck assumed was the doctor. "JD, you stay strong for me, okay? I'll see you in a little while" he whispered to the now somewhat calmer teenager.

The man stood quietly waiting as Buck looked up and nodded. The physician stepped forward. "I'm Doctor Parker, the anesthesiologist . Is John allergic to anything that you know of?"


"Okay, well, I'm going to put him under now so Doctor Phillips can fix that leg." The man spoke to the nurse and the two of them worked around Wilmington as he turned his attention back to the youth.

"JD, you're going to be fine." He watched as the drugs began to kick in and JD watched him with lazy eyes that slowly followed his movements. "I'll be right here."

As he moved to step back, JD reached out. Buck took hold of the hand. "Check on Vin for me" he said slowly. Buck smiled and nodded. He started to place the boy's hand down, but stopped when he felt the grip tighten and he bent down to hear the soft words. "Thanks, Dad. See ya in a few." Wilmington stood and, though he couldn't hear the words, he saw them spoken. "Love you."

He felt a hand on his shoulder as he released the now limp hand and moved back as they wheeled the boy to surgery. Another man in scrubs stepped into the room, holding the doors open. After the bed was wheeled through, he approached Buck.

"Mr. Wilmington? I'm Doctor Phillips. I'm the orthopedic surgeon. I've just finished studying John's x-rays. He has a complete fracture of the tibia and fibula of the right leg, but I don't see any problem getting him back into top form. The surgery is going to take between two and three hours, so if you want to have a seat in the waiting room, I'll have a nurse call you when John goes to recovery."

"Thanks, Doc. His brother was in the accident also. I think I'll go down there and wait. I'll let the nurse know what room. Thanks for taking care of him. He's a great kid." Wilmington extended his hand. "Oh, I'd appreciate it if you called him JD, not John. That's what he goes by."

Taking the extended hand, Doctor Phillips smiled. "Duly noted. And don't worry, we'll take good care of him."

Wilmington nodded and watched as the man headed back through the doors he had entered through.

+ + + + + + +

Buck got off the elevator and glanced around, looking at the room numbers. He found the right room and entered quietly to find Vin asleep and Chris sitting at his bedside. Larabee looked up as he entered and Buck walked over the took the second chair in the room.

"Where's everybody at?" he asked softly.

"Sent 'em home. They came in, talked to Vin. No need in none of us getting any sleep."

Buck nodded. "How's he doing?"

"He's got a headache. Got a lot of heartache, too."

"Yeah. He's not the only one." Buck rubbed at his face as he spoke.

Chris closed his eyes and dropped his head as Buck told him about what JD had said. His mind went back to the day his family died, the sight that had greeted him. As bad as it was, he had been spared their dying. His screams were only imagined. JD's screams were real and the screams of a friend.

The blonde looked over at his best friend and saw the pain evident on the big man's face. Chris knew that as well as having to deal with the physical pain that the fifteen year old would have, they would now have to deal with the emotional pain as well. Reaching over, Chris squeezed Buck's forearm in support and received a nod in acknowledgement.

They sat there in silence for the next three hours. Buck was checking his watch again when Vin began to wake up. The teenager stretched and yawned before glancing around. "Hey, Buck. Is JD okay?" he asked sleepily.

Wilmington smiled as he stood and moved toward the bed. "Hey, yourself, kiddo. JD will be fine. He's still in surgery, but they should be through soon."

Vin looked down guiltily and spoke into the sheets, "Sorry 'bout what happened, Buck. I know that you trusted me to take care of 'im for ya."

Buck gripped the young man's shoulder and squeezed. "I'd say you did a hell of a good job doing just that, Vin. Thanks."

Vin blushed at the praise and glanced up at the man that was a second father to him to see the honesty in that praise. "Thanks, Buck."

As Buck nodded, the door opened and a nurse entered. "Mr. Wilmington?"

Three pairs of eyes turned to her as Buck nodded, "That's me."

"They called down to say that your son's surgery is finished, if you would care to go up."


The door was swinging close behind her as Wilmington stood, patting Vin's foot as he went around the end of the bed. "I'll see you boys in a little while."

Chris nodded as Buck looked at him. The mustached agent left the room and the blonde turned his attention to the boy. He found the blue eyes looking intently at him. "What?"

"What's wrong? Buck looked worried, upset about something."

Chris opened his mouth to say something comforting when Vin waved him off.

"And don't tell me it's about JD's surgery. It's more than that. I can tell. What's going on?"

Chris knew that the boys were strong, both emotionally and physically, so he filled the boy in on what JD had seen and now felt.

"God, Dad. He saw…" The boy couldn't bring himself to say the words. "And you say it was Trey?"

Larabee nodded.

"I knew that he drank some, but… Are they sure he was drunk?"

"The car had several beer cans on the floorboard, opened. They really can't say until the autopsy, but the deputy had spoken with some other boys that came up on the scene and they confirmed that the Miller boy had been drinking." Chris watched as Vin absorbed the information.

"Who? Who said he had been drinking?"

Chris ran his fingers through his short blond hair as he thought. "Mitch Jordan, Craig Turner, a couple more that I don't know."

"Yeah, they wouldn't lie. They aren't drinkers. We've tried to get Trey to stop before; a bunch of us together." Vin laid back, staring at the ceiling. "Wish I had tried harder."

"You did all you could, Vin. You can't force someone to change. They have to want to." Chris had stood and moved to lean against the bed. "Is the drinking the reason we didn't see him at the ranch much lately?"

"Yeah, I didn't want him around JD." Vin's eyes met his father's." JD's a good kid, but sometimes he can get talked into things, trying to fit in. It's hard on him sometimes, being younger than others but in the same class. Just didn't think he needed that kind of pressure, 'specially since I used to run around with Trey."

Larabee smiled down at the teen, the glint of pride shining in his eyes. He reached out and patted the firm stomach of the boy. "Have I mentioned lately that I think you're a hell of kid?"

Red colored the youthful face as Vin smiled. He brushed the man's hand away but he was still smiling. "Dad" he mumbled, embarrassed at the praise.

"I'm serious, Vin." Chris chuckled at the expression on the young face. He patted the hard stomach muscles again and then stood. "You get some sleep. Doc said that you could go home in the morning. JD's going to need you strong."

The teen's smile faded at the thought of what the younger boy had experienced. He had been through the nightmares with JD before. It had been years, but he knew what to expect. He sighed as he leaned back and got comfortable. Just before he closed his eyes, he glanced over and smiled at the dark shadow of his father standing at the window. This time he would not have to go through it alone. He had a father, a second father, and three uncles to help get his little brother well again.

+ + + + + + +

Wilmington approached the surgical area and was greeted by Doctor Phillips. The man told him the operation had gone well. The boy would have to be confined to bed for a few days, but then allowed to go home.

"We put a titanium nail in the tibia and used screws to hold it in place. That will be permanent unless there is some kind of problem. He'll be here for four or five days and then he should be able to go home. He'll have to stay off that leg for five to six weeks and then we'll get him up on crutches. It may take a while, but I don't see any reason why he won't be back to a hundred percent within nine months or so."

Buck thanked the man and, after shaking hands, they parted.

Wilmington entered the recovery room and walked quietly to the bedside. He looked at the drawn features of the teenager. Unable to resist, he once again reached out to place his hand in the thick hair, his thumb resting on the boy's forehead. He stood looking down for a few moments and then leaned forward, over the dark hair.

"Little bit, we will get through this, I swear to you," the man whispered. He stayed in that position until the head moved under his hand and a small moan issued from the dry lips. Buck smiled as the youth's eyes fluttered open and gazed around, unfocused.

"Hey, JD. You're doing fine, son. Surgery is over."

"Dad," he mumbled. His nose twitched under the loose oxygen mask and he lazily blinked as he tried to focus on the shadow over him. Unable to do that, he frowned,. "This sucks," he complained sleepily.

Buck chuckled. "Go back to sleep. Then, when you wake up, you'll feel a lot better."


"Yeah, I promise."

"'kay." And his eyes slid closed and he relaxed back into a deep and drugged sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Over the next twelve hours, JD had been moved to a private room and Vin had been released. After a brief stop at his brother's room, the teenager had gone home to rest per doctor's orders. JD had slept through a visit by his doctor and Mr. and Mrs. Miller, along with Trey's two younger brothers (though Wilmington was actually glad of that, knowing that the teen was not up to facing the Millers yet). Ezra, Nathan and Rain, as well as Josiah, had all stopped at some time during the day. Buck had dealt with two episodes of mumbling, mostly Vin's name, and thrashing around. And he expected more.

The man was worried about being able to get time off work and there was no way he could leave the teenager alone. Doctor Phillips had already informed him that the boy would be in the hospital for several days. Evenings and nights would be no problem and probably from Tuesday on, he would be able to take some vacation in order to stay with the boy, but he and the others had a court appearance the following day, Monday, and there wasn't much hope of getting out of it. He would have to talk to Chris and they could appeal to AD Travis, but the case was an important one and the DA had a 'hard on' for the guy, so he was pretty sure he would have to find someone to sit with the boy for at least one day.

Around three in the afternoon, Josiah and Nathan stopped by again and visited for a while. JD woke up and Josiah gave him a book on computers that he had mentioned wanting.

"Thanks, Josiah. I appreciate it. I've been wanting this one." JD sat propped up with his cast encased leg elevated on a pillow. He looked and sounded tired, but he was awake and aware, and Buck was thankful for that. The two ATF agents stayed around for about an hour and then said their goodbyes.

Chris had called and the two boys talked for a few minutes. After JD fell asleep in the middle of the call, Buck took the phone and talked to the boss side of his friend for a few minutes. Chris confirmed that he had spoke with Travis and that Buck would have to be in court the next day. Travis did promise that it would only be for the one day and after that Buck could take some emergency leave. The mustached agent sighed into the phone. It wasn't as if it was a surprise, but he had hoped. Larabee informed him that he would bring fresh clothes and toiletries the next morning before they headed for the courthouse. Chris also committed to finding someone to stay with JD while Buck was away, for which Wilmington was very thankful.

+ + + + + + +

The teen woke up as the evening sunset cast pink light onto the walls. He stretched and grimaced at the ache in his leg just as Buck came through the door with a cold drink in one hand and a bag of peanuts in the other much to the boy's chagrin. JD tried to convince his dad to go home and get some rest and a decent meal, but to no avail. Wilmington was stubborn at the best of times and unmovable when it came to things that concerned the boys. He would not be leaving the hospital until the morning and not then, if he couldn't find someone to sit with him and help him through any nightmares, no matter what AD Travis had to say.

The night was rough on both of them. JD suffered through at least four nightmares that Buck was aware of. He had managed to wake the youth in three incidences and reassure him, but the fourth had the boy waking up screaming. It had taken all Buck had to calm the distressed teenager, with the nurse threatening to call the doctor for a sedative. Not since he was a small boy had JD cried so openly. He had clung to his father as if he were a lifeline, which in fact, he was, for although JD now had a wide circle of friends as well as his 'uncles and aunts', Buck, Vin, and Chris were his world. He judged all that he saw and did by the high marks that they set. Now he felt secure in the fact that, in their eyes, his tears were a private, family matter and did not diminish him in their eyes.

By the next morning, Buck was worn out-emotionally and physically. What little rest he got, was interrupted by nightmares of his own. When Chris arrived, he found Wilmington asleep with his head lying on his folded hands as they rested on the bed next to JD's right shoulder. It was clear that the man had not gotten much sleep as he slowly sat up and stared bleary eyed as the blonde entered.

"Morning, Buck."

"Hey, Chris." He stretched and yawned as Chris moved into the room. Larabee hung the suit bag in the bathroom and placed the shaving kit on the sink. Looking at his watch, Chris stated, "We've got an hour before we have to appear. You want some breakfast? I'll go grab something."

Buck glanced to the boy and back. "Who's coming to stay with the kid?"

As if on cue, Vin walked through the door, a shy smile on his face as he said good morning and walked over to the bed. Buck watched and then turned to Chris, indicating that he move outside.

As the door glided closed, Buck asked, "Vin? Are you sure?"

Chris bristled at the implication. "What are you asking, Buck?"

"Calm down, stud. I just meant that he's young and he was in the same accident. We already got one kid traumatized. We don't need two."

Chris took a deep breath and nodded. "I know, but he asked if he could help. I figure it's going to take some time for him to stop blaming himself."

Buck studied the green eyes of his boss and friend. Finally, he nodded. Glancing at his watch, Wilmington shook his head. "I better get ready."

Thirty minutes later the two men were ready to leave. Wilmington checked on JD before they left and found him still sleeping. He placed a reassuring hand on Vin's shoulder and went out the door. Chris paused to give the boy a wink, indicating with hand gestures that he would call at noon, and then he, too, left. The teenager sat back and waited.

Vin sat patiently for three hours as his brother slept. He got up when the younger boy started to mumble in his sleep. Approaching the bed, he reached out and stroked the exposed arm, speaking softly, "Easy, JD. It's okay. You're fine."

He continued uttering comforting words as he waited for JD to settle back to sleep. After a few minutes, the dark haired teen relaxed into a deep sleep. A nurse came in around ten o'clock to check on the slumbering youth. Seeing Vin sitting quietly, she asked, "Would you like something? I could get you a drink or a lunch? You wouldn't have to leave."

The shy eighteen year old glanced at the woman and nodded. "That would be nice, ma'am. Thanks."

+ + + + + + +

It was a little after eleven and JD was awake when lunch was brought in. The nurse placed the tray on the rolling table and slid it in front of the youth. Smiling, she handed Vin a brown bag before turning and leaving the two boys to eat.

Vin watched as JD sat and stared at the tray of food, making no attempt to eat. The older boy stood and carefully climbed onto the foot of the bed. He placed his bag on the table and began to unwrap the plastic wrap covering the food. He opened the soda and poured it into the cup of ice.

"JD, you need to eat." Dull eyes looked up at him and Vin shuddered at the lack of life in the hazel orbs. He had to do something and he found he wasn’t above blackmail. "JD, if you don’t eat something, I’ll have to tell Buck. You know he ain’t going to like it."

The dark haired youth sighed deeply and listlessly reached for the fork. Vin nodded and reached for his own lunch. He found a tuna sandwich and chips along with a soda. Pulling them out of the bag, he placed each item on the table and joined his brother at lunch. It was a quiet meal with Vin eating and JD pushing food around the plate. The boy ate some of the gelatin and the soup, but left most of the meal on the plate. Vin was relieved that most of the soda was consumed, at least.

The table was soon pushed away and the head of the bed lowered a little. Vin continued to sit on the foot of the bed, careful of the cast on JD’s right leg.

"Hurt?" he asked, eyeing the cast.

JD had his eyes closed and opened them at the question. "Huh?"

"Your leg. Does it hurt?"

"Throbs some, but not too bad."

The phone interrupted them and Vin reached out to pick the instrument up with a knowing smile. It was almost noon and court would be recessed. He spoke to Chris for a few minutes. Then Buck came on, asking how JD was, if he were awake and had eaten anything. Tanner handed the phone over and let JD answer the questions. Vin frowned when JD told his father he had eaten his lunch. The conversation went on for a few minutes and, seeing JD was tiring, Vin reclaimed the instrument to talk to Wilmington. As JD's eyes slid closed, Vin moved off the bed and spoke softly. He told Buck about JD's lunch and how little he had eaten. Buck promised the teen that they would be finished in court and back at the hospital by five that afternoon.

"Good. He's so sad, Buck and I don't know what to do, 'cept stand here."

"Junior, you'd be surprised how much that helps. You're doing fine. We'll see you in a few hours."

They said their goodbyes and Vin spoke with Chris, who reiterated what Wilmington had said. They also said their goodbyes and, with a sigh, the boy hung up. The silence descended again. Vin moved to the window, staring out over the parking lot. He stood there for almost thirty minutes, watching the movement of cars and people, in and out of the area. Finally tiring of the lazy show, he moved back to the chair and lowered himself into it. Before too long, he relaxed into the chair and closed his eyes.

+ + + + + + +

Vin jerked, something pulling him from sleep. He glanced around, looking for the cause. Hearing a sound, he looked at the bed and saw JD’s head tossing side to side. Scrambling to his feet, he reached for the other boy’s arm. But before he could calm him, JD sat straight up in bed, his eyes wide and wild.


Grabbing JD's arms, Vin turned the younger boy to face him. "JD, I’m right here. Everything is fine."

"No. No." JD’s hands reached out and moved over Vin's face, his arms, pulled at his shirt. Caught between the nightmare and reality, he searched for signs of injury on the older boy, arguing with him. "I saw you…you were on fire… I saw it…" he said as his hands continued their frantic search, insisting, "I saw it… I heard it."

The eighteen year old grabbed the flailing hands, holding them in a tight grasp. "It was a nightmare, JD. It wasn't real."

The boy's head continued to shake, his eyes full of doubt. "No. No. I was there. I saw it. You were burning, screaming."

His voice cracked with the last word and he fell forward onto the older boy's chest. "Ah, JD."

Vin got onto the bed and wrapped his arms around JD's shoulders and head, hugging the quaking teen as he wept, the fifteen year old's own arms wrapped around the slender waist of the older boy.

A movement caught his attention and Vin looked at the door to see the door cracked open, the nurse standing just outside. He watched as she mouthed, ‘Are you okay?’ and he nodded. She smiled slightly and stepped back to allow the door to close. Tanner turned his attention to his brother and tightened his hold as he felt the emotional outburst start to weaken. JD slowly calmed and began to relax. Vin listened as the teen's breathing slowed, feeling his muscles relax.

As JD drifted off to sleep again, he muttered softly and Vin tilted his head to catch the words. "Sorry…couldn't help…stop…screaming…stop…sorry…sorry…" The blond teen clenched his eyes shut at the words and the helplessness in the dark haired boy's voice as he fought his inner demons.

+ + + + + + +

JD didn't sleep long. He started stirring a half hour later. The first thing he became aware of was a sense of peace that had him wanting time to stand still and allow him the peace of the moment offered. His mind sought out the source of the comfort and he became aware that his pillow was harder than he remembered and his left side was warm. He smiled as the voice confirmed his guess.

"You awake, kid?"

JD turned his face up and met the blue eyes of his brother. Vin's arm was cradled against the nape of JD's neck and his body rested alongside him. Feeling a slight shift in his brother's body, the injured youth reached up and grabbed the hand that lay on his chest. Vin stopped moving.


"I ain't goin' anywhere."

JD relaxed and closed his eyes but, feeling that Vin was watching, he glanced up.

"We need to talk, JD."

Tensing, JD looked away, only to look back when Vin flexed his bicep against the back of his neck.

"Hey, I don't like it either, but we can't hide from it."

Sighing, JD nodded and pushed himself up in the bed. Vin pulled his arm around, but continued to share the space with his brother.

"We both know what happened the other night. You better than me, since I slept through most of it." Vin looked over as JD shuddered and turned away. "You remember Dr. Will?"

JD turned back to look at Vin. "Sure, we went to him after Buck and Chris first took us in. But I don't need a psychiatrist. I'm not crazy."

"No, but you're hurting. Someone like that can help."

"I don't know, Vin…"

"Do you know that I still go to see him sometimes?"

JD furrowed his brow as he stared at his brother. "Why? You haven't been having problems have ya?"

"Nothing big, but sometimes? I just need to talk to somebody. Not to Dad or Buck. Just someone who will listen and not pass judgment."

"Oh," JD replied. He then asked hesitantly, "You still get those 'feel-bad' thoughts?"

Vin chuckled at the term he had not heard in years. Nodding, he told JD, "Well, not exactly, but something like that. It's nice to have someone to talk to. It helps to talk when you're scared."

"Heck, Vin, I didn't think you ever got scared." He looked at the older boy and continued, "I mean, not really. You're always so calm and seem to know what to do, most times." He stopped and studied his hands for a moment. "Vin, I have to tell you something."

JD pushed the button to raise the head of the bed and then turned to look the other boy in the face. "Back when we were small, before Dad and Chris came along, I thought you were the smartest, most capable person I had ever met, of any age. Well, except for Mama."

Vin chuckled and asked, "Does that mean you don't think that anymore?"

JD frowned and then realized what he had said. "Nooooo", he protested.

Seeing the grin on his brother's face, he smiled, "Oh, you know what I mean. I didn't think you were afraid of anything. You made us a place to sleep and got us food. You got me that cowboy blanket remember? Not even when you had to testify against the troll king, Rawlins, you didn't act scared. You were there every time I needed ya. I looked up to you and knew that no matter what, you would take care of me. If you had said we shouldn't stay with Dad and Chris, I'd have left with ya in a heartbeat."

The young blonde frowned at this declaration. "JD, I was seven years old. I didn't know anything."

"Yeah, well, to four-year-old me, you were a sage of wisdom. I depended on you for everything."

JD got a strange look on his face and Vin twisted around, frowning. "JD, what's wrong? Do you hurt? Should I get the doctor?" Vin's hand was reaching for the call button as he asked, but JD's hand stopped him and the two boys locked eyes.

"I don't think I ever thanked you."

"Thanked me? For what?" the older teen asked.

"For saving my life. Back then and again, the other night."

"Ah, hell, JD." Vin twisted back the other way and dropped off the high hospital bed.

"Well, did I?"

"You aren't supposed to. You’re my brother and that's just what brothers do."

"Yeah, but we aren't really…'

"Don’t! Don't say that." Vin stalked around as he spoke. "You and me are more brothers than most brothers are. But I'm not a saint. Hell, the only reason I took you in back then, is cause I was lonely." A chuckle drew his attention to the bed.

"Liar," JD proclaimed, laughing.

Vin opened his mouth in protest, but snapped it closed. Rolling his eyes, he laughed with JD. "Okay, that's not the reason, but I wasn't no saint back then. I did things I wish I hadn't done. And I WAS lonely and I knew you wouldn't make it if I didn't help. There wasn't anyone else, so what else could I do? Leave ya there?"

"Well, I still think that I need to say the words. So, Thanks for being my big brother and being there for me."

Vin blushed and turned away, wiping at his nose as he moved to the window. A moment later he turned back. "So, you want to see if Dr. Will can see ya?"

JD was quiet for a minute as he thought about it. Finally, he nodded, but added, "I think we should talk to Dad first."

"He won't have a problem with it."

"Oh, I know. But if we don't include him in the decision, he'll get his feelings hurt."

Vin laughed and nodded in agreement. JD yawned and soon his eyes drifted closed, only to snap open again to search out Vin. The blond smiled and approached the bed. He lowered the head some and hopped back up next to the slender frame of Dunne.

"You mind?"


Neither boy noticed the door silently close.

+ + + + + + +

The elevator dinged and the two tired ATF agents stepped off. Buck had left his jacket unbuttoned and his tie was pulled loose. Chris looked as fresh as when he had arrived that morning. They headed down the hall to JD's room. The nurse was headed toward them and motioned to them.

Thinking something was wrong, the two men frowned and glanced at the closed door. The woman smiled.

"Everything is fine in there. I just wanted to tell you what a wonderful job you've done with those two boys. I see a lot of people in here and they're usually at their worst. Those two gems are rare and I have enjoyed having them on my floor."

Chris frowned while Wilmington just grinned. "Ma'am, we know just how lucky we are. You're right; those two are special. But thank you for the words"

Larabee reached out and stopped the woman as she went to move away. "Do you mind if I ask what prompted your comments?"

She grinned, "If you'll just open that door real easy, you'll see. The younger boy had a nightmare and when I went to check on him…well, you'll see." Seeing the grin fade from Buck's face, she added, "He's fine, now. Don't you worry." And she walked away, leaving behind two confused men.

They approached the door and opened it slowly. Both men smiled at the sight. Both boys were sleeping in a position the men had not seen in several years. Vin was on the bed, lying next to JD, his arm thrown, protectively, across the younger boy's chest. JD's arms were wrapped around that arm. It was a position the boys had shared often as children, but 'outgrew' as they became more secure in their new home and had proclaimed they were 'too big' to sleep together.

The two men looked at each other and stepped back out.

"You think we should call? Let them get resettled?" Buck asked.

"I don't want them to feel self conscious about it."

They stood looking at each other, wondering about the right course of action. Their dilemma was solved as the door opened to reveal both boys awake.

"Ya'll coming in or not?"

"Well, I guess we are." Buck stated and walked in, heading straight to the bed, after gripping Vin's arm as he passed..

Chris walked in and placed his arm around Vin's shoulders. "So, ya'll have a good day?"

Vin and JD looked at each other and laughed.

"Yeah, Dad, we did. We had a real good day. I'll tell you about it when we get home."


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