There were two envelopes. That's what surprised him. He hadn't expected two envelopes. Eight and half inches by four inches. Business envelopes. He supposed he had expected something more like he had seen on TV, like on a Povich or Springer show entitled "Who Is The Father Of My Baby???" Maury would wave a brown manila envelope about and then open it and dramatically whip out a sheet of paper. "Eddie, you are not the father of Shaniqua's baby. Silfredo, you are the father of Shaniqua's baby." Then a lot of bleeping and chair-throwing.
He looked back up at his computer screen for the fifth time that hour, hoping to see an indication that Jake had gotten on his own computer and sent the message that would seal his fate. He knew Chris and Nathan were working on warrants with Orin Travis, while Ezra and Vin were putting together the equipment needed to stake out the clinic. Josiah was getting dinner. He didn't know where Buck was. He looked down again at the crumpled envelope in his hands.
Ming had stopped him in the hallway and pulled him to the side. At first, she held out only one envelope, telling him that the results were in and he owned her big for the favor. He ripped it open and unfolded the single sheet of paper. There wasn't much written on it. Just enough to say there was no chance in Hell any of them were related.
"No matches," she reiterated. "Is that what you were hoping for?"
He shoved the paper back into the envelope and glanced at the closed conference door. "I don't know I don't know what I wanted. But thanks. I do owe you big." He forced a smile. "How about next week? Thai or Mexican?"
"Well, don't thank me yet. I sorta went above and beyond what you asked." She brought out another envelope that had been held behind her back, the same size, the same thickness. "I got on the computer and ran some DNA checks. You know, through the Fed base, through others. Through Interpol."
"You didn't have to." A strange queasiness filled his chest. "I didn't want to cause you more work."
"I know you didn't ask me but I did, and I came up with something. I guess I hoped you'd be impressed." Ming thrust the envelope at him, now doubting her idea. "The sample that was hair? Black hair?" She smiled and pointed at his own hair. "There's a match on the International Databank."
"On on Interpol?"
"Maybe a father, maybe an uncle." She laughed nervously. "Maybe an evil twin? I hope this doesn't piss you off."
"No, no." He folded the envelope and stuck it in his jeans' back pocket, then took her hand and squeezed it gently. "Thanks. I'll open it later."
"Okay." She leaned up awkwardly and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "If you need any help finding this guy You know where to find me."
She backed up down the hallway, giving him a weak salute before turning the corner.
Suddenly the door to the conference room opened, and Chris came out alone. He saw his youngest agent still in the corridor and tilted his head in question. Why hadn't he left?
"How is he?"
Indicating JD should follow him, Chris walked down the hallway in the opposite direction. "I'm sure he'll be all right. If there's one thing we know about Buck, it's that there's nothing beats him down so low, he can't get up."
"Where was he?"
When Chris didn't answer immediately, JD pivoted and started back, but the senior agent swiftly glided around him, halting his progression. Grimacing, he finally responded. "Adam's grave."
Now, alone in the private office watching the computer, he worried the envelope, folding it into smaller and smaller squares until it completely impossible to reduce it any further. Buck didn't have a son. Not this one, anyway. But he had someone. Someone he could find. Someone he could meet. A father or an uncle, perhaps. Someone who hadn't wanted him.
Josiah flung open the door. "Hey, JD, we've got all the paperwork signed, sealed, and delivered, and we're assembling teams. Chris says to get your laptop and " His mouth shut quickly.
The room was empty.
Buck Wilmington cursed the universe for being on a stakeout the night Adam Larabee was born and he couldn't be there. When Chris got the call, Buck was saddled with Ziskind, that idiot, who nearly got his ass shot up when he went on a simple coffee run. But Chris left a message on his answering machine which he replayed five times later that night. The voice was so tired, but so happy.
"It's a boy, Buck. He's " There was a pause and he thought he heard a piece of paper rustling. " He's six pounds, six ounces, nineteen inches long. Sarah's exhausted but she wasn't screaming or anything. Sounded more like she was humming! He's so beautiful, I We're gonna name him Adam, after Sarah's grandfather. But the middle initial is 'B,' Buck, only not for Buck, it'll be for Byron, is that okay? Sarah decided, and you know there's no crossing her! It's from when she was an English Lit major. Buck, you gotta come to the hospital as soon as you can. I've got to introduce you to your nephew Oh, there's the nurse. They're bringing him into the nursery. Now remember, no more stuffed animals, you already bought a whole zoo for the baby's room already. Guess I can't call it that anymore, huh? It's Adam's room now Get over here."
The first time he held Adam, he was so warm and smelled so good. Didn't want to give him up when Sarah reached out. Couldn't leave his bedroom when he babysat the first time. Had to keep watching him, making sure he was breathing. Tried to remember any song where he knew all the lyrics and ended up with a medley of Beatles tunes that he sang every time he tucked in the toddler until Adam turned five and complained that he was sick of them.
He'd never thought about having children up to that point. Wasn't sucked into the pressure of "continuing the family name." There wasn't a true family name to continue. He enjoyed his independence way too much, and knew it would take more sacrifices than he was willing to make at the time to raise a child properly. And he hadn't found a woman he'd want to raise a family with, among other, more deeply buried reasons. At least, these were all the arguments he used to convince himself against it.
But there was that night Chris and Sarah had a knock-down, drag-out fight in Adam's bedroom, and Buck was sitting in the living room, feeling like he shouldn't intrude. Then Adam came crawling out on the hardwood floor, even though he was walking at that point, sobbing and hiccuping and looking for comfort and Buck couldn't stand it. He strode over and picked up the crying child and rocked him in his arms, stroking his fine hair, whispering over and over, "It's okay, kid. It'll be okay. I'm here, Buck's here, and I love you and this isn't your fault. Mommy and Daddy are just mad at something and when grown-ups get mad, their voices get loud and you just got caught in the cross-fire. You're here with Buck and he's not going to let anything hurt you." Adam calmed down, circling his arms around Buck's neck and cradling his head on his chest, because he trusted that he meant what he said.
And suddenly Buck realized that he would die for this child, or any child, and he wished he had the courage to have a child of his own.
There was a moment, many years later, when he was holding the limp, injured body of the last and youngest member of his newly formed ATF team, that he felt the same flash of incredible trust and love. The fool kid had leapt in front of a bullet meant for him and gone down heavy. He cradled the young man in his arms, stroking his fine hair, whispering over and over, "It's okay, kid. It'll be okay. I'm here, Buck's here." And the green agent had opened his large, black eyes and nestled closer into Buck's neck, grabbing his arms as spasms of pain racked his bloodied body. "You're okay," JD breathed and Buck's heart was filled by such an amazing sensation of self-worth that he thought it would burst.
He nursed the young man back to health, and vowed to watch over him. Give him help, give him freedom, and give him someone who would watch his back. As they got to know each other, Buck could see how desperately the fatherless boy was looking for someone to trust, and how fragile his faith in trust was.
All thoughts to having his own progeny were dismissed--they were no longer needed. He had found his family. He knew that what he had with JD was what every father had with every son, and he felt a peace and wholeness that had eluded him since Adam's death.
Why hadn't he ever acknowledged it? Ever said it out loud?
Sitting in the quiet conference room, Buck damned himself for being so stupid. All it would have taken would have been a few words. He'd had them on the tip of his tongue. He'd heard them in his ears as a fleeting whisper. He thought he'd been showing it in his actions.
Don't tell me what I should or should not be doing
It's a family thing.
Every time I look at you, I'm reminded of what Jake is not.
He hadn't been stupid, he'd been cruel. He'd said the wrong things. Not just the wrong things, he'd hardly said anything at all because he hadn't even been there. Confused and embarrassed at Jake's appearance in his life, he'd found ways to avoid being around his best friend.
He was trying to be a good father.
What he'd ended up being was a fool.
He realized now that he had treated JD just as the boy's own father had.
When Buck walked back into Team Seven's bull pen, he was surprised at the quiet in the room. He knew that the agents were coordinating a rush maneuver, a process that had always been accompanied by exceptional amounts of yelling and banging. This time, instructions were being whispered and equipment was being gathered in silence. The grim expressions on his teammates' faces had a different cast than the usual game face. When they finally noticed him in the room, all activity stopped. He counted the assembly.
"He's gone, Buck." Chris helped Vin into his Kevlar vest.
No one responded. An uneasy feeling welled up in his throat. The answer should be simple. He's down the hall. He's picking up inventory for the Comm van. He's in the bathroom.
"We don't know, Mr. Wilmington." Ezra perched on the edge of his desk, slamming a new clip into his Walther. "His bags have disappeared and his motorcycle is not present in its usual space in the garage. It has come to light that he handed Chris his resignation yesterday."
"But he was monitoring the e-mails. " Looking over at JD's desk, he saw his laptop on and running. Beside it was the young agent's badge and Federally-issued gun.
"Ezra has assumed that responsibility." The team leader finished helping his partner, and picked up his guns, placing them around his own vest. "Were you planning on seeing Melinda tonight? Might be good to keep a watch on her."
"No, she cancelled earlier." Chris raised an eyebrow in question but Buck waved it off. "She called and said she got a last-minute TV interview."
"You joining us?"
Buck shook his head and left.
He wasn't going to lose two sons.
The duplex was empty. He didn't expect to find JD there. He just needed to get to a starting point from which he could spiral out. The AC rattled noisily as he checked the first floor bedroom--he'd have to get it serviced pretty soon or it wasn't going to make it through the summer. He'd do whatever was necessary to get the boy back.
He surveyed the room's contents. Closet. Dresser. Bed. Desk. Crap in the corners, crap on the floor. Opening the night table's top drawer, he rummaged around, his hand banging against the sides. He pulled it out and flung it across the bed. The cigar box was missing.
JD was gone.
Buck groaned in frustration. If he hadn't used any of their other team members for refuge, than where else would he go but far away? He could check with Casey, he could check with Inez, but the sick feeling that was taking hold of his heart was that JD wouldn't be anywhere to be found.
He'd survived great loss before and he'd survive it again. That came with his profession and it came with simply being alive. He agreed with the cliché that death was a part of life, but this voluntary separation on JD's part was inconceivable to him. Had he done such an injury that he wouldn't even be given a chance to convince him to stay? Didn't he deserve the opportunity to say good-bye? Wasn't he at least worthy of that favor?
Stinging tears welled in his eyes and he brushed them away quickly. He might be blinded by stupidity, he theorized distractedly, but he wasn't going to blinded by anything else. He needed to find JD. If he was still in Denver, and he hoped there was still that possibility, where would he go?
Buck stumbled out of the bedroom and crossed the living room floor into the kitchen. Slumping into a chair, he called Inez but already knew what the answer would be. He wouldn't call Casey until it was absolutely necessary. If he was with her, fine. If he wasn't, Buck wasn't about to raise an alarm in the sensitive girl.
He didn't have Vin's tracking skills. He certainly didn't have Josiah's patience. All he had was a big heart that had just been torn in two.
It would have to be enough.
He started walking. For an unknown reason, he decided not to take his truck. If JD had ridden his motorcycle out of town--north, south, east, or west--he wouldn't be able to catch up with him. If he had stayed in town, Buck felt he would be within walking distance. He had no backup for his rationale. He had no plan. He just hoped he had developed some sort of natural instinct that would lead him to the man.
From their duplex on Tenth and Ogden, he headed north. The thin Denver air nearly crackled with the heat; it must have been over ninety degrees, even after dusk. Buck pulled at the pits of his tee shirt, soaked already underneath a light windbreaker. He had strapped on his Glock, again, for no reason, and the jacket was needed for concealment. He considered that he should buy a leg rig like Vin's, or, at least, should have tucked his small Sig in the back of his jeans and kept his tee shirt loose. His step hitched a moment when he considered that there was so much sweat slipping down the small of his back and into the V of his ass, he would have been hard-pressed to retrieve the gun with any alacrity anyway.
His gait sped up, breaking into his incredibly long-legged stride, until he felt the need to simply let go. Leaving the sidewalk, he ran along the empty streets. On a Saturday night, the neighborhood was quiet, mostly residential, with few restaurants. The few tourist attractions in the area were closed at this time. He knew the colors of the houses, the varieties of flowers in their front gardens, even in the dark. The blue casts of television lights and intermittent street lights gave him a weak illumination to travel by.
Crossing Colfax Avenue, he went up to Seventeenth Street and turned right. An ambulance on its way to Denver Presbyterian raced by, its flashing lights seemed to add to the heat. He jogged in place as he waited for the light to change at Gilpin, then continued forward. He knew where he was going. Until a week ago, he had run there every morning.
He entered City Park from Esplanade, passing the columns of the Thatcher Memorial without a glance. There was an urgency to his movements, unlike the steady, easy pace of his usual morning run. Skirting around a dais and viewing bleachers set up for the bands that would entertain at the next day's Father's Day event, he continued towards the lake. The paths, usually congested with dog walkers and roller bladers, were vacant now. The dark and quiet suited him. The shadows served to hide his despair.
Rounding the big lake, he spotted the Father's Day banner set up the previous week, and sped up, the dry, hot air searing his lungs. He touched the ground under the banner like home plate and started around for another loop.
He might hear from JD again. There was plenty of stuff his roommate hadn't taken that would have to be sent forward if he had truly left. But to never see him smile again. To never share a joke and hear his laugh. To never get a pat on the back, a helping hand, a nod of approval .
He could almost understand why Chris had hidden himself in a bottle so long after losing his family. Why get up in the morning when there was nothing to look forward to? Why bother going on?
Finishing his second circuit, momentum propelled him forward and he jumped up, as if he could reach the banner and pull it down. Landing heavily on his feet, he slipped on the dusty concrete path and fell into a roll that stopped when his side hit the bottom of the bleachers. The side his gun was strapped to.
That's going to leave a bruise, he winced.
Sprawled and panting, he lay there, looking up at the dark, tree-shrouded sky. He knew exactly why he was here. The last good time he'd had with JD was here. So that was where his instinct had led him. He wondered if his friend had had the same instinct. Maybe he had been here earlier in the day, remembering better times. He twisted around to stand up, testing the tender skin. Fucking maudlin. What a jerk. What a lousy week. What the hell was that under the bleachers?
In the dim light he strained to confirm what he thought he saw. Wires led from pipe bomb to pipe bomb, taped to the silver rails that bracketed the bleachers. Squeezing his long frame under the bars, he counted at least twenty. God knew what was under the dais.
Scrambling out, he reached into his pocket for his cell phone and flipped it open.
The phone was kicked out of his hand and Buck heard the crack of fingers breaking. Another kick from behind dropped him to his knees and a third on the back of his head blinded him. When the black finally broke from his vision, he saw Jake Gardner standing a few feet in front of him, aiming a small Baretta at his head. A black-hooded accomplice stood near Buck's side.
"Same back at ya, son." Although shaky, his voice was low and soothing. "I'm a Federal agent. You don't want to get in any deeper than you already are."
"I told you not to call me 'son!'" Stepping forward, he booted Buck in the chest, knocking him backwards.
Clutching his jacket around him, the agent righted himself. "What the hell's wrong with you? Why are you doing this?"
"Why should I tell you?" Jake stepped forward again, and ripped back the jacket, exposing the Glock. He jerked it from the holster, slammed it against the agent's head, then tossed it to his companion.
"You don't have to tell me a damn thing," Buck gasped. "But you better stop this now before someone gets killed."
"I'm tired of being nice. Up until now, I've held back 'cause Mom said so."
"Melinda? What does she have to do with this?"
"She had everything to do with this. This was all her idea. Not how to put the network together--she doesn't have enough smarts to work the Back key on a computer. But she wasn't the only one who was going to get stuck with a kid, she said." Jake stepped back, becoming more cocksure as a sense of triumph rose in him. "So maybe if we laid down a campaign of fear, it would help her cause. There would be others left with a 'Choice,'" he sneered.
Buck was speechless, his head spinning in pain. Two guns on him and one of them his own. The odds stunk. Even if he could get to his knees, which didn't feel like it was going to happen anytime soon, he wasn't sure he had enough strength to give an effective fight.
"Aren't you going to say anything?"
Was there anything he could say? He was surprised when Melinda June Corey re-entered his life. He was shocked when she told him Jake could be his son. He was pissed when he realized that the kid was such a jerk. He was sorry everything was so fucked up. He really didn't feel in the mood for conversation.
He had to focus and tried to remember something, anything, that would help with a hostage negotiation. He hadn't bargained on using the training for himself. "You don't have to do what she says."
"I don't," Jake crowed. "I'm doing what I want." He circled his captive. "And all your little friends are out at the Women's Care Clinic. Let them get the bombs there, I don't care. It's just some pissant shit I got from a guy from avalanche control. Pretty good distraction, huh? I thought you guys might have figured it out. This," he waved the gun at the bleachers, "was my idea entirely. I put it together over a month ago." He pushed his face into Buck's. "Who says mothers get all the choices? My father made a choice, too. To leave me."
"So did mine." Both Buck and Jake turned around at the sound of JD's voice. "But at least I didn't turn into an asshole."
Walking into the circle, the agent trained his twin set of Colt Defenders onto the two men. Jake swiftly raised his gun in kind. His accomplice threw Buck's Glock onto the ground and dropped to his knees.
"You came back," the wounded man breathed.
"Of course I did, Buck." JD smiled. He walked forward slowly and kicked the Glock into the bushes. "Unlike father, unlike son."
"A real touching reunion, Jed," Jake snarled and moved the aim of his gun towards Buck.
JD shook his head. "You've hurt him enough."
"And stop calling him Jed," his friend said through clenched teeth.
"How you holding on, Buck?"
"As tight as I can, pard."
"Then let me make it a little tighter." Jake squeezed out a shot before racing behind the bleachers, his companion following him quickly.
Buck fell back, clutching his right arm. A pool of blood formed quickly beneath him, soaking the dry ground. JD raced to his side.
"Get him! Go get him!" Buck urged.
"No!" He looked around for something to stop the bleeding. "I'm not going to leave you."
"Go on ."
"No way, Buck." He tried to distract the man with humor as he watched him gasp in pain. "I try leaving you once and look what happens."
"If yer worried about shooting him, don't be." Buck took in a deep breath. "He's not any son of mine."
JD could hear his voice getting weaker as the blood continued to pour out. "Oh yeah? Who says that made any difference to me." He struggled to pull off Buck's jacket, then wadded it into the wound, to no avail. He saw his friend's head loll to the side. "Buck? Buck! You with me?" The man was probably going into shock, his face was becoming paler than his own fine white Irish skin. "Shit!"
"JD? I'm sorry."
"I know. Buck, listen to me--"
"May not be time, kid. I just need to tell ya You're my family. Family isn't necess sarily blood." He looked down at the dark stain beneath his side. "At least it better not be, since I seem to be losing so much of it."
"Shut up, Buck." The crack of gunfire rang out in the distance. "What the hell was that?"
With his uninjured arm, the older man grabbed JD's tee shirt. "Can't go unsaid You mean as much to me as Adam did."
Clear blue eyes stared up into a set of brown that clouded with tears.
Then the brown eyes closed as a prayer of thanks was silently given.
"Hold on, Buck. Please. I've got a lot to tell you." He wiped the sting from his sight with a bloodied hand.
To his relief, Vin Tanner burst into the clearing and rushed to their side.
"Cavalry's here," Buck murmured.
"Gardner's in custody." Vin cradled Buck's neck in his palm. "What the fuck happened here?"
"I can't get it to stop." He tried not to let a mounting panic edge his voice. "I think he struck an artery."
"Jeez, JD, what did Nathan teach you? Ya need a tourniquet." Vin checked his clothing--no scarf, no belt. "I got nothing!"
"Neither do Wait!" JD stood up slightly and dug into his jeans pocket. The tie. In the frenzy of the moment he'd forgotten all about it.
"Okay, Buck, you're gonna be fine." His friend grunted as he secured the tie around the pulsing arm, stanching the flow of blood. With one hand he kept the tourniquet taut, the other gripped the older man around the shoulder.
"Ezra intercepted a message about a half hour after you left. Chris and Nathan stopped a break-in at the Care Clinic. Everyplace else came up clean. We got 'em, pard." Vin got up and walked to one side. Taking out his cell phone, he dialed 911 and nodded reassuringly at his teammate.
"You know we're only minutes from DP and Saint Joe. Ambulance'll be here any second." JD could see that a small amount of strength was returning to his friend and he stroked back Buck's sweat-soaked hair.
"It was like watching a car accident about to happen," his friend rambled. "I was trying to help him, JD. I figured if I hung around him a lot, he'd become a better person I mean, look what happened to you since you hitched up with me."
"Buck, you are definitely delirious. Now be quiet."
"Hurts like a bitch. Shit! He really is an asshole." His laugh turned into a cough and JD gently raised him to help him catch his breath.
"I loved Melinda, I really did. Maybe I'm an asshole, trying to be the kind of father I'd've wanted to have."
"I don't think so. I never thought that. I just. "
Buck's eyes pled for forgiveness. "You had every right to be mad at me. But you had no right to leave me like that. What were you thinking?"
The scream of an ambulance sounded nearby and JD pulled Buck closer to him. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I was just I was thinking, 'Why would anybody want to stick around me?'"
"S s stupid."
"My father left us before I was born," he confessed, "I thought maybe I had done something to deserve that. Why else would he leave me?"
JD cringed as Buck closed his eyes in pain. Then the ghost of a smile appeared on the older man's face.
"Did you ever consider that maybe he was just a jerk?" Indigo-blue eyes opened and the smile broadened.
"No grand plan, JD," Buck whispered. "No ulterior motive. Maybe he was just a jerk."
An ambulance came to a halt within a few feet of the wounded man and quicker than he could imagine, JD watched as Buck was checked, monitored, and placed inside."
"You next of kin?" one of the EMT's asked him. "You can ride with us."
When he hesitated, Buck called out from his stretcher. "Get in here, boy!"
JD scrambled into the vehicle and took hold of Buck's uninjured hand. As the ambulance raced off, he smiled. "I never thought of it that way. Him being the jerk and not me."
"Your father. My 'son.'" Buck shook his head. "We really deserve each other."
"I hope you can really think, someday."
"JD--there isn't anyone I'd be prouder to have as my son."
The young man felt a warmth that had nothing to do with the summer heat. It was everything he could do to choke back a bark of glee, counterbalancing the seriousness of the moment with a happiness he hadn't experienced in a long while. "Ditto back at ya, Da. Although I think you're going to be kinda pissed at what happened to your Father's Day present."
Two men, one older, one younger, stood in the cab of a cherry-picker and finished securing the thick steel cable that held a canvas banner between a pair of sturdy tree trunks.
Celebrate July 4th at City Park
Music!!! Food!!! Fireworks!!!
Denver Chamber of Commerce
Glancing below, they watched as a pair of runners, one older, one younger, passed through the elaborately carved columns of Thatcher Memorial Gate as they headed towards the park's large interior lake. One was very tall, and his right arm was held in a tight sling against his chest that restrained movement. The second, much shorter, man's hands scooped the air as he jogged.
"Slow down, Buck! You're supposed to be careful." JD tucked his long, flyaway bangs inside his backwards-set newsboy cap, then wiped the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt.
"Kid, did I ever tell you about my father?"
"Buckingham Wilmington the Third?" they said together.
He'd heard the name about a thousand times but not much more.
"Yeah. Trip, they called him, 'cause he was the third after his father and grandfather. Big men in the sugar business. Rich. Important. Lemme tell you something I never told anyone. Trip Wilmington was five-seven, if that. Nose so small a fly couldn't land on it, and if there was hair on his body, it got there only by glue or science."
"So what you're saying is "
"What I'm saying is that when Ma knew she was carrying me, she went out and picked the best father she could out of all her beau. He had money. Position. Sent us money every month for years. He married one of the debutante circle. Has a son named Donald." He wrinkled his face in mock disgust.
"Donald?" JD mirrored his expression. As they rounded the path next to the lake, sunlight bounced off the calm waters. In spite of the hot day, he thought it looked like the glitter of a fresh snowfall, or maybe vanilla frosting. Could the day get any nicer?
"But there was more to him than just that. He might have been silly-looking but Trip was a fine man. Came to my baseball games, sent me a birthday present every year. If I needed to talk to him, he'd be there. Helped out later when Ma was killed. Really stuck around."
"You're going to come to a point here eventually, right?"
Buck rolled his eyes and yanked his newsboy cap over his friend's eyes. "Don't sass me, boy, or I'm going to burn your ribs tonight at the barbecue."
They would have to clean up a little before the rest of their team came over. Taking care of Buck after moving back into the duplex, the cleaning woman's son hadn't paid much attention to the ever-increasing piles of dishes, dirty clothes, and videos and DVDs that kept the boredom of recovery at bay.
Of course there was one video that wouldn't be returned to the shelves too quickly. It may not make any film festival's top ten list, but the clip of Jake's arraignment they'd recorded off Court TV still made for very enjoyable viewing. It was becoming Team Seven's own version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, complete with rehearsed commentary. JD especially enjoyed it when Melinda responded in the negative when asked if she would make Jake's bail. "Guess she's not too happy with her choice now!" they'd all shout out.
He also looked forward to watching the renewed friendship between his best friend and their team leader. A few Cuervo Golds, several deep conversations, and a belated trip to Adam's grave seemed to make all the difference.
JD didn't understand at the time why he turned his motorcycle around that terrible night. But after riding only a few miles out of town, he felt an urgency to go back. He needed to see Buck one more time. He needed to ask him why--why he deserted him. Unlike his own father, this time he would get a reason.
The park was as good a starting point as any. It was the place he'd had his last good time with Buck. And after he arrived there and found his wounded friend, he realized it was a sign, it was fate. It was his good fortune.
He had a lot of questions for Buck while they both spent time healing, but none of them needed to be the question that had sent him back. JD felt he was finally on his way to moving beyond his father's abandonment, thanks to the patronage of a very tall, very devoted friend.
He turned the hat back to his preferred position. "Your point is, you've learned that fatherhood isn't a question of biology."
"Damn straight. Though I'm kinda glad we have the proof of it."
His friend blew out an exaggerated sigh of relief as they headed around the large lake a final time before heading back to the duplex.
One night after Buck left the hospital, JD had shown him the test results. His own DNA had come closer to Buck's than Jake's--by the odds of one in sixty-eight million.
The other results, the ones Ming had found on the Interpol database, were still in their envelope, unopened, and slipped into the picture frame that contained his mother's portrait and his birth certificate.
"For what it's worth, Buck--"
"When it's coming from you, JD, it's worth a lot."
The answering smile could only be described as a preview of the upcoming holiday's bright fireworks.
Buck looked down at his best friend and winked. "Now tell me, when're ya gonna get a real hat?"
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