IF ONLY by Phyllis

"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

The five men had arrived early and boarded the plane before anyone else with the exception of the crew.

"At least Orin got us first class seats." Buck Wilmington had mumbled as they stowed their small carry-on bags. He flopped into a window seat as Team Leader Chris Larabee spoke softly to the attendant. Moments later, the blond was seated next to the taller ATF agent.

Behind them, Josiah Sanchez and Nathan Jackson were making themselves comfortable, while the seat directly in front of Chris was occupied by Ezra Standish.

Larabee scowled at the small screen in the back of Standish's seat. He had nothing against the small monitor; it simply filled the space where his eyes were directed. "He should have called and given us more warning," the blond mumbled.

Buck glanced at the man he had known for thirteen years, a frown creasing his handsome face. "What?"

Chris turned to meet the worried gaze of Wilmington. "Travis," he growled. "He should have called us earlier."

From behind them, Josiah offered, "Perhaps this came up more swiftly than the AD was prepared for."

Chris shook his head. "They don't schedule conferences on a whim, Josiah. Orin was aware of it and chose to not inform us until the last minute."

"Why in the hell would he do that?" Buck's voice sounded overly loud in the quiet cabin.

"Cause he knew we'd find a way out of it, " Chris stated flatly.

"Well, he's right about that." Nathan chuckled as he stated the obvious.

Chris was once again glaring at the small screen in front of him as he said, "Travis needs to remember there's more than just us to think about. We didn't have any time to prepare the boys."

The image of Vin's face as Larabee explained about the trip tore at the man's heart. The child was still very insecure about his place in the Larabee household and sudden changes in the routine were very disturbing for the young boy.

As soon as Travis had informed the team of the impromptu trip, Chris had been scrambling for a sitter. The conference was only for two days, but they would be gone three nights. Arranging a sleep-in sitter was at the best of times tentative. Arranging one on an hour's notice was next to impossible. Nathan had finally come to the rescue. He had called his wife to ask her to pack a bag and explained about the trip. She asked what Chris and Buck were going to do with the boys on such short notice. When Nathan sighed that he didn't know, she had volunteered to keep them. She and Nathan were redoing a room in their new home and she had already arranged time off from work. The remodel would have to wait until Nathan's return, leaving Rain with nothing to occupy her time. Having the two boys over would help fill the time until her husband returned.

Chris remembered breathing a sigh of relief. Vin and JD loved their 'Aunt Rain' and the woman was a very competent and loving custodian in the men's absence. After explaining to the boys that they would be staying with Rain, the men packed their overnight bags as well as the boys' and headed into town. They had said they goodbyes and Nathan joined them in Chris' Dodge for the ride to the office to meet up with Josiah and Ezra for the flight. The tears were evident in Vin Tanner's eyes, but the boy did not shed one. Buck's voice brought Chris' mind back to the present.

"At least Vin looked upset at the sudden change. JD acted like he was glad to be away from me…us, for a while," Wilmington lamented.

A snort from behind them accompanied a chuckle from in front. Buck slapped the back of the seat that Ezra occupied. "What's that for?" he demanded.

Standing, Standish removed his jacket and smoothed the wrinkles out before laying it meticulously across the adjoining seat, stating as he did, "It may have appeared that young JD was comfortable with the abrupt change of abode for the next three evenings, but you have never been present for the scene after the departure of yourself and Mr. Larabee. It is usually a cheerless moment but there are times when the child is inconsolable to the point of hysterics. At those times, young Mr. Tanner steps forward and becomes a rock of support for his younger brother."

Wilmington's head fell against the seat back at the thought of his adopted son so upset. His head slowly moved from side to side, his lips tight as he worried about the small boy.

"Fear not, Mr. Wilmington. This is a child that is extremely resilient, both of them. All he needs is to see the two of you returning and he is instantly reinstated to the exuberant youngster that you know and love. Both boys remain insecure though they have made remarkable strides in the last few months. And that is, in no small measure, due to the two of you." Ezra had an odd expression on his face as he concluded, a wistful look, but the mask of indifference was quickly set back into place. "So, do not bemoan the fact that you have been torn from your children, but rejoice when you are reunited."

Chris shook his head and smiled. "Sit down, Ezra."

The undercover agent cocked his head to one side and then bowed his head before turning and disappearing behind the seat back. Larabee leaned forward, reached out to touch the man's sleeve, "Thanks, Ezra."

They arrived at Dulles without incident and the men prepared to disembark, gathering their gear and finally moved into the terminal, followed closely by the passengers from coach. The five ATF agents moved toward the baggage carousal and waited. Larabee checked his watch and glanced around. Travis said he would arrange a car and usually the driver stood near the carousal with a placard announcing the passenger's name. Only there was no driver.

"Mr. Wilmington? Mr. Larabee?"

Chris heard the call and glanced over to see Buck conversing with a petite blonde in a business suit. He sighed as he moved toward the man calling out as he searched the crowd of passengers. Larabee approached the slender, young man. He was shorter than the agent by a couple of inches and wearing a white shirt and black pants and tie. A tag identified him as an airline employee.

Holding up a hand, Chris crooked a finger, as the man in looked his direction.

"Mr. Wilmington?"


Pulling a piece of paper from his pocket, Jamison, as his nametag indicated, began, "I have a message for Mr. Wilmington." Glancing up, he saw the frown on the taller man's face. "I was told that he was traveling with four other men, you being one of them."

"I'll take the message."

"Yes, sir. I was told to tell you that 'AD' Travis," he said hesitantly, "has arranged a private jet to take you back to Denver."

Those words drove a cold spike into Larabee's chest. Something was wrong at home and that could only mean the boys. Chris knew that the message being for Buck meant something had happened to JD.

"Your plane is waiting at gate seventeen, sir." The man stood motionless as he waited for Chris to acknowledge what he had said.

The blond team leader stood, staring at the paper in his hand. Finally shaking himself out of his reverie, Larabee nodded. "Could you wait while we get our bags?"

"Certainly, sir. I'm sorry for…" The young man stopped, at a loss for words. "I have a tram to ferry you over."

As Jamison moved off, Chris opened the message. 'JD injured in accident. Come home immediately. Call as soon as you are in the air. Jet will be waiting. Vin is in Mary's care.'

Chris felt guilty at the sense of relief that washed over him at the last words. But as soon as he felt that relief, guilt and worry pushed the feeling to the side. He looked around and located the other three members of the team. Catching Nathan's attention, he moved toward them, keeping one eye on the ladies man as he moved.

Larabee saw the medic lean down to and speak softly to the two shorter men. All three men were now watching as the blond approached.

"Boys, there's been an accident back home." He handed the paper to Nathan even as he glanced over the men to check on Buck's location. Ezra's voice drew his attention back to the three men.

"No indication as to the nature of the accident? Are we to assume that Mrs. Jackson was not involved in this mishap?"

"We should only assume that Rain is uninjured since she is not mentioned," Josiah offered. "Travis would have sent word if she were hurt."

Nathan nodded in agreement, but the worry was evident on his expressive face. "What are you going to tell Buck?"

Seeing the big man still engaged in conversation with the woman, Chris stated, "Jamison," inclining his head toward the airline employee, "is going to get a tram to take us to the jet. We'll let Buck think we're going to the car. I'll talk to him on the plane."

The three nodded in agreement, just as the buzzer went off and the baggage began to tumble out. People moved around, claiming their bags, and Wilmington finally broke off from the woman, pushing a scrap of paper into his pocket as he moved to grab his own bag. Seeing his companions had already picked up their gear, he moved to join them.

"Boys. Anybody seen the driver?"

"Rides over here." Chris headed to the waiting tram. The five men loaded up and the tram headed out. If Wilmington suspected anything, he never let on as they moved through the terminal. As they drew to a stop at another gate, Buck frowned, but Larabee did not give him a chance to ask any questions as he grabbed the bags and headed out to board the waiting jet. Only after everyone was on board and seats selected, did Chris look at his old friend.

"Travis sent the jet."

"Yeah, well, I've been on his jet before Chris. What I want to know, is why we're on Travis' jet? Old man change his mind?"

"Buck," Chris began, but stopped. He didn't have any information to tell the man. Larabee mentally kicked himself as he realized he should have called first, to find out what had happened. The hesitate beginning had alerted the mustached agent to trouble and Chris watched as the smile faded, to be replaced by a frown.

"Chris, what's going on? We're headed home, right?" Even as the words came out, realization struck and the blue eyes widened. Panic crept into the man's face as he asked in a hushed voice, "Did something happen? Is there something wrong at home?"

Buck looked away from the blond and pinned the other three with his gaze. Nathan sat with his fingers templed and tapping his mouth, apparently caught up in his own thoughts. Ezra was studiously observing the runway as the aircraft taxied out. Only Josiah met Buck's gaze and there was nothing but sympathy in the profiler's blue eyes. Their eyes remained locked for several seconds and then Wilmington's eyes moved slowly back to the blond next to him.

The question was barely a whisper and, had Chris not known what was going to be asked, he would have had to have it repeated.


For a moment, neither man moved or spoke. Larabee broke the spell. "There's been an accident." He saw the man before him grow pale and placed a hand on his friend's arm. "The note from Orin says he's been injured and that we need to get home. But he must be alive, Buck. Orin would say if he wasn't."

Chris paused and when he didn't receive any response, he lightly shook the broad shoulder under his hand. "Buck? You hear me?"

Not trusting his voice, the man merely nodded.

"As soon as we get airborne, I'll call Travis and find out what happened."

The man watched as Buck nodded again and then turned away to stare out the window. Larabee could see Buck's reflection in the glass, saw the despair in the man's eyes, fear clouding the normally bright eyes. He prayed that things were not as bad as they were allowing their imaginations to envision, but the urgency was unmistakable by the mere fact that they were already on a plane and headed home.


Twenty minutes after take-off, Larabee was still trying to connect with Travis. So far, he had left six messages on the Assistant Director's cell phone and three more at his home, asking that Travis or his wife return his call. He had called the Jackson house, though he didn't actually expect to get an answer there. He tried Mary Travis, since she was apparently watching Vin. In a desperate attempt to reach anyone, he had called Nettie Wells, thinking the social worker would have been called in an emergency where neither guardian was present. Just as her machine picked up, he remembered she was away on a cruise with friends and he disconnected.

Resisting the urge to throw the instrument across the cabin, he once again dialed Mary's cell number.


"Mary." The relief was evident in the man's voice.

"Chris. I've been trying to get hold of you. Who've you been talking to?"

Squeezing his eyes closed in frustration. "Answering machines," he barked.

"Oh." Her voice was small in her embarrassment. "Sorry, Chris."

Taking a deep breath, he apologized. "No, Mary. I'm the one that 's sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you like that. It's just that I couldn't get a hold of anyone and we don't know…"

He stopped speaking, the words cut off by the knot in his chest.

"I am sorry, Chris. Orin should have called you. Listen, please, I don’t have a lot of time. Billy is keeping an eye on Vin. We’re at the hospital, but I had to come outside to use the cell."

Though Larabee could not see the woman, he could imagine her standing with the phone in one hand while the other played with a small locket around her neck, as she kept one eye on the boys. A soft 'Chris' drew his full attention back to the conversation.

"Vin wants to talk to you. He's really frightened. Let me fill you in and then I'll call him over."

"Okay, Mary." The man glanced at the other four men and then turned away, preparing himself.

"JD and Vin were out in front of the Jackson home. Billy and Vin wanted to walk to the little store at the end of the street and get a soda. We didn't figure it would hurt, Billy walks down there often when we visit." Shaking her head, she reminded herself to stay on track. "Vin told JD he was too small because they have to cross the street and told him to wait in the house, that they'd be right back."

Scenarios began to form in the ATF agent's mind as to what went wrong, yet he was unprepared for the truth.

"JD apparently went into the garage to wait and the spring that holds the door open, broke."

Chris heard her voice crack and a small sob traveled through the earpiece to him.


"I'm…I'm okay." Her shuddering breath was heard and then she continued. "The door fell on him. He was pinned to the ground by that…that huge door. We heard a noise, but didn't really think anything about it, didn’t even go check for a minute or two. Then Rain decided to go look, thinking that the neighbor's cat had gotten in. She found him…and yelled for me."

Chris could tell that the woman was crying and he knew he should say something, but his mind was picturing the horrific scene. The garage door was a wooden one, old and heavy. It had to be twelve feet in length and eight feet high. It had an old style operator.

"Chris," Mary said softly. "He wasn't breathing. The door crushed down on his little chest and he stopped breathing. His heart stopped."

Once again, the woman sobbed. And again, the man was unable to comfort her.

He heard her draw another deep breath. "We got the door off of him and propped it up with a garbage can. Rain started CPR and I ran to call 911. By the time I got back, she had his heart going again, but he still wasn't breathing. Then Vin came running up. Oh, Chris, he was terrified. Poor thing was shaking like leaf, claiming it was his fault. He's barely spoken in the last five hours."

"I'll…I'll have a talk with 'im." Chris' voice was breathy as he struggled to remain calm. He had leaned back as she spoke and he could see the others looking at him, trying to gauge the situation by his reactions.

"So…" he prompted.

"They said that he might have internal damage and…" she started, but stopped. The pause worried the man, though. "We have no idea how long he was…clinically dead, is the way the doctor put it. His heart could have been damaged. Or he could have brain damage from lack of oxygen and might never wake up."

"Hold on, Mary." Chris lowered the phone, his hand wrapped around his forehead as he struggled with the sick feeling that came over him. He took several slow, deep breaths and then brought the phone back up. "Mary?"

"I'm still here."

"Let me talk to Vin."

"Okay, just a sec."

Larabee heard the woman speaking to the boy. "Vin, Chris wants to talk to you." There was a pause and the boy’s voice was heard but not understood. Mary said, "No, honey, he’s not mad at you. He’s your father, he loves you."

There were a few more moments of silence and then, "Hello? Dad?"

"Vin? Are you alright?"

Chris could hear soft sniffing over the phone and then the boy started talking, almost incoherent words, in his haste. "I’m sorry. I was supposed to watch ‘em, but he’s too small to cross the street without a grownup. Ya’ll told me that, so I sent him into the house. But he didn’t go, he went to the garage, he wouldn’t go inside. I’m sorry, Dad."

"No, Vin. Hush, son. I want you to take a deep breath for me. Deep breath and blow it out through your mouth." He listened and heard the boy take a deep breath. "Good boy. Do it one more time for me."

The man heard a shuddering inhale and then air blowing across the mouthpiece, nodding, he continued, "Vin, none of this your fault. It was an accident."

There was no sound other than sniffing from the eight-year old. Finally, he asked, "When will you be home?"

"We’ll be home soon. Don’t you worry, son. We’ll be home soon and everything will be all right." Chris paused. When there was no response, he added, "Vin, I love you, son. You didn’t do anything wrong. You hear me?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good boy. Now you do what Mrs. Travis tells you and I’ll see you in just a little while."

"Okay, Dad. Dad?"

"Yes, Vin?"

"Tell Buck I’m sorry."

‘Well, I didn’t figure it would be easy’ Larabee thought as he sighed. "Buck knows you would never hurt JD, Vin."

Again, the boy remained silent. The blond agent sighed.

"Vin, I’ll see ya real soon. Be brave, son."

"Bye, Dad."


"No, it’s me, Chris." Mary answered.

"Oh, Mary, right. We should be there in a couple of hours. Can you keep an eye on him ‘til I get there?"

"You know you don’t even have to ask. We’ll be at the hospital with Rain."

"Damn" he whispered. "How’s she holding up?"

"She’s pretty upset. I’ll feel better when all of you get here."

"Yeah, we all will. See ya in a couple of hours, Mary."

"Be careful, Chris. I’ll take care of Vin for you."

They disconnected and Chris turned to the men at the front of the cabin. Taking a deep breath, he moved forward and began to tell them what he had learned. He couldn’t tell who was more affected by the news of what happened, Wilmington or Jackson.

As Chris repeated what Mary Travis had told him during the phone conversation, he watched the men in front of him. Josiah was sitting next to Nathan while Ezra had moved to sit next to Buck. Chris stood between the seats, facing the four men.

By the time Chris had finished the story, Buck was visibility shaking and Nathan looked ill. Josiah had placed a steadying hand on the medic’s arm after the man had pounded the arm of the chair.

"How's Vin?" Buck's voice was strained as he asked.

Chris licked his upper lip, shaking his head as he did. "He's pretty upset. I'll talk to him when we get back. Mary's watching him." Chris glanced at his watch, calculating the time until they arrived back in Denver. It seemed like days since they had left the boys at Nathan's, yet it had only been seven hours.

Nathan sat forward with his hands clasped in front of him. "Did she say how Rain was?'

Chris groaned as he shook his head. "Nate, I'm sorry. She's at the hospital. Mary said she was pretty upset. I didn't even think to ask more. I'm sorry."

The tall medic waved a hand at the team leader. "It's okay, Chris. I'm sure she'll be fine until we get there. She's strong that way."

"Your wife is a remarkable woman, Nathan. God, will protect her until you can be at her side." Josiah knew what the handsome black man was thinking. The delicate Mrs. Jackson would be blaming her self for this unfortunate incident, just as Nathan was doing. Sanchez gripped the taller man's shoulder. "Nathan, this was not your fault. An accident of this nature is simply that-an accident. Circumstances that placed young JD at that place at that moment were unfortunate, but unpreventable."

"I should've replaced that door. I was planning to replace it. Damn thing is a nuisance; damn operator is always jamming. We both hate it, just figured we'd deal with it until we got the house fixed up inside." The medic slumped back, into the cushioned aircraft seat. "Should have replaced it first."

Josiah nodded. "And if you had for one moment considered that door a danger, that is exactly what you would have done."

Chris had stood, listening, and now he moved forward. "This was no one's fault, Nathan. Josiah is right when he says it was an accident." The blond looked over at the other two agents. "Buck is thinking that if only he had been there or if only JD had been at home. I'm thinking the same thing. Rain and Mary are probably both berating themselves for allowing the boys to walk to the store or if only they had gone out to get JD when they said the boys could go. Or wondering about if only they gone out earlier, could they have prevented it from happening? A world full of 'If only's', but the truth is simple. Accidents happen, they can't be prevented, only dealt with."

He moved to stand in the middle of the aisle. "I'm going up front to see how long before we land."


Two hours later, the five men, loaded in Chris’ Dodge, arrived at the hospital. Travis had sent a car for them, which Chris had instructed to take the luggage to the building that housed the ATF offices, since the five men had met at the office and gone to the airport in one vehicle. Larabee had figured to make it easy since Buck and Nathan were already with him and pick up Sanchez and Standish at the parking garage, leaving two vehicles there and one at the airport.

Jackson led the way as they entered the large medical complex. Though all the men were familiar with the hospital and its layout, Nathan knew the location of back entrances and elevators. Pediatric ICU was on the fourth floor and the five agents approached warily, afraid of making too much noise on the polished tile floor, each man acutely aware of what lay behind each of the closed doors

Approaching the circular station in the middle of the hallway, the tall medic inquired about the boy’s location. Getting the information he needed, he once again led the way. Halfway down the hall, they all stopped as Mary Travis stepped to an open doorway and gave them a tired smile.

"Mary," Chris said quietly as he placed his hand on her arm and a kiss on her cheek. The man’s eyes scanned the room and quickly found what he was looking for. Vin Tanner lay curled up on a hard plastic chair, a pillow under his head and a light blanket draped across his legs.

Following the man’s eyes, the blonde woman sighed. "He just drifted off a few minutes ago. He’s so upset, Chris. I can’t convince him that he’s not responsible for what happened."

He ran his hand up and down her arms in a comforting motion as he told her, "I’ll talk to him. Would you mind showing Buck to JD’s room?"

"Of course. Good luck with him."

The woman turned toward Wilmington and the other members of team seven. She hooked her arm through Buck’s and led him down the hall, the other three men close behind.

Chris moved across the room slowly, thinking about what he could say to the eight-year old boy to relieve the guilt that gnawed at the young soul. He squatted down in front of the chairs and placed a hand on the slender shoulder.



Larabee waited a moment as the boy struggled into awareness. Blue eyes blinked several times and then focused on the man. Chris smiled.

Vin sat up, rubbing his eyes. He kept his head down as Chris sat down next to him and placed a hand on his back. The boy sniffed and drew his wrist and hand across his nose.

"How ya doing, son?"

"Fine," was the soft answer.

"Look at me, please."

Tear-filled eyes over a quivering chin looked up and Larabee’s heart ached at the pain and guilt in the young eyes. The man gave into the urge and, taking the boy under the arms, drew the slight weight into his lap. He hugged the trembling child, rocking slightly as he cuddled the blond head to his chest and rubbed the bony back as the boy cried.

After a few minutes, Chris felt the boy relax and lean into his body. A weary smile pulled at the man’s face as he sat back and, once again, waited. Finally, Vin sat up and looked into his father's green eyes.


The young blond nodded.

"Good. I want you to listen to me." The boy chewed on his lip as he looked at the man. "Several things worked together to make this thing happen. None of them were anyone’s fault."

When he felt the boy tense and his mouth open to contradict him, he patted the thin ribcage. "None," he stressed, "were anyone’s fault. This was an accident-pure and simple. Yes, there were things that could have been done to prevent it. But we don’t have the gift of being able to see into the future, to see what will happen."

"But I’m suppose to take care of JD."

"And so am I," Chris said, interrupting the boy. "And Buck. And Rain. Do you think that any of us are responsible for the accident?"

"No, ya’ll weren’t even there."

"But we could have prevented it. Buck could have not allowed JD to go to Rain’s. Or Nathan could have checked the garage door to make sure it was safe. Or Rain and Mary could have told you no when you asked to cross the street."

The man watched the little boy chew on his lip as he thought about what had been said.

"None of us can be there every minute. Even if you had been there, you might not have been able to do anything. You or Billy might have been hurt, also."

Vin dropped his chin as Chris spoke and the man responded by lifting it back up with his hand cupped under the chin. "Vin, what would you do different? Next time? What will you do next time?" Chris chose his words to reinforce his hope that there would be a next time; that the raven-haired boy would recover with no permanent damage.

"I would…I would have made sure that JD went into the house." At Chris’ nod, he continued. "I wouldn’t have left him. It wasn’t fair to leave him just cause I wanted to go cause Billy is older. I should have asked one of the ladies to go with us, or stayed there."

"I think that is very wise of you, Vin. You should have stayed or found a way for JD to go. I know that it’s very tempting to go play with the big kids, but you can’t expect JD to not want to go or play, also."

"Yes, sir."

Chris hugged the small body closer. "Why don’t you rest? When JD wakes up, he’ll probably be bouncing off the walls with energy."

" ’K."

Larabee felt the boy relax and within a few minutes, his breathing had leveled out into a sleep pattern. The blond wanted to go check on JD, and Buck, but knew that the boy in his arms would wake up. Vin needed his rest after the trying day, so Chris sat and waited.


Mary led the men down the hall to the room where the small boy lay. She moved to push open the door, but felt the man hesitate at the threshold. She turned understanding eyes to him and waited.

Buck Wilmington stood at the door, trying to prepare himself for what lay on the other side. Taking several deep breaths, he straightened his shoulders and stepped up, pushing the door open.

All the mental pictures that had come to him in the last few hours could not compare to the actual image. The man felt his heart rate increase; his face was flushed, while his body broke out in a cold sweat. He slowed as he crossed to the bed, stumbling as numb feet dragged across the linoleum flooring.

JD lay on the bed, a respirator doing his breathing, wires running from his head and chest and leading to monitors above the bed. An IV disappeared under the blanket that covered the small figure. The boy’s face was pale, the skin translucent in the dim light from behind the bed.

Buck smiled as he approached, a shaky hand reaching up to lightly touch the black hair. "JD" he whispered. The man stood, leaning close over the child until motion drew his attention away.

Glancing to the foot of the bed, he noticed for the first time the beautiful woman standing there, leaning against her husband's broad chest. Nathan had moved across the room, behind Wilmington and enveloped his wife in his long arms. Eyes, reddened from crying, begged his understanding and forgiveness, as she stared at him from her husband's embrace. Wilmington stood and moved toward them.

Rain saw the movement and pulled out of the comforting embrace. Her voice was whispery soft as she said, "Buck. I am so sorry. Can you ever forget me?" She stopped speaking as he moved closer and wrapped his arms around her.

"There's nothin' to forgive, darlin’. This isn’t your fault." He could feel the petite woman trembling and he gently swayed as he stroked her hair. After a few moments, Buck felt Rain relax against him. She was still trembling, but she smiled as she gently pushed away from the man.

"Thank you, Buck." She shook her head as she glanced around the men to the bed. "I just can’t believe this has happened. It was…" She paused, her hands searching out her husband's. "One minute the boys were playing and the next…"

Seeing that she could not contain the tears, Nathan took her in his arms again. Over her head, he indicated that he was going to take her outside and Buck nodded his acknowledgment.

The father watched as Nathan led his wife past Ezra and Josiah and out the door. The two men stepped forward toward the bed and the three of them stood, staring at the little form, the only sound in the room, the whooshing of the respirator. Ezra broke the silence.

"I anticipate this young man shall be up and around within the week. I refuse to entertain any other outcome to this tragedy." Ezra bent over the small boy and placed one hand on the dark hair. He took the child's small hand between his forefinger and thumb, stroking the soft skin as he whispered, "Mr. Dunne, you and your good friend, Mr. Tanner have restored something to me I had long thought to have lost. For twenty-eight years old, my maternal parent has valiantly fought to extinguish the flame of love in my heart, to mold me into the prefect image of a confidence man, as she perceives him. In the span of one week, the two of you ignited that flame once again and it has done nothing but grow brighter with each day. I am unprepared to feel the lessening of that blaze, so you must get well, my young friend." The southerner placed a light kiss on JD's lax hand and then straightened before turning on his heel and exiting the room, leaving behind him a single teardrop on the sheet.

Josiah stood silent for a moment before shaking himself from his reverie. "It would appear that these children have broken through our taciturn southerner's defenses." He stepped up to the bed and knelt down on his knees. Encasing the boy's small hand in his two massive ones, the ex-preacher bowed his head, whispering a quiet prayer. Finishing his soft plea, Josiah stood and moved around the bed to stand next to Wilmington.

"Buck, have faith-in God and in this child's resolve to never leave you." Laying a hand on the taller man's shoulder, the profiler squeezed the tense muscle. Buck nodded and Sanchez left the room, leaving the father alone with his child.

Pulling a chair up to the bed, Buck took a seat on the edge of it and leaned forward to rest his chin on his folded hands next to the boy's dark head. His eyes took in the wires and the tubes; the monitors and IV bag. After studying the medical equipment, his eyes moved to the child. He saw the pale features, the black hair; he studied the porcelain skin, noticing the blue veins on the closed eyelids.

Seeing the bare shoulder, Buck reached out and slid the sheet down. The bruise that crossed the narrow chest caused spots to dance in his vision and he swallowed several times to quell the queasiness in his stomach. He pulled the sheet back up and smoothed it down. His hand moved to stroke the tiny ear and his fingers continued down to trace the jaw and chin, until tears obscure his vision causing him to pull his hand back. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he moved his fingertips outward to swipe at the moisture.

Finally, he drew in a deep breath. "Hey, Little Bit. Got yourself into a bit of a mess, didn't ya? Well, that's okay, son. You're going to be just fine."

Buck's hand strayed to loop around the boy's head, where his thumb rubbed the skin over the small jaw. "Yeah, you're going to be fine. I never have told you about the day I knew I wanted you in my life, have I?"

Wilmington chuckled as he remembered the day he had first seen the little waif that lay in front of him. It had been a roller coast ride of emotions. They had been searching for gunrunners and ended up in the wrong building. Chris had come on the boy first, passing him to Nathan, who then passed him to Buck. Almost. A cry from Larabee had the dark haired child passed on to Ezra Standish. Emotions had run gambit from tension to stress to surprise to fear and horror and ended with pleasure.

Rescuing the grievously wounded Standish after JD had planted his small foot in the southerner's groin, Buck had taken the boy to the hospital to be examined. He stood by and watched as the doctor pronounced JD as healthy though malnourished. Child services had been called, but no one had shown yet, so he sat with the boy, attempting to calm him and explain about what would happen.

"You had me wrapped around your little finger that first night. It tore me up when they came and took you away, the way you cried for Vin, so worried that we were going to take him away from you." Buck lay his head over on the bed and continued, "That stayed with me. I was taken with you that first day, but soon, all I could think about was those big hazel eyes. My first girlfriend had hazel eyes."

He closed his eyes, envisioning the moment he decided to try and foster the boy. A smile pulled at his lips at the image.

"We busted the guys that shot Vin and wrapped up the case. Chris was all distracted by Vin, wondering about what had happened to him. Not that he would admit it at the time. I knew he'd end up at the hospital. And I knew I'd end up at child services. Made up that story about you being a material witness."

He raised his head again and looked out the window. He thought about all that they had shared in the last few months; all the joy and heartache, the good and the bad times.

"JD, I know in my heart that you are going to be fine. But if…if things don't work out, I want you to know that I wouldn't change one minute. All the happy times, all the love, makes it worth any heartache that happens. I want you to know that I love you very, very much."

Buck paused as he rubbed his face with both hands. His hands moved up and into his hair where he clutched the wavy locks in his fingers as he chewed on his upper lip, fretfully. He looked down at the pale face and scrunched his features in a futile effort to stem the tears.

"Ah, JD, please wake up. We need ya, kid." His plea was whispered and full of pain.

Buck slipped out of the chair and dropped to his knees. "Please God. Please just let him be okay. Please" he whispered.

He never heard the door glide closed.


Chris stepped back and leaned against the wall as his friend's words reverberated through his head. Mary's return to the waiting room prompted him to ask her to sit with Vin a while longer so he could look in on JD himself. He roused the little boy to tell him where he was going and passed him over to the blonde woman.

He saw Nathan leading his wife to an unoccupied room and the two men made eye contact, nodding in acknowledgement. By the time he started back to the room, Ezra was making an exit. The southerner had merely nodded as he moved quickly past Larabee, but not so fast that Chris didn't get a good look at the anguish on the man's face; the face of a man Larabee had once considered the most unemotional human he had ever met. Since the arrival of the two boys, though, an entirely different Ezra was coming to light; one that Chris never suspected even existed.

Chris continued toward the door, but stopped as Josiah exited.

"How’s Vincent?" the profiler asked.

Shaking his head, Larabee responded, "He’s still blaming himself. Probably won’t convince him that it wasn’t his fault until JD is awake and okay."

"There are several people thinking about the ‘If only’s’ I am afraid. I believe Rain and Buck as well as yourself are in that category."

Chris started to shake his head in denial, but realized the man was correct. He nodded even as he changed the subject. Reaching into his pocket, he asked, "I was wondering if I could impose?"

Taking the keys, Josiah stood waiting.

"Take Nathan and Rain home and drop the Ram off at the office? That way you and Ezra can pick up your vehicles and everyone can go home and get some rest."

"How will you get back?"

"I don't imagine Buck will be leaving for a while. I’ll get Mary to take Vin and me to the office to get the truck later."

"What about the keys?"

"Buck has a spare. I’ll use those. Just toss my set under the seat and lock it."

Josiah glanced around and Chris pointed down the hall in the direction that Standish had gone. "Ezra went down there and Nathan and Rain are over here. I’ll talk to them if you’ll round up Ezra."

Josiah nodded even as he moved away. "We’ll meet them right back here."

Chris knocked lightly on the door the Jackson’s had gone into. Nathan’s voice beckoned him in.

Opening the door slowly, the blond smiled slightly as he saw the two people on the bed. Nathan was stretched out, his ankles crossed with Rain tucked in close to his side. The woman’s eyes were closed, but she opened them as Larabee moved across the floor.

"Nathan. Rain, how’re you doing?"

She sat up, wiping at her eyes as she did. "I’ll be fine, Chris. Just as soon as I know JD is alright."

"JD is going to be fine, Rain. I know he will." The man spoke with such conviction that the woman could almost convince herself that he did indeed know the outcome of the day’s events.


He stepped forward, placing a hand on each of her arms. "No, Rain. He will. Now, Josiah is going to take you home and you, he and Ezra are going to go home and rest."

"Is that an order, Agent Larabee?" Fire leapt to the woman’s eyes, replacing the pools of despair.

"Yes… if that’s what it takes," but his words were softened by the smile on his lips. "Buck isn’t going anywhere. I have to stay, for him, for JD."

Josiah and Ezra entered the room quietly as Rain nodded and reached for Nathan’s hand. "Josiah, we need a ride. Think you could help us out?"

"I would love to be of assistance, fair lady."

The five people exited the room and Chris escorted them to the elevator. Rain stood, looking at Larabee before finally saying, "Chris, please call…"

"The moment he stirs, I’m on the phone. Don’t you worry." He placed a light kiss on her forehead and then stepped back. The doors closed, but not before meeting the gazes of each man, a silent agreement struck. The other three members of Team Seven would handle things at the office, allowing the Chris and Buck the time to heal their family.


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