IF ONLY by Phyllis

"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

Chris moved back to the waiting room where Mary watched over Vin. He entered quietly, but the woman’s eyes opened as he moved across the room. He smiled as he took a seat next to her.

"Did you get them to go home?"

Larabee slid down in the seat as his hands came up to rub his temples. "Yeah. Josiah is going to leave the Ram at the office. I was wondering if you could give Vin and me a ride later?"

"Of course, Chris. I’ll wait until you’re ready. Billy is with Orin and Evelyn."

"Oh, damn, Orin. I forgot to call Orin." He reached for the cell phone in his pocket, but stopped when Mary placed a hand on his arm.

"I talked to Orin after we talked on the phone. He was here, with Rain. After we talked, he took Billy home to stay with them tonight."

"Is Billy alright? I never thought to…"

She nodded and replied, "It's okay, Chris. You have a lot on your mind. Billy was pretty upset. It was his idea to go to the store. But both Orin and I have talked with him and I think that he'll be fine. He told me he would be okay and that I needed to stay with Vin until you got here." She swiped a tear from her cheek as she remembered how grown up and mature the thirteen year old boy had sounded.

"You have a great kid, there, Mary. He's turning into a fine young man."

She half laughed, half sighed. "I know. I'm just not sure I'm ready for him to be so grown up, yet."

Glancing at the sleeping boy, Larabee nodded. "Yeah. I know what you mean."

They sat in silence for a few minutes before the woman asked, "How's Buck holding up?"

Larabee thought back to what he had overheard in the door of the hospital room. When Wilmington had first said he wanted to foster the boy, Chris had his doubts. He knew the big man had a heart of gold; he had seen the man with Adam and knew he was good with children. But he was also a man easily distracted by a skirt.

Buck loved women and they loved him. In the few relationships that Chris had been witness to, Buck threw his whole being into making it the best experience, but they never lasted. No matter how serious the man proclaimed the affairs were, they never lasted more than two to three months. He would become distracted and the women would walk away.

Chris feared that such was the case with the hazel-eyed waif. He had caught the mustached agent's attention but that it was a fleeting captivation. But the emotion that Wilmington displayed in that room was as deep as he had shown with Adam, maybe even deeper. Buck Wilmington had at last made a commitment to another person; a five-year old raven haired, hazel-eyed waif now owned the man's heart.

Larabee turned to the woman and answered her question by saying; "Buck 'll be fine. Just as soon as JD wakes up."

She nodded, knowingly and silence once again descended on the room.


Buck had no idea how long he had been sitting, watching the machine push air into the small lungs. Time outside of the room they occupied had ceased to exist to him. So intent was his concentration that he leapt to his feet when a hand touched his shoulder.

"Whoa, stud. It's just me." Chris cautioned as Wilmington rounded on his old friend, fists balled.

"God Damn, Larabee. You about gave me a heart attack," he whispered, frowning at the blond as he fought to keep his emotions in check.

"Sorry, Buck. Wasn't my intention."

Buck reached out to place a hand on the smaller man's shoulder. "It's not your fault, Chris. I shouldn't have jumped ya like that. My mind was somewhere else."

The two men looked at each other and both smiled and shook their heads.

"How's he doing?"

"Same." Buck sighed.

"I came in earlier. I…" the man hesitated.

Buck sat back down, smiling sadly. "You hear me?"

"Sorry, I didn't intend to eavesdrop."

"Nothing to be sorry about, Chris. I didn't say anything that I didn't mean."

The blond squatted down next to the chair. "Buck, you need to rest."

The man started shaking his head before the sentence was half out. "Okay, I didn't think so, but I had to try. Mary is going to take Vin and me over to the office to get the Dodge. Then we'll be back."

"No, Chris. You need to take Vin home. He can't get any rest here. Go home. Come back tomorrow. And bring my bag, so I can change."

Blue and green eyes met in a short battle of wills. Chris conceded first, knowing that Buck was correct about the boy. He won't rest well at the hospital. Placing a hand on the arm of the chair, he pushed himself up wearily.

"Okay, Buck. We'll see you tomorrow." Taking one more look at the form in the bed, Chris stepped forward to push the dark hair back and plant a kiss on the cool cheek. "You get better, son. We need you at home, raising hell."

He turned and gripped his friend's shoulder. "Anything happens, anything, you call my cell."

Wilmington nodded.

Larabee gripped harder. "Anything, Buck. I have to know so I can help Vin."

"And I 'know' that's the only reason," Wilmington teasingly said.

The tired smile revealed what both men knew. Larabee might nap, but there would be no sleep for the man this night.


Evening turned to late night and the darkness found Buck Wilmington sitting hunched over a hospital bed, his hands clasped as they rested on the bed, watching for any sign that his son was waking.

Darkness at the Larabee ranch wrapped around the blond man as he lay on a small bunk, staring at the stars visible through the window across the room, his body exhausted, but his mind afire with memories; memories of lives loved and lost, of good times and bad. Movement drew his mind back into the room and he looked down at the small blond head that lay on his stomach and his hand began to once again rub the young boy's back in comfort. The frown that creased Vin's brow relaxed and he sighed as the warm hand worked it's magic. One-thirty by his watch. If they left at six, they could be back at the hospital by seven.

In the town, Nathan Jackson was mimicking Chris' actions as he offered comfort to the beautiful woman spooned to his body. Rain had tucked herself into Nathan's chest, her hands between their bodies. Nathan sighed when he felt her finally relax into a light sleep and he lay unmoving as he mentally reviewed things he would need to correct before he could comfortably allow the boys back into his home. Two, the red glow of the alarm clock told him. He shifted slightly to get blood to his arm and went back to the mental review of work to be done.

Across town, Ezra Standish sat, listening to Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor and sipping a brandy, hoping the rise and fall of the music and warmth of the alcohol would lull him to sleep, but his mind was in turmoil and refused to rest. Everywhere he looked, there were remainders of the two boys that had come into their lives such a short time before, bringing with them noise and chaos, but also unconditional love that had opened his heart. There was a photo album of holidays, parties, and school pageants. His gaze moved to the 'handcrafted' bowl the boys had painted for him. There was a hole in the wall of the hall that JD had created by racing after Vin with a metal locomotive and tripping to smash the toy train into and through the drywall. Ezra remembered the flash of anger and the harsh words, the tears on JD's face and the admonishment on Vin's. He had never had the wall repaired; it stayed as a reminder of the more important things in life. His eyes glanced at the watch on his wrist. Two-thirty. He sighed and leaned back in the chair, waiting for dawn.

Josiah sat in the kitchen at the shelter. After dropping the Jackson's at home, he had driven to work and parted company with Ezra, intending to go home. But the thought of wandering around the empty house, knowing sleep would evade him, was incomprehensible, so he turned and headed to the shelter, knowing there was always someone there, something to do. He had arrived just as they were starting to clean up after the evening meal and he joined in to help. He sat around for a while, enjoying the distraction as well as a cup of coffee. Things began to quiet down and now he was the only one awake. Sitting at the table, he leafed through a bible, random words catching his eye. 'Love' and 'Save' seemed to jump out at him. Church bells down the street pealed. Three. He smiled as he started turning pages again.

The shrill sound of the alarm had a dozing Wilmington leaping to his feet. By the time he figured out what the noise was, the doctor and two nurses entered the room. Buck felt a cold hand grip his heart, as he stood helpless.


Chris jumped when the phone vibrated in his pocket. In his haste to extract it, he bumped Vin and the boy sat up, rubbing his bleary eyes.

Finally getting the instrument out, he looked at the caller ID as he flipped it open and learned two things; it was four in the morning and Buck was calling. He took a deep breath.


"Chris. I know I scared the crap out of ya, but you said to call." Buck paused a second to calm himself. "They took JD off the respirator. He started breathing on his own. They say that's good. Don't you think that's good?"

Chris released the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. "Yeah, I'd say that's good. He look like he was waking up?"

Buck's excitement died a little. "No, he's still out. Doc says that, him breathing on his own is a good sign, though. We just have to wait and see."

"Okay, Buck. We'll see ya in a few hours."

"Alright. Tell Vin 'hi' for me. Get some sleep, Chris."

"Yeah, well, I could tell you the same thing."

"Hell, last time I dozed off, that alarm went off. I about had a fit."

"What alarm?"

"Oh, the one that tells 'em JD was trying to breath against the respirator." Buck sighed through the phone. "Get some rest, Chris. I'll tell ya about it in the morning. Think I should call the others?"

"Yeah. I'm sure none of them are sleeping. Night, Buck."

"See ya soon."

The connection went dead and Chris closed the unit as he looked down into big blue eyes. He smiled. "JD's better."

The boy clutched the man around the waist and cried in relief. Chris started his ritual of rubbing the small back. Soon the two of them drifted off to sleep.


After making calls to his three teammates and Mary Travis, Buck was able to relax and drifted into a light sleep in the wee hours of morning. The doctor reappeared at six-thirty to check on his patient and once again reassured the ATF agent that JD's breathing on his own was a good sign, but also cautioned that breathing was an involuntary action, just as the heart beating was automatic. The possibility that JD had suffered brain damage due to lack of oxygen still existed.

Buck nodded as he listened to the man, filing the information away without really processing it, as he watched the nurses remove the wires and connections from the slumbering child. The physician told him they did not have to monitor the boy as close and therefore it would be more comfortable for him without all the attachments. Since JD had not run a fever and was not dehydrated, plus they would in all probability not have to medicate him, the IV was removed, also. If the boy did not regain consciousness within the next forty-eight hours though, it would be necessary to put in a feeding tube.

Buck nodded mindlessly, as if he understand everything the man was explaining; knew it was the best for the boy. But after the doctor left and the nurses finished and exited also, he fell into the chair, heavily, the words swirling around in his head. 'Brain damage', 'feeding tube', these were words that should not be used in connection to a five-year old child. JD was an energetic and highly intelligent child. The thought of him being mentally handicapped was devastating, but worse yet was the idea that his mind would continue to sustain the body but nothing else, the higher functions lost. It occurred to Buck that although JD lay in the bed right in front of him, he might already be gone and that thought drove him to the small bathroom.

He had not eaten in over fifteen hours, so there was nothing to throw up, but he tasted bile as his muscles clenched. Finally feeling he was finished, he splashed cold water on his face, running his wet hands up through the wavy hair. He stared at the face before him and saw the grief in his eyes.

"No," he whispered. He slammed his open palm against the sink edge. "No. I will not give up."

He walked back to the bed and placed one hand on the dark hair and held the tiny hand with his other. "I won't believe that you won't ever wake up, lil' bit. I know you will," the man whispered. "Please, wake up, JD. You're safe; I'm here. I love ya, kid. I need ya."

Tears dripped onto the pillow next to the young boy as Buck silently wept. And that was how Chris found his partner; still leaning over the bed, holding the small hand. He thanked God that Nathan and Rain had walked in the door about the same time as he and Vin, and were sitting with the eight-year old down the hall, giving Buck time to clean up and change.

Larabee let the door swing closed and dropped the overnight bag by the chair. The sound had the distraught man straightening and rubbing the moisture from his cheeks, his back still to the door.


Clearing his throat, Buck turned, "Hey, Chris, ya'll got here early."

"Yeah," the blond said hesitantly, glancing to the bed. "What's going on, Buck?"

"Nothing." Buck looked down at the floor, taking a deep breath. Meeting his friend's eyes, he repeated, "Nothing, Chris."

The tall agent moved to step around the blond, but stopped when he found an arm in his path. He stared at the arm, breathing hard in his uncertainty and fear. "Buck?"

Finally, Wilmington brought his eyes up and Chris saw the fear. Before he could say anything, Buck tried to explain.

"Doc came in earlier. He said that they wouldn't need to monitor JD so close, now that he's breathing on his own." Unconsciously, he moved back to the side of the bed. "He said that breathing is natural, like a heart beat, nothing to do with if…"

The man's head moved away from his friend as he gulped air, forcing it past the knot in his chest. His eyes blinked to rid themselves of the tears. When he turned back, the slight quiver in his chin was the only sign of the raw emotions he suffered.

He straightened and stepped back, looking at Larabee. "He could still have br…problems. Doc seems to think he will, too long without oxygen."

Buck moved to pick up the bag and Larabee reached out again, gripping his arm. "Whatever happens, we'll deal with it. They won't take him away."

Buck froze for a moment, considering the words. He turned his head and looked over his shoulder, a determined set to his jaw. One quick nod of his head and he went into the small bath, closing the door quietly.

Chris moved over to stand next to the bed. He reached out and smoothed raven hair back, a bittersweet smile on his face. "No matter what JD, you stay with us," he promised.


By the time Buck had showered and changed, Ezra and Josiah had arrived to check on JD. After several minutes of argument, Chris and the others convinced Wilmington to leave and get some breakfast. He only conceded if they ate in the hospital cafeteria, absolutely refusing to leave the building.

Nathan and Rain joined them, leaving Ezra and Josiah to keep watch over the unconscious child. The meal was a quiet affair, each participant immersed in his own thoughts. Finally, Nathan broke the silence.

"I was thinking last night about what I could do around the house. You know, to make it safer for the boys, before they come over again."

Chris and Buck looked at each other and then at the team medic.


Digging into his pocket, Nathan extracted a slip of paper and unfolded it. "I was thinking about installing…"

"Nathan, whoa, whoa."

Buck leaned forward, placing a hand on his friend's arm.

"You don't have to do this."

A look of confusion clouded the man's face. "No, I do. These are all things that need to be done. We bought the house with the intention of fixing it up."

Larabee looked at Rain and she returned a sad smile. Apparently Nathan had been talking about this for a while. In understanding, Chris nodded his head. It seemed guilt had indeed wormed its way into everyone's heart. He turned his attention back to the conversation.

"…fault, any more than it's mine, or Chris' or Vin's. It was an accident."

"Accident or not, Buck, these are things that need to be addressed."

A young voice broke in. "Uncle Nathan, I like your house the way it is. But if you do change it, can I help? So JD and I can still come over?"

The adults froze at the question. Chris recovered first. "You two boys can go over to Nathan and Rain's. That's not what Nathan is saying."

"Uh-huh. He doesn't want us over cause he thinks JD will get hurt again. So, I want to make it safe 'cause I like visiting Aunt Rain and Uncle Nathan."

Nathan stared at the boy, then down at the list in his hand, and back to the boy. "Vin, I didn't mean you couldn't come…" Shaking his head, he looked at the two men. "Sorry. I guess I was sorta saying that. I can't get the image…"

The man shook his head as he folded the paper and put it back in his pocket. Smiling, he said, "I still plan to do some of these things."

"And we'll be glad to help. Won't we, Vin?" Chris said.

The little boy's head bobbed as he agreed.

Finishing the meal, they rose and headed back upstairs.

Once they got upstairs, they moved down the hall as a group. Vin clung to Larabee's hand as they approached. He had not seen his friend since the day before when they had loaded him into an ambulance. Vin remembered how small and fragile JD had seemed.

Ezra was sitting at the bed, reading a story to the comatose child. Josiah sat at the window, his eyes closed and his face turned toward the sun, looking sound asleep. The only thing that belied that impression was the nodding of his head to the melodic, southern voice.

Standish glanced at them as they entered, but continued his recitation. Finishing the story, he closed the book and placed it on the small table next to the bed. He stood and walked over to the eight-year old.

"Mr. Tanner, I didn't have an opportunity to speak with you yesterday. How are you doing today?"

"I'm fine, Uncle Ezra. You get JD a story book?"

"Yes. I remember having it read to me as a child by one of my numerous aunts. I thought young JD would enjoy its saga of flying horses that talk."

Straightening, he acknowledged the adults as Josiah joined the gathering.

"Morning, everyone" he greeted, placing a light kiss on Rain's cheek as he lay an arm around her shoulders.

Buck moved past, asking, "Any change?"

"No, Mr. Wilmington. He has yet to stir." Ezra joined Buck at the bed as he spoke. "I have no doubt that our young friend will be delighting us with his repartee very soon."

Wilmington turned a solemn face to the southerner. "I hope you're right, Ez." Sitting down in the chair, Buck turned his attention back to his son.

Nathan and Rain had moved to the foot of the bed and both stood, lost in their thoughts as they observed the boy.

Standish rejoined Josiah and Chris near the door. The three men decided that someone should go to the office even though all five of them should have still been away at the conference. Ezra and Josiah bid their goodbyes, stating that they would return that evening to visit JD.

Nathan and Rain also said they were leaving. The garage door had to be replaced and Nathan had called a door company earlier to arrange a time for the repairman to come. He wanted to call his insurance company also, since the accident had happened at his house, so he could file a report with them.

Chris and Vin took up seats across from Buck and waited.

It was almost noon when the Travis’ arrived. Orin, Evie, Mary and Billy all showed up. After speaking with Buck, Orin called Chris outside, leaving the others to talk quietly around the bed.

Young Billy Travis had always come across as a serious and considerate teen in Buck’s eyes, but the man was still surprised at the depth of regret the young man displayed. He apologized for not taking JD’s age into account when he suggested the trip to the store. He knew that Vin would want to go because the eight year old tagged after him whenever he was around. Billy came to think of the younger boys as cousins, ones that he enjoyed spending time with.

Buck found himself, once again, trying to convince someone that the accident was not their fault, but only a bad chain of events. Billy nodded at the words and told Buck, ‘Thanks, Mr. Wilmington. I promise that next time, I’ll consider all the ramifications of my actions.’

The adults had laughed good-naturedly at the boy’s choice of words. Mary proudly wrapped her arms around the boy’s shoulders, pulling him close.

"I guess that word improvement program is working," she said.

Buck shook his head as he offered, "That, or the boy’s been hanging around Ezra too much."

Orin and Chris reappeared and frowned at the smiles on everyone’s face. When Larabee cocked an eyebrow at his partner, the man shook his head, indicating he would fill him in later.

The Travis’ left soon after and the three remaining family members returned to their vigil. An hour later, Vin’s growling stomach caught everyone’s attention and the shy boy, blushed in embarrassment.

"Buck, we’re going to go get something to eat. Why don’t you come with us?"

Shaking his head, the man declined, "No, I think I’ll stay here. Could I sweet-talk ya into bringing me something back, though?"

Chris nodded. He knew the man wouldn’t leave, but felt he had to ask.

"We’ll be a while coming back, so yeah, I’ll bring something. You hungry for anything in particular?"

"Actually, yeah. Could you bring back a Philly Cheese steak and a shake?"

"Done. We’ll see you in a while." Vin grabbed Chris’ hand, tossing a wave to Buck as they left.

Wilmington turned back to the little boy. "Well, it’s just you and me again, lit’ bit. You about ready to go home? Can, just as soon as you wake up. I’m sure all the chickens miss you coming out to check on them; and the horses, too. Them animals will think you’re mad at them about something if you don’t come home soon."

His only response was silence, so Buck leaned back, resigning himself to waiting for as long as it took.

As the afternoon passed, he watched. People came to visit and left again. The doctor came and said nothing new and left. The nurses came in and checked, cleaned, fluffed and left. Buck continued to watch. Chris and Vin returned with his lunch and sat as he ate and they all three waited. As evening arrived and the sun painted the sky outside pink and purple, Chris rose.

"Buck, we’re going to head home. I don’t have to ask, you’re staying, right?"

Wilmington was standing at the window watching the sunshine fade and the sky darken. He nodded as he stared out. He cut a lonely picture against the night sky. Larabee shook his head as he reached down and gathered a sleepy Vin into his arms and planted him on his hip.

He moved to stand near the distracted Wilmington. Vin leaned out and wrapped his arms around the man’s neck and hugged him. Buck pulled his attention back to the room and the people in it.

"Hey, junior. Ya heading home, too?"

"Yep. We have to feed the animals. Will you be okay alone?"

He tugged the small body loose from Chris’ arms and clung to him, saying, "I’ll be fine. And I’m not alone. JD’s here."

Vin’s blue eyes cut over to the bed before meeting Buck’s. He whispered as he confided. "I miss JD." His eyes were teary and he wiped at them with the back of his hand.

Buck pulled the blond head into the hollow of his neck, resting his chin on the flaxen hair. "I do too, kiddo. But I have faith that he’ll be back with us real soon."

He passed the boy back over to Larabee’s waiting arms and Vin tucked his head into the man’s neck and relaxed. Chris met Buck’s eyes. He knew that the doctor planned on putting a feeding tube in the next morning. It would be hard enough for the men to see. Neither thought Vin should be there, so Chris planned to not bring the boy back until they knew what was going to happen, whatever that was.

The smile on Buck’s face was a sad one. It was an expression that Chris wished to never see on his old friend’s face. It was the face of a father facing the loss of his child. It was a face he, himself was very familiar with, a face he had seen many times in his own mirror. His son, Adam, had not died with his mother. Instead, he had lingered and suffered and Chris suffered with him and wore that look as he waited.

Placing a steadying hand on the boy’s back, Chris broke the gaze and headed to the door. He spared one more look at the boy in the bed. Then left the room without another word.

Buck silently returned to his chair and his vigil.


The hours slipped away and Buck fell asleep. He had moved the chair as close to the bed as possible and leaned back, one hand clasped lightly around the boy’s hand and arm.

A tickling on his palm slowly drew the man back to awareness. Frowning, he opened his eyes, but did not move. Again the sensation assaulted his skin, but this time he was awake and aware and his breath caught in his throat. JD’s hand moved under his.

Slowly, he sat up and stared at the child. He didn’t dare move as he anxiously waited. The movement was the small hand fisting up. Buck stood up without removing his hand. He watched as the boy’s legs moved languidly under the sheet. Buck’s hand tightened on the thin arm and he felt the boy jerk in reaction to the pressure.

"JD?" he asked and held his breath as he waited for a response.

When the hazel eyes opened, tears misted the man’s blue ones, obscuring the one thing he had wanted to see for the last thirty-six hours. He blinked away the tears and looked into the little boy’s eyes.

JD stared, without moving, without reacting and Buck’s heart plummeted. The doctor’s words of severe brain damage bounced around in his head. But he was alive, and Buck found himself clinging to that thought. As long as JD was alive, that was all that mattered.

He smiled down as the boy blinked, forcing a tear from his eye. It rolled down his cheek and dropped to the pillow next to the black hair.

JD watched as the tear dripped off the man’s face. Slowly, he reached up and touched the wet spot on the man’s cheek.

"What’s wrong, Buck?"

The sob escaped his throat before he could stop it. The sight of the boy’s face reddening and his chin quivering helped to restore his control and he smiled reassuringly.

Cupping the small head with his free hand, he murmured to the boy. "No. Don't cry. It’s okay, JD. I’m just glad to have you back."

"Did I go somewhere?" the boy asked and the man laughed.

"No, you didn't go anywhere. You've just been taking a long nap. But you're awake, now."

The boy held up his arms and the man scooped him up, cradling the small form to his chest. "Yeah, you're awake now," he murmured. He stood there for a few seconds before sitting down in the chair with the boy in his lap.

"How do you feel, JD?"

JD frowned slightly and shrugged his shoulders. Buck watched as the small hand came up to touch his chest. Hunching his shoulders forward, the boy said, "It kind 'a hurts. Here."

"Well, that's because you have a bruise there. Ya want to see?"

The boy nodded and Buck helped him to pull the gown off his shoulders.

"Wow." JD's voice was soft and full of awe. "That's about the biggest bruise I ever had." He looked down again, touching the tender black and blue mark. He brought his head up and asked, "Has Vin seen it? Can we take a picture? I can take a picture to show and tell."

Buck laughed as tears blurred his vision again. He was certain now. JD was the same bright, inquisitive boy as before. He blinked the tears away and told the boy that Vin had not seen the bruise yet and if he wanted a picture, he could have one.

"JD? Do you remember what happened?"

The boy frowned as he thought and then he began to pout, crossing his arms carefully across his chest. "Vin and Billy left me."

"Is that all you remember?'

JD nodded, the look on his face seeming to imply that that was enough. Then he yawned real big.


Though his eyes began to droop, JD shook his head.

"I sure am tired. You mind if I take a nap?"

"I don't mind."

Buck moved to stand up and place the boy back on the bed, but JD wrapped his arms around the man's neck and cried, "No!"

"I'm not going anywhere, lit' bit."

"No, I want you to hold me."

Buck frowned slightly. "Why's that, JD?"

The boy shrugged his shoulder, his eyes hidden beneath the long black bangs. Buck felt a slight shudder through the small body and he sat back down.

"Okay. Why don't you sit in my lap?"

The man toed off his boots and, after pulling the light blanket off the bed and tossing it over them both, he placed his long legs on the bed, creating a cradled area to hold the boy in. He felt the boy snuggle down, resting his head over the man's heart. It wasn't long before the boy relaxed and Buck knew he was asleep. Sighing, he leaned his head back and got comfortable. Guilt at not calling the ranch nagged at the back of his mind. He knew Chris would want to know, but Wilmington reasoned that dawn was only an hour or two away and he could call then, knowing that he would not wake anyone. He drifted off to sleep thinking about the fact that he needed to call the others after he had talked to Chris.

When the nurse came in at six forty-five, she was shocked to see the man had removed the patient from the bed and was holding him in his lap. While she understood a parent's need to be close, the idea that the man had moved the comatose child infuriated her.

She moved to stand next to the man and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Mr. Wilmington?"

She intended ask him just what he was thinking, but found herself jumping back when the small boy opened his eyes and raised a finger to his mouth.

In an exaggerated whisper, he said, "Shh, Buck's still sleeping."

"Oh, Lord." Quickly composing herself, the woman smiled. "Well, good morning. How are you feeling today?"

The little boy smiled and pulled his gown up. "I gots a bruise. See?"

"Ohhh, that's very colorful. I am very impressed." After thirty-six hours of caring for the boy, the petite redhead was thrilled to discover the boy awake and apparently unaffected by his accident. She squatted down, placing a hand on the boy's leg. "How about we get you back into bed so your father can rest?"

JD huddled down, shaking his head. "No. I hasta stay here and keep Buck warm."

The nurse's mouth formed an 'O' and she stood up. "Well, all right, but when the doctor comes in to check up on you, he'll want you to get in bed."

JD flashed her a bright smile before snuggling down and closing his eyes.

As the nurse started to turn, she noticed that the man's eyes were now open and watching her. When she looked at his face, he smiled and winked. She returned the wink and patted his shoulder as she moved to the door and left.


Chris was up early after a night of intermittent sleep. He had run a hundred scenarios of how to explain to Vin about JD. He hadn't liked any of them and his stomach churned at the conversation he would have to have with his son. Pulling the door to the refrigerator open, he leaned in to get supplies for breakfast, only to have the phone ring. Straightening, he glanced at the clock. Seven-oh-three. Too early for most calls and his heart rate increased. He silently prayed it wasn't Buck on the other end as he lifted the receiver.


"Hi, Chris. It's me. JD. Buck says to tell you we need a ride home, cause the doctor says they need my room and Buck is really tired and needs to 'sleep in his own bed for a change'. How are the horses and chickens? Did they miss me? Is Vin up? Can I talk to 'em? Chris? Chris, are you still there?"

At the sound of the child's voice, the man's knees had betrayed him and he had grabbed the counter as they buckled in relief. He knew that JD was talking but all he could hear was a buzzing as the blood rushed to his head. Finally, he realized that JD was calling his name and he gathered himself together.


"Chris. So can you come get us?"

"Yeah, no problem, kiddo. So, how are you doing?"

"I'm fine. I have to show you my bruise. Buck says that you can take a picture of it and I can take it to show and tell."

Larabee laughed. It was obvious that the doctor's predications of brain damage were wrong. The little boy was as animated as ever. Chris knew that it would not be long before the boy's constant babbling would be driving him crazy, but for now, he intended to enjoy it.

"I’ll bring my camera with me. Now, why don't you let me talk to Buck for a minute and then I'll get Vin up and we'll head into town."


There was a moment of muffled talking and then, "Morning, Chris."

"Buck, you jerk." The chuckle on the other end confirmed that Buck had gotten the reaction he had wanted. Larabee shook his head. "Ass." But his own chuckle betrayed him.

"Yeah, I'm relieved, too. I'm going to call the others while we wait for ya."

"Okay, Buck. I'll get Vin up and we'll be on our way within the hour. But I swear, Buck, if you ever do that to me again…"

The somber tone was heard as Buck replied, "Let's just pray I never have the chance to, Chris."

With a deep sigh, Chris agreed. He placed the phone back on the hook and headed to the boys' room.


The entire drive in, Chris had told Vin that JD was better but to not expect him to be as active as normal for a while. The boy had nodded solemnly at the words, acting very calm and mature, but the man had smiled as the boy's feet bounced in anticipation. Now he stopped, two feet inside the door, and seemed rooted to the spot as he stared at the little boy on the bed.

JD, on the other hand, had no such inhabitations. Seeing his friend, the boy's eyes widen and he slithered down from the bed and ran across the floor.

"VIN!" he shouted as he wrapped his arms around the taller boy's waist. Vin brought his arms up and around JD's neck. They stood wrapped in each other's arms for a minute's time and the men quietly watched. When they finally separated, JD ran back to the nightstand, picking up the book Ezra had left the day before.

"Look, what Uncle Ezra brought me."

Vin trotted across and admired the book of horse stories. Chris followed and he lifted each boy onto the bed where JD began to flip through the pages, showing Vin the wonders it held.

Larabee turned to Buck and, with a dip of his chin, indicated with his eyes to move off a bit. Buck stood and followed Chris to the door of the small bathroom.

"They said he could go home? He just came to. Doesn't it seem a bit quick?" Chris asked softly.

Buck glanced at the boys and then answered, "I had the same reaction, but he assured me that JD is fine. There's no reason to keep him here. We’re supposed to keep an eye on him for a couple of days. If he acts listless or starts having any kind of trouble with his speech or thought patterns, then we bring him right back. Other than that, doc says he should recover just fine; bruises will fade and that's it."

Chris shook his head as he watched the two boys. Children never failed to amaze him with their resiliency. He moved back to the bed as he asked, "The others aren't coming?"

"Nah. I called everybody and lit' bit talked to each one. They all said that we could get together this weekend or sometime; that we should spend today together as a family. That way JD can rest."

Larabee nodded as he approached the bed. "So. You two ready to head home?"

Both boys nodded. Buck said he would take care of the paperwork while Chris gathered up the toys and gifts that littered the room. Within thirty minutes, they were loaded into the Ram and headed out of town. Five minutes later, both boys were asleep, their hands clasped together.


That weekend, the five teammembers, along with the Travis', attended a bar-b-que at the Jackson household. Billy, along with Vin and JD were running around the backyard, kicking a soccer ball as the adults stood around talking.

Buck and Chris had both watched as JD and Vin had both run in through the garage when they had arrived earlier. Both men cringed as the two boys ran under the new garage door without a moment's hesitation. Then they had turned to each other and breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently neither boy was having a problem getting over the traumatic events of the week.

Nathan had shown the new door to everyone, pleased that the door matched the period style, yet was much safer. The old door had no sensor to reverse the door if it encountered any object before reaching its stop. He admitted that a simple test of placing anything in the path would have revealed the defect and the whole incident could have been avoided. Buck had clapped the man on the shoulder and told him that he had only learned about how those things worked recently.

When the meal was ready, the boys were rounded up, cleaned up and herded to the table. Josiah asked that everyone bow their heads as he offered thanks for the food, the company, and the miracles that were bestowed on them each day. After 'amen', the plates were passed and filled.

Buck finished filling JD's plate and set it in front of the boy, who looked up at him with large, bright hazel eyes, his tongue sticking out to cover his upper lip.

'Mmm, good," he said as he bounced in his chair fork in hand. "Thank you, Buck."

The man smiled and watched as the boy began to eat. Dark thoughts of what could have been danced around the edges of his mind, but he pushed them away, looking at the boy. He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer of thanks. Opening his eyes, he found Chris gazing at him in concern.

Buck smiled and shook his head to let his old friend know that everything was all right. All right, indeed.

The End

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