MILES TO GO by Raven

"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

5.30 pm (Mountain time) Approaching Denver International Airport

He hated planes. Particularly, he hated this plane. He was in the last seat on a commuter service between Austin and Denver. It was crowded and noisy, and his knees were folded up by his chin as a result of the airline's never ending effort to cram even more rows of seating into the already cramped body of the jet. He was stuck in the middle seat too, unable to stretch out in any direction. The man to his left was buried in a newspaper. The one to his right was bobbing his head to the tinny music coming from his headphones. He wondered who was supposed to have had his seat, and whether he'd been asked to give up his seat or if he'd been unceremoniously bumped.

He was hungry too. The second the judge had dismissed him he'd been escorted from the court by his bodyguards. For the first time since Jake Danners and Lars Hernandez had become his new best buddies he'd been grateful for them. They'd explained the plan, rushed him out to a waiting car, driven him to the airport and handed him over to an airline representative. She had rushed him through the airport, moving astonishingly fast in her pretty, impractical, red shoes that should have broken her neck as she sprinted. Instead she'd nearly left him behind a couple of times, and he'd stopped even thinking about her pretty ass, and concentrated on running for the plane.

He had no luggage. Lars had told him they'd pack up his stuff and get it back to Denver, that he didn't need the distraction. He only had himself, his wallet and phone. He was going to end up spending a fortune on clothes and essentials when he got there.

And he didn't care.

He checked his watch again. In ten minutes he was going to land in Denver and change for the first of three times on the way to Jamestown, where his heart already waited for him. He grinned at himself and his shameless headlong dive into schmaltz. In four hours he would be in Minneapolis. In another two after that he would be in Jamestown. And then…

Eight more minutes.

He loved this plane!


5.30pm Denver International Airport

Vin hopped anxiously from one foot to the other, holding reluctantly onto Aunt Rain's hand. She smiled down at him and squeezed his hand. "Only a little while."

Judge Travis rejoined them, a smile on his face. "Any minute now," he said enigmatically.

Vin wasn't stupid. They were standing at arrivals, not departures, for all they'd checked him in. The board above had a dozen flights listed, but his eyes kept drifting back to one. DA193 from Austin. Landed.

"Hey, Junior!" Vin's heart lurched and he turned and headed for Buck at a dead run. The tall man scooped him up and wrapped him up tight in his arms. "Hey, there, Junior." Buck repeated, and cupped his face in one large hand. "How ya doin', kid?"

Vin shrugged, and Buck's arms tightened so he could hardly breathe. "We're going to be better soon," Buck said softly into his ear, and Vin shrugged again.

"Vin, I've spoken to JD. Today. At lunchtime." He lowered the boy to the ground and crouched, his hands on his shoulders, looking straight into his eyes.

Vin examined his expression for any hint of deception or evasion. Hope dawned. Buck didn't lie to them. Couldn't lie and make it stick. He smiled faintly, and Buck nodded silently.

"I'd offer to phone him so you could speak to him yourself," his eyes lifted and for a moment Vin saw anger in them, directed at the three adults waiting there, "except we gotta run. Got your bag?"

Vin nodded, lifting the pink and green flowered monstrosity that Mrs. Potter had packed for him and JD.

"Good. Judge. Ms Nettie, Rain." he smiled at them. "I'll see you soon." He gripped Vin's hand firmly. "Ready? Let's go!"

And they were running, flat out, dodging and weaving through the airport crowds. Vin ran as fast as he could beside Buck, but he couldn't keep up and in a quick dive and twist he was slung over Buck's shoulder, his bag banging on Buck's back as the man ran, calling ahead, "Federal Agent, excuse me! Coming through! Excuse me!"

He stared back at the corridors of people as they bounced into the distance, some pointing and staring, some laughing, some frowning. A lot of frowning, actually.

"Agent Wilmington? And this is Vin?" A pretty woman in a dark blue and red uniform was running smoothly beside them, and Vin blinked.

"Sure is, sweetheart," Buck said breathlessly.

"We're waiting on you at Gate Ten. Just around the corner."

"Vin, give the lady your boarding card."

Vin frowned, "I thought I had to give it to the lady at the desk?!" he gasped out, winded as he bounced against Buck's shoulder.

"In special circumstances," Buck began.

"I *am* the lady at the desk," she dropped back behind Buck and smiled up at him as she ran. "Your plane is taking off in two minutes, and we want to make sure you're on it."

Vin grinned. "Cool!"

"Can I have it?"

Vin rummaged in his pockets, wriggling it out of his jeans' back pocket awkwardly and nearly hitting Buck in the mouth with his elbow.

"Careful there, Junior," Buck puffed.

"Thank you!" She plucked it from his hand and sprinted ahead of them. She turned right into a doorway down the corridor and they followed her a couple of minutes later, Buck slowing to a jog.

She was standing at the desk, two stubs held out. "Safe journey!" He grabbed them as he kept on going down a narrow corridor and then they were stepping through the plane door, a steward was taking them to their seats while from over Buck's shoulder Vin watched a stewardess pulling the door closed as they moved down the aisle, and then he was being lowered to the ground and sat in a seat, the steward doing up his belt, another putting Mrs. Potter's green and pink case into the overhead locker, Buck sitting beside him belting up, then slipping a hand round to grip Vin's neck.


Vin thought about it. "Where are we going?"

"Minneapolis. Then we're changing onto a little plane to take us to Jamestown." Buck smiled as though it hurt to do so. "And then we're going to Jamestown Community Hospital."

"And we're gonna bring JD home." Vin said tentatively.

"Yup. We sure are."

"Glad you're here," he offered shyly, his bad mood gone.

"Glad you're here too, kiddo."


5 pm Jamestown Community Hospital

Nathan smiled at the kid as he dozed. Between the medication for his broken leg, and sheer exhaustion he was spending more time asleep than awake. It made the six year old look even younger. He stroked a light hand over the hot little forehead. A slight fever, nothing serious. Larabee had eased himself out from underneath the kid to use the bathroom, and wasn't back yet. He'd probably taken the chance to call Ezra or Josiah and was caught up in a conversation with them.

He cocked his head, frowning. Could he--? Yes. In the distance he could hear Chris's voice in the clipped slow tones of a man on the borderlands of his temper, and just about ready to cross over. He must be talking to Ez.

"Hello?" A tap on the door was accompanied by a man's voice calling tentatively. Nathan looked up and saw a man in casual clothes, brown hair, blue eyes, perhaps a little shorter than Buck, but not by much.

The police were still on the door, and he stood, wondering who he could be if they had let him through. The casual jeans and sweater ruled out the police or hospital staff, and the armed guard on the door had already, off their own initiative, thrown out three reporters so far.

"Hi." He moved between JD and the man, blocking his view. "I'm sorry, who are you?"

"Jack Gilles." He held out a hand, and Nathan hesitated, trying to remember where he'd heard that name. Gilles, Gilles -- "Mr. Gilles -- you're the guy that saved JD," the name snapped into focus, and he seized the man's hand. "Nathan Jackson. We're so grateful to you and your friend."

Gilles shrugged deprecatingly. "I didn't think about it, just did what anyone would have done."

"But you did it for my boy, and I won't be forgetting that," Larabee spoke behind him, and Gilles turned smoothly, not betraying so much as a flinch. Nathan saw Chris note it and draw the same conclusion.


"Yup. You?"

"Navy," Larabee half shrugged and held out his hand. "Chris Larabee. I'm one of JD's guardians. Buck and I owe you more than we can ever repay."

Gilles grinned. "Was a pleasure. Is the kid's dad here then?"

Chris's face froze slightly, and he shook his head. "He's flying up from Austin tonight."

"The boy said he was testifying--?"

"We're federal agents. ATF," he explained briefly. He smiled faintly as he realised that Gilles was trying to see past him and Nathan to the bed. "JD's asleep."

"Can I…?"

The two agents moved slightly, and Gilles stepped up to look at the sleeping boy.

"Damn." His guarded face melted into concern and he reached out to JD's face, his hand hovering above his cheek without touching. "It looks worse than he did this morning."

"Bruises are coming out," Nathan said.

"Have they got the kidnappers yet?"

Chris grinned tightly at Nathan and nodded at Gilles. "Yeah. Nate, Ez and Josiah went out with the local cops, rounded themselves up a little gang of crooks." The look in his eyes warned both men against asking for details. Nathan nodded. He'd find out when Gilles left.

Gilles nodded. "Good, I'm damned glad to hear it." He looked down at the boy. "I just wanted to see how he was. I might drop in again tomorrow, if that's okay?"

Chris shrugged. "Don't see why not. I'm pretty sure Buck will want to see you, and the kid might be a bit more awake then. He mentioned you earlier."

"He's been awake?"

"Oh yes," Chris said dryly, and Gilles laughed.

"So, it's not just complete strangers he chatters on at?"

Nathan laughed softly. "The trick is jumping in at the right point. He's a good little thing though." The three of them looked at the good little thing and caught the first stirrings of waking.

"I'm disturbing him. I should go." He turned for the door, but paused as he reached it. "You guys are doing a damn fine job of bringing that kid up," he added brusquely.

"Jack, tole you that's a dollar," JD yawned and opened his eyes. "Jack?"

"Different rules, just this once, JD," Chris said firmly.

"Hey kid," Gilles smiled. "I was just going."


Gilles looked blank. "Because you were asleep."

"But I ain't now. Where's Simon? Where'd the car go? How come Simon's hair's carrots?"

"JD," Chris said tiredly, a twinkle in his eyes.

"I wanna *know*, Chris."

"I know you do. One question at a time."

Gilles shook his head and grinned at the boy. "No worse than my clients, I'm a lawyer," he added to Larabee and Jackson.


"No, retrained after my tour." The others nodded. "Okay, JD, or should I call you Rumpelstiltskin?"

"Only if I call you silly," JD gave a gap toothed grin back.

"Well, I guess I'll stick to JD then. Simon's at home with his wife and little girl, but he's going to come visit with you tomorrow, if you like?"

"I like!" JD said cheerfully.

"Right, and the car is parked outside. I don't know why Simon's hair's carrots, you'll have to ask him yourself."

Nathan groaned. "He will, you know."

Jack laughed. "Oh, I know it, don't I, you little ruffian." He tousled JD's hair admiringly. "Do anything this one. Wouldn't tell me his name, kicked and bit me when he thought I was one of the bad guys, never cried once when his leg was broken and he was worse beat up than almost anyone I've seen outside of a brawl. You're a brave kid, aren't you?"

JD nodded doubtfully, and looked over at Chris, who took two quick steps to the bed and perched beside JD, a hand on his shoulder.

"You did exactly right," he said quietly, and squeezed. JD leaned against him.

"Well, I ought to get going." Gilles said awkwardly.

Larabee held out his hand. "If you ever need anything, call me." Gilles took the business card, and they shook.

Nathan walked him out of the room, and to the elevators. As they waited, he added quietly, "Thank you. I don't know what would have happened to him if you hadn't--"

Gilles nodded grimly. "I'm just glad he's going to be okay. He *is* going to be okay, isn't he?"

Nathan smiled. "Drop by tomorrow, and he'll be a different kid."

"He was so gutsy back there, and so quiet just now…"

"He's on pain medication, and he's tired from the operation and the last two days. He hasn't had a meal since breakfast yesterday either, as far as we can make out."

"Damn. How can people do these things?" The two men shook their heads. A chime warned of an elevator about to arrive, and Nathan held his hand out to shake.

"There's five men who owe you that kid's life. Thank you."

They shook, and Gilles retreated into the open elevator.


7pm, Jamestown Community Hospital

Ezra's head thumped back onto the headrest loudly and he shut his eyes. "If I ever complain about federal bureaucracy again, please remind me of the nadir of my life."

Josiah grinned. "I found it soothing."

Ezra threw him a sour look, and exited the car. "I do not doubt that our lord and master awaits with bated breath the tales of our day's adventures."

Josiah hauled himself out of the comfortable car seat and leaned on its roof. "Nadir?"



"I hesitate to describe the local hospital offerings as 'food', but I suppose that we should eat something."

"Good. You fill Chris in, I'll buy."

"Let's both fill Chris in." Ezra retorted. "He will only be able to take one target out at a time."

"Two hands."

"One will doubtless be occupied with Master Dunne. No, if both of us tell him there is at least a fifty per cent chance that you will be shot first."

Five minutes later they hadn't resolved the argument and Larabee was lifting his head to glare at them as they walked into the room.

Standish and Sanchez slid sidelong glances at each other, at the sleeping Jackson, and the only too awake Larabee. He was still glaring.

Ezra broke first.

"Mr. Larabee, I am delighted to report that we have assisted the local representatives of the law to make three arrests relating to Master Dunne's abduction."

Chris looked at him steadily.

"And we have completed every kind of paperwork possible. Discharge of a firearm, damage to public property, damage to private property, arrest, non-lethal force in relation to the discharge of a firearm -- we were most thorough."


"Ah, well, not exactly."

"Where's Charles?"

"Well, you'll be pleased to know that we have arranged for the armed guard outside to be continued for some time, and--"

"Are you telling me you had the chance to take Seth Charles down, and he got away from you?"

Ezra looked helplessly around. "Yes." He glared at Sanchez.

"We found where they kept the boy," Josiah said tiredly, and settled into a chair. He shook his head. "There's a hole in the wall where part of the brickwork has rotted away. They haven't had a flood up this way in a while, so they didn't know there was a gap into the old sewage outlet that runs alongside."

Chris's eyes narrowed. "His feet."

"Exactly." Ezra looked sick. "I cannot believe anyone would walk barefoot through that --" he swallowed, the stink still in his nostrils. "Much less a child with cuts to those same bare feet."

"You're sure?"

"The room matches the tape. There are a number of bloody footprints that the local constabulary are typing for a match to the child. And the footprints lead straight down the sewer and out of the outlet over the river." Ezra leaned in close and brushed a gentle hand over JD's dark hair. "We are amazingly lucky. I would not have given odds on anyone surviving what he has."

"God was on our side," Josiah said softly, and Ezra didn't say a word.

"It was him, though," Chris asked intently.

"Who, Charles?" Ezra blinked. "Yes. Mrs. Hennessy confirmed it, and we saw him before he jumped from a second story window. Hennessy gave a full confession. She's hoping for leniency, maybe immunity." He shrugged with a cruel smile. "Judging by the officers we spoke to, that isn't going to happen."

"We'll take turns watching him then," Larabee looked at them both. "Josiah, sleep. Standish, I'll wake you in four hours. Get some rest."

"Aren't you going to sleep?"

"I don't think I can. Buck's on his way. Should be here about eleven." He sighed and eased away from JD's bed. The boy moved restlessly for a moment but didn't wake. "Have you boys eaten?"

They shook their heads, and he scowled. "I'll get something sent up, and you will eat. I'm not having you doing Charles's work for him."

"Yes, dad," Ezra muttered.

"Shut up, Ez. I'm trying to make sure no one gets to the kid--"

"I know, Mr. Larabee. I am well aware that we screwed up. Just get the yelling over with."

Larabee smiled unpleasantly. "I'm saving it for when I don’t feel like just shooting you."

"Chris. Ezra," Josiah intervened. "We are all on edge. Let's stop before anyone tips over that edge, hmm? Ez, don't bait him. Besides," he added frowning at them both, "you're going to wake the kid."


11 pm, Jamestown Community Hospital, ND

The room was dark. Buck could dimly see in the light streaming through the door a lump curled on one of the beds, too big to be the boy. His eyes adjusted slowly, and he smiled. JD's form had been almost obscured by Ezra, who was sleeping half on the bed, half on a precariously balanced chair by the bed, his arm draped over JD's chest.

He took another step in and cold metal pressed at his neck.

"Freeze," Chris's voice said coldly, and Buck grinned.

"Hell of a way to say hello. A guy could get a complex thinking you didn't love him."

"Buck, you stupid bastard." Chris slid the gun away and swung Buck around to face him.

"You okay?" They both said, almost simultaneously, and Buck let out a soft chuckle.

"C'm 'ere," he wrapped both arms around Chris as though he hadn't seen him in a month. Chris sighed resignedly, and patted his friend gingerly on his back.

"People will talk."

"People already talk, buddy." He shuddered and leaned into Chris, whose grip tightened as he shook.

"He's gonna be fine."

"Yeah. I know." The thought crossed his mind that he would never in a million years have believed that Chris Larabee would be there for him like this until the boys came. Not after he lost his first family. Of course, without the boys, he'd never have needed him to be. He slapped Chris on the back and pulled away, smiling as Chris thumped him back.

"There's a kid outside who's been wanting to see you," Buck told him quietly. "Left him with Nate. He's asleep."

"Got another one who's been pretty anxious to get you here, too," he pushed Buck towards the bed. "Go on, git. I'll go see to Vin."

"Thanks," was all he could get out, his eyes fixed on the small body sprawled in the high hospital bed.

He didn't really notice taking two quick steps to the side of the bed. JD was asleep. He couldn't be sure if what he was seeing were shadows cast by the darkness or bruising. He gently ran a finger over one darkened eye, feeling the too hot puffiness of the skin, and his jaw tightened. JD's hair was stiff and tangled when he brushed his other hand over it, and he frowned. Why hadn't anyone taken decent care of him? He shook his head and murmured, "Because they were dealing with the important stuff."

"Mr. Wilmington?" Ezra lifted his head blearily, and Buck nodded.

"Yeah Ez, it's just me. Go back to sleep."

Ezra nodded and rose to his feet, shuffling away from the bed. "Your need is greater than mine," he gestured to the chair and crawled onto one of the free beds. "Please ensure there is coffee before I wake next." He was asleep before Buck could reply, even if he had intended to.

"Son, what did they do to you," he whispered sadly. He leaned in to brush a soft kiss to his son's forehead, and jerked back, startled, when JD's eyes cracked open.

"JD?" he whispered.

"Da!" JD yelped and flung his arms around Buck's neck. "I *missed* you!" he added indignantly, and Buck laughed, hugging him close.

"Yeah, I'm sorry. I'll try to get here sooner next time," he grinned, thinking of the frantic hurry-up-and-wait journey up to this point; running through endless airport corridors only to have to sit quietly on never ending flights, and finally roaring through the night in an unmarked police car, Vin sleeping through the sirens of the car in front clearing the roads, sprawled across his lap on the back seat. "I'd never have left if I didn't have to," he said, more seriously.

JD's head tilted back from where it was buried in his neck and he shook his head. "I know that, Da," he answered, much too seriously for a little one. "I just wanted you to know."

"I knew," he said softly. He perched on the side of the bed, and they stared into each other's eyes, Buck's arms wrapped around his back and one hand rubbing steadily up and down, up and down, JD's both fisted into his shirt. One small hand freed itself and came up and he brushed at Buck's face.

"Don't cry, Da. I'm fine. An' I gotted myself away from the bad guys," he added proudly.

"You did?" Buck marveled.

"I *did*," he insisted. "Well, Jack and Simon helped some too, but they left me in a room, and there was a hole in the roof, and I got out and it was stinky, poo!" He held his nose and wrinkled up his face expressively. "Worse'n *anything*. And they nearly got me cos I fell asleep, and I kinda--" he hesitated and peeked up. His voice dropped to a mumble, and he finished, "an' then Jack found me! And now I'm here."

"I didn't catch that bit in the middle there," Buck observed. JD shifted in his arms, and he bit back a smile. "I ain't gonna be cross if you did something naughty."

"Sure?" JD peeked up at him and his heart just about melted. He'd thought he might never …

"I'm sure. Just this once." He dropped a kiss on JD's nose, and laughed as the boy's eyes crossed trying to stay in focus on his face.

"I kinda fell in the river." He didn't look up, and started twirling a button on Buck's shirt round and round.

"Kinda fell?"

"Kinda jumped."

"Kinda jumped?"

"He was going to get me! So I jumped. I didn't know it was gonna be that big." He pushed in close, and Buck's eyes closed in pain even as his arms tightened carefully, one hand settling on the back of JD's head, pressing him close, comforting himself as much as the child. God. What had JD gone through? What had happened to him when his father had failed him?

He rubbed his cheek against the rough hair and said softly, "Good boy. You did the right thing. You got away from them, and you're safe now. I love you so much, kid. God. You're safe now."

"Love you too, Da," JD whispered, "Are you gonna have to go back to court?"

"No. I don't think so. I talked to the judge, and he said they'd try not to." He felt JD curl smaller into his arms, as though afraid he would be torn away immediately, and shook his head. "JD, I promise, if I have to go back, you're coming too."


Buck rocked him gently. All he could smell was something terrible from JD's hair, and antiseptic. It really didn't matter when he could close his eyes and feel his breaths, hot and damp against his throat. Feel the steady thump of his heart under his hand. Hold tight onto the living, breathing child, forget the fear that he might never have this again, and never let go. His thoughts slipped out, and he whispered, half promising himself, half promising JD. "We're staying together. I've got you, and I'm not letting go. No one's ever going to take you away again."

"Nope. No one." JD sighed happily. "Da?"

"Yeah, lil' bit?"

"Where'd Jack go?"

Buck blinked. "Who's Jack?"

"He got me out the river when it was too big. I tried to swim, I did, but it was too big, and I broke my leg, there was somethin' in it and I hit it, *bam*," he slapped his hands together between them to demonstrate, "and my leg got broke. An' he visited me, but he went away again."

"Oh kid."

"I was scared, Da," JD whispered into his father's shirt collar.

"Me too, kid. Me too." He kept rocking them both, ignoring the ache developing in his back, and JD was quiet for so long he thought he'd fallen asleep again until he tried to lay him down.

"No!" JD's hands clenched hard in Buck's shirt, small nails digging into his skin, a fold of flesh gripped tightly and pulled.

"Ow! Steady there, easy, I'm not going anywhere, it's okay."

"'s Vin okay?"

"He's fine. He's with Chris just outside. Go to sleep." He hoped that would sooth the child, instead JD bounced.

"Vin's here? Can I see him?"

Buck sighed. "He's probably asleep, and you should be too."

"Oh." JD was disappointed.

"If you want to let go, I'll go get him." Buck caved without a word of protest.

"Oh." Clearly this was a decision that required careful consideration. A few minutes later he asked, "Can't you take me too when you go get him?"

"Well, lil' bit, I would, but you're sort of supposed to stay in bed."

"Oh." He brightened, "You could carry me!"

"That's not the problem, JD. Look." He gently lifted the child's left arm to show the lines running into it.

"Ugh. What's that? *Poison*?"

"Antibiotics," Chris's voice broke in before Buck had to speculate. "And some sugar and salt, because you didn't eat anything for a while."

"Chris!" JD said as gleefully as if he had not fallen asleep on the man's lap a bare five hours ago. "You're here!"

"Sure am." He pulled Vin forward. "Got someone you wanted to see."

"Vin." The word was almost voiceless, and JD just stared, wide eyed at his brother. Vin stared back, one hand wrapped in Chris's.

"Did you bring those cookies?"

Vin shrugged. "She put some in the case. They're kind of crumbly."


"I c'n get 'em, if ya like?"

JD shook his head quietly. Vin edged closer, never letting go of Chris, and pulling him forwards perforce. Eventually he was close enough to close a hand over JD's wrist. He twisted it and grabbed Vin's hand, and the two boys stayed like that for a long time, Vin staring at JD's hand as though he could read his fortune. JD leaning on Buck and watching Vin's lowered head.

JD's head dropped forwards and jerked up, and Buck smiled. "Come on, kiddo. Go back to sleep," he told him, tenderly easing him back to lie on the cool sheets.

"Not," he paused to yawn hugely, and forced his eyes open again, "tired."

"Sure you ain't, boy," Buck murmured. Vin's thumb stroked softly against the back of JD's hand and JD smiled at him.

"You tired, Vin?" he asked sleepily.

Vin pulled himself up onto the bed without letting go of JD. Chris's hand settled in the small of his back, stopping him from tumbling backwards while he figured out how best to settle down without knocking JD.

"You turn over," he ordered, and JD rolled away from him obediently, yawning again. Vin wrapped himself carefully around JD's back, one arm under JD's neck as a pillow for them both, one over JD's waist until Chris gently lifted it higher.

"They operated just by there," he told them both. Vin simply accepted the information and closed his eyes, seeming to drift straight into sleep. Buck flinched. It felt like he'd spent all day traveling. And before that he was in court. And sometime during that vast, endless day Chris had told him something about cauterization, and infection, and a broken leg.

"What did they do?" he asked. His voice was hoarse and he tried to clear it quietly until Chris found him a glass of water. JD snored softly, and he smiled down at him.



"What did who do?"

"The hospital."

"Put on the cast. Sealed up a couple of places where he was slow-bleeding on the inside." Chris shrugged. "They said something about his feet, too. It's why the cast is kind of odd looking." Buck looked at him in puzzlement, then leaned over to peer at the foot of the cast. There was what looked almost like a window in it, showing cuts, some with stitches, others with butterfly tape holding then together.

Buck's face twisted. "Guess you ain't gonna be running anywhere for a while, kiddo, are you?" He looked up. "How long does the cast stay on?" No bouncing, or running in mad circles, or pounding through the house. No yelling 'walk, JD!' as he thundered past. Not for a while. Maybe not for a long time.

"They said at least six weeks, probably six to eight, depending on how fast he heals. They were talking about follow up x-rays every six months or so for the next ten years, make sure it doesn't end up growing crooked."

"Crooked?!" he exclaimed.

Chris hushed him, and shook his head. "I didn't quite get the jargon, but it's broken near where the growing happens, and they want to make sure it doesn't affect that. It's all set to heal fine. Don't panic."

Buck nodded. "We'll get the doc to have a look when we get home. Make sure." His hand combed through JD's hair, picking gently at knots and tangles.

"He'll be fine, Buck," Chris told him. "I broke my leg worse than that at his age and I was back to running around in two months."

"I should have been there."

"Buck. Don't."

"Chris, I--"

"Buck, I know that path. Don't," his friend said firmly and Buck nodded. "We've got him back. He's going to be fine."

"I can't help feeling--"

"You. Vin. Gloria." He looked away. "Me."

"Chris, it wasn't--oh." He looked up ruefully. "Point taken."

"I'm going to get some shut-eye. And tomorrow we'll go home."


6.30 am, Jamestown Community Hospital

He was too hot. He shifted, pushing the blankets off of him and hit something soft and yielding that grunted. He blinked sleepily. His nose tickled, and he brushed JD's hair out of the way before he sneezed into it. JD was shivering, but he felt hot, and Vin frowned.


"Vin?" Chris sounded tired, his voice gravelly like he'd only just woken up.

He twisted his head. "Dad, JD's hot."

A chair scraped and Chris was reaching over him to lay a hand on JD's forehead.

"Whass goin' on," Buck's voice from the other side of JD. When Vin lifted his head a little he could see Buck's eyes peering back at him just the other side of JD's chest, so close that he had to be leaning on the bed right next to JD.

"I'm going to get one of the nurses." Chris stood and looked at Vin. "They're probably going to want you to hop down from there, cowboy."

Vin tightened his grip. He burrowed deeper into the bedding, and ignored his father. He heard a sigh, and a hand patted his shoulder. "I'll see what I can do."

"Hold on, little bit," Buck's voice murmured tenderly, and Vin lifted his head again to see what was going on. Buck was wiping a cloth over JD's face, dabbing gently at the thin skin around his eyes and ears, pressing on his cheeks. JD's face was flushed, and his hair clung in damp strands to his skin.

"Is that cos of you?" Vin whispered, pointing to the moisture on JD's face. Buck's eyes were strained, and he looked at Vin as though weighing whether or not to tell Vin the truth, whether or not Vin could be trusted with it.

"No. I don't think so. I think he's got a little bit of a temperature." He poured some water from the jug on the bedside table onto the cloth and resumed wiping it over JD's hot skin. "They said he'd probably get one. He hurt his feet and got them mucky -- did anyone tell you this?" Vin shook his head. "Well. They had to take some glass and stuff out. He's got twenty five stitches on the soles of his feet, as well that bright old cast of his. Plus," he sighed and his hand stilled as he looked sadly down at JD, "he fell in a river. God knows what he swallowed before they got him out."

Vin's eyes widened and his heart sank. "Is he going to die?"

"No," Buck said quietly. "He's just going to be pretty miserable for a while, aren't you, tiger?"

"Da?" JD's voice was rough, and he coughed. Vin felt his back shake against him and rubbed sympathetically at his shoulder. He'd had strep throat not so long ago, and it had hurt a lot.

JD rolled onto his back, and Vin shifted out of the way. "Vin!" JD's face lit up, and he pulled him close, tugging so hard that Vin nearly fell on him but for Buck's hands on his upper arms.

"Steady kids. JD, slow down. You've got to go easy on those ribs of yours."

"Sorry," JD said and wrapped his arms around Vin, who knelt over him and hugged back carefully. Vin tucked his face into the hot curve of JD's neck, and pressed a soft, silent kiss there, where no one could see it.

"You come home, JD," he said firmly, and sat back, his arms folded sternly over his chest and glaring at his little brother. "You don't go running off again."

"I *didn't*!" JD protested. "They came and I threw things at them and I think I hit one of 'em right in the bad place," he and Vin avoided looking at Buck, "cos he said a bad word, and they had black masks on, and one of them pinched me and I fell asleep." He looked at Vin and then away at Buck. "Why didn't ya come get me?"

"We didn't know where you were, lil' bit," Buck said gently. He touched the back of his hand to JD's forehead. "Vin, you're going to have to get down. Come and sit on my chair, okay. You can hold his hand from there. JD, we came as soon as we knew where you were. We came as soon as we could. I'll always come."

Vin wanted to say 'me too', but something stuck in his throat and the words wouldn't come out. Instead he clutched tighter at JD's hand until Buck lifted him away.

"Vin?" JD's eyes looked wildly for him, and Vin leaned forward onto the bed, throwing an accusing look at Buck. "Vin, where'd ya go?"

JD broke into soft sobs, and Buck swore. "Where's the damn nurse? In here every ten minutes while you're trying to sleep, and nowhere the second you need 'em."

"JD, JD, it's me." Vin patted his brother's face carefully. In the early morning light the bruises looked like JD hadn't washed in a month, and he knew how much they had to hurt.

"Vin?" JD sniffed and grabbed at his hand and buried his face against it. "Don't go 'way."

"Let's have a look, then," a crisp female voice broke the growing air of misery around the bed. "I'm Nurse Johnson." She slid an electronic thermometer into JD's ear, "Can you hold his head still?" she glanced at Buck. It pinged and she lifted it out. "Okay. How's your blood pressure doing?" She read off the various machines and gauges. "I'm going to take a little bit of blood, honey, okay? It'll just tug a bit." She took a phial full from the IV shunt.


"Ssssh, it's okay. It's okay." Buck concentrated on the little boy, trying not to see the nurse. JD's muffled sobs continued unabated as she filled in the chart and put it back on the end of the bed.

"There, all done, okay honey? Come on now, don't cry," she smiled at the little boy who quieted slowly, peering cautiously out from behind his and his brother's tightly wound hands, tears trickling messily down his face. "Is something hurting?" He shook his head, and she smiled at him, "Okay then." She turned to the father and added, "I'm going to have a chat with the doctor, and she'll come talk to you about what's happening."

Buck nodded silently. Vin jumped as a pair of hands rested on his shoulders. He looked up and saw Uncle Ezra looking down at him. He squeezed and Vin leaned back.

The nurse looked around the dismal faces and shook her head. "He's doing fine, really. He's only got a little bit of a temperature, about one-oh-two, and some kids'll hit that just from shock. If he goes any higher or stays there too long we'll probably want to intervene, but until then, you carry on with what you were doing." She smiled and nodded at the damp cloth still clutched in one of Buck's hands.

Buck grinned at her. "Thank you, sweetheart." The sun seemed to come out at his smile, and the nurse visibly straightened and smiled back.

"I'll be back in half an hour."

Ezra started laughing and Vin twisted round. "What's funny?"

"Nothing, Vincent. Nothing at all," he said with considerable emphasis. Buck looked at him and then at Chris leaning smirking at him against the door frame, and reddened, then started laughing too. Vin scowled in disgust at the three of them and snatched the almost dry cloth away from Buck, leaning forward to pat at JD's hands with it.

"Didya get her phone number, Da?" JD mumbled, and even Vin started to giggle.


6.30 am, Spirit Lake Industrial Park

Seth Charles was not a happy man.

He was stuck of in the back of beyond in some pissant hick town. North Dakota, for God's sake. Who the hell lived in North Dakota! Lisa Kemp Hennessy, and her prissy ideas about the right way to commit a kidnapping.

If she hadn't insisted on coming along the kid could have been taped by twelve, and out with the last shipment of brats this morning. As it was, the shipment couldn't go because the all ports and airports notice was still out, and he was on the run in some lame ass town.

What was more, the chances were the bitch had rolled over on him. He'd seen her behind the cops as they broke into the damn room. He'd known they should have gone, but Kemp had told them to sit tight, and keep an eye out for his son. Charles smiled cruelly. Maybe Kyle Kemp Hennessy would be adequate recompense for losing his livelihood, and in all probability his freedom.


He looked thoughtfully up at the hospital. Pediatrics was on the fourth floor. The chances were good that was where the boy was. By now, some of his family were probably here. He'd seen the police cars rush someone through the doors late last night. Probably Larabee. Possibly Wilmington, though he would have had to have either gotten a charter flight or made very good time on the commercial ones to do it.

He turned away from the window and reached for the case that was the only thing he had taken from the car when he ditched it. He needed to know who was up there. Two phone calls later, he knew. Another call, and even in the dead of the night he found himself a team. Right now they were waiting for his go ahead.

A cold smile spread over his face. Wilmington was as good as dead. It would be a pleasure, both professionally and personally to kill him. The rest of Team Seven and their two brats? Just a bonus for being a bad, bad boy.

All he had to do was get in. And that was no trouble at all.


9 am, Jamestown Community Hospital

A knock on the door woke JD, who grinned at his uncles as they came into the room.

"Hello there, JD," Nathan smiled, and ruffled his hair.

"Ssssh," JD said firmly. Buck was asleep on one side of him, his head resting on the bed, and Vin was on the other sprawled out against JD's side. Chris was snoring, mouth open, on the next bed. Only Ezra was awake, sitting next to JD, his gun held loosely between his knees, out of JD's sight. He nodded at his colleagues.

"Did you sleep well?" he asked, and Josiah shrugged, wincing as he did so. He stretched and his back cracked audibly.

"Chairs," he rumbled, and shook his head.

"Not designed for the human back," Nathan added, lifting JD's chart to examine it. "You're doing pretty well there, aren't you, squirt?"

"Yup!" He bounced slightly in the bed. The nurse had taken his temperature again and given him a sucker for being a clever boy and dropping back to ninety nine degrees. "Look, Nurse Lillian gave it me cos I don't have a temperature any more."

"Well, that's good," Josiah said, and eased himself into yet another small hard chair. "The things we suffer in the name of family," but he was smiling so JD grinned at him.

"Did you see my leg? I broke it." He rapped on the cast. "Nurse Lillian says it's fiber glass, does that mean it's made from glass? Why can't I see through it if it's made from glass? That'd be cool, cos I could see the broken bits."

"The broken bit is inside your leg JD. You wouldn't be able to see it even if the cast wasn't there," Nathan explained with a grin, knowing this would only satisfy the inquisitive child for a moment.

"Oh. Uncle Nathan?"

"Yes, JD?"

"Why does they keep saying they're going to look at it if they can't see anything?"

"Because you can see the outside of your leg, and that can tell you if there's something not right inside, and then they can do x-rays to take a picture of the bones on the inside."

"Cool! Can I have some x-rays?"

"You've already had some, I expect," Nathan smiled at him. "Everyone's asleep, aren't they."

JD's expression clearly indicated that his foster fathers and Vin were lightweights. "*I'm* awake."

Ezra rolled his eyes, "Indeed you are, Master Dunne." Nathan laughed.

"Haven't had your coffee yet," he asked with some amusement.

"I don't see why you two are looking so chipper," Ezra muttered.

Josiah caught Buck's eyelid flicker and the wry look that crossed his face briefly. He wasn't fast enough.

"Da?" JD bent over Buck's face and peeled the eyelid open. "Da?"

"Morning, brat," Buck yawned enormously. JD poked a finger at Buck's mouth and snatched it back giggling as Buck snapped his teeth closed with an audible click. "Hey, I was going to eat that! Haven't had any breakfast yet."

"*I* had bre'fast," JD said smugly. "I had cornflakes an' toast, an' two kindsa juice, an' hot chocolate cos I asked nicely, an' peanut butter an' jelly," he listed off. "Only Vin ate all the jelly."

"Didn't," Vin objected, and crawled out from under the covers to sit cross-legged next to JD's cast. He tapped it thoughtfully a couple of times, and then started drumming on it with his fingers.

"Did. I only had *this* much," and he held his fingers up right next to his eye pinched together with almost no light showing through, "left. And there was extra hot chocolate cos Nurse Lillian said Vin shouldn't've drunk all mine cos I was poorly. So."

"Didn't -- you drank it too."

"Did too."



They both paused. Chris hadn't moved. Buck was laughing, and so were the rest of their uncles. Somehow the fun of having an argument that they knew would annoy the men was lost when they just sat and grinned inanely at them instead of telling them to behave.

"Was good hot choc'late," Vin conceded.

"Wouldn'a drunken it all anyway," JD offered, and looked around purposefully. "Uncle Ezra?"

"What can I do for you?"

"Can I have a spoon?"

Ezra looked at him thoughtfully, and at Vin, still drumming absently on the cast. Time and experience had rendered him wise to the proclivities of small boys. "I'll bring two, but they are going to be plastic."


"Plastic or not at all."

Buck frowned. Chris groaned, still pretending to be asleep. Moments later Ezra returned and handed the boys two spoons each which they promptly started banging on the cast.

And the fire alarm went off.