No Good Going Back
ATF-Little Britches Universe
Ezra left Nathan at the hospital and headed back to the ranch, he called Chris as soon as he was clear of the building. Larabee was now back in the team's offices with Travis, going through old cases, trying to identify someone with a grudge against Buck or him or both of them - some one who wasn't dead or imprisoned. Chris agreed that Vin might have information, even without knowing it.
When he got to the ranch, Ezra found his nephew curled up under a comforter on Sanchez's lap, Cat still firmly clutched in his hand. Cartoon Network was on TV but it was clear neither of them was really watching it.
"Vincent?" Ezra called softly as he came in.
Instantly the tousled head shot up. "Did you find JD? Is Buck okay?"
Ezra moved forward and squatted down next to the sofa, he could see from Josiah's eyes he too wanted the answers to Vin's questions.
"No," Ezra admitted softly, " we haven't found JD, not yet. Buck is going to be fine, he'll need a lot of rest, but he woke up and spoke to me."
"I would not lie to you Master Tanner. Nathan is with him, so he's in good hands."
"Can I go see him?"
Ezra smiled. Vin had such a warm, caring heart. "Maybe, but first I need to ask you some questions."
"Me?" Vin sounded hesitant.
"I want you to think, has JD ever said where he lived before he came to Denver?" Vin frowned, thought hard and then shook his head. "Are you sure?"
Vin's young brow furrowed with concentration, finally he nodded.
"Did he ever mention a boat house?" Ezra asked.
Vin thought and concentrated so hard it was almost painful to watch, but eventually he shook his head.
Ezra sat back a little, unable to prevent a sigh of disappointment escaping. "Oh well, it was a long shot at best."
Tears welled in Vin's azure eyes. "I'm sorry," he whispered, silently cursing his own stupidity, if he was smart - smart like JD - he would have remembered, JD talked a lot, most of the time Vin had just tuned him out. If he'd actually listened to JD he might have been able to help find him.
"It's not your fault," Josiah whispered, rubbing gentle circles on his back.
"He said his mom didn't tell him they were going," Vin said softly, so softly Ezra almost missed it.
Vin thought hard, then shook his head.
"Okay, never mind." Ezra stood and was already headed for the door when Vin suddenly sat up.
"What was that son?" Josiah asked as Ezra turned back to face them both.
"JD said he lived in the Boot House," Vin confirmed.
Ezra turned back and was once more at Vin's side. "You think that was what Buck was trying to say?" Sanchez asked.
"Possibly, he was barely awake. Vin what else do you remember JD saying?"
"Said he always knew when he was home, 'cause he could see the boot."
Ezra looked up at the profiler, on whose lap the boy still sat. "What do you think it means?"
Josiah shrugged. "Not sure? An advertising sign, shop front, for all we know it could have been an abandoned boot in a dumpster."
"JD said it squeaked," Vin admitted.
"Squeaked?" Ezra asked.
Vin nodded. "When it was windy, it squeaked."
"Sounds like a hanging sign," Sanchez ventured. "Not many of those left, if only we knew what city we were looking in."
"Buck said 'Kan' we're thinking Kansas or Kansas City," Ezra explained.
"Sounds like a good bet, I'd start in the city. She came to Denver, she started in Boston, she probably felt comfortable in cities." Josiah looked down at the distraught Vin. "You see son, you may have just given us the clue to find JD."
"Me?" Vin asked hesitantly.
"Yeah kid, you." Josiah gave him a big hug.
Armed with this new snippet of information, Chris and Josiah got on the first flight to Kansas City. While Ezra stayed with Vin at the ranch, he contacted the Kansas City police. By the time the Denver flight landed there would a police car waiting to escort them and the KCPD would already be looking for swinging 'Boot' signs.
Nathan sat alone, but for the slumbering but restless Buck, in an anonymous hospital room. While Buck had been very still - way too still in the first hours - he was now getting restless. His head tossed, he muttered, now he was beginning to toss and turn the sheets were already wound around his legs and his muttering had become shouts and cries of distress. He called for JD repeatedly, and begged the unseen assailant to let JD go. The nurse came back in just as Nathan was trying to calm the distressed man.
"Hush Buck, come on pal," he coaxed gently. Looking up he saw the nurse glance worriedly at the heavy dressing around Buck's thigh. An ominous red stain was spreading across the white fabric.
"We'll have to sedate him, than see what damage he's done." Nathan looked back at his friend, seeing his face creased in distress and pain, he nodded his agreement.
Just as the nurse returned with a doctor, Buck woke with a start. Lying on his side his back to the door, frantic eyes scanned what he could see of the room. Big hands clutched the side rail of the bed.
"Buck?" Nathan called softly, moving so that he was in Buck's field of vision.
"It's me, Nathan."
"Nate?" The voice was tremulous and pathetically weak.
"Yeah, I'm here. You got shot, lost a lot of blood, but youre in hospital now, your gonna be okay."
"JD!" Buck suddenly called, pulling himself up, trying to pull himself up of the bed.
"Whoa there pal! No you don't." Nathan gently restrained his weak friend. The two medics by the door moved forward but Nathan waved them back.
"I had a nightmare Nate, a man - he took my JD, he hurt him - except it wasn't a dream was it?" His pleading eyes begged Nathan to tell him he was wrong, it was just a bad dream. Nathan slowly shook his head. "Oh God, no, oh please no!" Tears welled up in the big man's eyes, and he turned his face away from Nate to bury it in the pillow.
Nathan looked way and looked at the doctor and nurse by the door. "Could you give us a moment here?" he asked. He could see they were reluctant to leave their bleeding patient. "Please, just for a moment?"
The doctor nodded and they left the room.
"Oh God what kind of father am I?" Buck lamented. "I should have stopped him, I should have protected him."
"Buck youre tired, he shot you for God's sake. We'll find him."
Buck's eyes, which were so filled with anguish, it was almost too painful to look at, finally looked into Jackson's eyes - deep and compassionate.
"But why Nate, why did he take him ?" and then a thought struck him, anguish was replaced by pure horror. "Oh Nate, what if he Oh no, no what if he ?"
He couldnt finish the sentence, they both know what he was afraid of, Nathan suspected all the others had had the same ghastly thought.
"We'll get him back, and whatever happens, we'll deal with it and help JD."
"We have to Nate, 'cause without him I couldn't go on." Buck buried his head in the pillow again.
Jackson fought back his own tears. "I know pal, I know." He let his friend regain his composure before the medics came back in to repair the torn sutures.
"What's that?" Buck asked as the nurse prepared to add some medication to his drip.
"It's a sedative," she explained.
"I don't want "
"Buck you need it, if you keep thrashing about in your sleep you're just gonna keep pulling the stitches out and bleeding again." Nathan lowered his voice. "You almost bled out pal, you can't afford to lose anymore."
Buck looked from the nurse to his friend and back, finally he nodded.
The monotonous drone of the highway had finally lulled JD off too sleep. Now the noises changed, and the car slowed. JD slowly opened his eyes and peeked out of the window. They were in a city, JD had no way to know where, it was dark and rain was falling. He didn't dare move or make a sound, so he just watched as the car moved through the strange city. Except that it wasn't so strange, it seemed to him this place felt familiar. He didn't really remember coming to Kansas City, he had some vague memory of being in the car for a long time, but that was all. His first clear memories were of the little apartment over the old shoe repair shop. His mom placed him in a day-care centre not far from the apartment and went out to work everyday. He had no idea where she went or what job she did. There were no other children living in the small apartment building, so JD made his own fun when he was at home or played with his mom, but most of the time she was too tired. They were poor, but JD didn't know that, he thought everyone got their clothes and toys from the thrift shop. He didn't know that you didn't always have to buy the cheapest generic food from the discount supermarket or that eating beans on toast three times a week was unusual. JD had no idea that most children slept in a bedroom not the living room, and most children didn't have to share that room with their mother. Despite the lack of money, the tiny little apartment was always clean, not withstanding its shabby fittings, crumbling walls and persistent damp. The only black spot in JD's world was the scary man who came to their home and was mean to his mom.
Suddenly the car pulled into the side of the road and stopped. JD couldn't suppress a little gasp of fear. He still wouldn't look at the man, but he did peek outside at their surroundings. The swinging boot over the door was unmistakable, picked out in the yellow street light.
"Out now," the man ordered. JD scrambled to obey, fumbling with the door handle. "Come on kid. Out!"
By the time JD was out of the car he was crying, but the rain that drenched him hid it from his kidnapper. The man grabbed JD's collar and propelled him across the road toward the small, narrow door at the side of the building that led to the apartments. Inside JD found himself in familiar surroundings, the old post boxes on the wall behind the door, the bare wooden staircase, the peeling, dingy, mustard yellow paint.
"Up." The petrified boy hastened to obey, he knew exactly were they were going.
As Chris and Josiah walked off the plane an airport official waved them over and directed them down the skyway's emergency stairs to the waiting patrol car. The genial looking African American sergeant who met them didn't waste any time.
"Hi, I'm Frank Thomas. We think we may know were your boy is headed."
"Explain," Sanchez demanded.
"No," Chris cut in. "Drive and explain."
As the car sped out of the airport and into the city, Thomson explained about the information Ezra had got from Buck and Vin. "See, signs like that arent common. We put the word out to all our patrols, they know their turf pretty well. Someone knows a shoe repair place, with low rent apartments over it. We're headed there now."
They arrived outside the apartments at the same time as the local patrol car and their captain.
"You Larabee?" the senior policeman asked.
"How do you want to play this? Just wait?"
Chris shook his head. "They're here."
"How do you know?"
"Because that is Rachel Dunne's car." Chris pointed to the small car across the street. "We're going in."
Hank needed to get into the apartment, he drew his gun, the gun, in his right hand, the same weapon he had used to gun Buck down, and kept hold of JD with his left hand. He shoved the terrified boy to the side of the door.
"You make one sound and I'll sew up your mouth, got it?"
JD nodded instantly. With that Collins used the butt of the gun to pound on the door. Eventually a man came to the door, he was dressed in jeans and a dirty tee shirt. "What?" he demanded.
Instantly there was a gun pressed into his chest. "You are going out, you will be out all night - got it?"
The man nodded vigorously; he reached for his jacket and hurried out past the man with the gun, not even noticing JD. Inside the apartment, JD recognised the furniture, but the warm, clean apartment of his limited memory was gone. The place was filthy and smelled of decaying food, grease, and stale sweat.
"Okay, where is it?" Collins demanded.
JD pointed toward the kitchen.
Under the kitchen sink was a cupboard. It stank. JD screwed up his nose, his mom wouldn't have let any part of her home smell.
"Kid, I looked there, don't mess me around!"
"Be be hind," JD stammered out.
Hank used his foot to clear out the rubbish in the cupboard, and looked again, all he could see was a slightly rotten panel at the back of the cupboard. He dropped to his knees, never once letting go of JD.
"Go on, go and get it. If you don't find it, you know what I'll do and if you run, I'm gonna go back and kill your little friend with the long hair."
JD was too scared to even respond, he just waited for the man to let go of his collar. Once he was free he crawled into the cupboard and found the edge of the rotting board and pulled it back. The recess behind had once been a connecting corridor to another room, dating from when there was just one apartment on each floor not four. Part of the old passage had been filled in to make closet space for the next door apartment and it was now no more than sixteen inches high. JD crawled along, feeling for his toys, normally he had a flashlight with him. The first thing he found was a little old backpack, stuffed full of toy cars and Legos, then his hand landed on something soft. This was Ponder. Ponder, named after a character in one of JD's favourite books, was a toy panda. Ponder had been as important to JD as Cat was to Vin. When he had realised they weren't going back to the apartment, he had sobbed and begged his mother to go back to collect him, but she wouldn't. He had no way to know it, but it was one of the most difficult decisions of her life.
Ponder felt wonderful, even though he was a bit smelly. He had always been there for him, had made him feel safe. He hugged his old bear and expected to feel better, except he didn't. It wasn't the same anymore, it wasn't the same as sucking his thumb and stoking Buck's neck, that always made him feel better, no matter what.
"Come on kid, get out here with it!" Collins ordered.
But in response, JD turned around, so that he was sitting side-on in the small dark passage, his knees pulled up, Ponder in one hand. He knew the man couldn't get into his hiding place, so he no longer tried to stifle his tears.
"Get the fuck out here, brat!" Collins bellowed.
But JD held firm. Chris would find him, if he just waited Chris and his uncles would find him. The man said he would kill Vin if he ran away, but he wasn't running, he was hiding.
"You get out here or I'm coming in after you!"
JD's mom couldn't fit in the hiding place, and the scary man was much bigger then her, so he knew he was safe. Except that his mother wasn't a desperate, heartless criminal. When he couldnt get into the child's tiny hidey-hole, Collins took more drastic measures. As JD sat in terror the kidnapper ransacked the kitchen until he found a claw hammer. Then he began to systematically pull the sink and its unit off the wall. With that done, he was setting about hacking a larger whole in the wall, so he could get at JD, when the door flew open.
"Freeze!" Chris bellowed.
Vin had watched Josiah drive away with a heavy heart. JD was missing, Buck was in hospital and his dad wasn't there.
"Come Master Tanner, we have work to do," Ezra announced.
Vin craned his head up to look at his uncle with a puzzled expression.
"I expect you to tell me what needs to be done and to help me to get the house straight."
Vin hadn't thought about that, he wasn't sure how he felt about confronting the blood-soaked carpets in his room or in the den. He slowly nodded his head.
"Good boy, tonight however I suggest you sleep in your father's room and I'll sleep in Buck's - alright?"
Vin beamed at him in response.
"So what do we have to do tonight?" Ezra asked.
"We need to make up the horse's beds, get the horses in, clean out their feet and feed them," Vin explained confidently.
"Is that all?" In truth Ezra hadn't expected it to be that much.
"Dad or Buck always walks all around the yard, and checks all the other buildings, before they closes the barn for the night and then they check all the windows and lock the doors."
"Okay. Well we better get on with it, hadn't we?"
"Well, well, well, Hank Collins, I wondered were you'd got to." The local patrolman who'd identified the 'boot house', came in behind Chris and Josiah.
"You know him?" Sanchez asked.
"Yeah, local low life, mob enforcer and rent collector for this rat trap and a half a dozen other slum buildings. Did a six months stretch for resisting arrest and then disappeared."
"Where the hell's my boy!" Chris demanded, lunching himself at Collins.
Josiah reacted intently, holding Chris back. "Chris, behind you."
Held in Sanchez's powerful grip Chris looked over his shoulder at the ruined kitchen and the ragged dark hole in the back wall.
Josiah let him go, knowing that he would no longer attack Collins. Chris dropped to his knees beside the hole, and peered in.
"JD? JD are you in there?" he called softly. There was no response. "JD it's me Chris," there was still no response. Chris looked over his shoulder at the other people in the room. "Give me some quiet here guys," he demanded.
A hush fell over the shabby room, the only sound the hiss of escaping water from a broken water pipe.
"Sir?" The local patrolman stood beside Chris holding out his flashlight.
Larabee just nodded as he took it. Ducking his head into the tiny passage he switched on the beam. Chris almost gasped at just how small and long the tunnel was. Then he spotted the little huddled figure at the far end. JD's knees were pulled up, almost obscuring his head, only his dark hair was visible.
"Oh JD," he breathed. "JD come on out son, it's okay now." But JD didn't move. "Come on son, look at me, just look at me," Chris encouraged. Very slowly the little dark head turned enough for one dark eye to peek out.
JD blinked in the strong light, making Chris realize he had the flashlight pointed the wrong way. Instantly he turned the beam to illuminate his own face.
"It's just me JD. Me and your uncle Josiah, we've come to take you home, Buck's waiting for you, and Vin and your other uncles, they all want to see you at home."
As Chris was speaking, Josiah silently gestured to the local police to get Collins out of the room. JD's face moved a little more, though with the light on him and not JD, Chris didn't know that.
"Please JD, trust me, I can't get in there with you, so you have to come to me, please son, come on out."
There was a hitched sob, the first sound the small boy had made, then the sound Larabee was waiting for. "Chris?" JD whispered.
"Yes, yes it's me, come on, you can to it."
Chris felt it was important that JD could see him, so he didn't dare move the light to check on the boys progress, but he could hear him, finally JD had crawled close enough for Chris to see him, he put the flashlight down and reached out his arms.
Nathan satisfied himself that Buck, now heavily sedated, was safely asleep, and slipped out of the hospital to make his way home. He could at least spend a few hours at home, before returning to the hospital. He felt it was important for one of them to be there when Buck woke. He had been asleep for a few hours when the phone gang. Pulling himself from a deep sleep he fumbled for the phone.
"Hello, Jackson." Suddenly he was sitting up in bed, wide-awake. "You sure? Sorry, course you're sure thanks pal."
"What is it?" Rain asked.
"They found him, he's okay!" he all but shouted, pulling his wife from the bed and hugging her.
"Master Tanner?" Ezra crept into the bedroom. Vin made an insignificant mound in the middle of the large bed. With the light from the corridor to guide him, Ezra flicked on the bedside lamp. All he could see of Vin was his tousled head and the top of Cat's tail. It had been a rough night, Vin had woken twice, but was now sound asleep in his fathers bed. Ezra had been up for most of the night. Alien as it was to his nature, Ezra had spent hours cleaning the blood from the hard surfaces. He had rolled up the large - room size - rug in the living room, and taken it out on to the terrace. Finally he had removed all the furniture from the den. He had been asleep for only an hour, when his cell phone rang.
"Mmm?" Vin murmured in his sleep.
"Vin, time to wake up."
"Wha'? Unc' Ezra?"
"Yes, come on, wake up now Vin, I have news."
Vin sat up, his eyes wide open.
"Josiah has just called, they have found JD, he's alright, he's coming home today."
Vin kneeled up. "Fer real?"
"Yes, for real."
Vin dropped Cat and lunged forward, wrapping his arms around Ezra. In response, Ezra enveloped the small boy in his arms and shed silent tears of relief. Since it was almost dawn, Ezra and Vin started to get the house ready for Buck and JD's return. Once the horses were seen to and they had eaten breakfast, Ezra asked Vin to show him where Chris kept his tools.
"What are ya lookin' for?" the small boy asked.
"I require an extending ruler, such as I have seen Mr Larabee use on occasion."
"Ya mean the long one that rolls up real fast?"
"That does indeed sound like the very one, do you know were it is?"
Vin nodded and scooted off his chair and crossed the kitchen. Pulling open a drawer he could barely see into, he rooted about for a bit, before coming back with the ruler.
"Excellent, now all we need is a note pad and a pencil and we are set, do you ?"
Vin was already crossing the room again, coming back with the pad and pencil Mrs Potter kept by the phone.
"Wonderful, come Mr Tanner, we have work to do."
Nathan walked into the hospital with joy in his step, he whistled to himself as he rode the elevator up to Buck's room. His first stop was the nurse's station. He recognised the nurse who had given Buck the sedative. "How's he doing?"
She smiled ruefully, "Even with the sedative he's been restless and he has a slight fever, but the doctor's not too worried about it, he's upped the antibiotics."
"Can he still go home this afternoon?" Nathan asked.
"Depends, if we can't keep him still without sedatives, he'll have to stay here."
Nathan smiled. "Well don't worry, I have news that will hopefully stop the bad dreams."
He headed down the corridor toward Buck's room with the nurse trailing behind him.
"Buck, come on buddy time to wake up." Nathan gave Buck a slight shake.
"Sir, Mr Jackson, don't wake him up, do you know how weak he is, he needs to rest," she protested.
"Trust me." Nathan winked at the nurse. "Buck!" he called more loudly. "Come on, up and at 'um!"
"Err?" Buck groaned and opened one tired eye. "Nate?"
"You awake?" Nathan prompted.
"I guess, time 't go home?"
"Not yet. Josiah called." Nathan was beaming.
"They found him?" Buck was almost afraid to hear the answer unless it was the wrong answer. "He's okay, the bastard didn't you know?"
"He said he's a bit battered and very scared, but basically he's okay, they don't think the man did anything more than maybe hit him. They're bringing him home as soon as they can."
"When? How long? Lets go meet them - " Buck was trying to push himself up.
"No you don't!" Nathan pushed him back down even as the nurse ran forward.
"Kansas City, he was in Kansas City, and you gotta stay here and stay STILL, or they won't let you out this afternoon, you do want out don't you?"
"Yeah!" Buck countered angrily. Nathan just glared at him, until he relented. "Yeah, okay, I'll be good. You told Josiah to bring him here - right?"
"I didn't need to, believe me."
"That is wonderful news," the nurse added.
Buck looked over at her. "Thanks. Do I know you darlin'? 'Cause you look real familiar."
"Yes Mr Wilmington, we have met."
"Buck, darlin', call me Buck." Buck wouldn't be able to relax until he had JD back in his arms, but flirting with the nurse was a good distraction.
"Very well, Buck. Now since you're awake, do you think you could eat for me?" she asked, giving him a bright smile.
"Hell darlin', you just said the magic words!"
As JD felt himself being pulled into Chris' arms, he almost panicked. It's just Chris, he told himself. The fear still clawed at him as he was lifted up into the wrecked kitchen.
"Hey there, little brother," Sanchez greeted softly.
JD blinked at his uncle, wide-eyed and fearful. Ponder was still grasped in one hand. Then his eyes darted around the room, searching.
"He's gone JD," Chris assured. "He's under arrest, he can't hurt you or Buck anymore." At the sound of his father's name, JD stiffened. "Buck's okay, Vin found him and he's in the hospital, but he's going to be okay."
JD studied Chris' face then looked at Josiah. "It's true little brother, and I'm gonna call your uncles now and give them the good news, so they can tell Buck and Vin that you're okay."
While Josiah called, Chris carried JD into the other room. He sat down on the only available chair and took a look at the filthy child as best he could without letting go of him. "You okay son?" he asked softly. JD nodded, then the tears began to fall in earnest and with them came the wails.
"I wan' my Buck," JD cried.
Chris pulled him in close again, rubbing gentle circles on the small back. "I know, I know, soon, don't worry you'll be with him soon."
But the sobbing and calling for Buck didn't end, if anything it go worse. Chris looked up at Sanchez as he came in to the room, searching for some answer, some magic way to make the distressed child feel better. 'Let him cry himself out' the older man mouthed.
Chris nodded his understanding. It took a good twenty minuets for the sobbing and pleading for Buck began to peter out. It wasn't that JD didn't love Chris, or Vin, or even his uncles, but Buck was his father, what in modern terms is called, his 'primary carer' and when it really mattered no one else would do, only 'his Buck' could make it better. To JD 'Bucks' were just another kind of parent, in JD's world there were Moms, Dads and Bucks and Bucks were by far the best.
Finally JD fell silent. "JD?" Chris tried softly.
"Yes?" the small boy sniffed.
"JD do you know why the man brought you here?" he asked. JD nodded. "Can you tell me?"
"He wants Ponder," JD said haltingly.
Chris looked up at Sanchez quizzically, in response the profiler pointed to the toy panda in JDs hand. Chris nodded.
"JD, did you used to live here?" he asked.
"Uh huh. It was nice, mom made it nice," he added with a sigh.
"Yeah, I bet your mom made it all clean and tidy, didn't she."
JD's little head, pressed up against his chest, nodded.
Josiah crouched down so that he was at JD's eye level. "JD son, do you know why he wants Ponder?" JD shook his head. "Can I have a look at him?" JD didn't hesitate, he handed over his old panda.
Josiah looked the old, tatty and filthy bear. He noticed that the back seam was partially unstitched. Squeezing and pressing the toy he felt something hard inside the toy. Trying not to damage the toy any further, he probed inside the bear, finally recovering a small key. While Josiah gave the key to the waiting police, Chris broached the topic of going home with JD. By now JD was looking very tired, he was filthy and had several scrapes on his knees, arms and hands, a large bruise on the side of his face was clear evidence of his mistreatment at his captors hands.
"JD we need to go to the hospital now, so they can take care of you."
JD's head shot up, eyes suddenly bright with excitement. "To see Buck?" he asked
"No, not yet, a hospital here in Kansas City."
"No!" JD wailed, clutching on to Chris even more tightly, his thumb now in his mouth.
"You got some nasty owies, we need to get them seen to."
"No, Nafan, Nafan fix them," he stated firmly. "Please Chwis, Nafan fix 'um."
Chris didn't have the heart to force him. "Okay, we'll let Nathan fix them."
"G' home 'ow?" the small boy asked.
"Yeah, we'll go home soon, as soon as possible, I promise."
The finding of the key made JD's old toy 'evidence' and both men were worried there would be problems, if JD couldn't have it back, but he hadn't even watched while Josiah checked it, and now seemed totally uninterested in the old bear.
Vin had been surprised about how much fun he was having. He and Ezra had measured the den and his and JD's room. Then, even before nine o'clock, they had climbed into the Jag and headed out to locate some place called 'Mike's Magic Carpet Mansion'. Ezra had established that this was the only carpet retailer that opened early on a Sunday and would fit a carpet on a Sunday. They pulled up in front of the warehouse-like building.
"Ready, Master Tanner?"
"Ready, Mr Standish," Vin confirmed with a grin. Ezra frowned in mock annoyance at the smile, a smile Vin instantly wiped from his face.
Ezra had explained they were going to play a game, the carpet store wanted to sell them carpets, they wanted carpets, but they mustn't let the store know how urgent their need was, they had to 'play it cool'.
Armed with the calculations he and Ezra had collected before breakfast and samples of the ruined carpets, the headed into the store. The den carpet and the living room carpet were easy, they were the same, a sort of rust colour. It didn't take long to locate a near identical carpet. Then it was time to find a new one for the boy's room. The room had originally been Adam's room. Chris had cleared it out and repainted it in a hurry, once he knew he would be allowed to bring Vin home. He'd even put up new drapes and purchased a new bed and bed linen, but he'd never gotten around to replacing the carpet. It was in fact the same carpet that had been there since Adam was born. Sarah had been nagging him to replace it, just days before she and Adam were killed. The pale blue carpet had acquired a variety of stubborn stains; there were the usual 'accidents', as well as paint water, marker pen, even shoe polish and a number of marks that defied identification. Ezra didn't want to overstep the mark and change anything, so armed with a corner of the ruined carpet, he sought out more pale blue.
Suddenly Standish felt a tug at his jacket.
"Uncle Ezra?" Vin whispered.
Standish excused himself from the salesman, and bent down to the whisper to his young nephew.
"I heard Buck say to Chris, that we should have a dark carpet, 'cause JD makes so much mess." Of course he left out the bit where Chris pointed out that Vin was responsible for a fair share of the marks and some were down to Adam.
"Truly?" Vin nodded his conformation. "Very well, you shall choose."
Vin gulped. "Me?"
"Indeed." Vin cast his eyes around the numerous rolls of carpet. "Don't worry, I'll help you and we are restricted to the carpet in stock, since we don't have time to wait for an order to come in. "And I would also suggest we look for a robust carpet with some stain resisting properties - don't you?"
Vin wasn't entirely sure what all that had meant, but he decided to agree anyway.
"Do you have an idea about colour?"
Vin frowned, he had seen some very nice colours, but he didn't want Chris to get mad. "Blue," he finally stated. Blue was okay, he liked blue, so did JD.
Ezra nodded and turned to the sales man. "We require a blue carpet, dark blue or predominantly dark blue, stain resistant, hard wearing but soft underfoot, available for immediate delivery."
It didn't turn out to be a big selection, there were, in fact four to choose from. A children's carpet with fish on it, that Vin discounted as too babyish - JD would love it, but he was too big for animals on the carpet. A bright turquoise blue carpet, too bright he decided. A lovely midnight blue carpet, he liked that, it was the colour of Buck's eyes. And a what the salesman called a 'remnant', a bit left over that was just big enough for the small room, it was mainly a sort of mid blue, that the sales man called cobalt with little flecks of darker blue in it.
Finally, much as he liked the dark one, he chose the remnant, it was much cheaper, and even thought Ezra didn't seem that worried by the cost, Vin knew that was important. He let go a silent sigh of relief when he could see his choice was what his uncle wanted him to choose He wasn't to know that was because the flecked carpet was the one that would hide the marks best, not because it was the cheapest.
Vin then stood back, in awe-filled pride, as his uncle negotiated for the instant delivery and fitting of the carpet, not once did Ezra accept 'no' as an answer. When they pulled out of the store's lot, a delivery van followed them.
As they headed back to the airport in the back of a patrol car, lights flashing, sirens blazing, JD sat huddled on Chris' lap, silent and unmoving. Normally he would have been ecstatic to be riding in a real police car, but not today; today all he wanted was to go home. The police photographer had taken pictures of JD's bruises and scrapes as evidence, but so far no one had asked him any questions. There would have to be questions, somehow they had to get him to tell them what happened, but that could wait, and Chris was determined that when it happened Buck and Dr Lowery would be there to help JD. He held the small boy a little closer, JD was going to need a lot of help in the weeks and months to come.
The hostesses on the flight offered to clean up his cuts and grazes, but JD refused, only his uncle Nathan would do. The sight of two men travelling with a clearly unhappy, dirty and injured child raised a few eyebrows and more than a few whispered comments. Josiah had given the cabin crew a quick briefing and they had discretely deflected any passengers who pulled them aside to voice their concerns.
Nathan met them at Denver airport. "Hello little buddy," he greeted brightly. JD made no move to greet his uncle. "Why don't we go and get you checked out, before we go and see Buck," Jackson suggested.
"No, want Buck," JD stated.
"I know you do, but youre kinda dirty and you got some nasty scrapes, you don't want to make Buck sick or upset him - do you?" It wasn't fair to burden JD like that, but Buck didn't need to see him filthy and bloody.
"'K," JD admitted.
"Why don't we go to my place, it's much closer to the hospital than the ranch - okay?" Nathan had already planned this. He could have driven out to the ranch and collected some clothes for JD, but he wanted to give his nephew a treat, so instead he stopped off at a mall and purchased underwear, socks and new soft sweat bottoms. Then he'd gone to the Disney store and bought a Buzz Lightyear teeshirt and matching hoodie.
By the time he was being carried into the hospital, he'd been bathed and his hair washed, his many cuts and grazes covered in a multitude of patterned and coloured Band-Aids. There was no disguising the huge ugly bruise that marred the side of his little face, but other then that he didn't look too bad. All that was missing now was the smile. Not once since they had found him had JD smiled.
With a clean but sombre JD in his arms, Chris eased the door of Buck's hospital room open. On seeing his father JD instantly squirmed. "Buc " he started to call.
Nathan, standing beside Chris, intently put his finger against the small boy's lips. "Hush little one, Buck needs to sleep lots so he can get better," he cautioned.
JD frowned at his uncle. "Is Buck gonna sleep with angels?" he asked in a tremulous voice.
"Oh no, no, nothing like that," Nathan chided himself that he hadn't explained things better to JD. He was a bright boy, he understood a great deal more then most people gave him credit for. "When that man shot Buck he made him bleed, he lost a lot of blood. The doctors have mended the holes the bullet made, and put back some of the blood he lost, now Buck has to rest so he can get his strength back. Do you understand?"
JD nodded solemnly. Nathan decided leave out all mention of post-operative infection. Buck was responding well and there was no need to scare JD needlessly. Chris continued into the room and held JD do he could see that Buck was safe and sound and fast asleep.
"JD do you think you can be real still and quiet, if I let you lie next to Buck?" Chris asked. He could see Jackson frowning, but ignored him.
"Yes Chris, I promise, quiet as a mouse."
Buck was no longer having transfusions, so he only had one IV line. Chris carefully lifted JD over the bed rail and helped him lie down next to his father, then Nathan pulled off his little boots and Chris pulled up the extra blanket to cover him. As the two men watched JD wriggled around until he was lying on his side facing his sleeping father, his little body pressed up against his Buck's chest. He pushed his thumb into his mouth and his other arm snaked over his father's chest until his hand came to rest on Buck's neck, then he - as he always did when he needed extra reassurance - began to gently stroke his fathers neck, then he rested his head over his father's heart. It was only then that he finally smiled.
It took no more than minutes for Buck to respond to the caressing of his neck and the extra weight on his chest, and wake up.
"Little Bit?" he asked, almost afraid the he was dreaming.
JDs jet-black mop of hair shot up, his small smile now a huge grin. "Buck!"
"Oh thank God!" Buck's arms immediately enclosed the small boy in their embrace. "Thank you , thank you," he repeated, as he hung onto the boy, who had, in only a few months, become the most important thing in his life.
"Don't cry Buck." JD pulled his thumb out of his mouth and used it - wet and slimy thought it was - to brush Buck's tears of joy and relief away. "I'm home now."
"Yes Little Bit, yes you are, and I'm gonna keep you safe from now on, I promise you that."
"Yes Little Bit?"
Buck looked down into big, sad, hazel eyes. "Sorry? What are you sorry about?""
"The man was looking for me and he hurt you, I'm sorry."
"Ah hell JD it weren't your fault, it weren't no one's fault but that man's and don't you forget it - now you mind me on this, John Daniel," Buck said sternly, he never called JD 'John Daniel' unless JD was in a lot of trouble, or he was very serious.
JD gulped. "Yes Buck. Buck?"
"I love you."
"An' I love you too, I love you so much it hurts sometimes." JD beamed at him, then stifled a yawn. "Now Little Bit I'm a mite tired here so I'm gonna take a nap, ya gonna join me?"
"Are ya gonna squish all the time?"
The three men in the room all burst out laughing at the same time as Buck released his hold on JD a little. "Ok, no squishing, you gonna sleep now?"
"Yeah." With that father and son settled down for a good long nap.
The hospital were none too keen on their patient sharing his bed with a wriggly five-year-old but there was little they could do about it. They were even less enthusiastic about releasing Buck before his temperature was normal, but even Nathan backed him, after all 1000 was hardy anything and Nathan promised to keep an eye on him, watch for wound infection and make him take his medication. So late on Sunday afternoon Buck, JD, and Nathan headed out to the ranch.
Chris and Josiah had gone out to the ranch, once they had settled JD at the hospital. Even before the car was halfway down the long drive Vin was on the front step waiting for him. As the car came to a stop he flew across the yard to meet his dad.
"Is it true, is JD really okay?" he shouted as he ran.
Chris knelt down to meet his son and embraces him. "Yeah, it's true, he's with Buck at the hospital, theyre gonna come home later today." Chris looked over his son's shoulder to see Ezra standing on the step, watching. "Where you a good boy for your uncle Ezra?"
Vin pulled back and smiled mysteriously at the blond man in black. "Come and see."
After Vin gave Chris the grand tour of the clean house and its brand new carpets, and he had shown the appropriate appreciation, Ezra turned to Vin.
"Vincent, why don't you go and start on the horse chores, we will join you momentarily." Vin rolled his eyes, he knew he was being got rid of so the grownups could talk.
Chris watched his son stroll cheerfully out to the barn before he turned to Ezra. "Thanks, for everything, I hadn't even thought about the blood. Poor JD, God knows how he would have reacted to it."
"Or indeed Mr Wilmington, is young Master Dunne really alright?"
Chris smiled at his southern friend. "Yeah Ez, physically he's gonna be fine, mentally - I don't know."
"He is a most resilient little boy, he has a family that loves him, and access to skilled professional help - give him time and he'll be fine," Ezra assured.
"Yeah, ya right, thanks and I'll pay you for the carpets, just give me the bill."
"There is no hurry, pay me whenever it is convenient. I called the Kansas police just a little while ago, they seem to have solved the mystery. The key fitted a left luggage locker at the railway terminus, inside the police found a suitcase packed full of the purest Colombian cocaine, and over a quarter of a million in cash. It seems Collins was some sort of mob gofer. He was watching when a drug deal went wrong, there was mutual slaughter on both sides."
"And Collins got away with the drugs and the loot," Chris speculated.
"Indeed, he had little time to hide it and then found himself cornered in the Dunne's apartment when suspicion fell on him. In desperation he stuffed the key into JD's toy. When Rachel decided to leave he lost track of the key. There was too much in the locker for a him to force the lock without arousing suspicion, so he desperately needed the key."
Ezra went on to tell Chris about Collins being arrested and his subsequent location of Rachel Dunne's old car.
Nathan brought Buck and JD home just as it was getting dark, JD greeted Vin enthusiastically and gave his uncle Ezra a hug, then - while Vin showed JD the new carpet in their shared room - Buck was settled on the couch, his leg propped up on cushions.
"Buck! Buck!" JD shouted as he ran back into the living room.
"We gots a new carpet in the bedroom."
"Yeah, an it's all fluffy and smells funny," he announced enthusiastically.
Buck grinned at his son, this was the old JD they all knew and loved.
"Are ya gonna come and see it?" The small boy bounced beside him.
"Well not just yet, I'm gonna rest m' leg a little, I'll see it at bedtime - okay?"
JD cocked his head onto one side an chewed his lip, trying to decide what to do, go and play on the new carpet with Vin or stay and look after Buck.
Buck knew exactly what JD was thinking "Your uncle Nate's taking good care of me, so you run and play if you want."
"Okay, I'll come back and read you a story, promise!" JD called as he ran back down the passage.
"He sounds okay." Buck turned to the others.
"He does, but time will tell, for now lets just enjoy having him safe and home," Josiah counselled.
Buck nodded. No doubt both boys would need help to overcome this nightmare, he might need help himself, but not yet, now he was happy just to have JD back.
"Yeah home. Home is good." Buck rested his head back and closed his eyes.
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