Warning: There is suggestion of child assault

Disclaimer: The following is a work of fan fiction. The characters of Magnificent 7 are owned by and copyrighted to CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment, every one in the western world but me. Taking them out to play and promise to return them, no matter how much I want to keep them.

Size: Approx 165K

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Buck Wilmington sat hunched over the table, his hands clasped in front of him. He stole a glance at the big mirror to his right, vaguely wondering who stood behind it. Chris Larabee? More than likely. Josiah Sanchez? Maybe. He had been present at the time. AD Travis? Probably.

The mustached ATF agent averted his eyes and went back to staring at his hands, his fingers tightening as he worried about his job, his future, but most of all, about his status as foster father to a five year old waif that he loved more than life itself.

Though the door was opened casually, the screeching of the hinge caused the big man to jump, startled from his musings. Buck looked up as the man entered and closed the door behind him.

Extending his hand, the stranger said, "Agent Wilmington? I'm Richard Watson. I'll be taking your statement."

Buck shook hands with the man and then returned to his previous position. His eyes were downcast as the stranger took a seat across from him and began to spread out some paperwork.

"I've already interviewed Agents Larabee and Sanchez. I've also spoken to Mr…" He flipped through the papers before continuing. "Yes, Benjamin Hawkins. I spoke with him earlier this morning."

"He okay?" Buck inquired, his head still down.

Watson looked up, pushing his glasses up further onto his nose with one finger. "Excuse me?"

Buck looked up and met the gray eyes of the man in front of him. "I asked if he was all right."

"Yes, he claimed he was not injured, other than bruises and a couple of scrapes."

Buck nodded at the information and dropped his head again.

Watson studied the man as he asked, "So, you want to tell me about the incident that occurred yesterday morning at 3785 Farley?"

Buck didn't move except to clench his fingers tighter. "I screwed up. I lost control and somebody got hurt."

The investigator leaned forward, placing his arms on the table, mirroring Buck. "Mr. Wilmington, I am not here to make judgments or accuse you of any misdeeds. I am simply gathering evidence of the incident that occurred yesterday. I have spoken with your teammates. I have spoken with the victim." Watson saw Buck flinch at the word, his head dropping even more. "From all accounts, you reacted to a situation that would have prompted most men to overreact. I am a father, myself, three times. We do sometimes overreact to certain situations."

Seeing Buck raise his eyes to gaze at him, Watson confided, "I would probably have done the same thing, in a heartbeat. I'd rather be wrong and apologize, then be right and hesitate."

Silence descended on the room for several moments, broken only when Buck took a shuddering breath. The ATF agent sat up and ran his fingers through his hair before placing his hands on the chair and gripping the arms.

"It all started yesterday morning. Josiah works at different shelters and centers around town, doing volunteer work. One of the charities that sponsors the shelters around town had a building donated to them and we, Chris and me, were going down to help fix the place up. We had the boys, JD and Vin, that is; we had them with us. They've been down to the places Josiah has worked before, no problem. Lot of people bring their kids while we're painting and stuff. One or two of the ladies usually volunteer to watch the kids. You know, keep them from under the workers feet."

Watson nodded. "Did you know any of the people in the shelter? Workers? Residents?"

"Yeah, I recognized some of the people. Several work at the downtown shelter with Josiah. We go down there a lot, the team is on a basketball team. We play against the older kids. The boys are friends with several of the counselors, one in particular, Johnny Darnell, good kid. They have a lot of fun together."

"But none of the locals."

"No. Josiah is familiar with them."

Buck relaxed a little and sat back as he said, "We got there about eight thirty, nine o'clock…"


"Unc’a 'siah!" two voices called out. The team profiler turned just in time to brace against the assault of the two boys. He squatted down and hugged the two orphans.

"We came to help you ren'vate," Vin declared.

"You did? What are you going to do?"

"We can scrape the walls and the floors."

"We bringed glubbes, see?" JD held up a pair of leather work gloves that looked big enough to fit Buck and probably did.

"Well, you look ready to go to work. Let's see what we can find for you."

The team profiler stood and glanced around. Seeing some of the homeless people to one side, Josiah turned toward them, a hand on each of the small shoulders. They approached and the boys' eyes took in the group.

There was a petite black woman standing next to a very tall man with scraggly, graying hair and beard. A slender teenager was talking to them.

"Roberta? Benjamin?" The two adults looked over.

"Preacher" the woman greeted.

"I'd like you to meet some young friends of mine. This is Vin and JD."

The boys waved and the adults chuckled as the big glove flew off JD's small hand and plopped to the ground at the feet of the teenage boy.

Smiling, the boy picked up the glove and handed it back. "Hey, guys, I'm Mike. This is my mom. And this is Benjamin."

"We came to help ren'vate," Vin informed them.

"Excellent. We can use more help." The woman smiled warmly at the boys as she spoke. "Josiah, we thank you and I have the perfect job for them."

"I thought you might. Boys, you do what Roberta tells you. Lunch is at one and one of the team will come get you. Don't leave this area unless you're with an adult. Understood?"

Two heads bobbed up and down to acknowledge the instructions. Josiah ruffled JD's black hair and then turned to greet his four teammates as they moved across the floor.

The boys turned to Roberta as she said, "Okay, boys. I would really appreciate it if you two could pick up the packing peanuts that are all over the floor. I'm just too old and my knees can't handle all that bending and Ben is much too tall. He might just fall right over if he had to bend to the floor that much."

The giant of a man stood at six feet eight inches and weighed maybe one-seventy. He smiled at the woman's comment, but he had yet to speak. Seeing the confusion on the two young faces had him laughing quietly. He finally bent over and picked up some of the blue plastic packing material commonly called peanuts.

"Ohhh. Peanuts." JD nodded as he made the connection.

"We tried to sweep them things, but they just fly around like they were magnets and the broom was opposite polarity."

Roberta beamed as she listened to her son. He was going to college the next semester, despite all the odds that life had stacked against him. The 'mom' in her could not resist the urge to reach out and stroke the embarrassed teen's cheek.

"MOM?!" Shaking his head, he pulled two plastic garbage bags out of his belt loops and handed one to each boy. "Okay, since we can't sweep the things up, you will have to pick them up by hand."

"Okay." JD and Vin took the bags and looked around. The peanuts were all over the floor and the chore would keep them busy for a while.

JD bent down and tried to pick up the plastic, only to have the glove push the object away. Everyone laughed softly as the boy pursued the elusive object across the floor. Vin shook his head and rolled his eyes when JD was finally able to capture the peanut. The five-year old held his arm up in triumph as the adults clapped. But when he tried to put the peanut in the bag, it clung to the boy's hand and as he shook his glove to dislodge it, the peanut and glove flew off in opposite directions.

"HEY!" JD cried and ran off in pursuit of both.

Vin looked up at the three people and sighed, "I hope ya ain't in a hurry." That said, he began to pick up the peanuts around him and drop them in the bag.

“Brothers,” Josiah said as he threw out his arms. “welcome. Thank you for volunteering to help today. And you brought more supplies. That is most generous of you all.”

Chris’ mouth pulled into a grin as Ezra sat down the armful of small supplies that he was carrying and wiped his hands in an aggravated motion.

“Mr. Sanchez, I do not believe that I volunteered, but rather was ordered to appear on penalty of extra paperwork.”

“Ezra, I would not except anyone to be pressed into working against their will. Please feel free to leave at any time. I, nor Chris, will hold it against you.”

Standish’s mouth twitched as he tilted his head to one side. The color rose in his cheeks and he struggled for the correct words. “I would…of course I would not…I am more than willing to assist…”

The sound of laughter from his teammates had his mouth snapping closed as he drew himself to his full height. Lifting the bucket once again, he pinned Josiah with a reproachful look. “Where shall I begin, Mr. Sanchez?”

The profiler clapped a hand on the shoulder of the team’s undercover agent. He pointed to an area near the back as he informed the man, “I believe you can assist in the kitchen area. You are familiar with Teresa Melnick. She is running the show back there and can get you started."

The team's undercover agent nodded curtly and strolled to the back of the large room as Josiah turned back to the others. Rubbing his hands together, the barrel chested agent grinned. "So, are you ready, gentlemen?"

As they started across the floor, movement drew their attention to the antics of JD as he chased down the errant glove. The men laughed as the small boy bent to retrieve the item only to kick it away and have it disappear in a pile of the peanuts in one corner.

Three men stepped away, intent on setting to work, but halted as they became aware of one man still standing, staring at the two adults supervising the boys.

"Buck?" Chris frowned at the lack of reaction and he, along with Josiah and Nathan moved back. "Buck."

"Hunh?" Buck pulled his eyes away to look at the blond.

"What's wrong?"

The tall agent shook his head and denied a problem as he flashed a broad smile at his friends. None of them were fooled. They had known the man too long. Larabee reached out first, placing of stilling hand on the man's chest as he went to step away.

"Buck." He growled the name, a growl that indicated he wouldn't let his friend get away with brushing the problem under the rug.

With a sigh, Wilmington shook his head again. "It's nothing. Really."

The words sounded hollow, even to him. The three men standing around him didn't move, would not allow him to evade the issue.

"It was just a feeling, a tickle."

Chris frowned and glanced at the boys that he and Buck had brought into their home. Buck's voice brought his attention back to the men around him.

"Josiah, what do you know about the people here?"

The profiler frowned as he replied, "I know some of them, but this is a new location and I haven't been around most of them. I have worked with them this week. Who has your hackles up?"

Buck shook his head. "No. I don't think I should say anything. It was a quick…I don't even know. Let's just get to work." He glanced at the men gathered round. "Really, I'm fine. Let's go get some work done or Ezra 'll accuse us snookering 'em into doing all the work."

He smiled and gestured that they move on. Josiah glanced over to Larabee who nodded but indicated that he would keep an eye on his old friend. Chris did not miss the glance Wilmington threw over his shoulder as they walked away.

The morning was spent stripping floors and walls, sweeping and wiping down. As the day wore on, Chris noticed Buck slipping away to check on the boys, but each visit was further apart in time. By lunch, Buck had stopped all together.

A noon time meal was provided and everyone stopped working to take a break and relax. Chris found the boys and got them cleaned up. The three joined Buck and the others at one table.

The meal was a quiet affair until JD finished eating. He asked to be excused, to go outside and play on the new equipment that had been installed the previous week, but was told to wait until everyone was finished.

"JD, sit still," Buck instructed him. The little boy sighed and placed his head on his folded hands on the table. He sighed several times as he waited.

"Buucckkk" JD whined

"No, Little Bit. I'm still eating and you're not going alone." The touch on his shoulder had Buck turning. The teenager stood there, a smile on his face.

"Sir, I'm done eating. If you like, I'll take him out and watch him until we're ready to go back to work."

JD jumped up. "Yeah, Mike can go. He's my friend."

Buck glanced over at Josiah, who nodded. "Okay, JD, but you stay in the back, fenced area."


Mike and JD headed outside. Buck turned back to the conversation with a smile on his face.

There was a lot of work to be done, but Josiah insisted that everyone rest for an hour after lunch, so people sat around talking. Ezra was lulling some of the children with a story as they lay down for a nap. Vin was laying across two chairs with his head in Chris' lap.

Buck had his arms draped across the chairs on either side of him. He stood as he spoke to Nathan who was preparing to leave. He had to report to the hospital to keep up on his EMT certification. They had started to the front door when Buck's attention was drawn to movement. He looked over to see Mike coming from the back and the man glanced around the room, seeking a glimpse of JD. Not seeing the boy, he stepped away from Nathan and moved across the room.


The teen turned and smiled. "Yes, sir?"

Josiah met Buck and walked with him to the teenager's side. "I thought ya'll were outside." Wilmington felt the anxious feeling returning.

"Oh, I had to go to the bathroom. Benjamin was outside. He was playing ball with JD."

When the man's face darkened, the boy asked, "That's okay, isn't it? Benjamin will take care of him."

The group was joined by Chris. He had seen Buck approach the boy and knew the body language of his old friend. Buck was upset, though Chris had no idea what had made him that way.

"Benjamin? Who's that?" Buck had turned to Josiah as he spoke.

"He was working with Mike and Roberta, the tall, slender man."

Buck's brow pulled down even more, prompting Josiah to add, "He's a gentle soul, Buck. Is there some problem?"

"I'm sorry. Ben's nice. I didn't think it would be a problem."

Buck opened his mouth to say something, but instead headed to the door when he heard a scream. Josiah and Chris were right behind him.

Once the door was open, the terrified screams were easy to hear. Buck glanced around the area and not finding what he was looking for, he ran to the corner of the building. The sight that greeted him had his blood running cold. Man and boy were in a far corner near a chainlink fence. The boy had been stripped of his clothes and was thrashing in the tall man's grip as the man's hand rose and fell repeatedly on the tender skin of the boy's legs, back, everywhere.

Wilmington roared in fury as he rushed across the open space, reaching for the child even as he crashed into the man. All three fell into the fence. Buck pulled JD from the man's grasp. He could hear Larabee yelling behind him, but he ignored the words and instead, thrust the child back, into the startled man's arms.

Knowing Chris would take care of JD, Buck turned back to the assailant. The man had not pushed himself off the fence. Instead, he had squatted and curled in on himself. Buck hesitated, but when he saw JD's sneaker laying next to the man's knee, a blind rage consumed him and he dove onto the prone figure and began to punch at him.

Behind him, Chris was torn between trying to calm the boy and stopping his friend from ruining his career and possibly killing a man. His dilemma was solved as Josiah moved forward and grabbed Buck's arm as he raised it to strike again.

+ + + + + + +

"Mr. Wilmington, why didn't you simply take your son and let your team mates take care of this man? They were right there. They could have taken him into custody until the details had been sorted out."

Buck's eyes roved around the room and finally settled on the man before him. "I wanted revenge. Revenge for what he had done, for what he planned to do, for what I thought he planned to do."

The ATF agent leaned forward on his forearms as they rested on the table. He looked straight into Watson's eyes.

"I did exactly what I swore I would never do." Buck's voice was pitched low and raspy, the pain evident in his eyes as he continued. "I looked at that man when we first came in. I saw the ratty clothes, the long hair and beard and I flashed back to another man, a man I ran into when I was a little tyke, not much older than JD, only I was bigger, appeared older."

Fear flashed across Wilmington's face at the memory, but was quickly gone. He swallowed. "I looked at that man yesterday and I judged him. Not by what I heard or knew, but by how he looked. I never once looked past the obvious to notice that, yeah, he's clothes were worn, but they were clean and mended. His hair was washed and combed, same thing with his beard. His nails were clean. His teeth brushed. All I saw was a man who…I…" Buck clenched his hands together, struggling with his emotions. Unable to calm himself, he slammed his fist down on the table. "I lost control. I saw exactly what I thought I would see, what I had…"

Shaking hands once again plowed through the dark hair and came to rest on the tight muscles in his neck. He exerted pressure and flexed his shoulders, feeling a small amount of tension leave his muscles.

"I acted in an emotionally and totally nonprofessional manner. I should have taken my son and walked away. I am truly sorry that I didn't do that, but the truth is I wanted to hurt that man and I did. No excuses."

Watson studied the man as he spoke. Now he sat back, templeing his fingers and resting them against his mouth. "So, tell me the rest of the story, after your attack."

Flinching at the last word, Buck began again. "I knew Josiah was pulling at my arm. At some point, Ezra showed up also…"

+ + + + + + +

Chris wanted to see how the profiler fared, but he turned his attention back to the boy. JD had stopped screaming and now lay whimpering in Larabee's arms. As Chris moved to return inside, he jerked at a burning sensation he felt on his hands, jostling the child, but he continued inside. At the door, he was met by Ezra and Nathan. Vin stood wide-eyed behind them.

Nathan reached for JD as Chris swore and pulled one hand away from JD after settling the boy's slight weight onto one arm. As he examined his hand, a small, reddish insect ran across the back.

"Damn. Nathan, fireants," Chris exclaimed as he looked at the pale flesh he had bundled in his arms. The ants were crawling all over JD, red bumps already dotting the tender skin.

The medic and Chris both began to swipe the insects off the boy. Chris had to pause at times to shake them off his own hands. Ezra was running his fingers through the thick black hair in an attempt to shake the painful insects loose. He stomped on the red bodies as they fell to the floor.

Satisfied that the boy was free of all the aggressive insects, Chris turned to Standish. "Ezra, go help Josiah. Make Buck understand what was happening."

The undercover agent started to move, when Larabee changed his mind. "No, I better go." As he turned, rubbing his hands together to relieve the burn, Ezra took his arm.

"I think perhaps, you should remain here, Mr. Larabee."

Chris followed Standish's gaze and his eyes came to rest on Vin Tanner as he stood near the table where Jackson was examining JD.

The man hesitated a moment and then nodded. "Go" was all he said. Ezra sped out the door.

Outside, he found Josiah struggling to pull Buck from the man curled on the ground. Buck had stopped striking the man and now had him by the collar, screaming obscenities at him. Ezra grabbed hold of one arm and between the two of them, they were able to get Hawkins' shirt out of the enraged man's clutches. Buck continued to struggle and the three ended up on the ground. Ezra straddled Buck's chest as Josiah pinned his arms from his position on the bottom on the pile. Ezra bent close to Wilmington's face, wrapping his hands around the man's head.

"Buck! Buck! It was fire ants. JD was covered in fire ants. The man was trying to help the boy. He wasn't hurting him." Standish shook the head in his hands gently as he spoke. He was relieved to see Wilmington's gaze focus on him. Buck blinked as if coming out of a fog and his struggles ceased.


Ezra nodded in confirmation. Feeling the man relax under him, he stood and offered a hand to the bewildered man. The adrenaline rush had left Buck shaky as he looked from Ezra to the now standing Josiah. Slowly he let his gaze turn to the man on the ground.

"Oh, God." Buck paled as he recognized what he had done. He froze in indecision. He had no idea what to do, how to apologize to the man. He was pulled back to awareness as Josiah gripped his arm.

"Go check on the boy. Let us handle Benjamin."

Buck stood still for a moment and then nodded slowly and staggered back to the shelter's main building. He didn't see the looks exchanged by his friends before turning to the injured man.

Feeling the weight of his injustice to an innocent person pressing on his shoulders, Buck entered the large open room and glanced around to locate his friends. Chris was standing next to Nathan with Vin situated in front of him, holding onto the blond’s hands. Buck approached the table and got his first good look at the five-year old.

Someone had apparently retrieved the overnight bag the two foster fathers had taken to keeping in the truck that contained a change of clothes for each of the boys. JD was now wearing some underpants, but nothing else revealing the tender skin covered with red welts. He lay on the table whimpering as Nathan tended to the bites. When JD spotted Wilmington, he cried out and threw his arms up to be held and comforted.

Buck hesitated briefly with the thought of the assault still weighing heavy on his heart. How could he comfort the boy with hands that had just beaten a man who had only been trying to help? But the hesitation was brief and he moved to the table and leaned down, wrapping his arms around the boy as JD latched onto his neck.

Buck stood up with the boy’s arms wrapped around his neck. He looked over at Jackson and nodded. “Is he okay?”

“Yeah, I think so. You’ll need to keep an eye on those bites. Don’t let him be scratching ‘em.” His eyes scanned the now exposed back and he dabbed at the bites now visible that had not yet been treated.

“What are you puttin’ on them?”

The tall man grinned. “Ban Roll On Deodorant.” At the expression on Wilmington’s face, the medic shrugged. “Something I learned while I was stationed in Florida. Helps the pain and stops the pustules from forming.”

“Oh,” was Buck’s only comment. He felt the boy’s arms tightened and he turned to sit down and slowly rocked, murmuring softly into the boy’s ear.

Nathan stepped back, allowing Buck privacy with the boy. As much as treatment, JD needed the comfort and sense of security that Wilmington gave him. Jackson spied Josiah and Ezra escorting the tall man from earlier through the door and turned toward them. Chris had told him what had transpired out back and knew he should check on the man, yet he felt torn between the two groups. Glancing at Chris, Jackson saw the man incline his head at the others. Returning the nod, he headed to where Josiah had lead Benjamin Hawkins.

Ezra returned about the same time that Nathan reached the two men. The southerner had gotten a rag and some ice, which dripped onto the floor as he waited for Nathan to examine the man.

“He…didn’t…hurt…me. I…covered…up.” Benjamin spoke slowly through puffy lips. One eye was bruised, but not badly swollen.

Josiah looked on as Jackson checked the split lip and moved his examination down to the man’s ribs.

“I don’t think that Buck hit him low. Seemed all the punches were to the head.”

“Only…pun…ched…me…twice. Started…sha…shaking…me…then.” The man looked at them with sad eyes. All three ATF agents sensed that the big man was accustomed to misuse and wondered about the life that placed him on the street.

Nathan smiled sadly as he stood straight. “Well, he’s bruised, but I can’t find anything broken.”

Benjamin looked as if he was going to stand and Josiah placed a restraining hand on his shoulder. “Benjamin, you just sit and rest.” Looking at the acceptance on the man’s face, the profiler sighed.

Ezra watched as the two men attended to the injured man. He handed the ice to Nathan even as he voiced the question that they had each been avoiding.

“Should we call the authorities?”

Josiah and Nathan glanced at each other, but it was Hawkins that spoke up.

“No. I don’t…want to call…anyone.”

“As much as I regret to report a fellow team member to the local constabulary, in actuality, he did assault you.”

“NO” Benjamin stated forcefully, color rising in his face at the outburst. “He…didn’t know…what happened. He couldn’t…see the…ants. And he…didn’t want…to hurt…me. He…thought he…did…but he…didn’t really.”

“Why do you say that, Benjamin?”

The man glanced at the three men gathered around and ducked his head as he explained. “I know…when people…really want to…hurt you. I’ve…seen…their faces. He did at…first, but…then he…changed.”

Before any of them could say anything, a harsh call drew their attention.

“Nathan!” Larabee called out.

The medic turned to see Larabee looking over his shoulder at him, a wide-eyed Vin clinging to his neck. Wilmington was standing, cradling JD in his arms. Buck seemed to be talking to the boy, a worried expression on his face. Nathan quickly moved back across the room. Before he even got to the group, he could hear the young boy struggling to draw a breath.

“Damn,” he muttered to himself. He had hoped to avoid any complications as a result of the ant bites, but having taken care of the two orphans on several occasions, he should have known better. He could hear the wheezing sound of the five-year old fought to draw a deep breath. Words floated over the struggling sound as Buck attempted to calm JD as his panic rose, increasing the difficulty of drawing breath.

“You’re okay, Little Bit. You just calm down, and relax for ‘ole Buck, okay? Take it easy. You’re fine.” Buck didn’t feel as calm as his voice sounded. He felt the trembling body in his arms, the shuddering breaths, and the man was hard pressed to quell his own panic as he waited Jackson’s arrival. A shadow fell across him and he looked up into the dark brown eyes of the team’s medic.

“Nathan?” Wilmington questioned. He held the boy close to his chest, the boy’s hand gripping his shirt.

“He’s having an allergic reaction, Buck. I need to get my kit.”

“I’ll get that, Nathan.” Standish had followed the medic across the room and now stood behind him, his hand extended for keys. Handing them over, Nathan turned back to father and son.

“I have an Epi-Pen in my kit.” He ran his hand through the boy’s hair as he explained to the man. “You can see that his hands, feet, and his face are swelling. His throat is doing the same thing, but the epinephrine, or Epi-Pen, will stop the swelling. He’ll be fine. “

Ezra slid to a stop next to Jackson and held out a small gear bag that Nathan had taken to carrying medical supplies in. Seeing JD looking at him, the southerner winked and smiled in reassurance.

Tears flowed down the boy’s face as he glanced around at the men around him. The hazel eyes settled back on the man holding him, placing complete faith in the mustached agent. He flinched as Nathan pressed the pen against his leg.

Buck had watched Nathan pull the small pen out and press it against the boy’s thigh, frowning slightly as JD jerked. Within a couple minutes, though he could tell that the child was breathing easier. The relief was almost a physical sensation of weight being lifted off his shoulders with each breath coming easier and deeper and Buck smiled through his tears as the boy’s body relaxed in his arms.

The touch of Nathan’s hand brought Wilmington’s attention back to the medic.

“We need to have a doctor check him over. I’ll take you over. I was headed that way, anyhow.”

Buck nodded and told the tall man thanks. Then he looked at the team leader.

Chris spoke first. “Thanks, Nathan. Buck, Vin and me will be along in a bit.”

Wilmington nodded and the trio headed out. Chris turned to Ezra as the three disappeared through the front door. “So, what happened?”

The southerner glanced over his shoulder to where Josiah stood next to the injured man. Hawkins sat slumped, submissive. Ezra turned back and smiled at the young boy clinging to Larabee’s neck.

Remembering the boy was still in his arms, Chris moved to lower him to the floor. Vin made a sound in his throat and tightened his grip.

“Vin, I just want to talk to Ezra a moment and then we’ll go check on JD. Okay?”

Blue eyes looked up at him and the boy nodded after a moment. Chris turned and sat him on the table, patting his shoulders. “I’ll be right back.”

The two men stepped away a couple of paces.

“Mr. Wilmington was assaulting Mr. Hawkins as Mr. Sanchez attempted to remove him when I arrived. Between the two of us, we extricated our teammate and I informed him of the circumstances of the ‘attack’ on young JD. He was understandably devastated and repentant of his actions. Mr. Sanchez and myself assured him that we would escort Mr. Hawkins inside and that he should attend to his son.”

“What did Hawkins say?”

“Mr. Hawkins seems to believe that Mr. Wilmington did not intend him harm.”

This statement caused Larabee to straighten and cock his head to one side. “And he bases this on what? “

“He claims that Mr. Wilmington hit him only twice before he began to shake him; that Buck wanted to hurt him at first, but his demeanor changed.” Ezra glanced over to the man as he continued. “He claims to have been the subject of enough assaults to know when someone truly intends him harm.”

Chris shook his head. It was a shame that any man would recognize the difference. “I want to talk to ‘im. Vin, I’ll be right back. You sit tight, okay?”

“Yes, sir,” the small boy replied, his voice barely above a whisper.

Larabee smiled and ruffled the blond hair. “Just a couple of minutes, son.”

With Ezra at his side, Chris strode across the room.

“Josiah. Mr. Hawkins.”

Before Chris even said a word, the man was shaking his head, his hands waving in front of his face. “No. No. Don’t want no questions. Don’t want no trouble.”

Chris squatted in front of the man, his voice gentle as he spoke, “I don’t mean to cause you any trouble. I only wanted to know what happened before we came outside…what happened to the boy?”

Looking up, the man glanced at each man. Judging that they were no threat, he told about minutes leading up to the men’s arrival. Looking at the floor, he began. “Mike and the boy, they were playing ball. The little boy was running after the ball while Mike sat at the table, tossing it out. I joined Mike and he said he needed to come in for a minute; asked if I would keep an eye on the boy.”

He stopped and looked at the men again. Josiah nodded. “That was a nice thing to do, Benjamin.”

The tall man cut his eyes over at the profiler and smiled slightly.

“The boy came over and handed me the ball. He asked if I wanted to play, so I tossed the ball and he would run and catch it and then bring it back.” His lips curled into a soft smile at the memory, but then turned down. “I threw the ball too far. It went to the back corner of the fence. He ran down to get it, but he tripped and fell down. He lay there for a second and then jumped up and picked up the ball. He was laughing,” he said defensively.

Chris chuckled. “JD isn’t one of the most graceful kids. I think his feet get ahead of his body a lot of time.” His hands were draped across his knees and now one turned up in a questioning motion. “What happened then?” he prompted.

“Boy stopped laughing and slapped at his leg. I seen the mound then, the ants. I ran over and the boy started to cry and jump around. He was standing right in them ants. They crawled all up his legs and under his pants. They was biting him and he was crying. I grabbed him and moved away, but they was all over him, so I pulled off his clothes and tried to knock ‘em off, but there was so many. Little boy was scared and hurting and he started screaming.”

As he spoke, the man rubbed his hands against his pant leg. It was then that the three men noticed the red bumps that dotted both hands.

Ezra placed a hand on Larabee’s shoulder. “I’ll get something for those hands.”

Chris nodded, still looking at the man. He noticed the red marks were also on the man’s neck and the ATF agent stood.

“Mr. Hawkins, are there more bites on you?”

Benjamin self-consciously covered his hands. “No, I okay.”

Knowing that the only way the man would have been bitten on his chest was from holding the boy close, Chris placed a hand on the bony shoulder. “Mr. Hawkins, I want to thank you for helping the boy. I am truly sorry about the misunderstanding of my agent.”

“Don’t want no trouble, no trouble.” The man began to rock slightly as he spoke.

“Neither do we, sir, but this incident has to be reported. You’ll need to tell someone what happened.”

The rocking increased. “No. No. Man was right. Didn’t know about ants, just protecting what’s his. Don’t want no trouble. No blame. No. No.”

Chris frowned as the man continued. Finally, Josiah stood and motioned the blond away.

“Chris. I understand that a report is necessary, but we can’t force him to talk to someone.” Josiah glanced at the man as he rocked to and fro. “Perhaps, if we can get someone to come down here, I can get him to tell his side of incident.”

Chris nodded as Ezra rejoined him.

“I was informed that this hygiene product was the medicine that Mr. Jackson used on our young friend.”

Josiah chuckled as he took the Ban from Standish. Cocking an eyebrow, the profiler said, “Seems Nathan has decided to practice alternative medicine. I’ll take care of Benjamin, Chris. You should go check on JD and Buck.”

Nodding, Chris told both men that he would call, if he didn’t see them at the hospital after he found out about the boy’s condition. That said, the trio split with Ezra and Josiah moving back to the man on the bench and Chris going to the table to retrieve his son.

“Ready to go?”

“Yes, sir,” Vin was already standing. He held his arms up to be lifted. Chris recognized the anxiety level of the boy in that simple gesture. The fact that Vin wanted to be held and carried was a reminder of just how far the boy had progressed since coming to live with the two ATF agents. Larabee smiled as he held the slender form close and headed to the front door of the center.

+ + + + + + +

Buck sat hunched over in the chair, his hands clasped in front of him as his weight rested on his knees. His eyes remained on the floor, only coming up when someone entered, watching for the doctor. Nathan had sat quietly after they turned to the boy’s care over to the medical personnel. He wanted to reassure the ‘father’ that his son would recover, but didn’t know how to reassure the ‘agent’.



“How’’re you doing?”

The man sat unmoving for several seconds and then sat up and ran his hands through his hair. His voice was husky with emotion when he finally spoke.

“Ain’t sure, Nathan. I just ain’t sure.” He turned to look at the medic’s face. “I don’t know what happened and I can’t concentrate on anything ‘til I know the boy’s okay. I keep seeing his little face.”

Wilmington’s eyes clenched at the memory, the thought of the son’s distress causing real pain in the father. Nathan dropped a comforting hand on his friend’s back.

“I know it looked bad, Buck, but it’s quickly remedied. Once he gets a little treatment, the swelling and the rash will disappear. The welts should go down and you won’t even know that he ever got into that ant mound.”

“I hope so, Nathan. I sure hope so.”

Silence fell over the two men again and continued for several minutes. Nathan finally stretched and stood.

“Buck, I’m going to get some coffee. You want a cup?”

Dark blue eyes looked up as he nodded. “Thanks, Nate.”

But before the taller man could leave, Chris walked in, carrying Vin on his hip. The boy wiggled as Larabee came to a halt and he was lowered to the floor. Vin immediately went to Wilmington and sat down next to him, his arm flung over the man’s leg, the small hand wrapping around Buck’s knee and tapped softly.

Buck smiled slightly and his hand rose to stroke the soft blond hair. But when he noticed the bruises on his knuckles, the smile faded and he withdrew his hand to cover the discoloration with his other hand. Once again, the floor became his focus as he sat and waited.

Nathan informed Chris that he would get them some coffee. The dark skinned man walked over and held out his hand. “Vin.”

Seeing he had the boy’s attention, he smiled widely. “Why don’t you come with me? We’ll get you something to drink.”

Vin glanced at his father and, seeing the slight nod and a wink, he stood and took the outstretched hand. The two passed through the door and Larabee took a seat next to his old friend. They sat in silence for a few moments. Finally Chris spoke.

“Buck, talk to me.”

“ ‘bout what? My assault on a man that was only trying to help my son? About my lack of professionalism with a civilian? Or my complete lack of regard for procedures?”

Larabee didn’t respond, He sat back in the chair and draped his arms over the backs of the chairs on either side. He tapped lightly on the shoulder of his friend and waited. He didn’t have to wait long as Buck sighed, ran his hands over his thighs and leaned back into the chair.

“I…I saw that man…” Buck frowned, his eyes seemingly not seeing the room, but something else, someplace else, as he continued. “He reminded me of someone. From a long time ago.”

He spoke slowly as his mind drifted back. “I was JD’s age. Mom was working at a place on the strip. There was a man that worked there. I forgot all about him until I saw this guy, Mr…”


Buck finally looked at the blond. His voice was low as he said. “Yeah. Hawkins.”

Before Wilmington could continue, the doctor entered and captured the attention of both men. The two men rose, accepting the extended hand he offered them.

“How’s the boy, Doc?” Chris asked, knowing Wilmington would be dry mouthed with apprehension.

“Well, he’s asleep at the moment. The swelling is going down and he’s breathing a lot easier. The wheezing is gone. The rash…”

Chris frowned at that, but seeing no reaction from Buck, he figured that was something that happened after the trio had left the shelter. He turned his attention back to the physician.

“…will fade in a few days. He’ll be a little uncomfortable, but we’ll give him something for the itching. Right now, he’s just worn out. From the stress, the emotion, of the incident, but he’s responded well to the treatment and resting comfortably. I’d like to keep him overnight, just to make sure that he doesn’t have any problems. After twelve hours, I see no reason why we can’t release him to go home. I’ll give you instructions on the care of the pustules and the rash, then.”

The two men nodded as the doctor spoke. “Can we see him?”

“Sure. He’s in room 252.” Extending his hand again, he told them that he would see them in the morning and then he left. Nathan and Vin were just coming through the door as he exited the room.

Vin ran over to stand in front of Larabee. “Was that JD’s doctor? Is he okay? Can I go see ‘im?”

Chris smiled as he squatted in front of the boy. “Yes, yes and yes.” He watched as the boy relaxed and smiled widely.

“Thanks, Nathan.” Buck took the cup the man held out to him. He didn’t drink, but just stood, holding it as Chris straightened.

“Ready?” Larabee asked. Buck nodded and headed for the door. The other three followed. Minutes later they entered the room.

Buck moved across the room, the coffee cup still gripped in his hand. He absently sat it on the rolling table next to the bed as he leaned over his son. JD sighed slightly as the man bent down and caressed the thick dark hair and Wilmington smiled for the first time in hours.

As he stood gazing on the boy’s face, the others gathered around the bed. Vin decided to stand next to the mustached agent as Larabee and Jackson moved to the foot of the bed.

Buck felt a nudge as Vin attempted to see the other boy. The man reached down and lifted the blond onto his hip so that he could easily see onto the bed. Vin studied JD for a few minutes and then turned to look at Buck.

“He’s looks tranquil,” he whispered.

Buck grinned. “Tranquil, huh? You been listening to Ezra?”

Vin nodded. He explained quietly. “He’s ‘expanding my vocabulary’. One word a week. We have a calendar with the words.” The boy beamed as he told of his uncle’s private lessons.

Buck ruffled the blond hair as the boy smiled. “Good boy.”

Chris’ eyebrows had risen at the knowledge that his agent had been teaching his son without his knowing about it. He made a mental note to talk to Standish the first chance he got, to thank him. His attention returned to the scene in front of him. He saw the grin fade from Wilmington’s face as he looked into his team leader’s eyes. They had started something in the waiting room and apparently Buck wanted to finish it. Larabee nodded and turned to Jackson. Before he could say anything, Buck’s voice spoke softly, “Not in here.”

Chris looked at his old friend, but spoke to Jackson. “Nate, why don’t you and Vin keep an eye on JD while Buck and I talk for a minute?”

Nathan nodded and he moved around to take Vin from Buck and the two men moved to the doorway they watched. Vin looked at Nathan in question, but the medic had no answer. He shrugged in response to the unvoiced question.


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