Life Saver

by Angie

When Vin and Jonathan finally returned to the ICU, JD was sitting on the side of the bed. Jessica had her laptop on the table across the bed and they were both watching something on the screen. The little girl giggled at whatever they were watching. She glanced at the window and waved.

“JD! There’s my daddy! Have you met him?”

“Yeah, in the hall before I came in. Listen, I should go and let your daddy sit with you,” JD said as he slid off of the bed.

“Will you come see me again?” Jessica tipped her face up and pleaded with her new friend.

“In a few days. I’ll try to come and see you again. But I can E-mail to you now, so we can talk that way, okay?” He couldn’t turn away from her and leave her sad.

Stopping in the ‘air lock,’ he pulled off the protective garments and stepped out to the corridor. He glanced briefly at his father before striding away. Vin hurried to follow. When they reached the elevator, JD paused. He looked back up the hall at his father as the tears pooled in his eyes. As soon as the doors opened, he stepped in and pushed the button for the lobby.

The drive to the ranch was made in silence. JD pulled at his injured arm as he mulled over the situation. From the short time he’d spent with Jessica, he knew he couldn’t refuse to help her. That left only the situation with his father to be resolved.

“What did he say?” JD asked as they neared the ranch.

“Who?” Vin asked.

Rolling his eyes and sighing, the young agent glared across the Jeep.

“Oh. Not much, really. He asked questions about you,” Vin replied trying to sound casual.

When JD didn’t ask any other questions, the Texan lapsed into silence. They parked the Jeep and headed into the house. The others were watching a game on the TV and looked up expectantly as the two men entered. Nathan, reading the pain and exhaustion in JD’s face, moved to get a pain pill and a glass of water. Buck leapt from the couch and offered his seat to his young friend. JD accepted the pill and washed it down before closing his eyes and letting his body relax into the warmth of the couch. In spite of the nearly insatiable curiosity burning in their minds, the men refrained from asking questions and returned to the game.

A groan of disgust woke JD a short time later and Buck cringed as he realized he had been loud. The young agent’s eyes were glassy and unfocused as he glanced around the room for a moment before slipping back into a light sleep. Nathan took advantage of the situation and coaxed JD to his feet and moved him into the bedroom. The drugged youth allowed his shoes to be removed and tumbled into the pillows and returned to sleep immediately. When the medic reached the living room, the others were staring at Vin.

“He really didn’t say much! He said that he would never have bothered JD if he hadn’t been on the registry. He asked a lot of questions about JD,” Vin answered of the question blazing in everyone’s eyes.

“What about his sister?” Buck asked.

“She looks like a sweet kid. JD seemed taken with her. He was really quiet on the ride back,” the sharpshooter answered.

“Is there any danger to JD in what he’s asking?” Chris asked, the tone of his voice tight and angry.

“There’s always a possibility that something could go wrong, like any medical procedure. But bone marrow donation is not especially dangerous to him. They’ll give him a local and make several holes in his hip bone to extract the marrow. He’ll be bruised and sore as all hell for a while. If he decides to do it, that is,” Nathan cautioned.

“I think he’ll do it. You should have seen him with her. I don’t think he can hold what his father did against the girl,” Vin defended of his friend.

Chris came to his feet and stared at the others for a minute. He started for the door and picked up his keys from the table near the door.

“I’ll be back later,” the blond called.

The nurse keyed the intercom and called Jonathan from the room. He looked the ATF agent up and down for a moment before gesturing toward an empty waiting room.

“What did he decide?” the elder Dunne asked as he sank anxiously into one of the couches along the wall.

“He hasn’t decided anything yet, that I know. I came down here on my own. I need some answers. Why did you leave JD and his mother? Why was he raised thinking you had died?”

“You know what Al Capone was finally arrested for? Tax evasion. I was cooking the books for a powerful family. I skimmed a little off the top. I wanted the best for my wife and son. The feds caught me with an audit. I couldn’t explain where the funds came from without exposing my employer. I knew if I betrayed them that they would wipe out my family so I kept my mouth shut. They got me a lawyer and I pled out. In exchange for my silence, they put my wife in a ‘safe’ place. They let me know that my son would die a horrible death if I opened my mouth. I guess she knew that I couldn’t ever come back. As long as they had her and JD, I couldn’t go back,” Jonathan explained.

“Is there any danger to JD from this ‘family’ now?” Chris asked as he leaned forward.

“No. They’ve kind of died off and the younger generation has no connection to me. I’m working as a data entry clerk for a software company now, no ‘family’ has any claim on me now except my wife and daughters,” Dunne answered.

“We think he will agree to help his sister. I don’t know about his feelings for you. If he doesn’t want a relationship with you, can you accept that?”

“I never meant to hurt him, Mr. Larabee. As I told the other young man, if JD hadn’t registered with the donor registry, I would never have thought of him as a donor. My other daughters weren’t a match and I guess I assumed he wouldn’t match either. I just want to give her a chance. If he doesn’t want anything to do with me, I’ll walk away and never darken his doorstep again,” Jonathan declared vehemently.

After supper, JD wandered out onto the deck behind the house. The others hadn’t asked any questions and he was thankful for that. He didn’t think he could verbalize what he felt. As much as he liked Jessica, he couldn’t resolve his feelings about seeing his father. His hand clenched on the rail in front of him as he thought about it. ‘Why didn’t he want me?’ The question reverberated in his brain until he wanted to scream.

Hearing the sliding door, JD looked over his shoulder. Vin questioned with a raised eyebrow and JD nodded, granting him permission to come over. He returned to staring across the yard without saying anything. After several minutes, Vin fixed a curious gaze on the younger man.

“It might make it easier if you talk it out,” he offered.

“Is it awful of me to be jealous of that little girl?” JD asked.

“I don’t know about awful but it would be human to feel jealousy. They had a father growing up and you just had your ma.”

“But we did okay. I mean, we never went without. I always had a place to sleep and clean clothes and food to eat. It isn’t like we lived on the street.” JD realized what he’d said and immediately apologized. “I didn’t mean anything by that, Vin. I’m sorry!”

Vin waved off the apology. The team knew that he had spent a while on the street when he had finally grown tired of the shell game of foster care. He had alluded to the hardships of that life only a few times with his friends.

“You should at least give him a chance to explain why he did the things he did,” the sharpshooter suggested. “You’re being given an incredible opportunity. You get to talk to someone who was ‘dead’ to you. I’d give almost anything for the chance to talk to my pa,” Vin said softly.

A wave of guilt washed over JD. He had completely overlooked that point. He knew that Josiah and Ezra would probably feel the same way. They had lost their fathers and had unresolved ‘issues’ that they were dealing with.

“I hadn’t thought about it that way. I would really like to know why he never came around, or called or wrote. All those years, he could have found a way to let me know!” JD’s voice was filled with anger again as he returned his eyes to the horizon. Anger, guilt, jealousy all competed for control of his heart. His shoulder began to ache again and he backed away from the railing to sit on the glider swing.

Vin slipped back into the house, a dejected expression on his face. The others looked up from their card game to see if he’d had any luck with JD. When the sharpshooter spun the empty chair around and straddled it with a heavy sigh, they all echoed the sentiment.

“You should talk to him, Ez. Tell him how you’d feel about a chance to talk to your pa or something. He’s so mad right now that he’s about fit to be tied,” Vin said as he stared across the table. The southerner passed the deck of cards to Nathan and came to his feet. He picked up the iced tea from the coaster and excused himself from the table.

JD heard the sliding door again. He was beginning to wish they would just leave him alone. He had all the emotional baggage he could handle at the moment and didn’t need them adding to it. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ezra lean against the porch rail. When the undercover agent didn’t say anything, JD huffed aloud.

“I do hope that isn’t directed at me. I only came out here at Vin’s behest. He seems to think that you and I share a commonality that would permit me to make personal interrogations about your emotional state,” Ezra called over his shoulder.

He couldn’t help but smile. JD liked Ezra from the beginning and they had only grown closer over time. He eased out of the swing and moved to lean against the rail. Tossing a challenging glance at the southerner, JD smiled.

“Just what do we have in common?”

“Since we were both raised by our maternal parent without benefit of paternal influence, Vin feels that I am in the best position to understand your unique predicament.”

“Well, how would you feel? If your father showed up out of the blue like this? If you found out that you have sisters that don’t even know you exist? And then to know that the only reason he’s come around at all is to ask you to save one of his other kids! The ones he loves and cared about! Why didn’t he love me, Ezra? What was wrong with me?” JD felt his control slip away as he flung himself at the southerner and cried.

When the wracking sobs subsided, Ezra spoke. “Vin was wrong, JD. Whereas you grew up basking in the glow of your mother’s love, I was handed off at the first available opportunity. You had something I would have given my soul to have growing up. Sometimes, when I listen to you talk about the things you did with your mother, I am filled with jealousy. Even Vin knew the love of his mother for a very brief time in his life. There are times when I am so envious of what you have all had that I can hardly bear to listen to you reminisce.”

JD stiffened in the light embrace. For some reason, it made him angry that Ezra was jealous! His mother was still alive, he could still talk to her and … JD’s face warmed as he realized that he had just been led to the point Ezra was trying to make. It was petty of him to be jealous of Jessica for having had the love of their father. He shouldn’t begrudge her that luxury. Sniffling softly, he stepped back and cocked his head at the southerner.

“I’m sorry, Ezra. I never thought about it that way.”

The rest of the team looked up expectantly when the door opened again. JD came in and moved toward the vacant chair between Buck and Vin while Ezra returned to his chair next to Nathan. They were dealt in on the next hand and played cards for a while until it became unbearable for JD. He took a pain pill and stretched out on the couch to watch television. The others continued to play until well after he was asleep. When they wound up for the night, Buck coaxed JD out to the truck and took him home.

Since he wasn’t even cleared for light duty, JD stayed home the next day. He spent the day looking through old photo albums at pictures of his mom. He marveled over the resemblance he held to his father at the same age. No matter how meager his life looked from where he sat now, he had been happy as a child. Growing up without a father wasn’t the easiest thing but there were lots of kids in single-parent homes. What he’d told Vin was true, he always had enough.

Buck found JD asleep on the couch with his photo album tucked snuggly under his arm when he arrived home that evening. There were three or four cardboard boxes sitting on the coffee table with an assortment of books and knick knacks. Laying across the kid’s chest under the album was what had to be a baby blanket. Wiping back a quick tear, Buck went back and opened the door and closed it a little louder to give JD a chance to conceal anything he didn’t want to share. He made a production of shuffling the bags of take out food and not making eye contact with his roommate for several minutes.

“Hey, do you need a hand in there. I brought home Chinese.” He glanced up to see JD standing in the doorway with a ‘settled’ look on his face. “You okay, kid?”

“Yeah, I’m all right. I spent the day looking through the boxes from Boston. I hadn’t seen some of that stuff since I packed it after the funeral. I had no idea what was in those boxes,” JD said.

“Did you get any rest today?” Buck knew the question was silly since the kid had been asleep when he came home.

“Yeah, I took a pain pill a few hours ago and dropped right off to sleep. I feel a little fuzzy still.”

“Well, sit down and let’s eat. What do you want to do this evening?”

“Would you mind taking me to the hospital? I’d like to talk to him,” JD asked.

“Sure, I’ll take you. Are you sure this is what you want to do?” Buck was concerned for the young man. He had talked for a long time with Ezra during lunch and knew that JD was having a hard time dealing with the emotions the situation was bringing up.

“I need to talk to him. I need to hear it from his mouth. I’ll do the marrow transplant for Jessica but I want to get some answers from him first,” JD declared as he dug into the stir fry.

When they reached the intensive care floor, JD began to have second thoughts about confronting his father. Buck stood right at his side, he knew he wasn’t alone. Looking into Jessica’s room, he saw that it was Diane, not Jonathan in the bedside chair. Thinking he was getting a chance to back out, JD turned around and headed back for the elevators. The doors opened and he found himself face to face with his father again. For a long time, neither man spoke.

“We really have to stop meeting like this,” Jonathan said with a teasing tone. When his father began to smile slightly, JD let go a full grin. “Are you here to see Jessica?”

“No, to talk to you,” JD answered. “Is there some place where we won’t be bothered?”

“The visitor’s lounge has a door that can be locked. We could go in there,” the older man offered. He stepped past his son and the man at his side and led them to the visitor’s lounge. Once inside, he closed the door and turned the lock. “Sit down, please.”

“This is my roommate, Buck Wilmington,” JD said as he gestured from one man to the other. “Buck, this is Jonathan Dunne, my … my father.”

When he tried to, Buck could be physically intimidating. He towered over the older Dunne by a head. The smaller man tried not to blanch as his hand was engulfed in the ATF agent’s larger hand. His tongue seemed to be stuck to the roof of his mouth as he tried to mouth a platitude. When his hand was released, Jonathan stepped back and bumped into the couch.

The three men sat down, Buck and JD on one side of the room and Jonathan on the other. An awkward silence descended on the room as father and son struggled to open a dialog. JD drew a breath and started to speak, only to swallow his nerve and retreat into silence. Jonathan opened his mouth to speak and found that his brain would not unlock his voice. Finally, Buck broke the daunting silence.

“Why don’t you start by telling JD why you let him grow up thinking you were dead?”

Jonathan swallowed hard, summoning the saliva to unstick his recalcitrant tongue. “Well, I didn’t know that his mother told him that I was dead until he told me last week. I can’t blame her for telling him that, I suppose it was easier for her.”

“Why?” JD asked. His hazel eyes bore into the older man as he made the impassioned query.

“Why did she tell you that? Why was it easier? Why wasn’t I there? What do I have to tell you?” JD’s father asked in return.

“Yes, all of it. Why didn’t you at least get in touch with her and let her know that you were alive? If you weren’t coming back, what difference did it make to you?” JD was scooting forward on the couch as he poured out his questions.

“I didn’t know she told you that I was dead. She knew the truth, John. I guess it was easier for her if people thought she was a widow. I couldn’t come back! There were people watching me and watching both of you. If I had come back to you, it would have put you in danger.”

“What do you mean, she knew the truth? Why would she lie to me? She told me you died in an accident before I was born!”

Buck put out a hand and tried to calm JD. He could tell that his young friend was close to losing control and as emotionally wound as he was, it would not be good for him. Jonathan pulled out his wallet and pulled out a couple of old, faded, dog-eared pictures. The first was of JD as an infant and the second was of him with his mother when he was three or four.

“She sent me these. She knew where I was. John, I never knew that she lied to you. I sent her money when I could. After I got out, she began to send the letters back unopened. I figured she wanted to go on with her life so I left her alone after a while.”

With the evidence in his trembling hands, JD knew that his beloved mother had lied. It was easier to be angry with the man across the room when he believed him to be the perpetrator of the lie he had been told.

“I was an ex-convict, son. Maybe she wanted to shield you from that,” Jonathan suggested.

Buck felt JD twitch at being called ‘son’ and he passed his hand across the young man’s back again. Like Ezra, he could see that JD would soon be sensitized to that word. The young man retreated into silence again as he studied the pictures. On the back, handwriting as familiar to him as his own showed his name and the date. His mother had written on them before sending them to his father. He turned them over a couple of times before passing them back. His father put them back into his wallet behind the picture of Jessica.

“Why didn’t you tell them about me?” JD asked almost as an afterthought.

“What could I tell them? I knew your mother didn’t want me in your life. I didn’t want them looking at every older boy they saw and wondering if it was you. They don’t know anything about my life before I married their mother. She told them I was out of the country in college before we met,” he said softly.

“So you lied to them too? Are you going to tell them the truth?” The challenge rang loudly in the young man’s voice.

“Is that what it will take for you to help her? You want me to tell her that her daddy is a liar and a thief and an ex-con? Is that what will make you happy?” Hurt dripped from every syllable as Jonathan spoke.

JD swallowed hard. He was hurt and disillusioned by the fact that his mother had lied to him, he didn’t want his sisters to have to go through that. Just because he was hurting and angry didn’t mean he had to see them hurt too. He sighed, “No, I don’t want you to tell them that. Couldn’t we tell them something else? I, I’d like for her to know I’m her big brother.”

“You want to lie to them too? Are you sure about that, son?” Jonathan leaned forward as he looked across the room.

“Can’t you just tell them that you didn’t know about me? Or that you and my mom were divorced and you didn’t know where I was?” JD suggested.

“And you’d be all right with that?”

“Yeah, I don’t want to hurt them,” the young man whispered. “What about your wife? Does she know? I don’t want to cause any trouble for your marriage.”

“Diane has known since day one. I have never lied to her. She knows that I loved your mother. She knows about the pictures in my wallet and the letters that I keep in a safe box. She’s the one who discovered your name on the registry,” Jonathan answered.

The three men left the visitor’s lounge and went back to the window. Jessica was asleep in Diane’s arms in the rocking chair. She looked so small and vulnerable that Buck gasped softly.

“My God! She looks like you when you were younger!” he whispered to JD. His roommate only nodded in recognition of the fact. They stood for a few minutes before JD said he needed to go. He had to get in touch with the donor registry people and find out how soon they could do the procedure.

“I’ll talk to Jessica in the morning, explain it to her,” his father said.

On the ride home, JD was quiet. Solving one problem seemed to have created another. When they were both settled on the couch with the news playing on ‘mute’ in the background, JD broached the subject that was making him uncomfortable.

“Buck, if I do decide to have a relationship with, with him and his family, it won’t change things between us will it?”

The ladies man smiled. “JD, you and I have had three years together. And I’m not the jealous type. I think it’s great that you’re giving him a second chance,” Buck answered as he reached over and ruffled the kid’s hair.

The doctor told JD that they normally wouldn’t do a bone marrow donation so soon after he had suffered an injury but in light of Jessica’s need, they would go ahead. He was given a stack of papers to sign and a pamphlet on the procedure. It was pretty much the same as the one he had printed from the internet. The doctor suggested that he get a good night’s sleep and they would see him at six in the morning. He was advised not to eat anything after six in the evening because of his adverse reaction to medication.

When they left the doctor’s office, Buck and JD went back up to the ICU. Jonathan had done some fast talking with Jessica’s doctor and got permission for Buck to come in with JD. He thought that his son would be more comfortable with his ‘big brother’ in the room. They had explained everything to the older girls the night before and to Jessica that morning. The little girl was terribly excited about having an older brother, a really cool older brother.

The two roommates entered the ‘airlock’ and put on the sterile garments. They entered the room and JD moved to Jessica’s bedside. She hugged him and thanked him for being willing to donate the marrow that would help her to get better.

“When I’m all better, can you come and visit us at home? Jennifer and Julia would like to meet you too! And I could show you around the neighborhood and we could have supper together at the pizza place on the corner. I’m really good at the pinball machine they have there.”

Buck chuckled at the enthusiasm and the non-stop stream of words that poured from the little girl’s mouth. “Yep, she’s a Dunne!”

After telling the team of his decision, they all decided to take him out to dinner and offer him all the support that they could. Nathan insisted on being there while they prepped him for the procedure. JD invited Ezra to sit with him as he looked through his photo albums that evening. The doctor had given him a light sedative to make sure that he slept that night and it was Buck who coaxed him into taking it. When he finally drifted off to sleep, Ezra and the others left. Nathan stayed the night.

In the morning, JD was awake well before the alarm. He lay in his bed staring at the patch of sky he could see between the curtains on his bedroom window. His nerves were on edge and he was already feeling sick to his stomach. He tossed and turned for half an hour before deciding to take a shower. As soon as he sat up, he realized that he couldn’t even shower without help because of the immobilizer on his shoulder. A light knock on the door caused him to snap out of his frustration for a moment.

“JD? Are you all right? I heard you tossing and turning in here,” Nathan said quietly. “Can’t sleep?”

“No. I thought I’d get a shower before Buck uses up all of the hot water but I can’t take this thing off by myself. Would you give me a hand, Nate?”

With help from the medic, JD was able to take a long, leisurely shower. It relaxed him a little and seemed to settle his stomach. He winced as he passed the towel over his already tender shoulder. The bruises from the accident had faded to greens and yellows. When he finished drying off, Nathan helped him to dress and put the immobilizer back in place. Since he couldn’t eat anything, JD kicked back in the recliner and watched TV. When Buck came down an hour later, the kid was asleep and Nathan was having a third cup of coffee.

“What time did he wake you up?” Buck asked as he poured himself a cup.

“About three, he couldn’t sleep. Took a shower and dozed off in the chair. Just nerves, I bet,” Nathan said. He had tossed a blanket over the young man as soon as he’d fallen asleep.

“We’ll let him sleep until the last possible minute, less time for him to worry,” the ladies man decided. He headed for the bathroom to grab a quick shower.

JD was a bundle of nerves as he stood at the admissions desk at the hospital. His hand was shaking so hard that he couldn’t even write his name on the papers. Nathan took the clipboard and filled it out for him. JD paced back and forth in the waiting area.

“What’s taking them so long? They said six and we’ve been here for half an hour! If they weren’t going to start until seven, why don’t they say so?” JD’s voice was tinged with fear. Buck got up and caught his roommate. He placed one hand on the back of his neck and began to squeeze rhythmically. The effect was immediate, JD’s tense muscles began to relax.

“John Dunne?” the nurse read from the chart. “Follow me please.”

All three men stood and followed the little red-headed nurse. When she reached the room, she was surprised. “I’m sorry, only Mr. Dunne. You can wait in the waiting area. There are coffee and snack machines.”

“We’d appreciate it if you’d let us stay with him until he goes in, Ma’am,” Buck said as he turned on the Wilmington charm. Seeing the nervous look on the young man’s face, she agreed.

After undressing and putting on the hospital gown, JD was thoroughly examined. His blood pressure was a little high but that was to be expected. He was nervous. The nurse explained the whole procedure to him again and had him sign a consent form. When she began to prepare him for the IV, he panicked.

“What’s that for? The brochure said it was done under a local! I don’t need that!” JD protested.

Nathan moved close and kept JD from jumping off of the table. “It’s just a precautionary thing. If anything happens and they need to give you any medications in the operating room, they’ll already have a line in place. Relax, it’s okay.”

The nurse flashed a grateful smile before starting the IV. JD winced and turned his head away so that she wouldn’t see the tears that he felt welling in his eyes. Buck moved up and passed his hand over his roommate’s head in a comforting gesture. He rested his other hand on JD’s chest. The kid’s heart was beating so fast and so hard that it felt like it was going to burst right out of his body.

“Calm down, kid. You’re shaking like a newborn foal!” Buck teased gently.

When the doctor who was actually doing the procedure came in, JD knew he was past the point of no return. He had to go through with it. The doctor greeted Nathan and Buck before resting a hand lightly on his patient’s shoulder.

“You about ready to get this over with?”

“Y-y-yeah,” JD stammered.

“Don’t worry. It won’t hurt until after I’m finished,” the doctor teased. JD’s eyes widened and he tried to sit up. The nurse immediately moved to intervene.

“He’s joking, Mr. Dunne. Relax. The orderly will be here in a minute to take you upstairs,” she said as she patted his shoulder. “Your friends will have to go out to the waiting room now, okay?”

Nathan moved up and took JD’s hand. He gave it a confident squeeze and slipped away. Buck moved up and clasped the younger man’s hand. He noticed the intense trembling and felt for the kid. After a moment, JD tried to smile. The expression looked more like pain and Buck teased.

“You look constipated, kid. I’ll see you in a little while, okay?” The teasing worked and JD gave a more relaxed smile to his ‘big brother.’

The orderly came in and began to move the gurney into the hallway. As JD watched the ceiling tiles and lights scrolling past his head he began to feel nervous again. The elevator seemed tiny and the air thick as they rode up to the surgical floor. He passed through two sets of doors before he arrived at the operating room. There were several people in the room, all dressed in scrubs with caps and masks.

A different nurse loosened the shoulder immobilizer. He would have to lay on his stomach for the procedure and they would position his arm so as not to move the healing collar bone. It was cold in the operating room and he shivered as her cold hands touched him. He was carefully transferred to the other table on his stomach. A draft reminded him that the gown was open down the back and his behind was on display for all the world to see, JD blushed. When he was situated, the doctor asked that a blanket be draped across his legs as he could see JD shaking.

“Okay, son, we’re going to begin by giving you a series of shots to numb the area. You’ll feel the first few, like bee stings,” the doctor said calmly.

JD hissed and jumped as the first shot was given. He shifted slightly on the table when the second one stung. After that, he didn’t feel the rest except as a slight burning sensation. He wrapped his left hand around the edge of the table as his right contracted into a fist. The nurse gripped his hand lightly and pressed a tissue into it. After a couple of minutes passed, the doctor spoke again.

“Okay, we’re going to begin the procedure. You’ll feel pressure but you shouldn’t feel too much pain. If it gets to be too much for you, let me know.”

Something pressed hard against his hip and JD held his breath. He tried not to focus on what he was hearing as the doctor called for the instruments. The nurse rubbed his shoulder lightly and wiped the tears from the corner of his eye. As the pressure increased, JD moaned softly and tried to move. The doctor touched the small of his back and reminded him to lay still.

After what seemed like an eternity, the doctor announced that he was finished. The pressure was gone and the nurse was wiping the area with a betadine swab. A gauze pad was lightly taped over the site and the blanket drawn up to his shoulders. JD shuddered as the warmth enveloped his body.

“Just rest for a few minutes. I’m going to give you something for the pain in the IV line before we take you downstairs. I’ll just be a minute,” she said as she patted his shoulder.

JD was helped to sit up so the immobilizer could be put back in place before being transferred to another gurney. He was situated on his side and propped up with pillows. Blankets were tucked in around him along with a hot water bottle against the soles of his feet. As soon as he was rolled into the recovery area, Nathan was there. The team medic fussed with the blankets for a minute before sitting on the stool so JD could see him without straining.

“How do you feel?” Nathan asked.

“Not too bad. Right now it’s a kind of dull ache. How’s Buck?”

“He’ll be wearing a rut in the floor in a few minutes. I think the nurse was going to bring him back so he can see you. Your father’s out there too. He got here just as you were going in,” the medic supplied.

JD nodded, he was feeling decidedly fuzzy. He struggled to focus his eyes as he felt a large hand on the side of his head. Three or four concerned blue eyes stared at him and he smiled.

Buck stepped back as JD’s eyes rolled twice and closed. The nurse had warned them that he would be woozy from the medication. They hoped to have found something that wouldn’t make him sick to his stomach. Knowing that the kid was all right, Buck went back to the waiting room and collapsed into a chair to call the others.

“JD? Can you wake up for me? Come on, I need to talk to you,” the nurse said as she shook him gently. He had been asleep longer than was normal for the medication he received.

“Hmm? No, lemme sleep. No school today,” JD mumbled as he scrubbed at his eyes with his balled up fist.

Smiling, the nurse shook her head and tried again, “JD, you have to wake up now. Can you tell me how you’re feeling?”

“Don’ wanna go to school,” JD mumbled again. Nathan bit back a chuckle as he watched the nurse trying to waken the young man.

“Let me try,” he offered. Moving up beside the bed, Nathan shook JD gently. “JD? Casey found your secret stash and she wants to talk to you about it.”

Both of JD’s eyes opened and his free hand shot out to catch the medic by the front of his shirt. “You’d better be joking, Nathan!” he hissed.

“I’m kidding! Your father is here. Do you want to see him?”

“Yes. Can I go home soon?” JD asked.

“In a couple of hours. I’ll send him in.”

JD tentatively tried to move his leg and groaned. It felt like the time he’d gotten shot and the vest stopped the bullet. When he opened his eyes, his father was sitting at his side.

“How do you feel?” Jonathan asked.

“It hurts,” JD whispered as his eyes stung with tears. Jonathan reached out and slipped his arm around his son. He leaned in close and made soothing sounds near JD’s ear.

“It’s a reaction to the medication,” the nurse whispered as she made notes on the chart.

Nathan sat down next to Buck and nudged him. The explosives specialist was sound asleep. When the confused blue eyes focused properly, he smiled.

“How is he?”

“His father is in with him right now. The nurse said he’s a little weepy due to the medication. As long as he doesn’t start throwing up, she said he can leave in an hour or so. He should go home and straight to bed. He’ll be hurting pretty badly when the pain medication wears off,” Nathan explained.

Jonathan sank back onto the stool when JD calmed down. He took his son’s free hand and squeezed it firmly. There were tears rolling down his cheeks as he spoke.

“I can’t begin to thank you enough. For giving Jessica the chance to live and for giving me a chance to see you again. You can’t possibly know how often I thought of you. Every year on your birthday, I’d catch myself wondering what you looked like, what you got for gifts. I’m sorry I missed all of your growing up, son. I just hope that you’ll be willing to let me be a part of your life now. The girls need a big brother.”

“S’okay, we can get to know each other. I always wanted a little brother or sister. When I got here I was everyone’s little brother. It’s about time I got to be the big brother,” JD said softly.

The next two days were a slow stroll through hell for the young ATF agent. Between his hip and his healing collar bone, he was in constant pain. Because of his adverse reactions to pain medication, he was left taking Tylenol. He found that warm baths helped but he had to have help because of his shoulder. He wanted to be there for Jessica when they gave her the bone marrow but he was in too much pain. He did talk to her on the phone. She was more worried about him than about the procedure. Nathan assured him that giving her the marrow wasn’t nearly as painful as acquiring it. They would have to wait two or three days to find out if the transplant was successful. It was an agonizing wait.

When the phone rang, JD looked over at it. He wanted to answer it but he had just gotten comfortable in the recliner. The answering machine picked up and he hoped whoever it was would leave a message. When he heard the voice, he became tense.

“JD? I guess you’re resting. I have someone here who wants to tell you something,” Jonathan said. There was the sound of the phone changing hands and then Jessica’s voice.

“It worked, JD! It worked! The doctor said my cells are doing their job now! I can get out of this ‘fish bowl’ in a few days! I hope you’re feeling better! I love you, JD!”

As the machine clicked and the message light began to flash, JD wept. Nathan had told him that if the bone marrow transplant didn’t work, Jessica might only have a few months to live. Pulling the blanket up to his chin, JD dozed off.

Buck came home at noon to check on JD. He found the kid asleep in the recliner. The message light was blinking and he hit the ‘play’ button. When the message was over, JD spoke.

“Isn’t it great! She’s gonna be all right.”

“That makes it all worth the pain, huh?” Buck asked.

“Every little bit,” JD agreed.

“Hey, you got your settlement check from the insurance company,” Buck said as he tossed the envelope into JD’s lap.

“Great. Do you know that they’re only giving me blue book value on the car! I won’t be able to afford to replace it until I get the settlement from the other companies. The guy who caused the accident is contesting the ticket and saying that I crossed the line. The kid who hit me after the accident didn’t even have insurance. His parents don’t have the money to pay for the damages, they’re filing bankruptcy.”

“We’ll be all right. You can’t drive for another month anyway. We’ll figure something out. Ezra knows several people who own dealerships, maybe he can swing you a deal,” Buck suggested, trying to lighten JD’s mood.

A couple of days later, JD was feeling well enough to sit for the ride to the hospital. He wanted to see Jessica, who had been moved out of the isolation room. When he entered the room, he recognized the other girls from their pictures. Jennifer and Julia shyly greeted their ‘brother’ with gentle hugs.

After visiting with his sister, JD was exhausted. He fell asleep in the truck on the ride home. The next week, he began to feel better as the pain in his hip diminished. He spent a few hours each day at the hospital with Jessica. Diane invited him to come for a weekend as soon as everyone was feeling up to it. He found that he liked his father’s wife. She didn’t try to mother him but just tried to be friendly. She told him that she didn’t begrudge him all of the faraway stares that his father had. She knew that he had never forgotten his firstborn, his son.

Jessica was discharged from the hospital a couple of weeks later. They had a big celebration at the hospital. JD and the team were invited. The little girl received gifts and mementoes from several of the nurses. They had cake and ice cream, in spite of the disapproving glares from the dietary staff! When the little girl asked for her brother to sit beside her on the bed, JD sensed that something was up. None of his friend’s faces betrayed the secret as he slipped in next to the wiggling eleven-year-old.

“Daddy wanted you to have this. To say thank you for all you did for me,” Jessica said as she handed a small box to JD. He pulled off the wrapping paper and lifted the lid. On top of a layer of cotton lay a roll of ‘Life Savers’ candy. “Mommy said that was appropriate ‘cause you saved my life.”

JD picked up the roll of candy as a warm blush colored his features. He closed his hand around the candy to still his trembling. He smiled at his father and at Diane.

“That isn’t all! Look underneath!” Jennifer called from her perch on the foot of the bed. JD picked up the cotton and looked. A key ring bearing his initials lay in the bottom of the box. On the ring were three keys. One looked suspiciously like a house key but the other two were unmistakably Ford keys. JD looked at the keys and then at his father.

“Buck told us that your car was totaled the night I saw you at the Federal building. We pitched in and got you a new one,” Jonathan said with a smile. “If you look out the window, you can see it.”

With shaky knees, JD crossed the room and looked out the window. On the parking lot sat a glittering blue Mustang with an inner tube resting on top. Letters on the tube spelled out ‘Life Saver’ in bright, neon colors. People were turning their heads as they walked across the lot to stare at the car.

“That’s too much! I can’t let you do that!” JD protested. Diane walked over and gripped him by the shoulders.

“You can and you will! My father owns a dealership in South Carolina. He took care of everything. The car is a gift from a grateful family. It’s yours,” she said as she placed a gentle kiss on his cheek.

The third key turned out to be a house key for his father’s house. Jonathan, Diane and the girls returned to their home in Illinois later that week. Each of the girls extracted a promise from JD that he would come and visit them over the Christmas holiday. Buck couldn’t prevent the smile that split his face as he watched each of the girls kiss their big brother before leaving. Since JD couldn’t drive, he allowed Buck to drive the car under the threat of serious consequences if anything happened to it while he was driving. The inner tube Life Saver hung on the wall of JD’s bedroom above the family portrait they’d had made a few days earlier. The young ATF agent sat with Jessica on his lap. Jennifer and Julia stood on either side of him with his father and Diane standing behind them. From the broad smiles on their faces, no one would ever guess that they almost didn’t get the chance to meet.

The End