Alternate Universes

by Angie

Dr. Two Eagles arrived at the emergency room desk in response to the page he received. The nurse quickly explained the situation to him, as she understood it. She didn’t know that JD had never seen the doctor before, she only knew that he was suffering from a concussion and that he might have a broken arm. The doctor gamely smiled and agreed to see what he could do. Slipping into the exam room, he smiled warmly. The young man was all but laying in the other man’s arms as he sniffled back tears.

“Well, that sounds like it hurts!” Dr. Two Eagles called as he moved to take up the chart.

“Dr. Jake! I wondered where you were! Are you gonna fix my arm? It’s not broked, just springed. The other doctor, he wiggled it all around and maked it hurt again!” JD protested as his face showed his displeasure.

“I’ll bet it did hurt! Let me see it for a minute. Ohh, look at that bruise! You’re being very brave about this, young man,” the doctor said as he gently probed the injury. JD chatted happily with the doctor while his arm was splinted and wrapped. Buck managed to back away and watched with an amused expression. JD certainly spoke as if he knew and trusted the Native American man even though they had never met. It seemed to lend some credence to Josiah’s idea of alternate universes. Somewhere out there was a place where JD was five and he trusted this gentle doctor.

“And I slided across the floor and falled down and it just hurt,” JD was explaining.

“You need socks with traction spots on them. I’ll ask the nurse to bring you a pair. If you’re going to be running around on a hardwood floor without your shoes on, you need them,” Dr. Jake explained. “So, who is this big guy standing over here?”

“That’s my Da, Buck. He’s ‘dopting me and Chris is ‘dopting Vin cause our mommies are dreaming with the angels like Mrs. Chris and Adam,” JD answered. The doctor did a good job of covering his confusion as he turned and shook hands with the man leaning on the counter.

“Okay, well, I’m going to step into the hall with Buck and explain about your arm and your medicine and then you can go home,” Dr. Jake said. Once the door closed behind him, he glanced up at the taller man with a question in his eyes.

“He suffered a concussion two nights ago. When he woke up, he thought he was a five year old. Josiah figures that his reality has jumped the track to an alternate universe. He knew you, without having met you before today. He’s been talking about things like he really is a five year old boy,” Buck explained. He hoped that the doctor didn’t end up thinking that they were both crazy.

“Wow! That’s a lot to take in all at one time,” Dr. Jake said with a smile. “Have you spoken to a therapist?”

“For what? Josiah figures that they’ll snap out of it in a day or two,” Buck explained.

“They?” The doctor asked.

“Both JD and Vin were injured in the explosion and they both think that they’re kids. It’s eerie really, they both think that things are just the way JD explained to you. They just accept that this is all normal. It’s a little scary, I gotta tell you,” Buck said with a smile. “You’re going to prescribe more medication for him? What they gave him when they discharged him before was for the concussion.”

“I see that here in his chart. It should be all right to continue that for his arm. Try to keep it in the sling and keep him from using it for a couple of days. If he has any problems you can call me. While he thinks he’s five, I can be his doctor, I guess,” the doctor said with a broad smile.

Buck walked out to the waiting area with a very drowsy JD wrapped around his side. The young man was only just barely awake. Chris took Vin with him to the truck so they could bring it around to pick up Buck and JD. Nathan reviewed the doctor’s notes, smiling at the smiley face stickers that adorned the ace bandage around JD’s arm.

“Do you want me to come out and stay with you for a while?” Nathan asked.

“Nah, we’ll be fine. They gave him something for pain and he’ll be asleep before we get to the highway. I just hope they ‘come back’ soon. I wasn’t cut out for instant fatherhood,” Buck said. The gentle smile and the hand that never stopped soothing up and down JD’s back as they waited belied his comment.

The ride back to the ranch was quiet. JD cuddled up in Buck’s lap and slept all the way out. He roused only long enough to walk into the house and go to the bathroom before curling up on the couch and going back to sleep. Vin sat watching the younger man. Every so often, a disappointed sigh would drift out. Chris caught Buck’s eye and smiled.

“Vin, would you like to go down to the barn and help me with the horses?” The blond asked. The response was just what he expected, the sharpshooter sprang to his feet and dashed toward the door. They spent a couple of hours mucking out the stalls and grooming the horses before Buck whistled for them to come in for lunch. He’d made sandwiches. JD was awake and seemed to be feeling all right. He proudly showed off his sling.

Buck got up from the table to get the milk carton. JD had finished his and wanted more. When the ladies man turned around, a bright beam of sunlight split the space between him and his young roommate. In the golden glow, JD appeared as a child. Straight dark hair framed a round, baby face having two large dark eyes. The milk mustache only enforced the image and Buck was staggered by it. Chris snapped him out of his reverie.

“Buck? You in there?” Chris called as he started to get up from the table.

“Huh? Oh, yeah, I’m fine,” Buck managed, shaking off the image.

That evening, all four men lay on the floor in the living room, playing a rousing game of Shoots and Ladders. JD had a hard time, having the use of only one arm but he made the best of it. Vin made a variety of funny noises as he slid down the same shoot for the third time. Chris’s eyes stung sharply as he was reminded of playing this game with Sarah and Adam. After Candyland, it was Adam’s favorite. He couldn’t hide the slight tremor as he reached for the spinner on his turn.

“Chris? You all right?” Buck asked softly. He had seen the pain in the hazel eyes when Vin carried the dusty game box out of the bedroom. It seemed as if the two young men were determined to open all of the old wounds that the blond had hidden inside.

“What? Oh, I’m fine,” Chris said as he shook off the melancholy mood. As the game went on, he neared the big shoot at the top of the board that would take him almost back to the start of the game. “Hope I don’t get a four,” he said as he flicked the spinner. When the plastic pointer stopped on the four, Vin’s eyes widened and his hands came up to press against his mouth. He tried to hold in the giggles that were welling up and failed. When Chris moaned as he slid his marker down the wavy slide to the bottom row, Vin toppled over, laughing hysterically. “You think that’s funny? You really think that’s funny?” Chris asked in mock rage just before he pounced on the sharpshooter, tickling and goosing him in the ribs. JD sighed at them and looked up at Buck before reaching out to nudge the spinner.

“Hey, I gots a two! I win! I win!” JD cried gleefully. He struggled to get up from the floor to do a victory dance, wiggling his behind and hooting like a deranged owl. Buck watched from the floor. Vin and Chris were still rolling around on the floor laughing and JD was dancing and hooting, it was a sight to behold.

A truly awkward moment arose when the ‘boys’ were sent to bathe. JD asked if Buck was going to come in and help him since his arm was in a bandage. The ladies man looked questioningly at Chris because his own arm was in a cast and couldn’t be gotten wet. The blond threw a threatening glance at his oldest friend. However, in the end, it was necessary for the team leader to go in and help JD with his bath.

“That is one part of this thing I hope he doesn’t remember,” Chris declared after both Vin and JD were in bed.

“Wish I could have helped you,” Buck teased, wiggling his eyebrows.

“You’ll get yours,” Chris threatened.

They had a remarkably peaceful night. Buck peeked in on the ‘boys’ before going to bed. In the pale moonlight, JD appeared as a child again. Where the Pooh bear had appeared small compared to his adult size, it was now large and his arm barely wrapped all the way around it. Looking to the other bed, Vin also appeared as a child. His hair was fairer as it lay around his fine boned face. A long, thin arm wrapped around the stuffed cat, which was held securely to his chest. Buck brushed back a tear as he closed the door and hurried to his bed.

With the morning came more cartoons. Buck awoke to the sounds of Vin and JD arguing over which program to watch. JD’s voice was like a magpie, bright and loud. Vin’s voice was like a snake’s hiss as he tried to coerce his younger friend to give up the remote. Deciding that no good could come of the two of them arguing, he rolled over and set his feet on the floor.

Vin twisted his hands around the remote once again and glared down at JD. He was sorely pressed not to hit because he would be sent to the time out chair. He was also painfully aware of the bandage supporting the injured wrist.

“You got to pick yesterday, JD! It’s my turn!” Vin hissed.

“I don’t like that cartoon! It’s scary!” JD protested loudly.

“How about we turn off the TV and do something quiet for a while?” Buck said as he entered the room and took the remote from the combatants. “What would you like for breakfast?”

“Pancakes?” JD asked hopefully.

Judge Travis called just before noon and said that he needed to see them about the explosion at the warehouse. Chris tried to dissuade him from it, saying that Vin and JD were still suffering the effects of their concussions but he insisted that they wouldn’t be there that long. They got dressed and headed for the federal building. JD was excited about getting to go to the office where his Da worked. Vin was more subdued but there was a glint of excitement in his eyes too.

“Now listen to me,” Chris said as they were parking the truck, “You need to be quiet at the office. Let me do all the talking. Okay?” Seeing both heads nod in agreement, he shut off the engine and opened the door.

The others were already in the office when they arrived. Travis was sitting on the edge of Nathan’s desk, talking with Josiah about the recordings from the surveillance van. Seeing the rest of the team arrive, he stood and greeted them warmly.

“Chris, Buck, Vin, JD, I’m glad you could make it so quickly. Why don’t we retire to the conference room so we can tie up the loose ends and then you can all go on with your rest. I’m going to need JD to clean up the recordings and make me a new DAT tape that I can take to transcription. I also need to know where the explosive was that Vin saw. The clean up teams haven’t been able to locate the devise. I’m afraid that the fire department may have done something to move the things we need. Perhaps Buck could go back over the site and point out something the others missed,” Orin explained after everyone was seated. Chris glanced quickly at Vin and JD and motioned for them to be quiet.

“Why couldn’t this have waited a few more days?” Chris asked.

“The owner of the factory building is threatening to bring suit against the city for the destruction of the property. If we can prove that he was somehow connected to the bogus meet that was set up with Agent Standish, then we can kill two birds with one stone. Stop the suit and arrest the man for endangering your lives,” the older man answered.

“We’ll have a go at it and get back to you tomorrow. Will that be all right?” Chris asked.

“It shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to clean up the recordings. Vin can go over the blueprints and show Buck were the explosive was and then the two of them can go and try to find the proof we need,” Travis said as his expression hardened. Chris turned his head to follow the direction of the older man’s glance. JD was removing the smiley face stickers from his bandage and sticking them on the conference table.

“JD, stop!” Vin hissed. JD’s eyes came up and caught the hard glare on Travis’s face and his eyes welled up with tears. He bolted from the chair and out of the room before any of them could stop him. Buck’s chair struck the wall as he leapt up to follow.

“What in the world is going on?” Travis asked. As his eyes raked over the remaining members of Team 7, he noticed that Vin looked as if he wanted to cry also. Chris cleared his throat and motioned for Ezra to take Vin out of the room. After the door closed behind the two men, Chris tried to explain.

“Orin, I told you that Vin and JD got concussions in the explosion. What I didn’t tell you was that they have a slight problem with their memory.”

“What do you mean, a problem with their memory?” Travis returned angrily. Suddenly, he saw his men being blamed for the complete demolition of the factory building.

“They think they’re kids. They don’t remember anything about the explosion,” the team leader replied. “The doctor thinks that it’ll all come back to them in a couple of days,” Chris hedged.

“A couple of days? Isn’t there anything that can be done for them?” Orin asked.

“No, they have to wait until the swelling around their brains recedes,” Nathan answered.

Out in the bullpen, Buck was trying to comfort JD. The young agent was tucked under Josiah’s desk, crying and rocking. Ezra took Vin into Chris’s office and parked him on the couch while he went out to try to help with JD. Buck was on his knees trying to convince JD that Orin wasn’t angry with him.

“Please come out of there, JD. I promise that Travis isn’t mad at you and the stickers will come off of the table. Please, JD!” Buck urged as he reached under the desk and caught hold of JD’s uninjured arm. He managed to pull the young man out of the small space and sheltered him against his chest. He heard the conference room door open and tightened his arms around the trembling body. JD struggled to raise his head just as Travis reached them.

In the subdued light of the office, Orin froze as he took in the scene. Instead of the young computer whiz, he was stunned to see a small dark haired boy huddled in Buck’s embrace. Vin dashed across the bullpen and stood between the older man and JD.

“Don’t hurt him,” Vin pleaded softly.

Orin’s eyes widened and he gasped softly. Instead of the tall, lanky Texan, he saw a thin, long limbed boy with fair hair and impossibly large blue eyes. Buck saw the look in the older man’s eyes and lowered his head to cuddle JD. Chris moved around Travis to coax Vin out of the way.

“He won’t hurt JD, Vin. He wanted to make sure that he’s all right. Why don’t you and Ezra go get a soda out of the refrigerator while we get JD settled?” The blond urged. Vin studied Orin for a minute before he nodded and moved to follow the southerner into the cantina. Travis blinked as the images corrected themselves and he saw Vin and JD as they were. He stepped closer and held out his hand to the young man.

“I’m sorry, JD. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I was upset about something else when I looked over at you. Are you all right?” The older man’s face was as gentle as if he was speaking to his grandson, Billy. JD looked from Travis to Buck. Seeing Buck nod, JD sniffled and struggled to get on his feet. Orin’s face showed his surprise when the dark haired young man embraced him.

“Okay, JD, that’s enough. Why don’t you go see if there’s a soda in the refrigerator while we finish up here and then we’ll head back to the ranch,” Chris urged. JD’s face brightened and he hurried after Ezra and Vin.

“Did you see it? Just for a minute, they were …” Travis’s voice trailed off as he realized how crazy it sounded.

“Little kids?” Buck offered.

“Yes, you did see it?” The older man asked incredulously.

“We’ve seen it, too. It’s a little eerie to see them like that,” Chris added.

“You’d better get them home, then. Let me know as soon as the situation is rectified. I’ll send bomb and arson back to go over the factory again,” Orin said before turning and walking away.

The ‘boys’ spent the rest of the afternoon playing in the yard with toys that Josiah had slipped into the back of the Dodge. Every so often, JD would stare at the horses in the paddock and then scan the rolling fields beyond as if searching for something. Buck and Chris knew he was looking for the missing horse, Milagro, but they didn’t know what to do about it. That evening, after supper, JD cornered the men asking about his horse. Buck repeated what Josiah had told him, that the horse was in an upper pasture grazing but he could tell that JD wasn’t buying the story.

It was the middle of the night when Chris awoke and thought to check on the ‘boys.’ He was mildly surprised to find them both in the same bed. Vin’s eyes were open and watchful so the blond moved into the room and eased down on the foot of the bed.

“What’s wrong, Vin?”

“JD’s upset. He thinks you sent Milagro away and aren’t telling him the truth. You said you wouldn’t lie to us. You never leave the horses out there so long without at least checking on them. And why would you let just one horse up there all by itself?” Vin challenged.

“We’ll go look for Milagro, tomorrow, I promise,” Chris said. “Do you want me to put him in his own bed?”

“No, he’ll just wake up and start cryin’ again,” Vin answered. “Least if’n he lays here, I can talk him back to sleep. I did that lots’a times b’fore.”

Chris caught the reference to the warehouse again and wished he could ask him about it but he was afraid that it would confuse Vin. Nodding, he came to his feet. On impulse, he leaned over the bed and soothed the long bangs from the sharpshooter’s face and placed a gentle kiss there. Passing his hand over the back of JD’s head, he slipped out of the room.

In the morning, as much as he dreaded it, Chris saddled the horses and took the boys out to look for JD’s missing horse. He half-heartedly hoped that they would find a fence down so that he could say that the horse wandered away and that they would alert the neighbors to keep watch. It would be upsetting to JD, but not as bad as not finding the horse and not having an excuse. JD eyed Dancer warily as Buck led him to the horse and offered to put him up in the saddle. Once on the horse’s back, he seemed to settle down. Buck attached a lead rope to the young gelding since he wasn’t sure what the younger JD was used to.

A dilemma arose over whether or not to put Vin on Peso. The animal was down right cantankerous sometimes and could be rough to ride. The Texan seemed not at all put off by the black gelding though and eagerly stepped forward to get into the saddle. Trusting a hunch, Chris went ahead and helped Vin up and made sure that he was in control before mounting his own horse. JD chattered almost nonstop as the four of them rode over the rolling hills. Vin caught Chris’s eye once or twice and smiled. It seemed that this was normal for the younger man even in this alternate universe.

Rounding the top of the ridge that separated his ranch from the next one, Chris saw the fence was down and a rather bedraggled looking horse was grazing peacefully on the knee high grass. To his practiced eye, Chris could tell that the animal was underweight and had been poorly treated. Even as he turned to point the animal out to Buck, JD cried out and leapt from his saddle.

“JD, wait!” Buck called, his heart suddenly in his throat. The horse could be spooked and mow down the young man running so happily through the grass.

“You weren’t lyin’ to us,” Vin said, his face torn between shame at not believing Chris and joy that JD was reunited with his beloved horse.

The horse didn’t move as JD walked up to it. Raising its head, it nickered softly and returned to the grass. JD draped his arm across the horse’s back and grinned at Chris and Buck. It was impossible not to smile back. Chris knew that the next field belonged to the Nichols family. The widow Nichols had raised a passel of boys on the place and Chris couldn’t believe that they had purposely neglected the animal. Stepping down from his saddle, the blond took down a lead rope and cautiously approached the horse. Milagro seemed content to accept the rope and willingly followed the other horses down the hill. JD chattered at the horse and to Buck’s surprise, the horse seemed to be listening.

After settling the new horse in the corral, Chris and Buck headed for the house to put lunch together. There was a call from Dr. Hann wanting to know how Vin and JD were doing. The team leader hedged and told him that they were doing fine. When the doctor commented about Dr. Two Eagles having seen JD for his sprained wrist, Chris admitted that they were still under the delusion that they were children. Dr. Hann asked if they would bring Vin and JD in for tests and Chris reluctantly agreed.

“What was that about?” Buck asked as he put the sandwiches on the table.

“The doctor wants to see both of them tomorrow. He’s concerned that they haven’t snapped out of their delusion. I told him we’d bring them in to see him,” Chris admitted.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with rambunctious playing. Buck ended up on the floor wrestling with the boys while Chris hung back. Juxtaposed over the image of his teammates frolicking on the carpet in the living room was the painful image of himself and Sarah playing the same way with Adam. The sweet pain of remembrance coiled in the blond man’s stomach until he felt the sting of tears in his eyes. When Vin tumbled free of the giggling, tickling duo, he looked up at Chris. In that trick of light, Vin was a skinny, longhaired, blue-eyed boy with an impish grin. As Vin took in the pain filled expression on Chris’s face, he got up from the floor and slowly approached the blond. He wrapped his arms around Chris and buried his face in the team leader’s shoulder.

Buck noticed that Vin had slipped away and rolled over to find him embracing Chris. JD took advantage of the lull in activity to announce that he had to go to the bathroom. Buck got up and followed his young roommate, giving the other two a few minutes alone.

“Are you sad, Chris?” Vin asked when it was quiet.

“No, not sad, just thinking,” Chris answered.

“About Mrs. Chris and Adam?” The Texan asked.

Not trusting his voice to speak, he only nodded. Vin’s arms tightened even further and Chris had to strain to hear the soft phrase that was mumbled into his shoulder.

“I miss my momma real bad too sometimes,” Vin said.

Any answer to that comment was brushed aside when JD came tearing back into the living room yelling about going for a ride in the truck. Buck, it seemed, had agreed to take him to the video store to rent movies for them to watch. Vin’s expression said that he wanted to go along, but he clung to Chris. Finally, the blond asked if Buck would mind if they rode along.

A boisterous argument broke out on the way to the video store about what movies they would get. JD wanted a movie called ‘Scruffy’ that Vin complained they had seen too many times already. Vin wanted to get ‘Cimarron’ and JD complained that they always watched what Vin wanted. Chris ended the argument by saying that they could each get a movie.

When they arrived at the video store, Buck and Chris each took different aisles to stop the ‘boys’ from arguing about what they were about to rent. Buck watched with a broad grin as JD picked up each box and studied it carefully before announcing that it was ‘boring, boring, boring,’ and putting it back. He couldn’t find the movie he wanted and was trying to find something else. As they rounded the end of the row, the young man’s eyes lit with excitement.

“Buck! Buck! It’s Mr. Beidler! It’s Mr. Beidler!” JD called. Vin immediately appeared at the end of the row and peeked around the shelves. He ran back around the shelf to pass the news along to Chris in case he hadn’t heard JD’s excited yell.

“Mr. Beidler?” Buck questioned.

“Our teacher!” JD explained. “Sheesh, and Unca Nathan thinks we forgot things!”

To keep from having to explain to another stranger about the situation, Chris pulled both ‘boys’ together and told them that the teacher was on his day off and that they shouldn’t bother him. They both nodded in agreement before moving to peer around the row of shelves at the man. The teacher smiled warmly at the two friendly faces before making his selection and leaving the store. Buck and Chris ended up with Cimarron and Scruffy and they rented a movie to watch after the ‘boys’ were asleep.

The evening was peaceful. Buck took a seat on one couch and allowed JD to sprawl across his lap to watch the movies. Chris sat on the other couch with Vin’s head resting lightly on his thigh. After the movies, both Vin and JD went to bed. The two ‘fathers’ watched their movie and drank a couple of beers before turning in for the night.

Vin’s face tensed and he thrashed on the twin bed. His dreams were distorted and strange. He kept seeing images of himself as an adult, in an army ranger uniform. Other bizarre pictures appeared and he tightened his grip on his cat. He saw himself handling a rifle, sighting it and firing it at targets. A soft whimper tore free and he burrowed under the covers and deeper into his pillow.

On the other bed, the situation was similar. JD saw a woman with a familiar face. Her hair was longer than he remembered for his mother. He saw himself going to school and growing older. His mother wasn’t dreaming with angels! He reveled in the warm, happy feelings for a while until he saw himself as an adult standing over a casket. His mother looked older and like she’d been sick for a long time. The golden fur of his Pooh bear muffled a whimper as he tossed fretfully on his bed.

In the morning, both Vin and JD got up for breakfast somewhat subdued. Buck asked if anything was wrong and both of them denied that anything was bothering them. Chris put forward the idea of going to see Dr. Hann and JD’s lip started to quiver as he wrapped his free arm around his injured arm.

“No, it’s not about that, JD. He wants to talk to you both about the bumps you took on your heads last week. He’s not going to do anything to your arm,” Buck reassured his young roommate.

They were all quiet on the drive into Denver. JD fretted over his sore arm and replayed the images from his dream. Vin also turned over the images from his dream in the light of some pictures he’d noticed around the ranch. Not a single one of him and JD but plenty of pictures of two strange men with Chris’s team dotted the mantle and walls of the ranch. He ached to ask about the two men but somehow he knew that he didn’t want to know the answer.

In the waiting room of Dr. Hann’s office, Vin and JD fidgeted nervously. When the doctor called for Vin, JD’s eyes welled up with tears and he leaned closer to Buck. Chris came to his feet and patted the hesitant sharpshooter on the shoulder.

Once inside of the small office, Vin was invited to take a seat in a comfortable looking recliner. Chris steered the reluctant Texan across the room and nudged him to sit down. Vin sat, but he warily watched Dr. Hann.

“Now Vin, I just wanted to see how you were doing since you hit your head last week. How have you been?”

“Fine,” Vin answered.

“What have you been doing this week?”

“Well, since there’s no school, we been stayin’ home with Chris and Buck.”

“No school?” The doctor asked gently.

“Spring break. We saw Mr. Beidler at the video store last night.”

“Who’s that?”

“One of the teachers at my school.”

“I see. What grade are you in?” The doctor asked as he made some notes on his tablet.

“It’s a combined class. We gots lots of diff’rent kids in our room. We work at our own pace,” Vin explained.

“Okay Vin, I want to talk to JD for a few minutes. You and Mr. Larabee can go back to the waiting room.”

A huge sigh of relief burst from Vin as he jumped from the chair and hurried out of the room. Buck and JD looked up as the Texan dropped into a chair and shuddered.

“Did he hurt you?” JD asked.

“Nope, he just asked questions,” Vin answered.

After going through the same routine with JD, Dr. Hann called Buck and Chris into the room without Vin and JD. He invited both of them to sit down as he consulted his note pad.

“They are both still firmly entrenched in their delusion. I would like to recommend a therapist for them. Dr. Will Lowery usually only works with kids but he heard about your friends from Dr. Two Eagles and would like to help. Here’s his card. I suggest that you try to get them in as soon as possible.”

“We’ll look into it,” Chris said as he plucked the card from the man’s fingers.

They left the doctor’s office and stopped to pick up a pizza on their way back to the ranch. While Chris called Nathan to let him know what the doctor had said, Buck called Dr. Lowery. The doctor was eager to see them and even offered to come to the ranch if it would make it easier for Vin and JD. After a brief consult with the blond, he invited the doctor to come out later that afternoon. They explained to the ‘boys’ that the doctor was coming to see them.

“Dr. Will? He’s coming here to see us? Cool!” Vin crowed.

“Yeah! I can show him Milagro and Vin can show him Peso. Can we take him down to the barn, Da, please? Just to show him the horses?” JD asked.

“You know Dr. Will?” Buck asked hesitantly.

“Well, duh! You took us there a lot. Don’t you remember?” Vin was beginning to sound worried.

“Oh, that Dr. Will. I’m not sure if this is the same man. I forgot to ask Dr. Hann,” Chris hedged.

As soon as the doctor got out of his car, both JD and Vin were jumping and clapping excitedly. There was no doubt that this man was as familiar as Dr. Jake to them in their current state of mind. Dr. Will greeted them with smiles and willingly allowed them to escort him to the barn to see the horses. He made all the appropriate comments and urged them back up to the house.

“Okay, I would like you to get comfortable so we can talk,” Dr. Will said as he gestured to the living room furniture. Vin and JD willingly bounced into the recliners. They talked about school, and the horses and everything else in the world. When the doctor reached into his medical bag and brought out a small bottle and a couple of syringes, Chris protested.

“Wait, what are you going to do?”

“I just want to give them something to help them relax. I want to try hypnotizing them, to see how deep the delusion goes. I assure you, it won’t hurt either of them. It might help snap them out of it,” Dr. Lowery explained.

“Chris?” Vin called, fear dripping from his voice.

“It’s all right. I’ll be right here, Cowboy,” he reassured the Texan. “I have to call our team medic and talk to him about this before you give them anything.”

It took almost an hour for Nathan to reach the ranch. During their wait, the ‘boys’ talked with Dr. Will. It was difficult for the young doctor to keep from letting them realize that he really didn’t know them as well as they thought they knew him. He let them do most of the talking. It was during this conversation that Chris and Buck learned about the warehouse and the trolls.

“Why don’t you remind me? I forgot to bring my file on the two of you,” the doctor said, opening the door for the ‘boys’ to spill their guts.

Nathan spoke with the doctor at length before he agreed that it couldn’t hurt and might possibly help. He offered to go in and explain to Vin and JD. Neither of them was thrilled about getting a shot. It took both Buck and Nathan to hold the young computer whiz to give him the shot. While JD was whimpering on the ladies man’s shoulder, Vin clenched his teeth and tried to be brave. Only a slight hiss announced his displeasure. Two tears rolled down his cheeks as Chris patted his shoulder and whispered that he was proud of the way he was being brave.

Both Vin and JD went into a very relaxed state as Dr. Will spoke to them. His voice was soothing and lyrical as he directed them to breathe deeply and let their minds drift. After several moments, he met the eyes of the other three men in the room. He had already explained to them that they were not to speak, that it would interfere with his work. Securing a nod from each, he began to ask questions.

“Vin? Can you hear me?” Seeing the Texan nod, he turned to the other couch. “JD? Can you hear me?” The dark haired man nodded. “Okay. I want both of you to think about the day you bumped your heads. Can you do that?”

From his seat on the corner of the couch nearest Vin, Chris chewed on his lower lip as he watched the emotions scroll across the sharpshooter’s face. Buck’s eyes remained fixed on JD as his hands twitched lightly on his lap. Nathan leaned against the fireplace, taking in the whole room.

“Do you remember? Vin, can you tell me what was happening before you bumped your head?”

“I was … I was trying to get to … JD and Uncle Ezra. There was a fire!”

“That’s good. Stay calm. You’re safe. It’s only a memory, it can’t hurt you,” Dr. Will comforted before turning to JD. “And do you remember what was happening before you bumped your head, JD?”

“I … I was with … Unca Ezra and we was … we was waiting for something. There was a big boom and … the trolls were there! They were trying to get us!” JD’s voice rose in volume as he turned his head from side to side and pushed against the edge of the coffee table.

“Relax JD! Just relax. You’re safe. You’re remembering. Nothing can harm you here. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly,” the doctor urged in a surprisingly calm voice. Buck had instinctively reached for his young roommate in response to his distress. He settled back as JD’s face took on the more serene look of total relaxation. “What were you and your Uncle Ezra waiting for? Can you tell me about that? Let your mind wander and try not to resist.”

“It was a m-meet. Someone had information about a … m-man s-s-selling guns. H-he sells them at … at school. N-n-no one showed up,” JD stammered as sweat broke on his forehead.

“It was a set up! I saw the barrels. I tried to get them out!” Vin’s voice sounded almost normal, not the hesitant, childish lisp he had been using.

“How old are you, Vin?” Dr. Lowery asked gently.

“I’m … I’ll be 28 in a couple’a months,” Vin answered, his forehead frowning as he considered what he’d just said.

“Where do you live?”

“I got a little place in Purgatorio. ‘S not much. Chris is always on me to move.”

“And where do you live, JD?”

“I live with Buck,” the computer whiz answered confidently. The doctor’s expression showed dismay at the answer until JD amended it. “My room is bigger than Vin’s whole apartment.”

Seeing the confirming nod from both Buck and Chris, Dr. Lowery decided to try to direct the ‘boys’ back to the proper time frame.

“Okay, I’m going to begin to count slowly backward from ten. When you wake up, I want you to remember what we’ve been talking about. I want you to remain calm and relaxed. Ten. You can feel yourself becoming more awake. Nine. You can still see the images we talked about. Eight. You’re safe and comfortable. Seven.”

By the time he reached one and told them to wake up, both Chris and Buck were squirming with excitement, eager to see if it had worked. JD opened his eyes and scanned the room. When his gaze rested on Buck, he leapt from the couch and buried his face in his roommate’s shoulder.

“Don’t make me get another shot, please?” He pleaded as he fisted his uninjured hand in Buck’s shirt.

In the other chair, Vin’s expression changed several times before he shuddered and reached for Chris. Unexpectedly, he bolted from the chair and into the bedroom he and JD were sharing. The team leader hurried after him, stopping in the doorway as he saw Vin curled up on the twin bed with the stuffed cat clenched firmly in his arms. A minute later, Buck nudged him aside and steered JD to the other bed.

“Stay right here with Vin for a minute,” Buck said as he put the Pooh bear in JD’s arms.

“What happened?” Chris asked as soon as they reached the living room.

“Honestly, I don’t know. Their memories are intact. I think that after they’ve had time to digest everything, they’ll snap out of it. I’d like to come back tomorrow and talk to both of them again if it’s all right with you,” the doctor said.

“Yeah, sure. It can’t hurt them, can it?” The blond asked.

“No, I think that I can help guide them back. I’d certainly like the opportunity to help. It’s really strange listening to them talk. If I didn’t know that they were too old to have ever been patients of mine,” he let the thought trail off. “I’ll call tomorrow and see how they’re doing.”

They were both asleep by the time the doctor left. Nathan put it down to emotional stress from remembering. While they were letting them nap, the three men discussed the things they had heard about the bust at the warehouse and the lives they remembered.

“I can’t imagine the team without them,” Nathan said as he sipped his beer.

“Did you hear JD? Mr. Chris was scary,” Buck said with a chuckle.

“I can’t imagine two little kids living all alone on the street like that,” Chris said with a barely suppressed shudder.

Chris finally sent Nathan home as he and Buck made supper for all of them. Both men were deeply affected by the afternoon. Having their hope dashed when JD and Vin hadn’t snapped right out of their delusion, they were still profoundly affected by the glimpse they had gotten of another possible life, of a path not taken. Vin shuffled in a little while before the food was ready and glanced around the room. He looked a little confused as he stared back toward the living room.

“You feel all right, Cowboy?” Chris asked.

“Yeah, did Uncle Nathan leave?”

“He went home a couple of hours ago. Sleep good?”

“Uh-huh, ‘til JD started groaning in his sleep,” Vin mumbled. Buck darted past the sharpshooter and went to check on his roommate. JD pulled up into Buck’s arms and rested there as soon as he awoke.

“You feel okay, Little Bit?”

“My arm hurts where Dr. Will give’d me the shot,” JD answered, pulling at his sleeve to show the bruise. Buck knew that the kid bruised every time they drew blood or gave him a shot so he wasn’t too worried about it.

“I’m sorry. Do you think you feel up to eating?”

After supper, they went out to tend to the horses. JD eagerly brushed Milagro and then moved on to brush Dancer. Vin helped with the other horses while Buck and Chris put down fresh hay and water in each stall. After baths and showers, they piled up on the couches to watch a movie on the Disney channel. Not far into the movie ‘Old Drum’, JD pointed out that the father of the main character looked a little like Unca Josiah. Chris had to laugh when he admitted that he agreed. As soon as the movie was over, both ‘boys’ were sent off to bed.

“What if they don’t come back?” Buck asked as Chris dropped into the recliner again.

“What do you mean?”

“They don’t have any other family. They’ll have to be taken care of.”

“We’ll cross that river when we get to the bridge,” the blond said.

It was almost daylight when the first frightened cry wakened Chris. Even before his brain had shifted into gear, he heard Buck’s heavy footfalls. The ladies man flung the bedroom door open and rushed to the side of the twin bed where JD was tossing fretfully beneath his blanket. On the other bed, Vin was also tossing and whimpering softly. Chris dropped on the side of the bed and reached out to touch the Texan’s shoulder.


A cry of pure terror was ripped from JD’s lungs as he burst upright in the bed. Buck caught him, wrapping both arms around him and rocking him as he whispered soothing words into his ear. Vin’s eyes popped open and he glanced around the room. A confused expression crossed his face as he rolled to his side and looked at JD.

“What’s goin’ on, Cowboy?” Vin asked as his gaze settled on Chris. “What am I doin’ here? Did something happen at the bust?”

“What’s the last thing you remember?” The team leader asked.

“Seein’ Ezra and JD go down in the explosion. Is he all right?”

On the other bed, JD had gone limp in Buck’s arms almost immediately after the terrifying scream. The ladies man barely realized that he was still holding and rocking his friend because he was concentrating so hard on what the sharpshooter was saying. He eased JD back to his pillow and studied his tear-streaked face. After another minute, the young man began to stir.

“Buck? What happened? What are we doing here? Is Ezra all right? Why are you both looking at me like that?”

“Breathe, Little Bit,” Buck said softly.

“What?” JD asked.

“Nothing, kid, just checking something. They’re back,” he said to Chris.

After several hours of explanation, JD and Vin were looking at Chris and Buck as if they’d gone completely insane. Although, the ace bandage around JD’s arm with the smiley face stickers was pretty good evidence that something had been happening over the past week. When the sun was finally up, they went to the barn to see the new horse, Milagro. Mrs. Nichols said that the animal didn’t belong to her or any of her boys and the vet had no reports of a horse being missing or stolen in the area. The horse nickered and reached over the rail of the stall for JD as soon as he approached.

The rest of the team assembled around lunchtime to discuss what had happened and to laugh over the rosy blush that colored Vin and JD’s faces when they spoke about some of the more pleasant memories. Josiah patiently explained his theory of parallel universes.

“You mean like ‘Sliders’?” JD asked.

“Something like that,” the profiler allowed.

Dr. Lowery called later in the afternoon and was delighted to hear that the ‘boys’ were gone and asked if he could still come out and meet with them one last time. After securing Vin and JD’s permission, Chris invited the doctor to come around suppertime if he wanted.

Neither Vin nor JD had any recollection of the young doctor when he arrived. They seemed not to remember anything about the days when they were ‘children’ and Dr. Will said it might come back to them like a dream or a feeling of déjà vu. He also reminded them that they still needed to be cleared by Dr. Hann before returning to work. When he jokingly suggested that Dr. Two Eagles might need to sign off on JD’s arm, he chuckled at the puzzled look on the young man’s face.

“I’ll explain it to you later, kid,” Buck said as he ruffled JD’s hair.

A couple of days later, Vin and JD were both cleared to light duty. JD had gone over the recordings from the surveillance van and made the DAT tape that Travis needed and Vin had gone back to the burned out warehouse to show them where he saw the explosives. From the residue and the igniter switch, they were able to narrow down the field of suspects.

While inspecting the warehouse, Buck noticed that Vin seemed to be looking for something. He kept quiet about it until he noticed the sharpshooter reaching out to caress a spot on the wall.

“What is it, Vin?”

“Huh? Oh, I thought I saw something over here. Must be a trick of the shadows. Let’s get back to the office.” In his mind’s eye, though, he saw a stack of packing crates and a small, dark haired boy.

On Friday afternoon, Millie from the secretarial pool brought a new secretary to the offices to introduce her to Team 7. The woman was pretty in a simple kind of way and she limped slightly. Chris gestured her to the desk she would use after introducing himself.

“I’m sure you’ll do fine. Contrary to what they must have told you downstairs, we don’t really eat the support staff for breakfast in this office,” he assured her. Buck, seeing a pretty face, made a bee line for the desk and flashed his best, most charming smile. “Ms. Granger, this is Buck Wilmington, the team Second in Command.”

“Pleased to meet you. Please, call me Joey, everyone does.”

“And this is our profiler, Josiah Sanchez. And next to him is our team medic, Nathan Jackson. Our undercover agent is out of the office right now. You’ll meet him another time.”

Chris paused in the introductions as Vin and JD came out of the cantina, laughing uproariously about something. A stern Larabee glare had them both swallowing their laughter and hurrying across the room to meet the new secretary.

“Vin Tanner, sharpshooter and JD Dunne, computer and surveillance,” the team leader began. “And this is …”

“Joey Granger,” Vin said softly.

The young woman looked at the blue-eyed man with a puzzled expression. “Do I know you?”

“You moved here from New York, right?” JD asked.

“That’s right, but how did you know that?” Joey asked, more frightened than confused.

“Your grandma accidentally hit you with her car when you were a kid and you have a prosthetic leg,” Vin said.

An angry expression crossed the woman’s face as she came to her feet. “I don’t know how you know that but I want to know what’s going on?”

Vin and JD exchanged a look.

“It’s a long story. Can we take you out to supper somewhere and talk?” JD asked.

After the three left the office, Millie turned to Chris and propped her hands on her hips. “What just happened here? How did they know all that stuff about Miss Granger?”

From behind her, Josiah started whistling the theme to ‘The Twilight Zone.’


At the same time as Vin was waking up from his ‘delusion’ at the ranch, in another universe, a little boy opened his eyes. Sweat poured off of his little body as his eyes sought the one person who would make him feel safe.


“Right here, son,” Chris said as he picked up one of the small hands. “Welcome back.”

“What happened?”

“You’ve been sick. You had a fever for the past two days. Dr. Two Eagles says it’s some kind of flu bug. You had me worried for a while there, kiddo.”


“He woke up a little while ago. He had it too. Need a sip of water?”

Chris slipped his hand under the sweat soaked head and tipped it up so that Vin could take some water. When he eased Vin’s head back, Ezra picked up his other hand. The pale blue eyes drifted slowly away from the blond. A slight smile lifted the pale cheeks.

“Hey, Uncle Ezra.”

“Hey, yourself. I am relieved to see that you’re awake. Your father has been quite beside himself over the past two days and your pets miss you fiercely,” the southerner whispered.

After each of the men had an opportunity to speak to Vin, Nathan went for the nurse. She came in and checked the boy’s temperature and called the doctor. Vin drifted back to sleep during her examination.

“Do you think he remembers anything?” Chris asked of Josiah.

“That he thought he was an adult? That he grew up in foster care and got shunted all over the place? That he worked with you in the office? I think you can attribute it to the fever. I don’t think he’ll remember a thing.”

Josiah gently passed his hand over the top of Vin’s head as he said a prayer of thanks. He glanced at the other bed in the room. Buck had crawled into the bed with JD and the child was draped across his chest, both were soundly sleeping. It had been a long three days.