Alternate Universe: Seven Investigations
Chris downed another shot of tequila. He'd almost made it to the worm; it had been a long while since he'd drank like this. The anniversary of the death of his wife and child always hit him hard, though. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the other boys, pretending not to notice him in the back of their regular bar. He didn't care, as long as they didn't come over...
"This is ridiculous." Vin declared. "He's gonna drink himself to death."
"Leave him be. He'll pass out and we'll toss his ass in bed." Buck said wearily. "It's the way we always handle it. Every year..."
JD frowned. "It's not good, Buck. It keeps gettin' worse."
"Which is why I never brung ya before, kid. Now, just let it lay; I know what I'm doin'."
JD grumbled, but Buck had been the one handling the situation all these years...
"Well, I suggest that for tonight this entire table should be sober." Ezra said. "Joining Mr. Larabee won't exactly help the situation."
"Ezra's right." Josiah nodded. "Chris is gonna need us able to help him come mornin'."
After a few hours, JD was bored out of his skull, tired, and annoyed at the whole situation. He admired Chris a great deal, but he thought the whole team "babysitting" him was a bit much. He excused himself to go to the restroom, but passed by Chris' table on the way.
"Why don'cha sit down, kid?" Chris slurred.
JD shrugged and sat down.
"Have a drink, JD!" Chris said jovially, pouring a glass so full it spilled a little onto his lap.
"I'm still underage--- nineteen, remember, Chris? Buck'd have my ass."
"Aw, one li'l drink won' kill ya! Now, have it!" Chris demanded.
Sighing, JD took a ginger sip, grimacing at the strong bitterness and burn of the alcohol going down.
"More!" Chris said, adding to the already-full glass.
"I actually gotta hit the bathroom, Chris; I'll come back in a minute..." JD said uncomfortably, standing up.
"Sit!" Chris said, yanking him back into the chair roughly.
At this, Buck came rushing up, the others behind him.
"Buck, calm..." Nathan pleaded.
"JD, c'mon..." Buck said gruffly.
"Now, none of ya was good enough 'cept the kid here to come have a drink with me, and he's gon' sit here and have a drink, damnit!"
"Chris, you're just drunk and unreasonable, if you'd calm down..." Vin tried.
"Don't tell me to calm down! You didn't see that car bomb... you didn't watch..."
Buck sighed heavily nudging JD to get up.
"Damnit, I said sit DOWN!" Chris said, backhanding him...
JD was just starting to stand when Chris' hand connected with his face. The blow had caught him off balance and he fell back, catching his hip on the edge of the chair before going down to the floor. He clenched his eyes closed at the sharp pain that shot down his leg, overriding the sting in his cheek.
Buck's hand had followed his cousin down, a mere inch short of grasping the flailing arm and stopping the descent. The big man squatted next to the fallen youth, placing that hand on his arm.
"I"m fine," JD said before Buck even asked.
"Yeah, I can see your 'fine'," seeing the pale features marred by the bright red splotch on his cheek and the tight lines of pain around his eyes.
JD wound his arm around to grasp his cousin's forearm and start to pull him self up. Buck balanced the youth as he stood only to stagger forward.
"You okay?" Nathan's voice drew Dunne's attention upward and he nodded. "It's just a bruise."
A harsh laugh had all six men turning to stare at Larabee as he sat at the table. "Damn kid can't even take a sip without falling down," he slurred. Five men all tensed at the words. JD stood, his eyes wide at the callous words from the man he considered a father figure. The words cut deep and the youth now understood why Buck always found someplace for him to be this date each year. He stepped back, turning away from the dark glare of the blond. He felt the warm weight of his cousin's arm drop over his shoulders as he started toward the door.
"Ah, that's right. Coddle the kid, Buck. You've been doing it for years." Chris leaned back in the chair as he called out. "Wouldn't want him to grow up, now would we?"
Buck's back stiffened but he continued moving toward the door with JD. Vin leaned down and placed his hands on the table, partially blocking Larabee's view of the cousins. "Chris, let me take you home."
The legs of the chair scraped loudly as Chris thrust himself up and staggered around Tanner. "Must be great to have the kid around, your own little 'gofer', someone to idolize you." He wobbled his way over and knocked Buck's arm away to replace it with his own. "Just like a son."
Larabee patted the young man's shoulder as he leaned heavily against him and continued, "Just like a son...like Adam...my son." Chris blinked slowly, gazing into the boy's hazel eyes. "Do you know I had a son?"
JD's eyes cut over to the blond for a split second, flicked toward Buck and finally settled on the floor. "Yes, I know."
Tightening his hold on the boy's neck, he pulled him closer. "He died," Chris whispered, though he was loud enough for all the men to hear.
JD looked into the green eyes of Larabee even as his cousin spoke from beside him.
"Alright, Chris, that's about enough." Buck stepped forward and reached for the black clad arm over his cousin's shoulder.
Larabee pulled away, dragging JD along. "No, no, it's not, he needs to understand."
"Understand what, Chris?"
"That we can't protect him...that no more what we do...how hard we try...he died."
Buck moved forward slowly, speaking quietly to his old friend. "Chris, let JD go."
Larabee blinked owlishly. "JD? No...no...Adam...Adam." He gazed at the youth in his grasp, his hand coming up to stroke the red mark on the soft cheek. "My son...I'm sorry...Adam...I'm sorry." Tears fell from more than one pair of eyes.
Despite the intensity of Chris's grip, JD leaned into the man he had idolized for years, and spoke softly.
"I'm sorry, too. Can we go home now, please?"
Chris looked into the boy's face and leaned in until their foreheads touched.
"Yeah, home, let's go home, kid," he sobbed, still touching JD's face with his hand.
Buck moved in to take Chris's sagging body from his cousin, but JD shook his head and adjusted his hold. Despite the height difference and the almost dead-weight of the now barely conscious man, JD started toward the exit of the bar, the rest of the Team clearing a path as they went and glaring at anyone who dared to stare at the slow moving entourage.
By the time they reached the outside, Chris was out of it and JD was near collapse, so made no attempt to interfere when Buck and Vin took over. JD looked back at the three, his eyes glistening with tears. He settled on his cousin.
"We gotta help him, Buck, no one should have to live with this much pain," he sobbed, as he backhanded away the tears he'd been holding back since Chris's attack.
He felt a strong, warm hand squeeze his shoulder and looked up to see Josiah's soft, kind eyes looking down at him. Josiah pulled JD toward him gently and gave him a little hug.
"I think you just did, son," Josiah comforted, "What's important now is how we progress from here."
Buck nodded, "Well I think phase two is simply to get him back to our place to let him sleep this off, If you could all give us a hand here we can all go home."
"Would you mind if we accompanied you, in case you should need some assistance during the night?" Ezra asked.
Buck grinned, "Wouldn't have it any other way."
During the long drive back to the ranch, Chris snored loudly, interrupted only by belches and half-mumbled phrases. JD stared at the man, worried that he had gotten so drunk. That was no way to deal with his grief and pain.
When they got to the house, Buck and Josiah manhandled Chris to his room, sitting him on the side of the bed. JD squeezed in to tug off Chris's boots and socks. The others managed to coax the passed out body to undress, settling him into bed in only his underclothes.
"Someone ought to keep an eye on him," Vin suggested.
"I'll do it," JD volunteered.
"You sure kid? He can be a handful if he gets to reminiscing again when he wakes up in the night," Buck explained.
"I can handle it. You guys go on to bed."
An hour passed before Chris began to fumble with his blanket, frantic to get out of bed. JD jerked the cover loose, placing a steadying hand on Chris's shoulder as he swayed when his feet touched the floor. Within seconds, the man was hunched over the toilet, his body tossing back the alcohol it hadn't yet absorbed. As Chris's trembling hand groped for the handle to flush the commode, JD placed a cold, wet washcloth in it instead.
Chris took the cloth, wiping his face and blowing his nose before tossing it toward the hamper. In the near darkness of the bathroom, he scowled at the tee shirt clad form standing over him. Too small to be Buck or Josiah, and Nathan swore he'd never sit through another drunken trip down memory lane. Ezra would never have gotten that close to him while he was 'expelling bodily fluids' or some such thing. That left only Vin or JD.
"Do you need help getting up?" JD asked when it seemed like Chris was waiting for something.
The kid. They had left him with the kid? Fragments of earlier in the evening came back to him and he moaned. "Could you get me some cold apple juice? It'll take this nasty taste out of my mouth," Chris asked.
"Sure thing, be right back," JD said before rushing out of the bathroom toward the kitchen.
By the time JD got back, Chris had managed to get back to his bed. He handed the man the glass, holding on until he was sure it wouldn't be dropped on the bed. While Chris was drinking it, slowly so as not to upset his stomach again, JD asked, "What were they like?"
"Who?" Chris asked, momentarily confused.
"Sarah and Adam. What were they like? How'd you two meet?"
"Aw, kid, you don't want to hear all of that," Chris said.
"But I do want to hear it. I want you to tell me about them. Because, after my mom died, I was real sad until someone made me talk about her. It made me feel better, kind of, just talking about her and remembering the good times we had together. So, go on, tell me about them," JD said, leaning back against the pillow he had tossed against the post at the footboard of the bed.
"Well, Sarah was the prettiest thing I had ever laid my eyes on ..."When I can not feel
When my wounds don't heal
Lord I humbly kneel
Hidden in You
Lord you are my life
So I don't mind to die
Just as long as I
Am hidden in You~
Chris shot up in bed, feeling grubby and having a disgusting taste in his mouth. The memories of the previous night flooded back to him, and he groaned.
"Again... not again..."
JD was sleeping in a chair close by; poor kid, he guessed he'd have a crick in his neck the size of Montana from that.
"JD, get up." he said.
JD sleepily rubbed his eyes.
"You need somethin', Chris?"
"C'mere." he said, weakly waving a hand at him.
JD sat next to him.
"Thanks... for last night."
"S'ok, Chris. You'd've done the same."'Cause I could just sit with You awhile
You could just hold me
Nothing can touch me
Though I'm wounded
Though I've died
If I could just sit with You awhile
I'de need You to hold me
Moment by moment 'till forever passes by~
Chris nodded slowly, ignoring the throbbing that action caused.
"What day is it?"
"Oh, we gotta get to the office. Cases on our desks..."
"Chris, it's like five a.m. We got some time."
"Oh... right." he said, finally sparing a glance towards the clock on the wall.
His hand reached out towards JD's cheek, but JD flinched back.
"Sorry 'bout that. Didn't mean it."
"Yeah, I know..."
"Does BUCK know?"
"You're still alive, aint'cha?" Buck said from the doorway.When I can not feel
When my wounds don't heal
Lord I humbly kneel
Hidden in You
Lord You are my life
So I don't mind to die
Just as long as I
Am hidden in You
"That's debatable." Chris said wryly.
"Well, I'm gon' make you a sober-up breakfast. JD, go get some rest, son."
"Ugh, I don't WANT food of ANY kind."
"Well, you're gon' eat, and that's that." Buck informed him. "Come on, get your ass out of bed."
"Why d'ya put up with me, Buck?" Chris asked him wearily.
"Hell if I know, Pard; but, I've been doin' it this long, may as well keep at it..."If I could just sit with You awhile
If You could just hold me
Nothing can touch me
Though I'm wounded
Though I've died
If I could just sit with You awhile
I'd need You to hold me
Moment by moment
'till forever passes by
Chris made a face at Buck's famous "sober-up breakfast feast". Eggs over easy, sausage, extra greasy, grits with pools of butter. He grimaced further as Buck poured hot sauce all over his own eggs.
"Eat up," he said.
"I'd rather suffer." Chris said peevishly, pushing the plate away from him.
He looked up as JD came back into the kitchen to get a bottle of water, and then walked back to his own room, shutting the door.
"He's a good kid." Chris said finally.
"Yeah, kinda figgered that one out already." Buck smiled.
"It's too bad what's gon' happen..."
"It's what always happens, Buck... Dreams I had last night; somethin's comin', he won't be here much longer..."
From the background, Ezra, Nathan, Vin and Josiah flinched as Buck swept his plate off the table, slamming it into the wall.
"Now, I have had just about ENOUGH of this shit!"If I could just sit with You awhile
If You could just hold me
Nothing can touch me
Though I'm wounded
Though I've died
If I could just sit with You awhile
I'de need You to hold me
Moment by moment 'till forever passes by
Moment by moment 'till forever passes by
Moment by moment 'till forever passes by...
Buck had jumped up as the plate shattered. Placing both palms flat on the table, he leaned forward, into Larabee's space. His voice was low and guttural. "Don't. Don't start that shit again."
Chris sat quietly, his eyes hooded and bloodshot, evidence of his previous evening's activities. He held a fork in his right hand as the other lay alongside the plate. He didn't look up at the enraged man bent over the table.
Getting no response, Buck straightened moved away. He went to the pantry and pulled out the broom and dustpan. As he moved back to clean up, he stopped to look at the audience his actions had drawn. Before he could say anything, JD came into the room and looked from the men to the mess on the floor and back.
Buck smiled and shrugged. "I tripped."
JD rolled his eyes and turned away, heading back to his room, mumbling to himself.
Wilmington cleaned up the mess and dumped the remains in the trash. "You boys want some coffee? Breakfast?" he asked of the four men standing near the table.
Four heads turned, silently consulting with each other. Nathan spoke up. "Nuh, we're good. We'll just...go...wait..." Nathan stammered.
Larabee's voice stopped them from moving away. "Have a seat, boys."
Buck sighed as he plopped into his chair. He waved the wary men over and waited as they pulled out chairs and sat. Glancing at Larabee, Buck leaned back, tossing one arm over the back of his chair. Settling in, he flipped his hand at Chris. "You want to explain to them?"
The fork tapped against the plate as Larabee studied the congealing food. Placing the utensil down, he dropped back heavily into the chair. "It started when I was a kid. Nightmares...dreams...premonitions...what ever you want to call them."
He looked at the four men, trying to gauge their reactions. Seeing a variety of expressions, he shook his head slightly. His hand reached out and twisted his cup around. Taking a deep breath, he plunged on. "I get...images of things...I see...saw people...people close to me..."
He rolled his eyes and dropped his head back to stare at the ceiling. "I haven't had one in a while...not since my family died." He glanced at Wilmington and caught the hint of fear in his eyes. "You remember?"
Striving for nonchalance, Buck flipped his hand, saying, "You were pretty upset that day. You didn't say much."
"It hasn't happened often. Sometimes I don't even remember the details...just the feeling."
At this, Buck pulled his arm down and leaned heavily on the table. "Why now? Why J..." He choked on his cousin's name.
"I don't know, Buck. I don't really remember a lot."
Grasping at that, Wilmington grabbed the man's arm. "So how can you say..."
Looking at the man, Chris shook his head. "It's just a feeling. I don't remember the details, just the feeling of loss."
Buck's head dropped and he squeezed the arm in his grip harder.
Josiah was the first one to respond to this revelation. "Chris, are you saying that you had a premonition about JD?"
At the nod, the older man continued. "What do you remember?"
Extracting his arm, the man rubbed at his bloodshot eyes. "A car...he was in a car."
A shake of the head and he continued. "No. No, he was in the back...the trunk...unconscious."
"Damn it." Buck's head dropped onto his now folded arms on the table.
"Surely, in a situation such as this, forewarned is forearmed. We can prepare for this circumstance and prevent it," Standish offered.
"It's not that simple, Ezra. I can't tell you when or where. There's no 'who' in those things."
"Then we just don't leave 'im alone until we figure out the 'who' and we stop 'im."
Nathan smiled slowly. "How about we take him out to Chris' place? It's easy to defend, remote and the horses will keep him entertained."
Buck sat up. "Well that will work, but how does that help us get this guy?"
"It won't change anything," Chris declared. "I've tried to change the details before. The outcome is always the same."
Vin extended his arm, his fist in the middle of the table. "Not this time."
Nathan's hand wrapped around the younger man's, followed by Josiah's, and then Ezra's. The two men left looked at the hands, clasped in an agreement. Buck's hand dropped on top of the others and the five men looked at Larabee. He nodded and his hand came to join the others. "No, not this time."
JD was sitting on his bed when his cousin came in, hardly knocking. He smiled at Buck, but soon frowned at the strained expression on the big man's face.
"Everything ok, Buck?" he asked. He noticed Buck had started pulling open his drawers and his closet. Finally he manhandled a canvas holdall from the back of one of the cupboards and threw it on the bed.
"Buck?" JD asked again, now standing in front of the man, desperately trying to gain eye contact. Finally Buck looked at him.
"We need to pack some things, we're going to Chris's place for a few days."
JD was alarmed, "Chris...Chris is ok, isn't he?"
Buck sighed, realizing his abrupt actions had caused his young cousin to become concerned. He put his hand on the boy's shoulder, and attempted a smile.
"Yeah, yeah Chris is fine, sorry kid. We, the Team that is, thought it would be a good idea to take off for a few days, you know, until he's more like his old self," Buck lied.
JD eyed him suspiciously; he knew instinctively that something was wrong, but as to what? Well, he was supposed to be an investigator, he decided to play along.
"Sure thing Buck, good idea. You go ahead, and I'll put my stuff together, ok?"
Buck smiled, removing his hand from the boy's shoulder after giving it a quick squeeze.
"Ok, kid, thanks, you got an hour."
"Buck," JD called just as the man was almost at the door, "What about the office, what about the cases?"
"Vin's gone ahead to pick up all the necessary paperwork. He's gonna meet us back here then we'll all head on to Chris'," Buck called back, continuing out of the room.
JD picked up the holdall and started throwing clothes into it. He could wait, whatever it was that was bothering Buck, he could wait until his cousin was ready to share.
JD loved the ranch. They didn't get out here nearly as often as he would have liked. He jumped out of Buck's Chevy and started heading for the corral. Buck gave a shrill whistle through his teeth, causing the boy to turn and look back at him.
"Later," Buck insisted, "Work first."
JD's shoulders slumped slightly but nodded in agreement. "Yeah, sorry, got a little carried away," he grinned.
Buck couldn't help but chuckle, then he shuddered slightly as he remembered why they were there. He pulled the boy close as JD came toward him.
"Gotta do the work or we don't get paid," he scolded, wagging his finger in a mock gesture. JD rolled his eyes.
"Sooorrryyy!" He stated, trying to keep a straight face.
Buck could no longer contain himself and started roughhousing while gently directing his cousin toward the door of the ranch house. By the time they tumbled in, they were laughing and more than a little disheveled.
"Whenever you're ready," Chris said, smiling and gesturing toward the paper-strewn table."
The cousins looked at each other and laughed harder. JD patted his jacket pocket.
"Shoot, I've left my iPod in the truck, won't be a minute." He dropped his bag on the ground and headed back out of the door. Buck's eyes followed him as he was shaking his head.
"God forbid he might spend a day without that thing clamped to his ears," he smiled. He approached the men at the table and they started sorting through the paperwork.
As JD leaned into the truck to retrieve his iPod, he glanced over at the corral. He could see his horse trotting toward the fence and decided he would go over to greet her. As the boy approached the fence, the horse whinnied with anticipation. JD shushed her.
"Shh, you'll get me into trouble," he whispered, stroking her velvety nose. He turned his back to the barn doors as he searched his pocket for the apple he'd brought with him. Just as he was about to offer her a piece, he noticed her shying away. He looked at her, a little surprised. Suddenly, from behind, a large hand clamped tightly over his mouth, and he was lifted off the ground by a strong arm around his waist. He began struggling. Pushing against the fencing for purchase, he succeeded in loosening his assailant's grip. JD was starting to break away, but just as he was about to call out he felt someone grasp his hair at the back of his head. As his iPod dropped to the ground, the last thing he saw was the fence post as his head was thrust toward it.
When JD didn't come back into the house after a couple of minutes, Buck started to worry. He tried to put off the urge to run out after his cousin. When Chris glanced up a moment later, Buck headed for the door. He didn't see JD by the truck. Walking down toward the vehicle, he looked around, hoping to see the kid somewhere close by. Standing beside the truck with one hand on the side mirror, he saw the iPod was gone from the seat.
Turning slowly, he scanned the area around the house, corral and barn. When he saw one of the horses snuffling at something on the ground, it made him look closer. His knees began to tremble as his steps carried him toward the corral. He reached out, not wanting to believe what he was seeing. He touched the dark stain with his hand, his heart clenching when it came away wet.
"CHRIS! Something's happened to JD!" Buck yelled as he continued to stare at his hand.
The others came running from the house. Vin and Ezra split up from them, going around the house. Chris and Nathan reached Buck at the same time, both of them looking at the stain on Buck's fingers. Josiah bent over to retrieve something from the ground.
"Oh God!" Buck mumbled as he stared at the familiar iPod.
Coming to consciousness in the trunk of the moving car, JD immediately reached for his aching head. He was pretty sure the wet substance on his hand was his own blood. Groping in the darkness, he felt the springs of the back seat of whatever vehicle he was in. Rolling over was an adventure as he struggled to keep his stomach contents down. The car hit a pothole, bouncing his already aching head off of something. He was unable to hold back a scream of pain as he lashed out, kicking the trunk lid with his boots.
"Settle down back there or I'll give you something to scream about!" the driver warned. He deliberately swerved back and forth on the gravel road just to punish his helpless captive.
It was hot in the trunk and the exhaust fumes were making JD nauseous. He knew he had to do something. He began to grope around, trying to find something he could use against the lock.
Ezra circled around, coming back to where Vin was studying something on the ground. He had spotted tracks unfamiliar to him. In the brush along the road, he found where a car had been parked. Backtracking, he found drops of blood interspersed between the footprints.
"Whoever took him, they carried him over there to a waiting car. It was something small, with a narrow wheel base," Vin explained when they reached the others. Buck's panicked gaze locked on him before returning to the blood stain on the post.
"We'll find him and get him back," Josiah gently assured Buck.
"I'm sorry Buck ... I told you ... can't stop it ... so sorry," Chris mumbled, appearing almost in shock.
"Shut up!" Vin said, "Just shut up! We'll find him!"
"Gentlemen, we are wasting precious time that could better be used in pursuing JD's captor," Ezra prompted, bringing them back to the issue at hand.
They piled into Chris's truck, with Vin driving, since he had the best notion of what kind of vehicle they were looking for. Nathan was keeping close watch on both Buck and Chris, worried that one or the other of them would snap.
Groping in the dark, JD tried to find something he could use against the lock on the trunk. He was feeling progressively worse as the fumes built up in the enclosed space. The car hit another pothole, bouncing him around and opening a gash on his arm.
"Damn it all!" JD fumed as he shook his hand; he had skinned his knuckles several times already. Finally, fortune smiled on him as his hand encountered something he could use, a tire iron.
JD used the iron to pry open the trunk. Unfortunately, as he opened it, he saw by the blur of the road, how very fast this car was going.
"Damn if this ain't gonna hurt tomorrow..." he muttered, and did a tuck-and-roll out of the car.
After he finally quit moving, he lay on the pavement gasping in pain. With great effort, he pulled himself up and began walking back for some help, before the inhabitants of the car would notice he was missing. After a while of limping down the highway, he noticed a couple of familiar vehicles.
He practically threw himself in front of Vin's Jeep, which skidded to a halt. Behind him, Buck's pickup swung to a sideways stop-on-a-dime, something you'd expect the General Lee to do on "Dukes of Hazzard". That was all JD could think of, Buck drove like Bo Duke. He started laughing a little, but his headache made him regret that action.
Buck rushed over to him.
"I'm okay, Buck. I don't know what happened, who it was, but, I got out."
"You jumped out of the truck?" Chris questioned.
"Truck? No... it was a compact car. I was in the trunk; I managed to get it open."
"Then, it hasn't happened yet..."
JD frowned, and Buck pulled him in closer and tighter.
"Chris, maybe your dream wasn't 100% on? Now, we are going back to the ranch. We are going to get you out of whatever this is, and we are going to RELAX, damnit!" Buck said, practically yanking JD to his vehicle.
By sundown, JD came out into the living room, all showered and changed.
"What? You dressin' up just for us?" Buck smirked.
"NO, I got a date."
"No, you don't." Buck said, standing up. "After what happened today, you ain't goin' nowhere. Whoever it was ain't in prison or dead, so, they're still after ya."
"And what am I supposed to do? Hide here for the rest of my natural life?!" JD demanded. "Never see Casey again?"
"JD, why don't you invite your ladyfriend over here?" Ezra suggested helpfully.
"Because we'd have no privacy." JD grumped.
"Well, that's your only option. Cancel the date, or have her come here. Up to you, kiddo." Buck said firmly.
"Geez, FINE..." JD said, stalking over to the kitchen for the phone...
+ + + + + + +
Later, when Casey showed up, she looked at the bruises on JD's face with concern.
"JD, you didn't tell me you'd been in a fight..."
"It's no big deal, I promise... Come on." he said, leading her to one of the bedrooms.
He locked the door behind them, and Casey folded her arms across her chest.
"You know what they think we're doin' in here, I bet?" she demanded.
"I just wanted to get away for a minute, spend some time with just you." he sighed. "Besides, if we're in there, we won't even be able to talk, much less anything else..."
"Who says there will be 'anything else'?" she teased.
JD shrugged, flopping onto the bed. "Come on, there's a TV in here."
Casey slid next to him, laying her head on his chest. After a few minutes of silence, she leant up and gave him a soft kiss on the lips. JD reciprocated, and the kiss deepened, became more intense.
His hand went down, brushing over her soft breast, making her moan slightly. His hand went down further, sliding into the waistband of her Capri's, until his fingers found the spot they were looking for, and she yelled out in surprise and pleasure...
Five members of the Sevens Investigation team were gathered in the front room of Larabee's large ranch house. Four were sitting around the spacious room while the fifth paced.
Buck was upset. He didn't like it. He didn't like it one bit. He didn't like Casey being in the house. It could make her a target, but he had feared that his cousin would sneak out if he refused to allow the girl to come out to the ranch.
He didn't like that they were locked away in the boy's room. Not that he had any worries about them. JD was young but responsible. They had had that conversation a long time ago, when the youth had walked into his older cousin's bedroom unannounced one night. If the boy was honest with his guardian, the two teens had episodes of heavy petting but not gone any further yet.
No, what he didn't like was the boy being out of sight. It set his nerves to tingling and he was having to resist the urge to break down the door, have one of the others escort Casey home and tie the boy to his wrist see that he could not leave his sight.
Murmured words drew the big man's attention.
"What are you talking about? Truck? What truck?"
Standish sat back in his seat. "I was inquiring about the dream Chris had. He stated earlier that JD was in a trunk and unconscious, yet when we found the boy on the road, he amended his statement, proclaiming that this was not the incident in his 'vision' as JD was trapped within a truck not a compact car."
"Chris?" Wilmington turned frantic eyes on his old friend.
Rubbing the palms of his hands against his eyes, the blond sat hunched over at the edge of the couch. Dropping his hands, he explained. "I thought it was the trunk of a car, but the more I think about it, I knew it was a truck, a SUV. And JD is in the back."
"SHIT!" Buck whirled around and began to pace even faster. His motion came to an abrupt stop when the door opened and Vin Tanner stepped through.
"We got trouble. He's back."
"What? Where?" Nathan and Ezra asked at the same time.
Chris stood up slowly.
Buck took off at a trot, yelling JD's name as he moved to the back of the house.
"I found his car. JD jacked the trunk and he had to tie it closed, He parked on the opposite side of field this time."
"I find it hard to believe that this person would return so quickly."
"Element of surprise," Ezra said. "He is attempted to circumvent any plans before we have time to initiate them."
"Hell, we haven't even had time to make plans." Nathan mumbled.
"Yeah, well, I left a little surprise for him." Tanner held out his hand to reveal a several small objects. "He left his car unlocked. I took out all the fuses. He isn't going anywhere in that thing."
"We need to get JD and Casey out of here. Now," Chris stated.
The men nodded. Buck was just coming back into the room with Casey and JD trailing behind. Both teens were flushed and busy straightening their clothes and hair.
+ + + + + + +
"JD!! GET OUT HERE NOW!!"
Both teenagers jumped at the bellow and rolled away from each other, hastily fastening buttons. Making sure Casey was covered, the boy flipped the lock and threw the door open.
"Damn, Buck, get me a frigging heart attack why don't..."
"Get out here. He's back." Buck's eyes roamed over the room quickly and then stepped back, waiting for the two kids to step out. He checked the room once again before pulling the door closed and heading back down the hall.
Casey clung to JD's arm, her eyes wide. "JD?"
Though pale and shaking slightly, the youth wrapped a supporting arm around her, whispering, "It's okay. The guys know what to do."
They entered the room and looked at the six men gathered there. Chris spoke. "Vin found the guy's car. He fixed it so the guy can't drive it. Now, we need to split up. Nathan, Buck, you take the kids and head to.."
The blond looked around. Something drew his attention from outside. Instantly, everyone went on alert. Buck moved closer to the kids, forcing them back toward a corner in the living room. The others spread out across the room, checking windows.
For a few moments, no one moved. Ezra reacted first.
"Son of a...the barn is on fire."
"CRAP! The horses are in there," Chris yelled. Eight people surged forward, toward the door.
Josiah, Nathan and Ezra exited first. Larabee threw up a hand and stopped Tanner as he started out. "Stay with the kids. Stay in here."
After receiving a nod, the blond plunged out into the red hued night. Buck paused at the door, looking from the barn to his cousin. Finally, JD's voice urged him into action.
"Buck, if you don't go save my horse, I'm going out there myself."
Wilmington grinned and followed the others out.
Vin slammed the door closed and turned back to the two kids. He just had time to recognize the danger when the knife sliced into his shoulder. The force drove him back and his head slammed into the corner of a table sitting next to the door as he fell.
JD shoved Casey to one side as he dove at the man as he came into view from the hallway. The struggle only lasted a few moments as the injuries from earlier slowed Dunne's reactions. The man grabbed the slight youth around the waist and slammed him into the corner of the kitchen entry.
Casey was torn on what to do. She was afraid to leave. If the man overcame her boyfriend, he might get away while she went for help. Vin lay bleeding and she knew she should do something to stop the bleeding. Looking around for something to press against the wound, she saw something that made her heart pound. The butt of a gun stuck out from under Vin's jacket.
She stared at the weapon for a moment. The sound of JD crying out as he was slammed against the wall spurred her to action. She ran over and grabbed the gun, cocking it as she drew it up.
"PUT HIM DOWN!" she ordered.
The man turned to see the girl holding the weapon and he paused only for a moment. He threw the only thing available toward the girl. As JD flew across the small expanse, Casey's eyes widened and she stepped back. The gun bucked in her hands as JD slammed into her and both of them went to the ground.
+ + + + + + +
Running the animals into the pasture was the only choice the men had. There was no way to save the barn. They fought the panic- stricken animals as they reared in fright. The last horse was tearing off across the pasture when a shot rang out from the house. Instantly, the five men bolted for the house.
Buck and Nathan's long legs allowed both men to vault the fence and therefore, they arrived at the house first. Throwing caution to the wind, Wilmington burst in the front door, never slowing to think about what he might find on the other side. The scene within had him stumbling to a stop even as Nathan entered behind him.
Vin was on the floor, bleeding from a knife wound and gash to his head. Casey was sitting on the floor, crying, a gun gripped loosely in one hand. Nathan dropped to Tanner's side as Buck gently reached out and took the pistol from the girl's hand. She looked up with devastated eyes.
"He...he took JD. I tried to stop him, bbuutt I could...couldn't."
Buck wrapped his arm around the girl even as his eyes searched the room for clues. "It's okay, darlin'. We'll get him back."
He was surprised when the girl crumbled forward, weeping. "NO, no. I...I shot him."
The others had arrived and stood listening. Buck frowned as he leaned forward, over the girl's form. "You shot the guy that took JD?"
Casey wailed. "NO...I shot...shot JD." Her crying intensified and despite his shock at her words, Buck wrapped his arm around her.
"I'm sorry. I was trying to help. I'm sorry."
The sound of wheels spinning on gravel got the men's attention. Chris and Josiah ran outside in time to see Sanchez's vehicle, an SUV, tearing down the road.
"We need to take you to the hospital, Vin," Nathan insisted.
Vin shook his head, slowly, "No, it's nothing, really. Believe me, I've had worse nicks from an electric razor." He looked at the men, the doubt clear in their eyes.
"I promise, once we find JD I'll get it checked out, but first, we FIND him!"
Buck didn't feel like arguing, every fiber of his being ached and tingled with anguish. He couldn't believe this was happening again. He felt sick to his stomach that six men were unable to protect one teenager, but worse than that, who the hell was this guy? And why was he so insistent on hurting his young cousin? Could it be from a previous case, or someone who knew them both, or knew the Team? His head was now joining his stomach and he felt himself waver. Chris was at his side instantly, looking stronger and more like himself than he had for days.
"Enough of this shit!" He growled, "Time to reclaim what's ours, and give that SoB a taste of his own medicine!"
Vin was on his feet and all four men were nodding, determined expressions on their faces. Buck looked at his old friend.
By the time the SUV came to a halt JD was shaking, partly from shock and partly from fear. He had never been seriously hurt before and his injury terrified him. He knew he was bleeding a lot, but had no idea how much blood he could lose before he would die. He had lain across the center seats of Josiah's SUV to stop from rolling around, or at least, that was the plan. He hadn't been able to steady himself once, during the journey, due to the relentless twisting of the vehicle, caused by the excessive speed and poor handling on curves.
He looked cautiously down at his left side, covered inadequately by his left hand, and saw the blood. It was all he could do not to throw up. He closed his eyes to try and settle himself. When the car stopped, JD looked out of the window, trying to see if he recognized anything. The door behind him opened and he was unceremoniously hauled from the vehicle. No regard was shown for his condition as the man half-carried, half-threw the boy toward an abandoned building.
JD whimpered, as pain coursed through his body. The man stopped briefly to face him, then without warning, slapped JD's face hard, forcing his head to jerk backward.
"Shut up," was all he said, as he continued on into the building, dragging the dazed and injured boy more roughly than before. They came to a halt as they reached an open door to a dirty and empty room, and as they stepped inside, JD was hurled toward one of the far walls. The boy hit the ground hard. He writhed in pain, finally able to look back at the man.
"W...why?" was all he could stutter.
The man gave him a feral smile. "Because I can! Your little group of detectives were hired by my business partner to investigate me, he thought I was siphoning off money. I was, my brother was a drug addict and I needed the money to keep him alive, his habit was crippling us. He'd failed rehab and so I did the only thing I could to help him survive. When my 'indiscretion' was uncovered and the money dried up, I came home one day to find him beaten to death by the very people who had been feeding his habit. He owed them thousands of dollars, so they took it from him, by beating him near to death then cutting out his heart. The note they left me said 'paid in full, one pound of flesh'. That scene has, and will, haunt me for the rest of my life. Now I intend to take what I'm owed, something that will hurt your partners the way my loss hurts me...YOU!"
He slammed the door closed as he left, and locked it. JD stared back at the door for a moment, shocked at what he'd just heard. His vision blackened around the edges, and he passed out.
All of them piled into Chris's truck again, this time bringing along the sobbing Casey. They couldn't leave the terrified girl alone at the ranch. Even as the truck sped down the road, Josiah was on his cell phone. He had only recently had a GPS tracker installed on his vehicle.
"Come on, come on, come on," Buck chanted as he stared at Josiah.
"Damn, we really should have taken you to the hospital," Nathan said as he tried to change the blood soaked bandage he had pressed to Vin's shoulder. At the feral glare in Vin's eyes, he went silent. Casey's soft sobs filled the cab as she wept into Ezra's shoulder. Over and over, she saw the look of surprise on JD's face as the blood began to pour from his side.
"Are you sure about that?" Josiah asked. "Yes, thank you." He closed the cell phone and looked at Chris, "They said my SUV is sitting on the parking lot of the local hospital."
The truck picked up speed as it reached the highway. Chris was weaving in and out of traffic, laying on the horn to try to get people out of the way. Even as the hospital came into view, they could see the lights of the police cars surrounding Josiah's SUV.
"Oh God," Buck moaned as they came to a stop.
After explaining that Josiah owned the vehicle, they were allowed beyond the perimeter. The police sergeant steered them away from the curious spectators so he could ask them some questions.
"Are you aware that the interior of your vehicle is covered in blood?" he asked.
"Where is he? Where's JD?" Buck interrupted.
"JD who?" the officer countered.
"The teenager whose blood is all over the interior!" Ezra stated.
"There was no one in the vehicle when it was discovered."
Vin's knees chose that exact moment to fold, dumping him into Nathan's arms. Ezra steered Casey along behind Nathan as he carried Tanner into the emergency room, knowing that the girl was slipping into shock.
While his cousin and the others were trying to explain things to the police and get Vin taken care of, JD laid shivering and bleeding on the floor. In spite of the fact that he knew he was seriously injured, he was more worried about Casey. He knew that she would never forgive herself if he died, and he didn't want to die.
From his car on the hospital parking lot, one man smiled. It had been close but he had gotten the boy stashed and dumped the gore splashed vehicle. He could see Buck gesticulating wildly at the police as they questioned them about what had happened. Pulling his cell phone, he made a call, ordering a dozen roses from the hospital flower shop to be delivered to the girl in the ER. Using a stolen credit card, he asked for the card to say 'Thanks for the help, you were great!'
As the men were pacing around, trying to get a handle on things, a delivery man came up to Casey, handing her a bouquet.
"I think there's a mistake..." she said quietly.
"Well, check; read the card," the delivery man suggested helpfully.
Casey picked up the card in shaking fingers and read quietly to herself. She screamed, dropping the roses and crumpling the card in her hands, her sobs starting afresh. Buck gently pried the card out of her hands and read it, then grabbed the delivery man by the throat.
"Who the hell ordered this?!"
"I- I just deliver them, sir! I could take you to my manager--- "
"You just do that, then." Buck said, putting him down. He put a reassuring arm around Casey's shoulders, and they all walked down to the flower shop at end of the hospital.
"Uh, Bob?" The boy said nervously.
"What is it?" he snapped.
But, his eyes widened as he saw the group behind his employee.
"What's going on here?"
The boy swallowed. "These men want to trace an order."
"We don't do that..." Bob said warily, noticing the glares he was receiving.
"I think, sir, that you will make an exception..." Buck said, leaning in real close. Buck shoved the card in his face. "I want a printed-out invoice. Now... or I can wring your scrawny, pencil-neck with---"
"Buck!" Chris warned.
Buck backed off, and Bob started furiously clacking the keys of his computer...
+ + + + + + +
Meanwhile, JD felt himself being moved again.
"Where are we going?" he demanded.
"You just keep your mouth shut, boy."
"Look, if you're gon' kill me, kill me!" JD said, frustrated. "If not, then tell me what in hell's name this is about!"
"You really don't know, do you? You really don't know what damage you caused me..."
"I caused? Okay, I'm guessing I investigated you for some reason?"
"No, son; you weren't an investigator in junior high..."
"...junior high? What are you talking about?"
The vehicle jerked to the side of the road and the man turned around. JD finally got a good look at the man's face and suddenly it all came back to him.
"Ah, I see you remember, now."
"You're Jason's dad," the teen whispered. Gathering his courage, JD proclaimed, "The cops are looking for you. And Buck...and Chris...they'll come find me."
The man laughed, a harsh brittle sound. "Boy, they'll never find you, cause there won't be nothing left 'to' find." He turned around and began to drive again. Glancing in the rearview mirror, the man smiled a humorless grin. "You should have minded your own business, boy. My wife took my son. It was none of your business."
"It's everybody's business. You were beating up on a kid. My cousin says that anyone that beats on someone smaller than him is a coward."
The vehicle jerked to the side again and the man turned quickly, a gun in his hand.
"You and your cousin are so high and mighty, telling people how to run their own homes and family. Well, let's see how that high and mighty cop and his partner deal with you being dead."
The teen closed his eyes against the shot, but a voice had him opening them again.
The teen screamed as the gun turned and fired at his guardian. "NOOOO!"
Suddenly the driver's door was jerked open and Chris reached in and hauled the gunman out of the vehicle backwards. He grabbed the gun as the man tumbled to the ground.
JD was trying to move, to get out and check on Buck but was unable to extract himself from the bands that secured his wrists. He yelped in surprise as the door he was leaning against was yanked open and he started to tumble out. Strong arms caught him, stopping his descent. He looked up into his cousin's fear-filled eyes and smiled.
'Good ole Buck. You could always count on Buck.' Forgetting the restraints, he tried to reach up as he sighed, "Buck."
Pain shot through JD's side and he curled in on himself, cradling his wound, his eyes clenched closed. As the pain subsided, he opened his eyes and glanced around. "Buck?" he called out. Reality finally sunk in and the teen closed his eyes, trying to not break down and weep. 'A dream...it was only a dream...a memory from years ago.'
While Buck and Chris were still on the police force, JD's friend Jason had been beaten by his father in an incident that JD witnessed. JD was so shaken at the brutal attack that he told his brother about the incident and being the man that he is, Wilmington had investigated. Rod Simmons had come home that evening to find his wife and son gone. The man had lost what little control he had and stormed out after setting fire to his home. Figuring JD and his cop cousin had something to do with his family's disappearance he kidnapped JD in retaliation. Luckily, Chris' wife had been assigned the job of picking the teen up after practice that day and witnessed the abduction and called it in. Only Chris and Buck's timely arrival had prevented the man from killing the young teen.
JD shivered in the chilly air of the abandoned building where the man had left him. At first he was so scared of the man that his disappearance was welcome. Now his mind began to wonder what would happen if the man never came back. Had he left JD to starve to death? To die of dehydration? The teen had come the conclusion that neither was an option since the temperature was dropping and his wound was still seeping. He figured he would die from one of those long before he died from lack of water.
He curled up to conserve some body heat in the hopes that Buck and the others would find him. As he drifted into a restless slumber, his thoughts turned to Vin and the last image of the lanky Texan. JD prayed that the man wasn't badly injured and would recover. His mind shut down as he asked God to look after his cousin and the little family that the men of Seven Investigations had become.
+ + + + + + +
Inside the hospital, Nathan put his hand flat to Vin's chest and held him down on the bed. "You are NOT going anywhere Vin, you need to rest."
Vin struggled until Nathan relented, fearful he may hurt the man if he continued restraining him. The Texan looked at Nathan with a cold stare, "I'm going with you...and nothing on God's green earth is gonna stop me."
Nathan turned to the others for support, but the rest of the Team just shrugged. Ezra approached the bed.
"We are only concerned for your well-being Mister Tanner, it is not a reflection of your current temporary incapacity, and how it will affect your performance."
Vin began to move off the bed, "Good, I think."
Buck was sat slumped in a chair in the corner of the ER. A minor earthquake might have been taking place at that moment and he would have been unaware. He kept wondering over and over why Chris would have had this dream now. He cast his mind back to the events of the past few days. The bar, Chris' inebriation, his confusion of JD with Adam, Adam...Sarah...
An image was formulating in his head. He found himself thinking back to the second anniversary of the deaths. They had successfully completed their first case, a simple money-siphoning affair. It had taken them all of two weeks to crack it, right around the time JD got more actively involved with Seven Investigations, in fact, his computer skills had been a major factor in their breakthrough.
Buck's mind was starting to race now, he felt close to something. Just before the second anniversary, just before Chris's inevitable 'bender', the guy in the courtroom, the man who had embezzled his business partner was screaming at them, threatening something...shit, what was it.
Buck's eyes caught Chris's. The blond stood.
"What? What is it, Buck? I know that look," he was in front of Wilmington now and the others were moving toward him.
"The guy we took down two years ago almost to the date, the embezzler, what did he shout at us in the courtroom?"
For a few moments everyone held their breath, trying to catch up with Buck's reasoning. Josiah spoke.
"I believe it was along the lines of retribution, but as I recall, it seemed a little odd, almost as if he was talking about an entirely different occurrence."
"Yeah, I remember," Nathan joined in, "He seemed to be shouting about family...a brother? I remember wondering how it fitted in with the case. The guy was hysterical."
Chris looked Buck in the eye, "He said one day we'd know what loss that tore at your heart felt like. It didn't make sense then, but didn't we discover his brother had been murdered in a drug-related incident?"
"And wasn't his brother around twenty?" Vin asked.
Buck shot up to a standing position. "Do you remember the car he was driving back then?"
Vin stepped forward his mind thinking back to the Ranch, "Oh God no, surely he wouldn't still have that car?"
Chris was nodding now, "He lost everything, that may have been the only possession he had left..."
"And with no money when he came out of prison, which I must assume was in the not too distant past, it may have been all he had to his name," Ezra concluded.
Buck's fists were clenched, his knuckles white, as he paced frantically. Suddenly he spun around to face the others.
"Anderson!" He yelled.
Chris gripped his forearms, "Phillip Anderson," he agreed.
+ + + + + + +
JD was woken abruptly by rough hands, dragging him to his feet. He was so weak he could hardly move.
"P...please...help...help me." The boy looked at the man, his face full of hurt and pain.
"Get up, runt," he hissed, dragging JD to the now open door.
+ + + + + + +
JD stumbled, the pain in his side making it impossible for him to stand upright. Anderson's hand was twisted into the back of his tee shirt, holding him up as he was propelled back into the hallway they had used when they came in. In spite of the red veil of pain shimmering across his field of vision, the young man searched desperately for a weapon. Glancing through an open doorway, he saw a battered Ford Taurus beyond the broken window.
+ + + + + + +
Chris ran back to where the cops were still circling Josiah, peppering the older man with questions. "I need your help," he said to the officer, "I think we know who has JD."
It took a while, using the computer in the police car, to find the last license plate issued to Anderson's vehicle. There were no current tags on the car; it hadn't been registered since the man had gone to jail.
"You have to put out an APB on that car," Chris said.
"You don't even know for sure if the man still has the car! It could have been sent to a junk yard by now!" the officer protested.
"Please. JD was shot, he's bleeding badly. This may be our only chance to find him before it's too late."
Finally, the officer did put out the call to look for the car, if only to get the blond to go away. He also put out a description of the teenager; he hoped the kid would be found, and soon, or it was going to be very bad. On the sidewalk, a detective was now questioning the older man about the SUV. What a mess! A kidnapping, a shooting, someone using a stolen credit card to send flowers to an hysterical teenaged girl, his training officer had said there would be days like this.
+ + + + + + +
When Anderson released his grip on the handful of material, JD crumpled to the floor. Groaning as the jarring sent bolts of pain through his side, JD tried to curl up in a ball.
"Oh, no you don't. I have plans for you, runt. I want you to suffer the way I've been suffering." Grabbing JD by the arm, he jerked the injured teen to his feet and hurled him up against the wall. Capturing the teen's wrists, he forced them up into open loops of rope. Sliding the knots down tight, Anderson grabbed the chain attached to the rope and pulled, tightening the rope until JD could only just keep his feet on the floor. "I used to play tennis with my brother. Did you know that? He was the best at returning my overhead serves. We used to practice for hours and hours. He was going to be a Wimbledon champion. But there was one thing he wasn't very good at, returning a serve from one of these."
JD opened his eyes to see the man yanking a tarp off a machine of some kind. It had a large bin on the top side and hole toward the bottom of the front. As he realized what Anderson had in mind, he whimpered, knowing that he was in for a world of pain.
The first ball was too low, hitting him in the shin before bouncing across the trash-covered floor. Anderson adjusted the aim, lifting the machine's angle up a couple of inches. The next ball connected with JD's ribs, causing him to flinch. Immediately, he felt fresh blood begin to seep from his side. Several shots later, one of the tennis balls actually hit the wound, drawing an agonized scream from JD's lips.
+ + + + + + +
Cruising past the abandoned machine shop, the police car slowed. Although the APB had specified a gray or silver Taurus, he wondered about the primer-red Taurus parked near the building. It had no plates and hadn't been there the day before when he patrolled the area.
Officer Redhawk knew the men from Seven Investigations; they did good, honest work and they were fair. It wasn't any skin off of his back to get out of the car and have a look around.
As he approached the building, a blood-curdling scream rent the air. Drawing his weapon, Redhawk hunched down behind the Taurus and keyed his radio, calling for backup. The response came that that backup was only minutes away.
As the next ball hit, JD passed out from the pain. However, Anderson left the machine running. What he wasn't expecting was the sound of sirens outside.
"Anderson! Let the boy go!" an unfamiliar voice sounded through a bullhorn.
He stuck his head out the window.
"Why should I? He deserves everything he's getting!" Anderson shouted back.
Buck had heard enough. So had the rest of the group, but as Chris turned to Buck, hoping to come up with a plan...
"Where in hell is Buck?" he asked the others.
Everyone just kind of shrugged; no one had even seen him slip away...
Anderson, still staring at the window, was QUITE surprised when someone yanked him back by the hair and slammed him to the floor. He tried to get up, but felt a sharp kick, making him slide to the floor once again.
"I'd stay down if'n I was you, pard..."
Vin Tanner's voice startled the prone man as he looked up to see the Texan standing behind the taller man. Without glancing back, Buck asked, "You okay with this scum, Vin?"
"Oh, yeah, no problem." The contempt was obvious in the Texan's voice. He stepped forward into Wilmington's view and the big man nodded as he stepped away.
The sound of the ball machine loading again spurred the man into action. He ran across and slammed into the device just as it launched the ball. The machine skated to the side and the ball blasted past the unconscious form of his young cousin. Buck moved over to where the boy hung limp and got his first good look at the battered body. Emotions warred for control of the man's features-anger, fear, compassion, guilt.
Shaking himself out of his daze, he moved forward and then, unsure of what to do without possibly doing further injury to the boy. His dilemma was solved when the doors burst open and the rest of their little family ran in, followed closely by the authorities. Buck stood frozen as the police rushed over to Anderson and hauled him up and out. EMT's surrounded JD as he was lowered to the ground, checking his injuries and quickly loading him onto a stretcher and wheeling him toward the door.
Buck's eyes moved from the man he wanted to pound into the ground to the lanky form Nathan and Sanchez were supporting as the trio trailed the stretcher and finally to the still body of his cousin. His emotions warred as to the path to take-follow Anderson to assure he was contained, check on the man that had refused treatment until the missing member of the company had been found, or accompany his cousin to the hospital.
A hand gripped his arm and he turned to stare into the green eyes of his closest friend. "Ezra is going with Anderson. Nate and Josiah have Vin. Come on. I'll drive you to the hospital."
The big man nodded and blindly allowed himself to be led out of the dilapidated building. The ambulance was just pulling away as they came out Wilmington could see Sanchez sitting in the front passenger side. He figured Nathan was in the back with JD and Vin as well as the second paramedic. He stumbled slightly as his head swiveled around to see where Standish was. Chris' strong grip helped him to recover even as his gaze found Standish seated in the front of a state trooper's car. Their eyes met briefly and the ex-CIA agent nodded in acknowledgement.
Larabee opened the door and waited for the dazed Wilmington to climb in. Slamming the door, he moved around the truck and got in. He glanced over as he turned the key. "Buckle up, Buck."
Watching as the man automatically obeyed, Chris did the same before dropping the vehicle into drive and heading out. He had spoken to the police and arranged for someone to come to the hospital to talk Buck at the same time they interviewed JD. Chris drove slowly, calmly, allowing time for the ambulance to arrive and give the doctors time to examine their patients. The shorter time that the big man had to wait at the hospital, the better for the others waiting along with him.
They arrived and parked. Buck seemed to come out of the stunned state that had numbed him up to that point. By the time they entered the waiting room, he was anxious and agitated. After getting a brief report on the injured men, Buck began to pace. Ezra appeared, courtesy of the local police, joining them and informing the man that Anderson had requested a lawyer and refused to say anything. Buck went back to pacing. The doctor came in to inform them that both men were on their way to surgery. The other five men of Seven Investigations, moved upstairs to the surgical waiting room where Buck continued to pace. He only stopped as the doctor walked in.
The men gathered around to hear about the injured men. "Tanner?" the man asked. At the nods, he continued. "Mister Tanner is out of surgery. The wound did some muscle damage but there was no nerve or vessel involvement. We debris and closed the wound. He'll be in a room within the hour. If there are no questions, I'll have someone come let you know what room as soon as we get him settled."
Having no questions for the man, each man expressed his thanks to the physician and the man left. Four of the men settled in for the wait while Buck returned to pacing. Within minutes, a second doctor entered the room. Once again, the men gathered around the surgeon to get word on the last member of their group.
Standing with one hand on his hip, the man ran the other hand through his hair. He knew the men of Seven Investigations, so he knew to get straight to the point. "He'll be fine. The bullet cut through fleshy area just below his ribs, stopping against a rib. An inch to the side and it would have missed him completely. Blood loss was a concern but we've replenished the volume with two units of whole blood. He had deep tissue bruising from the...tennis balls, if I understand correctly. Painfully, but not life threatening."
He glanced at each man in turn, seeing the worry in their faces. "Really, he's going to be fine. It'll be a few weeks before he is back to full strength, but I don't see any reason that he won't make a full recovery." Seeing the men relax somewhat, he finished by saying, "I saw that Vin was in surgery also. I'll see to it that they're in the same room; should save you from having to run back and forth."
"Thanks, doc. We appreciate it."
Once in the rooms, the men settled in to wait for the two men to awaken. It didn't take long. It seemed that once one stirred the other followed suite. Vin woke, knowing instantly where he was and why. JD woke slowly and confused. It took all the men talking softly over a period of hours to make the boy finally grasp that his ordeal was over.
Vin was released early the next morning, but after JD developed a fever during the night, he remained in hospital for another two days. Casey came visit the second day, tearfully apologizing for shooting him and JD claimed that it was not an issue and promised to have Vin give her lessons on how to properly handle weapon for the next time. The girl had immediately proclaimed that there would be no next time and left after placing a kiss on JD's lips. JD felt good about the incident. Amazingly, he suffered no after effects from the kidnapping. Whether it was due to his confidence in his cousin or his only vague memories, he was ready to get out of the hospital and get back to work.
Buck on the other hand had grown quiet and much too still in his cousin's eyes. When the big man came to pick him up and head home, the youth decided to confront the man.
"What's going on? In your head, I mean."
Wilmington spared his cousin a glance before once again concentrating on the road. "Nothing," he denied.
That got a reaction. The truck veered slightly as the older man's head jerked around to glare at the youth. "You need to watch that mouth, JD. You're not too big for me to take over my knee."
"So, talk to me."
Buck turned his attention back to road.
"I'm not stupid, Buck. I know it's about me. You want me out, right?" His mouth tightened under the mustache and for a moment JD thought the older man wasn't going to answer him. The truck moved to the right and stopped in a bank parking lot. Turning off the engine, Buck leaned over the wheel, his head resting on his hands. Finally, he sat back and turned to the younger man. "You being out wouldn't have helped this time. He wanted to hurt us and even if you had been at home, he would have still picked you."
He swallowed and his eyes darted over to look out the front window and then back. "I think...I think I'm going to sell out my part of Seven Investigations."
"No, Buck, you can't. What about Chris?"
"Ah, Chris'll be fine."
"And Vin...Ezra? What about Nathan and Josiah? For that matter, what are you going to do?"
Taking a deep breath, the man rubbed his face with one hand. "I'll think of something. I could restore old cars. You'd like that, right? You always like to help me and Vin."
"Yeah, I like to help...you...Vin. But he won't be there. Buck, it's more than a business. It's your family...our family...you don't just sell family."
The dark blue eyes deepened to black as the man's anger flared. "You're my family. And every time I turn around, you're in some kind of trouble. I'm supposed to protect you, not put you in harm's way."
"I'm not a kid, Buck. Even if you sell, I could still work for Chris."
"Not if I have anything to say about it. I'm your guardian and I won't allow it."
JD's mouth dropped open and then snapped closed. "Fine. Sell out...walk out on your family."
He turned in the seat to glare out windshield.
"Kid, it's not like that." Seeing the set of the boy's jaw, the man decided that the conversation would have to continue later.
He started the truck and was about to pull out into traffic when JD spoke without turning toward his cousin. "I'll be twenty one in sixteen months. I can do what I want then. Chris will hire me."
It was only then that he turned to look at older man. "I love working at Seven Investigations. I want to work there. I'd rather do it with you...but if I have to I'll do it without you."
Buck sat staring at the boy that he had raised and his heart swelled with pride and pounded with fear at the same time. "JD, I...I don't...can't lose you."
"And I can lose you? I've been living with that fear for ten years, the whole time you and Chris were on the force."
Wilmington looked away. Composing himself, he looked back. "I guess I never really thought about that...what you were going through, kid. How come you never said anything?"
JD finally smiled. "Because I knew how much you loved it...and because I wanted you to be happy. You gave up a lot for me over the years. It wouldn't be right for you to give up any more."
Buck sat quietly for a moment and then shook his head very slowly. "Kid..."
A horn blared behind them, jarring both and breaking the somber mood. Pulling forward and checking traffic, Buck pulled out. Stopping at the light at the corner, Buck turned to his cousin. "What do you say we go check and see how well Chris is taking care of your inheritance?"
Sitting up straighter, JD grinned. "Sounds great."