"Oh God, Nathan. This is bad."

Nathan Jackson couldn't remember ever hearing Vin Tanner sound so shaken and so afraid. The hopelessness in Vin's voice caused Jackson to shudder. If only he didn't feel the same way. But he did.

This was bad.

The two agents had arrived at the home of Gene and Claire Peterson just ten minutes earlier. No one had answered when they rang or knocked. Knowing they had only about 45 minutes to spare before the ATF, in all its glory, red tape and protocol, would arrive with warrants in hand to search the bungalow, Vin and Nathan decided to take matters into their own hands. They weren't waiting for a warrant.


Tanner had easily obtained entry, and Jackson followed him through the side entrance. Both had their guns in hand and cautiously entered through the kitchen. They split up, Nathan taking the basement stairs and Vin remaining on the ground level of the house.

Each agent found their own nightmare.

For Nathan it was the lab. Perhaps in the past it had been safely hidden away, locked behind two doorways furthest from the family room, but now the doors had been carelessly left ajar and the room left exposed for anyone to enter - seemingly abandoned. But the evidence remained, and it lay open for Nathan to examine…taunting him, just as Peterson's note had taunted their team earlier.

Drug paraphernalia, ingredients and laboratory equipment lay on the tables and counters. Nathan had barely had time to inspect anything, when he heard Vin Tanner's curse and his urgent call for his partner to join him in the master bedroom.

And that's when the nightmare got worse.

Vin Tanner had found Gene's wife. Claire Peterson lay on her bedroom floor - dead. Asphyxiated. Murdered. By her husband…a certainty. The suspended agent had gone completely over the edge and was rapidly free falling.

He had nothing left to lose. Vin now knew the truth, and as soon as Nathan arrived on the scene, he instinctively knew it as well.


Gene Peterson had lost or given up everything, and the lives of two fellow agents clearly meant absolutely nothing to him. Buck and JD were simply pawns to get Chris to him, so that Gene could kill them all and then go out with a bang himself. Jackson and Tanner had seen this horrifying scenario before…they had both seen men like Gene before.

`Suicide by Cop' was a glory-seeking coward's way of getting someone else to do their dirty-work - to pull the trigger for them. But Gene Peterson's plan was even more elaborate. He would try to take out Chris first, and murder Buck and the kid too, before the ATF could finish him off.

That would be his plan. Vin knew it and Nathan knew it.

But Tanner had his own version of this plan. If Peterson wanted to die by a cop's bullet, well then Vin Tanner wouldn't stand in his way…he'd even oblige him...but Buck and JD had to be found first.

Hell yeah…once they were safe, the sharpshooter would be more than willing to do the deed.

+ + + + + + +


Finally. . .mercifully. . .the punishment stopped. Despite his ragged breaths, Buck tried to quiet his heart and settle his breathing. He had to listen. He had to know what was happening to JD.

Suddenly he could hear movement in that awful room. The grating sound of JD's handcuffs scraping against the metal pipe supporting him and then, Peterson's plodding footsteps. Gene was carrying JD - JD, who still hadn't made a sound. Please God. . .

Buck Wilmington would kill this man.

As the door re-opened, the light was shut off. Peterson, JD and Buck were now immersed together in total darkness. God, how Buck needed to see the boy's face, to see how hurt he was.

Yet, in this darkness, the agent could only rely on the sounds before him. And as heavy footfalls approached him, Buck felt his heart thunder within his chest. Gene was dragging JD towards him. Oh, dear Lord. He couldn't take the not seeing…and the not knowing. This was killing him and still not a word from Peterson -- and more terrifying -- not a sound from the kid.

Buck felt the damp air move as JD's body was heartlessly dumped on the cold hard floor before him. JD's body. Oh God, kid. Buck was dying inside.


But as the body crumpled before him, Buck heard a miraculous sound. It was a weak, pained and muffled groan, but by God, it came from the kid. JD was alive!


Buck would have to control his grief and rage. The kid was alive and he needed him. Buck turned furious eyes to his captor, still invisible in the darkness. Rage filled his heart, but he remained quiet. He sensed that his words could hurt JD further. And the boy might barely be holding on now. Buck Wilmington would wait to get his revenge.

JD needed him now.


Peterson said nothing…but Buck could hear and, worse yet feel, his heavy breathing. The man was panting from exertion - from ruthlessly exerting his lunacy on JD's helpless form. Buck tried to will him away. He needed to be alone with JD - NOW! Buck needed to get to the boy…to help him. He hadn't been there for JD before, so he needed to be there for him now. He prayed for Gene to leave -- to just go away, damnit!

But Gene wouldn't go and in fact the casual shift of the man's position made it perfectly clear somehow to Buck that Gene had no intention of leaving just yet. Peterson's gasps were subsiding, his strength returning and there wasn't a goddamned thing Buck could do about it. Fear, grief and pain had drained him of nearly any reserves he might have had left…and what did remain, he was saving for JD.

Somehow in the hours-days-years that Buck had seemingly spent in this black basement, he'd rapidly become accustomed to it, and although he could no longer see, his ability to feel and sense had become almost profound. Like a knife piercing his skin, he could feel Peterson projecting his intense hatred, rage and insanity into him.

Or maybe it wasn't that he'd adapted to the darkness that enabled him to suddenly be so aware of Gene, but rather, because at this moment he was mirroring Gene's emotions. Buck couldn't remember when he'd ever felt such hatred or rage…and his sanity? He was sure he'd lost that after JD's last cry. Like a wounded and trapped animal still desperate to protect its young, Buck was crazed.

As crazy as Gene. He wondered if Peterson could sense it, too. Despite the blackness enveloping them, Buck turned his gaze upward and bored straight into his captor's eyes, white hot rage meeting ice-cold fury.


Peterson's breath hitched and he stepped back. And Buck Wilmington allowed himself some satisfaction and a little triumph.

'If looks could kill.' Gene Peterson couldn't understand how he knew that Wilmington had just delivered him a lethal glare, but he knew it just the same and it definitely unnerved him. His mission had been to torture Buck by using the boy and to torture Larabee by using them both, and he knew he was succeeding. But he hadn't expected Wilmington to still possess so much strength after all he and the boy had been through. It maddened the suspended agent and he was angry with himself too, for being momentarily cowed by his enemy, who he knew was clearly disabled in front of him.

He stepped forward once more. "You think you got anything left, Buck? You think you can take me?" Gene's voice was menacing. "I'm more of a man and cop than you'll ever be, you 'and' Larabee."

Chris' name was spat from Peterson's lips. His tone became caustic. "Where's your friend, now? Hmm, Buck? Where's your boss…super-agent Chris Larabee…" Gene scoffed moving toward him in the darkness, "…now?"

"Lookin' for you, Gene…lookin' for you." Buck's voice was whisper quiet, but his tone was deadly. "And you know what? Chris'll find you, Gene…..because he's just better 'n you are…he's that good." God, how Buck loathed this man.


Gene quaked. He'd break the man, before this was over, he'd break Buck Wilmington. He hated Buck…always had. For his incessant exuberance, especially after too many goddamn years in law enforcement. What right did Buck have not to be bitter after all this time? And Peterson hated the agent for the charm that enabled him to get along with everybody and for the good looks that had women falling for him constantly. He hated Buck for the way that he could nurture young agents like JD Dunne and for the way that boy so obviously looked up to him, adored him even…and - most of all - he hated Wilmington for his unyielding loyalty to Larabee…the only person he hated more.

Gene straightened. He'd break Buck Wilmington all right. And with that confidence regenerating thought, Gene Peterson viciously kicked JD, turned and walked away.

With the impact of Peterson's boot to JD's already battered body, the boy barely uttered a moan. Buck felt such shame. He had tried to hold his tongue, fearing that Gene would further his wrath on the boy, but he couldn't help himself. And, God help him, he was right. Buck was mortified to know that that last blow was entirely his fault.

"Oh, kid," he whispered. "I'm so sorry, son."

To his overwhelming relief, Buck heard the fall of Gene's boots heading back up the stairs. Thank God, he would finally be able to look after JD.


As Peterson opened the door, Buck was set awash in bright light and this time, when the door closed, the light remained. Buck had to shield his eyes for a moment. He'd been in the dark too long.

Flashing colored spots began to fade from his vision, and as the red haze of anxiety was blinked away, Buck focused his attention on the too-still boy lying in front of him. Buck's heart clenched as JD gasped…and then he moaned.

"Oh God, kid."

He now understood why Gene had allowed him to finally see, to hurt him further. The damage looked even worse than it had sounded, if that was possible. The kid lay unconscious, curled up on his side…a battered, bloody mess. And unlike Buck, he was no longer cuffed, or bound in any way - testament to being hurt much worse than his best friend. JD lay unmoving on the cold damp floor.

Ignoring his own injuries, Buck shifted so that he could reach him.

He couldn't.

Another act of cruelty.

Buck frantically tried, but just as he couldn't escape his bonds to save JD earlier, he now couldn't free himself to help or comfort him.

"You bastard!!" Buck's cry was anguished, and not at all from his own injuries - he could no longer feel them. Buck's only suffering was that of JD's, and his only purpose was to somehow find a way to help the boy.

But until JD awoke, all he had to offer the boy was his voice. And, when it came to the kid, Buck Wilmington understood the power of his voice. He'd always been able to soothe JD with it - settle him, calm him. JD would trust his big brother's voice.

Buck could still comfort him.

Thank God he could at least do that.

+ + + + + + +

JD was in pain…such terrifying, excruciating pain. His head throbbed in time with his heartbeat, as it pounded against his already pummeled ribs. Oh, God. He now had an intimate understanding of what being run over by a train must feel like.


Even though bolts of pain shot through his arms, from his shoulders to his wrists, the young agent sensed that if he allowed himself to be fully awake, his right hand would surely redefine the meaning of that word for him. Agony seemed to fit, though. Or hell. That would do. Hell might even explain why he was feeling so desperately afraid, too. JD squeezed his eyes shut, trying to keep the overwhelming pain and terror in his heart from breaking through, waking him and pushing him to the brink of panic. Why was he so afraid? And why, in the midst of all of this physical torture, did his heart ache even more?

He wanted nothing more than to keep his eyes closed and sleep it all away. But the pain was too intense and it simply wouldn't allow him sleep. And even though a part of him -- the kid in him -- was too terrified to face this hell, the ATF agent in JD was already fighting his fear. And so he let that part of him try to reach through his unconsciousness and remember what had happened.

He remembered being at the Halloween party with all of his friends. No. Buck was missing and JD had been worried about him because Buck would never be that late. But no, wait a minute -- Buck did come. Relief. Yeah, that's right. Buck finally came. But soon after Buck had arrived, JD remembered feeling sick. Not sick, really -- strange and…groggy…spaced out, even and really claustrophobic.

God, and very afraid. But Buck was there for him right away, like always, and he helped get JD away from there. And then…and then…what? And then…nothing.

Despite the relentless throbbing in his brain, JD kept trying - forcing himself to remember. But the memories were coming in only flashes now. He'd been carried. By…Buck? Yes, Buck.

But then, no, wait. His hands were tied -- no, handcuffed. How could that be? God, JD was confused. Where was Buck then? Buck was still there…with him.

Wasn't he?

Why did these memories frighten him so? JD had to keep fighting the fear enveloping him and dig deeper to uncover what else had happened. And even though his breathing was becoming so rapid that it felt like his ribs were splitting apart, he had to let himself remember, damnit - he needed to understand.

JD kept trying. He'd become so dizzy later on that he couldn't even hold his head up, let alone stand. But big hands had grabbed him and supported him. Buck? No. Those hands raised JD's own up above his head and…hung him by them. Lord how that hurt. JD hadn't been tall enough to stand there even if he could have supported his weight, and the handcuffs squeezed and sliced into his hands, and…


JD's breath hitched in his throat.

And then the pain got worse. . .

But where was Buck? Oh, God! JD gagged as the memory struck like a blow. Buck was there. JD remembered looking up at him. But it wasn't really Buck's face. God, JD was as confused now as he was then. It was Buck, but it wasn't.

But it was.


JD had looked right at Buck, and then Buck…hit…him. Over and over and over. He wouldn't stop, even when JD begged him to, he just kept on hitting. And it hurt so bad, JD had cried.

Buck…hurt…me. Oh, God! Why?! I asked him why and he wouldn't even tell me!

JD could barely breathe, now. He was so horribly confused. Buck would never hurt him, but God…he…HAD…hurt him, and that terrified JD more than anything. Dear God, this was hell. How could he have been so wrong? How had his world turned upside down like this? And how could Buck break his heart like that?

The young agent now vividly understood the reason for his fear -- he remembered -- all of it. And with that dreadful remembrance, his building panic soared. He couldn't let on that he was awake…couldn' t open his eyes. Because whenever JD was hurt, he'd always wake to Buck, Buck was always there, JD could count on it.

A shudder ran through the boy's battered frame and he couldn't suppress a whimper.

Oh, God! Buck was there now.

JD knew it. He could feel it.

And that terrified him.

+ + + + + + +

Relief pumped through Buck's heart as he saw JD stiffen and then begin to stir ever so slightly. The boy's whimper tore at his soul, but Buck couldn't prevent a small smile from forming on his own bruised face, nor could he deny the glimmer of hope filling him, just knowing that the kid was finally coming around.

As JD's body began to slowly twitch and uncoil, Buck cringed at the moans parting the boy's lips. God, the kid was in so much pain. His mind flashed back to the sound of breaking bones, and his heart clenched. The boy had to be careful to not hurt himself further, if that were even possible. Buck had to help, even if he couldn't actually reach JD. He swallowed his own fear and spoke softly. "Easy, kid. Buck's here. You're gonna be. . ."

"Oh, kid."

Buck thought he was going to die. JD was shaking. At the sound of his voice the kid froze, and then his whole body began to tremble. JD didn't understand - didn't know he wasn't with Peterson. That bastard. Buck had to keep trying, he'd make sure JD knew his best friend was with him and that he was safe.

"C'mon, kid. It's okay. Look at me, son. It's Buck."

The more Buck tried to soothe JD, the more frightened the boy became. As Buck had said his own name, JD's eyes jolted open, but the boy now lay staring at him, paralyzed with fear. His heart breaking at the sight, Buck found no trust in JD's wounded eyes, but only pain and absolute terror.

The big man continued his litany of soothing words for JD, words that JD knew by heart, words that had always comforted the kid. Words that instead, were making the boy cringe and cower and continue to moan and whimper. Words that were failing Buck Wilmington and destroying him in a way he never thought possible. His soul was dying, but still he kept trying, he had to reach JD.

Despite his own anguish and building desperation, Buck squeezed his eyes shut and forced all of his fear and pain down into the recesses of his soul, bringing only his love for the kid and faith in their trust, forward. Upon reopening, his eyes were glistening with unshed tears and he locked his gaze with the boy before him.

And all at once Buck understood, and yet, felt immeasurable devastation.

Relief alternated with grief, in Buck's discovery of something he'd forgotten in the horror of the moment. JD's pupils weren't right, they weren't right at all. Certainly, the beating could have caused it…Lord knows JD was hit often and hard enough. But Buck knew better, after all, he'd been drugged too. JD was stoned, and in his haze the boy was experiencing the terror Buck had suffered through upon waking that first time.

But what utterly devastated Buck, was seeing something else in the boy's eyes, something that he hadn't seen earlier…or hadn't wanted to see.

Oh dear God, no.

Recognition. JD 'knew' Buck was with him and still he was pulling away. Wilmington understood this boy and could read him better than anyone, and JD's anguished eyes were telling him that he was terrified of his best friend. But for the tears escaping from those wounded eyes, JD was now frozen, and Buck was overcome with sorrow and grief. Watching the kid brother he loved more than anything shy away from him in terror and tremble at the sound of his voice, was a living hell. He wanted nothing more in life at that instant than to wrap his protective arms around JD and tell him that everything was going to be all right. The knowledge that doing this would simply petrify the boy even further, shook the man to his core.

Another reason to kill Peterson, as if he'd needed one more reason.

To think that JD's addled mind could possibly imagine his big brother hurting him, sickened Buck, but it also made sense. Somehow the boy had gotten confused about the costume, and who was wearing it. And that bastard Peterson had counted on it. This explained why Gene had worn it during JD's beating. And they'd have likely been given a hallucinogen. No wonder the kid was so messed up. But knowing this didn't make the agony of the situation any easier for Buck. It couldn't take the pain away.

Fighting against all of his paternal instincts, Buck forced himself to look away from the boy. Right now, their eye contact was hurting JD and although that fact tore at his heart, he had to put the kid's state of mind ahead of his own. Clenching his jaw against his own discomfort, Buck slowly attempted to shift his bloodied body lower to the ground so that he could hopefully make himself a less imposing figure to JD. In doing so though, he had to move his legs. This too, he did slowly and carefully - to minimize his own pain and, more importantly, to not scare the kid.


Sorrow overwhelmed Buck once more, and his own eyes welled, as he watched the boy cringe and jerk away from his legs -- undoubtedly afraid that Buck was getting closer.

Still worried about the kid hurting himself further, Buck couldn't prevent watching as JD, still mute with fear, tried to shift even farther away, using his hands to propel him. But as soon as JD threw his weight into the effort, he cried out and clutched his right hand to his chest. The kid lay panting from the minor exertion and tears streamed down his cheeks and Buck wanted so desperately to go to him.

Buck's heart plummeted in his chest as he realized the boy's right hand was swollen, almost misshapen. The kid's hand or wrist was likely broken and Buck had to squeeze his eyes closed and quickly swallow the lump of dread growing within him as his imagination was overwhelmed with visions of 'what else could be broken?'

When he reopened his eyes, Buck looked away from the injured hand JD cradled against his own chest, and stole a glance at the boy's face. JD's eyes were closed now, and mercifully no more tears were falling. The boy had undoubtedly passed out and Buck shamefully felt gratitude for the kid's much-needed respite. With rest came clarity of mind, or at least that's how it had been earlier for Buck. He had to believe JD would follow the same pattern.

And so until the drug began to wear off…and it would wear off…all he could do was watch over the boy…and pray.

Buck had seen JD through many a trauma and he'd be damned if he couldn't help pull the kid through this one. Buck would break through the haze and reach JD. He had to. No matter what Peterson had done to the boy, Buck would ensure that JD knew just how much he meant to him, and that he never would have hurt him.


+ + + + + + +

"You realize that this is a waste of time don't you, Ezra?" It was Chris Larabee's tone, rather than his words that halted Standish's efforts at hooking up the ATF's automated tracing/tracking system to Buck's phone line. Larabee sounded so unlike himself, almost defeated. The team leader was a walking emotional Pandora's box. No one knew what to expect from the man at any given moment. He was
maintaining his cool, but his fuse was exceptionally short, which was why Ezra was in the process of hooking up the system now, rather than Bill Davies, who had just been ejected from the apartment.


Bill was a good man and a good agent, but much too anal and simply too annoying to be in the same room as Team 7 when two of their team members' lives were in danger. As soon as Davies had started spouting off procedure and `instructing' Chris on how to retain the hostage-taker on the line for as long as possible…well, it was a good thing Josiah had been there. Sanchez had stepped in immediately and with a grip on Davies' shoulder that could have rivaled a Vulcan's, the big man had escorted Davies from the apartment all the way down to the surveillance van stationed in the neighboring park across the road.

Standish could only assume what had happened next. Josiah undoubtedly advised the agent as to Larabee's significantly more than fleeting knowledge of ATF procedure and most assuredly cautioned the agent against stepping on Chris' or any of the Seven's toes during the balance of the operation. Since Josiah hadn't returned immediately, Ezra presumed that he was not only reading the remainder of the surveillance team the `riot act,' but also conferring with the agents about the situation.


Vin and Nathan also had not yet returned from Peterson's home, which left Larabee and Standish alone in Buck and JD's apartment. Ezra felt such empathy for Chris. As he watched his leader pace around the home belonging to his oldest friend, Standish prayed that the man, who had finally ascended from the deepest depths of despair, would not be struck down yet again by another tragedy. Standish knew that at this time in life, Vin Tanner was closer to Chris than Wilmington. Josiah had once expressed in all sincerity that the quiet sharpshooter and the leader were kindred spirits. But there was no doubt in anyone's mind that the bond between Buck and Chris, though often tested, was infinitely deeper.

Buck had been there with and for Chris during the highest, most joyous moments of his life. And he had also borne witness to, and in fact shared in, Chris' lowest, most excruciating moments. So despite that oft-times precarious relationship, the emotional history they shared unified them for all eternity. If the Seven lost Buck, not only would the team lose a dear friend, but Chris would lose his last link to his precious past, something Standish feared the man could not endure.

And then there was JD. Chris had taken a chance with the boy…gut instinct Buck had called it. Every day they may be risking their lives, it was a given, but to lose JD like this, in a revenge attack…Chris would not recover, of that, the southerner was sure.


Of course Ezra too was concerned for both Buck and JD, even more so than he cared to acknowledge. Buck and he had always gotten along extremely well. Buck's good cheer was simply too hard to resist and his open nature had welcomed Ezra into the fold long before the southern agent was even willing to admit he wanted the welcome. Although he'd deny it emphatically, Standish was truly grateful for that welcome and for Buck's continuing and unconditional friendship.

And like his mentor, JD Dunne's enthusiasm for everything in life provided the repeatedly displaced agent with a sense of hope - for the future, and even for himself. JD's much clichéd and unwavering faith in truth, justice and mankind in general, was at times exasperating to his fellow agents, but also refreshingly appealing to a certain jaded undercover agent. A Ph.D. was hardly necessary to analyze just why JD meant so much to all of the men comprising Team 7. His innocence was in a sense exactly what they were all fighting for…and what they would all be more than willing to sacrifice their own lives for, without a moment's hesitation.

Although not one for prayer, Ezra found himself praying again, that Buck, whose love for the boy went beyond any devotion Standish himself had ever witnessed let alone experienced in his life, had not already made that ultimate sacrifice.

Losing JD would be a tragedy and would devastate the team, especially their leader, who would once again be consumed by a life-sapping guilt. For Ezra Standish, who had found true family for the first time in his life that simply couldn't happen. So despite Chris' admonishment, and Ezra's own feelings of futility towards his efforts, he would continue to hook up the recording and tracing devices in preparation for Gene Peterson's anticipated, but undoubtedly not lengthy enough, phone call, though JD's intricate little additions to their equipment gave Ezra hope.

Standish's searching eyes met Larabee's icy scowl. He hesitated to say anything at all, completely aware that logic dictated that he continue where Davies had left off. Not only was he following ATF standard operating procedure, but there was also a possibility that, even though Peterson did know just how long to stay on the line without being traced, unaware JD's efforts may best him yet, monitoring the calls could still give them a clue as to their friends' whereabouts.


The silence between the two agents was deafening, and Ezra found himself stealing glimpses at the door, hoping that Josiah, or better yet Vin, would make a perfectly timed entrance and succeed in breaking the tension between them. With no reinforcements coming, the younger agent swallowed his apprehensions, resumed his work and reluctantly, and not to mention redundantly, proceeded to explain himself.

"Mr. Larabee, I concur that the expatriated agent Peterson is entirely aware of ATF SOP, such that the probability of tracing his location through our methods is remote to non-existent, however. . ." Ezra swallowed again and looked into his superior's unfaltering gaze. "However, recording your anticipated conversation with said agent and Agents Wilmington and Dunne in kind, could furnish us with sufficient information to determine their location."

Ezra wasn't just speaking the truth, he was sharing his hopes with his leader as well. Never one to be an optimist, in Buck and JD's absence, Standish found himself stepping into this uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory. He truly did believe that his friends were still alive and, in holding this belief, he felt compelled to offer Chris Larabee any assurances he could share.


The team leader looked away from Standish for a moment but when he refocused his eyes once more, much to Ezra's astonishment and relief, Larabee's gaze had softened. Maybe he had gotten through. Standish smiled, and his usually impassive face expressed a world of hope along with a hint of fear.


"Chris, if there `is' a chance, shouldn't we be taking it?"


Larabee's posture relaxed and his eyes softened further. He'd never seen his undercover agent look so hopeful, nor had he seen him look this vulnerable, unless of course he was in a hospital bed doped up on painkillers. Chris shrugged and sighed, allowing himself to form a slight smile for the younger man. He'd no doubt that the kid would've gotten to Ezra long ago, but to look at that normally indifferent face now, Chris was truly amazed to see not only Ezra's desperate need for Buck and JD to make it through this, but also a totally unselfish desire to help the team, and to help Chris through this. And that made him proud. How about that. Chris approached his agent - his friend - and firmly gripped his forearm.

"Yeah, Ezra, we should. You're right and I know it. I'm just blowin' off steam." Chris shifted his hand to Ezra's shoulder and turned his attention to the tracing equipment.

"Now -- what can I do to help?"

+ + + + + + +

The first sign that things had somehow gotten worse was the look on Vin Tanner's face as he, Nathan and Josiah entered Buck and JD's apartment. Chris couldn't prevent his body from shuddering when he saw the despair projected from his best friend's blue eyes. The next sign of course was the matching haunted gazes worn by Jackson and Sanchez, who had met the returning pair on his way back from the surveillance vehicle.

Chris' three men looked severely shaken, and when Ezra turned away from the tracing equipment to greet his partners and saw Vin's near-welling eyes, he too saw the obvious and couldn't stifle his gasp.

"Oh, dear Lord, no."


It was Josiah who recovered the quickest realizing that the grief written on his, Vin, and Nathan's faces had been mistaken by Chris and Ezra as some indication that Buck and JD were dead. He recognized the reaction having felt exactly the same way just moments earlier upon seeing his friends' distraught appearances as he met them in the lobby downstairs. Although Vin and Nathan's news was still very ominous, thankfully it wasn't as devastating for the team as it could have been.

Still reeling from what Nathan and Vin had told him in the elevator, Josiah pulled himself together and relaxed his own features, hoping to ease Chris and Ezra's worries, as well. Unfortunately what had to be said wouldn't give them much comfort.

"Now don't overreact. The news is not good by any means, but by the grace of God, it's thankfully not what you're fearing."

Both Ezra and Chris visibly relaxed - slightly. Josiah had said the news was not good, and Nathan and Vin still looked mighty upset. Things weren't getting any better.


The five partners assembled in the living room, either seating themselves on the sectional couch or in the other surrounding chairs. Buck's lazy-boy however remained conspicuously empty. The old recliner was ragged and an eyesore, and like Buck's truck, suffered a continual barrage of verbal slings from JD. But to the men gathered around the coffee table in a home fraught with memories, it somehow became a painful and too obvious symbol of just who they were missing. Like its owner, the relic was oversized, rugged, open, warm, comforting and inviting, and none of the men could actually bring themselves to sit in it. It was Buck's favorite chair and no one was ever allowed to sit in it. With one exception of course, despite the fact that the couch had damn near enough room to seat the Broncos, if JD was laid up for any reason, but not confined to his bedroom, Buck would always wrap the kid up in his chair. The boy would gripe about it of course, but in truth JD appreciated and understood the deeper meaning behind the gesture, it was just another way for Buck to show the boy just how much he meant to him.

And there was their despair …one chair…two men, a team incomplete.

+ + + + + + +

Buck wanted nothing more than to wake JD up, wrap him in his arms and tell him just how much he meant to him. Watching the boy shy away from him had just about killed Wilmington. He couldn't shake the image of the terrified kid from his mind, and he knew he'd never shake it entirely.

The second time JD had begun to stir, Buck stayed as quiet as possible, desperately hoping that his mere presence wouldn't frighten the boy again, and silently praying that JD would recover his senses well enough for his best friend to reach him.

He didn't even get the chance to try.

The kid had come to with a mournful groan and promptly rolled onto his injured hand. The boy's scream echoed off the empty walls and reverberated through Buck's soul. JD's whole body had jerked in concert with his painful wail and Buck watched heartbroken as the boy's head lolled to the side, facing him but unconscious again, the remnant of a tear still staining JD's bruised and bloody face.

Fear for JD was consuming Buck's entire being and he found himself tugging yet again at the handcuffs immobilizing him. It was a wasted futile effort and only succeeded in reminding Buck of exactly what his limitations were and just how badly he was injured, as well. His shoulder was shot, even he knew he'd be facing surgery, if they - no -when they got outta there. Damnit.

Seeing that JD was resting about as comfortably as could be expected under the circumstances, Buck decided to take the time to reassess the situation, in particular their surroundings. His concern for JD had been so overwhelming, the agent had almost forgotten that he could now actually see where he was and therefore could hopefully figure out where they might be.

His right hand was grasped in a standard ATF issue hand-cuff which was in turn cuffed to an immobile metal pipe running down and along the wall he was leaning against. The pipe itself had no joints but for the elbow along the ceiling and even then, Buck was only making an educated guess about that joint, since the piping disappeared beneath a tiled drop ceiling.

They were definitely in an unfinished basement in what appeared to be a typical residential home. Admittedly the basement ceiling appeared significantly higher than usual, but there was nothing too out of the ordinary about that. The agent wondered if it was Peterson's own residence, but dismissed the idea, figuring that even Gene wasn't `that' crazy to hold hostages in his own home in the middle of suburbia.

The reason behind the absolute darkness he'd been immersed in earlier became clear as Buck noted that all the windows in his view had been boarded up from the inside, covered with plywood. That explained how no light could seep in from the outdoors. The room was empty, with no furniture at all but for a large table pushed against the far wall and a few folding chairs leaning against the same wall. There was no carpeting anywhere, just the cold concrete floor Buck's butt had become all too familiar with. The same concrete floor that the much-too-still JD Dunne was laying on.


Focusing on the boy's battered form was rekindling Buck's fury and he had to force himself to look away in order to return to the mission at hand. The floor appeared to have some chalk marks on it towards the far end of the long room, however Buck couldn't make out if they held any significance. Maybe if he stood up, he could identify them better, but his own weakness combined with a genuine fear of scaring the kid into hurting himself again prevented Buck from checking them out any further - for now.

The luxury of light had proven fruitless and Buck felt frustratingly helpless. Assuming that he and JD were hostages in some warped plan Gene had cooked up, Wilmington had hoped that his surroundings could provide him with some information to pass on to Chris about their location. Confident that Chris would insist on speaking with his injured men, Buck needed something, anything to help guide Chris to them. . . but so far, Buck couldn't find anything even remotely significant about this basement.

Looking once more at the unconscious boy lying just out of his reach, imprisoned with him in this hell-hole, Buck's eyes filled yet again. He wanted Chris to get JD out of here, damnit! Not that he didn't want out too, of course, but the most important thing as always, was saving JD. He smiled briefly…the kid would crack his jaw for saying that.

The kid looked so broken laying there on the concrete. . .broken, so small and so very young. He shouldn't be here, Goddamnit.

There were simply too many times like these when Buck regretted Chris' decision to hire the kid. Without a doubt, JD being a part of his life was the best thing that had ever happened to Buck Wilmington, and he was eternally grateful to his old friend for bringing the boy into his life. But was the cost too high? Looking at JD at this moment, the answer was a resounding `yes.' It didn't matter how many times JD beamed at his big brother and told him that he was having the time of his life, those times couldn't make up for how badly the boy was hurting right now. Not to Buck, anyway.

The kid didn't deserve the punishment he'd gotten. Hell, no one deserved punishment like that, well except the lunatic upstairs. Somehow the thought of exacting retribution on Gene Peterson brought comfort and a grim smile to Buck's face. Maybe he was losing it, too, he wondered. It didn't matter. All that mattered was getting JD out of there and into a hospital. If he could just get JD out, he knew the kid would make it. JD was a fighter.


Buck's thoughts were interrupted as JD began to stir for the third time. With his free hand, Buck quickly wiped away the tears he hadn't even realized were falling, and positioned himself as far away as possible from the kid once again. He promised himself that this time he'd be able to reach JD's mind, if not his body, and break through to the boy. If it was the last thing he did, he was gonna get JD out of this mess, but he needed the kid on his side in order to do it.

He sent another silent prayer above, asking that JD not hurt himself waking up this time and pleading that the boy be lucid. And he even prayed a little for some of Ezra's good luck. Third time lucky, Ezra. Please let me reach the kid.

+ + + + + + +

God, he hurt. JD could feel himself slowly coming back to reality once again. There was no doubt in his mind that he was waking up. After all, no one could hurt this bad and not be conscious. His head wasn't pounding as badly as it had been, but lord his face hurt. Hell, even breathing hurt, come to think of it. Busted face, busted ribs -- God, what hit me?

The shocking answer to that question caught the kid completely off guard, hitting him harder than any of the physical blows he'd suffered. And with that unimaginable realization, came an involuntary gasp, which in turn started an agonizing bout of coughing. Lord, and did that hurt, too.

"Oh, God," JD moaned as he struggled for air. Buck. It had been Buck who'd done this to him.

But that just couldn't be. It couldn't…but it was. Wasn't it? Geesus, he was still so confused. And all that thinking was bringing back the relentless throbbing that JD had hoped had left his brain for good after the last time he'd passed out. Maybe he had a concussion, he wondered. Was his head bleeding?

The kid was just about to check out the current condition of his skull when suddenly he realized he wasn't alone. He froze, cradling his throbbing hand against his chest, once again. Shit! He'd heard a voice…Buck's voice.

Oh, fuck he's still here! Why can't he leave me alone? What else does he want from me? JD felt his body begin to involuntarily shake -- again. No more…please.


"That's it, JD. Don't move that hand now, son. I think it's broke, kid." Despite his runaway heart, Buck kept his voice gentle, melodic even. He hadn't wanted to scare JD again, or speak to him yet, but when the boy started moving around so much, Wilmington was left with no choice. He couldn't let the boy pass out again, and that meant preventing JD from moving his hand.

But God, watching JD start to tremble again. . .

Buck felt his hatred for Peterson soar to new heights. But, he knew he had to keep himself calm, for JD. He couldn't let the kid feel his fury. It would only frighten him further, and the poor kid was terrified now as it was.

Though it shamed him to feel this way, Buck still couldn't help from being just a little thankful that JD's head was once again, turned away from him and that he couldn't see the boy's eyes just yet. Although he knew he'd always remember the look the first time JD woke up, he couldn't bear to see it again. Those battered eyes, wide with fear -- Buck would never forget that image. It had been scorched deep into his soul and imprinted on his heart.

For JD's sake though, he had to keep a tight lid on his own emotions, the bad ones, anyway. He didn't want the kid to sense his tremendous rage or fear for JD's safety. If he had any chance at all of breaking through to JD this time, he had to handle him with TLC.

And when it came to JD, Buck Wilmington was an expert in that department.

His gaze drifted to the trembling boy, whose swollen hand looked grossly misshapen in the protective grasp of his much smaller, uninjured hand. Buck swallowed the dread creeping into his soul. He had to stay hopeful. The big man spoke softly, using his most soothing tones. "Thata boy, you gotta be careful with that hand, JD."


The kid was bewildered. Why was Buck talking so nicely to him? When he'd first heard his voice, he'd felt terrified all over again. But Buck had been right about not moving around. JD would've really hurt his hand if he'd moved it any further. He was pretty certain Buck was right about it being broken, too.

Why would Buck care about JD's hand if he was the one who broke it in the first place?

God, JD felt so messed up. When he closed his eyes, all he could picture was Buck beating him. None of this made any sense. Why had Buck hurt him? And why was he acting like…well. . .like Buck. . .now?

JD couldn't trust him. He could never trust him again.

Could he?

Well, he knew one thing for damn sure. He sure as hell wasn't going to listen to Buck Wilmington any more. His 'best friend' had broken his hand, his ribs and especially his heart. Everything hurt so bad and he still couldn't think straight. Why had this happened to them? He'd thought they were happy. `He' was happy, damnit. Oh, God Had he done something wrong? Why did Buck hate him so? Could all this be his fault? The kid was still so confused and heart-sick. as his lower lip began to tremble and his heart filled with grief.

"Oh, shit," he whimpered. No matter how hard he tried, for some unknown reason, he just couldn't get hold of his emotions. JD cursed himself again for starting to cry. No matter what his friend had told him in the past, ATF agents just didn't cry.

But once he started, he couldn't stop, so JD just let go.


Aw, shit. Buck wiped the heel of his hand across his own pooling eyes. As if his heart wasn't breaking enough already, watching the boy weep like that was just about gonna tear him in two. He knew the kid's body-language like the back of his hand, and even before he saw JD's form shift from quaking shivers to hitching sobs, Buck knew the boy was letting go and, to know it, and not be able to do anything about it. . .well, that was pure agony.

God, how he knew how much JD hated to cry. No matter how he tried to make it easier on JD, the kid would always feel diminished by his tears - like he was failing somehow. It didn't matter how often Buck told him that crying had absolutely nothing to do with manhood, the stubborn prideful kid didn't want to hear it. Buck knew it had to do with JD always being the youngest. The youngest in class, the youngest at the academy, the youngest on the team…hell, the youngest ATF agent on record. To the cocky kid who bulldozed his way into the ATF's top team, JD Dunne was loathe to show any sign of weakness.

And to the kid, crying represented weakness. To Buck, it just meant that JD was human, and…that JD was simply a good soul who cared.

And that soul was hurting, damnit.

Buck steeled himself for whatever response JD was going give him. He `had' to break through the drugs and reach through to the real JD. He had to help him.

His voice was as soft as silk, and almost a whisper, but his words carried his heart across the short distance separating the two roommates.

"Hey, kid. You go ahead and cry now, nothin' wrong with that. That's it let it all out. Just try 'n make sure you don't hurt yourself while you're at it, okay?"


JD cringed. How dare Buck sound so…normal. Well, not quite normal, more like how he always sounded whenever JD was hurt or sick and Buck would look after him. After beating JD up like he had, Buck had no right to sound like he cared. No right at all! JD felt anger fill his heart, the anger of having been betrayed.

"What do you care?"


Well, all right. Buck allowed himself a glimmer of hope. That's a bit more like it. The kid's shout was still a half-sob, but at least the boy was tending toward angry which meant he was getting further away from scared. A pissed off JD Dunne, Buck could live with.

"Aw, how can you say that, son? You know I care about ya." Buck's voice cracked, even though he tried to keep it steady and calm. He couldn't afford to give in to his own emotions just yet. He still had to explain himself, or rather Gene, to the boy. He needed to keep it together.

"I didn't do this to you, son. It wasn't me at all. Gene Peterson did it. You gotta believe me, kid. I'd never hurt you -- not for anything!"

So much for keeping it together.

Silent tears began to fall. Just saying the words and knowing that the boy they were meant for might not actually believe them, scared the hell out of Buck. JD was hurting…inside and out, and there wasn't anything Buck wouldn't do to help him, if given the chance. And yet, here he was, practically begging for that chance to win the boy's trust again…and win back his heart.

"C'mon, kid. You gotta hear me out."


JD was beginning to shake again, but this time his tremors came from a mixture of anger along with his sorrow. Damn you, Buck JD'd had enough. No more lies. He didn't have to listen to Buck anymore, Goddamnit. Ever, not if he didn't want to, because if he did -- if he did listen, he might believe Buck all over again. Believe that he cared, that he hadn't hurt him, when in truth Buck would only hurt and betray him again.


"JD, c'mon kid. Try `n remember, son." The big man tried to keep the desperation out of his voice. "You never saw my face or Gene's for that matter. And that's `cause Gene wore the Vader mask. C'mon, kid - please try. . ."

"SHUT UP, Uunnhhh!" JD curled into himself. "Oh, fuck."

His curse was only a whisper…all he had left this time. He'd screamed at Buck and was rewarded with agonizing coughs. JD's rib cage couldn't take that amount of abuse. The kid could feel himself fading again and didn't resist. There was nothing keeping him there, anyway.


Buck felt panic rise in his heart. He could tell that JD was fading and that possibility terrified him. He was sure that eventually the drug would wear off, but JD's physical condition was deteriorating too and he needed to get through to the kid 'now' so he could talk to him and find out how badly he was hurt. He was running out of time.

"Don't you pass out on me, JD! I need you to listen!"

Buck's words were harsh, but expressed urgency, rather than anger. He'd gotten the desired affect. JD flinched at Buck's outburst and his breathing was rapid, but controlled. The kid was still awake and Buck knew he had his attention.


JD was struggling -- struggling against his anger, fear, pain and sorrow. Buck sounded scared, desperate almost, and as much as anything, JD was struggling against caring about that, too. But he did care, damnit. He couldn't face Buck, didn't want to look into his eyes, but he turned his head anyway -- slightly -- to stare at the ceiling if nothing else. He'd hear the man out. Didn't really have much of a choice, anyway - did he?


"Thanks, kid."

Buck's sigh was full of gratitude, and immense relief. The kid was giving him his chance…thank God. He carried on, but kept his tone soft.

"Aw, son. I know you're confused. Gene drugged you, boy, just like he did me. He messed us both up, kid."

Buck paused, hoping to get a reaction from his revelation. The boy had flinched slightly, but nothing significant. JD still wouldn't face him. Buck swallowed hard and carried on.

"You gotta forget about what your head's sayin' and just listen to your heart. Okay, kid? Give me another chance."

Buck's eyes filled as he watched a tear trace its path along the boy's cut and bruised cheek.

"I'd never hurt you, JD. Please don't let him convince you that I would…I can't take that." Buck's heart-felt words caught in his throat as he felt the well-spring of emotion he'd been trying to suppress overwhelm him. He'd never spoken more from his heart in his life.


It sounded like Buck was crying. JD couldn't stand this. How could he trust Buck, again? And Christ…Gene? What the hell was Buck talking about?

If JD listened to his heart, it would break again. He wanted to believe Buck, more than anything. He really did. But how could he? How could he belie--? He gasped.


"It's true, kid. I love ya more than anything, squirt, you're my little brother for God's sake."


JD needed a minute to hit rewind. Had he just heard right? Buck wouldn't just say that, if he didn't mean it.

Slowly, hesitantly, JD turned his head towards his supposed attacker, working his gaze along the big man's long legs, to his body and ultimately -- what frightened JD most -- to his face.

The image took his breath away. Buck Wilmington was sitting, slumping, actually, against a block wall. His right arm was bloodied and drooping boneless from a set of handcuffs hooked to a pipe in that same wall. JD felt his heart wildly beating against his ribcage. This couldn't be…could it? Buck's white t-shirt was covered in dirt and -- even more alarming -- covered with dried blood. What the hell…what's goin' on?


Buck sat frozen, holding his breath. He finally had what he prayed for. He had the kid's attention. And all it took was exposing everything that was left of his heart and soul to the boy. A sacrifice he'd do again in a minute. But JD had yet to face him. He suddenly felt so desperate and he was so tired…had he said enough? Would JD finally believe him?

As he watched the kid slowly work up his courage to face him, Buck prayed again.


JD sucked in a shaky breath as he tentatively shifted his gaze to the face of the man who'd become, almost since the moment they met, his big brother and protector. The kid felt his whole body begin to quake once more. He couldn't help himself, and even when he finally looked at Buck's face, he was so overcome with remembered terror, he had to blink repeatedly just to fight off the shroud of fear blinding him.

But when the shroud lifted…JD had never before seen so clearly.

Buck was crying! Tears were streaming down his face and God he looked so awful. Buck's chin, hell his whole face, was raw with cuts and bruises and one of Buck's eyes was nearly swollen shut. The vision was both a nightmare and a dream come true for the boy. He couldn't prevent the choking sob that came from his throat, Buck was hurt…hurt real bad, but when JD looked into his eyes, he could easily see the worry and fear. And not at all fear for himself either, Buck was worried about JD, plain and simple, just like always.

And there was something else in Buck's eyes, too, something that warmed the boy clear through to his heart. He'd seen 'that' look before. Hell, JD'd woken up to it more times than he cared to remember and even though he'd gripe about it more often than not, in his heart JD loved that look. He had to. It was exactly the same as the one his mom gave him when he was little…the one that said how much she loved him.


Listen to my heart.

As JD's gaze met Buck's glistening eyes, he watched the big man begin to smile. It wasn't the usual blinding grin that was so utterly contagious to JD, but it held warmth the boy never thought he'd feel again. The kid might not yet understand what had happened to him, but he knew one thing for damn sure.

Buck Wilmington did `NOT' beat him up.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra Standish was speechless. In a home that was usually filled with blaring music, raucous laughter and almost continual merriment, the agent couldn't help being struck by the desolation he felt standing amongst his friends in Buck and JD's apartment.

How could four words spoken in Josiah's most hushed timbre silence the room and make it still as death?

Nothing left to lose.

Good Lord.

Gene Peterson had most assuredly murdered his wife. And Buck and JD were in the clutches of this desperate, undoubtedly suicidal man. The southern agent wondered if things could get any worse.


Chris Larabee had tried not to allow himself the same despairing thoughts. Although his soul had been reeling with turmoil, he hadn't uttered a word while his best friend and Nathan recounted the story of their illicit trip to Gene Peterson's house. Dear God! Finding the drug lab and finding Claire's body - a dual nightmare. Chris had immediately jumped to the same devastating conclusion that Nathan and Vin had, that Gene didn't plan on surviving this little game of his. Still, the leader of Team 7 had turned his attention to Josiah, whose experience as a criminal profiler gave him the edge as expert in this case.


Josiah had confirmed Larabee's and his team's suspicions. Gene's request for Chris to rescind his statement was irrational at best. The impact of the statement had already reached every possible level of the ATF, and therefore nullifying Chris' statement wouldn't have any impact on the outcome of the investigation. Josiah knew it and Peterson damn well knew it, too.

It was obvious to Sanchez that Gene was only using the statement as his excuse to reach Chris - to get his attention and remind Chris of just how and why he was furious with him. He couldn't openly barter Chris' life for the lives of their friends, not without practically admitting that killing Chris was his true motivation behind the kidnappings. Grabbing Buck and the boy was simply another means to hurt Chris and ensure he'd show up - whenever they were destined to meet. Targeting Buck was obvious. He was Chris' oldest friend, plus the animosity Gene held towards Buck had always been there, but had escalated to become mutual during Gene's last disastrous bust. JD was the innocent party. Hurting him would destroy both Chris and Buck. Peterson might be crazy but, he was no fool.

That Gene had killed his wife of over twenty years was most foreboding…a sure sign that the man had obviously hit rock-bottom. The suspension, the kidnappings, the murder and the irrational ransom demand, all lead Sanchez to the same educated opinion his friends had - that Gene didn't intend to live through this battle. And not only did he plan on going straight to hell in a blaze of manic glory, he planned on taking as many of Sanchez' friends as possible along with him.

Well, not if Josiah had anything to say in the matter. He'd pray for a miracle. Team 7 hadn't run out of them yet.

+ + + + + + +

JD believed him.

One look into the kid's overflowing eyes and that too-young face which no longer projected fear or emotional hurt but rather warmth and faith, and Buck Wilmington realized he'd finally reached JD. Finally. Thank God!

It was like having one of those religious epiphanies Josiah had been known to go on about. Buck would have to remember to describe this feeling to Sanchez - utter relief, joy…and exhaustion. Wilmington
leaned his head back against the basement wall and closed his eyes for a brief instant, to quell the continued onslaught of tears and to give his thanks just one more time.


"Hang on, Buck." JD's voice was very weak, but Buck immediately recognized the concern. "I'm coming."

Wilmington's eyes flew open at that remark as he suddenly realized exactly what the kid was planning on doing. The sight took away his breath as he watched JD struggle to roll onto his side. Jesus, beat up like he was, the kid could kill himself.

"JD, stop it. What are you trying to do? Kill yourself?"

"But…you're hurt."

Buck sighed. Damn fool kid.

"And you're not?!" Buck didn't even try to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. Without question, the kid knew which buttons to push in order to exasperate his roommate. "Son, I know things are still a bit foggy in that over-sized brain of yours, but hasn't it occurred to you that the reason I'm still trussed up here and you're not is `cause Gene hurt you a helluva lot worse than he did me?"

"No," came the boy's whispered reply. JD closed his eyes against Buck's logic and the relentless pain in his ribs and gut. The act of rolling had damn near sent him reeling back into unconsciousness so he really didn't need any help from Buck in reminding him that he was hurt too. He'd be damned if he was just gonna lay there while Buck was bleeding and handcuffed, though. "Buck, shut up. I'm coming."

"JD-" The kid could hear the warning in Buck's tone, but he knew it came only from concern. He ignored his friend completely and concentrated on the matter at hand…getting to his best friend.


Buck felt unbearable helplessness wash over him once again, as he realized there was no way in hell he was going to be able to prevent JD from trying to get to him. Hell, he knew nothing other than the godforsaken cuffs attached to his own wrist could stop him from going to JD. How could he expect anything less from the boy? Buck's heart clenched with fear and with empathetic pain as he watched JD continue to struggle. His voice grew soft with dread, as he cautioned the boy.

"Jesus, JD, careful now. Don't go hurtin' yourself any worse, all right?" The agent sent another silent prayer and anxiously held his breath.

"I'm…fine," the boy gasped, and Buck immediately knew JD wasn't even remotely fine.

JD gritted his teeth against the pain stabbing within his chest as he rolled on to his belly. He wanted to keep his upper body off of the ground and use his one arm for leverage, but simply rolling over had been too much for his shaky limbs and he collapsed to the floor.


The kid lay panting, feeling the familiar draw of unconsciousness begin to lure him away.


The sound of Buck's overly anxious voice kept JD connected with reality and he willed himself to stay awake. With another grunt, he stubbornly braved the razor-sharp pain spearing his ribs and the incessant throbbing in his broken hand and successfully propped himself up onto his elbow.

"Damnit, kid. I just got you back. Be careful - okay?" Buck's whispered plea confirmed what JD already knew. Buck was afraid for him. But, the kid didn't think he'd really hurt himself any further, at least not yet. He'd show his friend that he was all right.

Besides, JD needed to see how Buck was. He knew damn well Buck wouldn't let on if he was badly hurt. That was just Buck; at least, that's what JD kept telling himself, anyway. Truth be told, the boy's desire to reach his best friend wasn't purely selfless. After all, he was hurting like hell and still confused about what was happening and - well, even a little scared, too. But the boy knew exactly what would fix all that. Once he got to Buck, he'd make everything all right, again. JD could count on it, `cause that was just Buck, too.


"I'm okay…Buck…I'm really okay." He tried again. He wasn't okay. Shit God, he was working so hard. JD had only shifted from his back to his front and already he was exhausted. His upper lip beading with sweat, JD found himself actually cursing his overly long bangs as they pelted him with even more sweat while he strained once again to hold himself upright.

Sucking in a deeper breath than his busted ribs were willing to tolerate, JD slowly, painfully drew his knees up closer to his chest and began to propel himself forward, using his Nike soles for traction. Just do it. The infamous slogan flashed briefly in his mind and JD almost laughed at the irony. Bet they didn't think of this yet, he still found himself grasping on to its meaning and not letting go, its message crystal clear and giving him something to focus on other than the incredible pain coursing through his body.

The effort was agonizing, intense pain darting back and forth across and along his ribcage, but JD desperately tried to keep that fact to himself. He squeezed his eyes shut, shielding him from the mixture of horror and concern graphically etched in Buck's beaten face and not wanting his own eyes to betray just how torturous this ordeal truly was for him. It would kill Buck to know just how much JD was hurting, but nothing short of his heart stopping its beat was going to prevent the kid from getting to Buck's side.


Even though the older agent knew his efforts were futile, Buck found himself instinctively reaching out to help. Listening to the strained grunts and moans parting the kid's lips and watching him fight and shake with the effort just to gain even an inch was sheer hell for Buck. Helplessness on his own part was something the man could never tolerate easily, but to be so utterly powerless when JD was hurting, well that was simply torture. He inwardly cursed Peterson for knowing exactly what it took to hurt him and for using the boy in this war of vengeance against Chris and him. Renewed tears stung the corners of his eyes and he blinked them away quickly, silently vowing his own revenge. Still, he could find little comfort in his vow, JD was hurt bad and nothing Wilmington planned to do to Gene could ever change that.


With his legs doing most of the work, JD used the palm of his good hand to pull himself along and guide his path. His injured best friend was only a few feet away from him now, but it might as well have been miles. JD's body was quaking from exertion and as a result, his movements were becoming more erratic. Concentrating singularly on his mission, JD shut out another of Buck's worried admonishments as he thrust his hand forward once more to gain better purchase. Disastrously, he miscalculated the distance his body could handle and felt himself let go.

No longer having the strength or reflexes to catch himself, JD narrowly avoided slamming his head to the floor as he collapsed to the cold, hard concrete surface. His broken hand bore the brunt of the damage and his weight, and this time the boy had neither the will nor the ability to stop the anguished raking scream that tore from his throat. His frustration and pain were simply too much to endure.


Alarmed the instant he noticed the awkward placement of JD's hand, Buck had been unable to halt the kid from shifting his body-weight onto it in time. He knew the results would be disastrous, but before the words, "JD, wait," were out of his mouth, the kid was falling. JD's scream wrenched Buck's heart and he wasn't even aware of the resulting cry of JD's name erupting from his soul, as he instantly began to rise.


Defeated, JD whispered an anguished curse. "Oh - fuck." The boy tucked his arm back and laid his head down upon it; his long fringe of bangs shielding his pooling eyes. Exhaustion and agony stealing his voice, JD breathed.

"I'm…sorry, Buck - I…can't."

Oblivious to the encumbrance of his own injuries, Buck shifted onto his knees and leaned sideways, parallel with the wall. Straining to reach out to the boy with his free hand, he called to him.

"C'mon, JD. You're all right, kid. You're almost there. C'mon." His throat constricted with fear, Buck spoke softly. "Look at me, kid. C'mon." JD was practically within his reach and he'd be damned if he'd let anything keep them apart any longer. He needed the boy beside him, so he could take care of him, protect him, and keep him safe this time. Buck leaned out as far as the handcuffs would allow, reaching his good arm toward JD's still form. It would be an awfully cold day in hell before Buck Wilmington let Gene Peterson win again.

"C'mon, look at me, kid. You can make it. I'm right here." Buck raised the level of urgency in his voice, but tried to keep his coaxing words gentle. Getting no reaction from JD, he shifted his weight, stretching further towards him. With the additional weight bearing on his cuffed wrist, Buck's separated shoulder finally and painfully reawakened itself to Buck's senses. The agent even managed to startle himself with his hiss of pain, but where his pleas had failed in getting the boy's attention, the hiss had succeeded.


JD's head jerked up at the sound of Buck in pain and he immediately looked into his best friend's pale face. Realizing immediately that Buck had hurt himself trying to help him, JD got angry.

"What…are you…trying to do…Kill yourself?!"

Where have I heard that before? Buck shook his head and smiled as his own words of just minutes earlier were thrown back at him. Despite the pain in his shoulder, his smile grew larger and he returned the boy's words in kind.

"But…you're hurt."

JD sighed and lowered his gaze for a moment. Unconsciously mimicking his mentor, he shook his head as well. Good old Buck. He raised his head and a smirk appeared on his own face.

"And you're not?!"


Both taking much needed comfort and pleasure in their familiar banter, the two best friends locked eyes, not needing any discussion to know what they were about to do. Without removing his gaze from his best friend, JD reached his good arm out and upwards straining against the shards of pain shooting through his ribs and grappling to reach toward Buck's outstretched hand.

Using the pipe he was cuffed to, to give him better leverage, Buck nodded his head once to signal his move. He abruptly let himself drop further to latch onto his best friend's hand as JD timed his lunge towards Buck perfectly. Their hands clasped tightly, both friends cried out as their wounded bodies protested each others' weights.

Not wanting the kid to exert himself any further than necessary, Buck tried to take most of the weight. Firmly gripping JD's hand, he mustered together the strength he should no longer have possessed and pulled the kid into him, simultaneously rocking back against the wall so that JD could land safely on top of him and rest against his chest.


The kid lay gasping against Buck's t-shirt, but soon settled as he felt his brother drape a strong arm across him and gently cup the back of his head all the while murmuring familiar words of comfort.

"Everything' s all right. I gotcha now, kid."

Buck closed his eyes against the pain in his shoulder and against the rush of tears that had threatened to stream down his face from the moment he had JD in his grasp. As ridiculous as it would sound if he actually voiced his feelings, he couldn't deny the reality…JD was with him. . .finally, and he felt whole again.


JD was exhausted and although there was so much he wanted to say, to tell Buck how sorry he was for thinking he'd ever hurt him, he simply couldn't resist just closing his eyes and giving in to the familiar comfort and security his best friend always provided. The boy felt Buck lower his chin to his head and somehow manage to tighten his hold without hurting his punished ribs any further. They'd manage to figure out a way out of this mess. . .whatever exactly this mess was. Come to think of it, he'd have to ask Buck what in the hell was going on. . .later. . .


Buck let out a relieved sigh when he felt the kid surrender to sleep. Just watching JD's effort had left him exhausted as well, but he knew there could be no sleep for him. Not yet. He still had to figure a way out of this. He knew he could count on Chris and his other friends to search for them, but he couldn't be sure that they could find them. Not when Gene knew every trick of the trade. No, he and JD would have to figure out how to help themselves and hope that Chris and the boys would be there when they made their move.

Wilmington felt the boy shudder in his sleep and instinctively drew him closer. He'd have to check the kid over once he awoke to see just how bad-off he really was. One crisis at a time. JD was with him now, in mind and body. And that was a damn miracle.

Miracles. Something `the Magnificent Seven' pulled off pretty regularly.

C'mon, Chris. Bring us another.