Despite the combination of fear, grief and rage surging through him, Larabee tried to remain in control of his emotions. The realization that Buck and JD's captor was hell-bent on destroying everything Chris held dear to him, was not making that task easy, but he'd be damned if he'd let Peterson have the satisfaction of breaking him or any of his friends. Until they heard from Gene, they still had work to do. They still had to assess everything they were up against.

"What about the drugs you found, Nathan? Will they tell us anything?" The leader was back in charge.

Jackson turned serious eyes towards his leader. "He had his own personal pharmacy, Chris. `Cept most everything was illegal. I've already talked to the forensics team and they're gonna test the equipment and substances they found."

Tapping the small cellular phone clipped to his belt, Nathan continued. "They'll call me here, as soon as they know anything, but I can tell you already…from what I saw, I don't think the lab is gonna tell us any more than backing up my own suspicions."

"And what might those suspicions be, Mr. Jackson?" Standish's strained voice betrayed his concern.

Nathan took a deep breath, honestly not knowing where to start. "Well, I already had my suspicions about how Gene managed to get his hands on Buck. I mean he's big enough to take `im, but. . ."

"But, Bucklin woulda hafta been really out of it for Gene to best `im and get him out of here, too."

"Exactly, Vin. I'm still not sure precisely how he'd've administered a drug to Buck -- never found a drink sittin' around here, but I still figure that's the only way he got Buck out." Nathan paused and held Chris' intense gaze. "My guess is chloral hydrate and I did find some at Gene's place; not the pills mind you, but he could've given it to him in a shot somehow. Could've given it to JD too, for that matter."

"That is not necessarily disagreeable news then, is it? The side effects are minimal, are they not?" Ezra, like his partners, was familiar with the drug. It was unfortunately a common culprit in cases of date rape and most cops were familiar with the sedative's misuse.

"Yeah, Ezra. Aside from a possible hangover and maybe some stomach upset, it ain't too dangerous. . ."

"On its own. . ." Chris concluded Jackson's unfinished sentence and frowned at the confirmation written in the EMT's eyes. Larabee had immediately noticed that his team's resident medical expert wasn't nearly as heartened by his news as he should have been. The agent then remembered the Shakespearean maidens' account of JD's odd behavior at the party and immediately realized that the kid must have been given more than just a `Mickey.'

"What else did you find, Nate?"

"Hell, what didn't I find?!" Jackson didn't try to suppress the disgust from his voice. "Everything from marijuana, amphetamines, meths, coke, Ecstasy. . ." The agent felt Josiah's comforting hand rest on his shoulder, but it did little to ease the horror that continued to swell in his heart, manifesting itself into his abnormally elevated voice.

"Barbs, LSD, Speed, DMT…"

"Good Lord." Ezra whispered, his face growing pale as the list grew longer.

"Jesus." Although Vin had seen Peterson's lab first-hand and had been able to identify many of the drugs Nate had just named, the two agents had not actually discussed those findings during their drive back to the apartment. Both men had been all consumed and overwhelmed with the discovery of Claire Peterson's body, to even consider the ramifications of all the drugs found in the Peterson home lab. But as Nathan rattled off his list, a pattern was becoming increasingly evident to Tanner. A pattern of blatant cruelty.

"Vin?" Larabee had been listening to Nathan emotionally and yet methodically list off the drugs he found at Peterson's place, but from the look on his best friend's face, Chris realized he must've missed something.

"The common denominator. " It was Josiah who answered. The profiler was a master at finding patterns. "Hallucinogens, Chris. Paranoia. They'll all cause one or the other."

"Or both." Although Tanner spoke quietly, both his anger and worry rang loud and clear. "Sure explains JD's behavior. With that lab set-up he's got, I'd bet Gene's been experimenting and mixing his `Mickeys' with harder stuff."

"That's a wager I'd dare not bet against, Mr. Tanner." Ezra's words were also soft-spoken, yet sat heavy in the pall he could sense beginning to enshroud them all.

"It gets worse, Ezra." Tanner's tight voice broke the silence, but only seemed to add more density to the gloom enveloping the men. He turned to Nathan, prompting the agent to continue.

"He's using. Coke, for sure. Looked like he had a personal stash in there along with everything else. Lord knows what else he's on."

"Damn." Larabee's muttered oath was an understatement. None of the men crowding that room were naïve enough to miss the implications of Nathan's statement. They'd all dealt with `coked out' criminals before and it was always an ordeal. The worst part was their lack of rationalization. You couldn't talk sense to them, couldn't get them to understand reason or respond to emotion. It certainly explained Peterson's behavior. And if Gene was using anything worse, God help Buck and JD.

God help them all.

+ + + + + + +

Buck smoothed his free hand through the mop of hair resting against his chest. The act was offering him as much comfort as it was the youth sleeping soundly under his protective arm. Hell, even more, no doubt. Just feeling the warmth of the boy's steady breaths penetrating the thin cotton barrier of his t-shirt, gave Wilmington comfort. He'd been so desperately afraid that Gene would actually beat the boy to death. But now he could actually feel JD breathing. JD was still alive. And all his big brother had to do was keep him that way.

In sleep, JD's breaths were fairly even, but each time he shifted in Buck's hold and they became unconscious moans or gasps, Buck cringed and died a little bit more inside. He shuddered to think about just how badly the kid was hurt. JD undoubtedly had cracked ribs, maybe even broken ones, and that fact, along with the kid's so obviously busted-up wrist, did nothing to alleviate his concern.

The big man tucked his chin and gently tilted the boy's head, in order to get a better glimpse of the condition of JD's face. Not an easy thing to do with hair covering his face. If you asked him, the kid would actually claim that this shaggy mess was his latest hairstyle. The older agent chuckled at that. JD actually paid decent money for the haircut and still more often than not, no one could see the boy's eyes for the unruly bangs. Just like now.

Wilmington tenderly brushed the obscuring fringe away from JD's eyes. Long lashes shadowed bruised and bloodied cheeks and Buck felt his own face heat with anger. How could anyone, even a crazy man, beat up on JD?

Anger melded once more with sorrow as the big man cradled the boy's head in his hand and drew him again into his chest. Swearing a solemn vow, he turned liquid eyes to the slumbering youth and whispered, "I'm gonna get you outta this, son. I'm gonna get you home."

+ + + + + + +

At the hushed promise of his mentor, JD began to stir. Hazy clouds of consciousness began to scatter and JD's head felt clearer than it had in some time. He felt warm and safe somehow, sensations he'd sorely missed the last time he had awoken. Maybe his nightmare had truly been just that, and maybe he was safe and sound in his room at home.

Or not.

God, he hurt all over.

Despite the shards of agony awakening right along with his body, the boy suddenly realized where his sense of security came from, and why he felt warm. He was in Buck's embrace and could feel the soothing rhythm of his best friend's heart as it beat against his cheek. No wonder he felt safe. He quickly realized too, that he should probably feel embarrassed. Lying against his roommate's chest was not a position he'd normally be caught dead in, but right now, it somehow felt perfectly natural. He owed that, among so many other things, to Buck. Buck Wilmington was so damn easy going, he could make an Eskimo comfortable in an inferno.

JD used to balk at Buck's overly demonstrative ways, but it didn't take too long to get used to and even willingly accept them. JD had learned quickly that Buck had a nurturing streak a mile wide and when the new kid came along, well, he was the perfect target. Buck was the big brother JD never knew he wanted, with a dash of doting dad thrown in for good measure. Buck's affection came straight from the heart and JD had learned to not only accept it, but thrive on it.

Besides, despite his best friend's rowdy and rambunctious personality, Buck was as sensitive to JD's needs as his mother always had been. He instinctively knew when to let go and when to hold on. Like now.


"Right here, kid." Buck sent a silent prayer, thanking God that the kid didn't wake up fearful of him again. The drug was wearing off.

"Buck, what's going on?" JD's voice sounded weak and much too young.

Instinctively Buck's hand found the back of JD's neck, and he let his touch linger, hoping to impart his strength and some reassurance to the boy who was an innocent pawn in a lunatic's act of revenge.

"Wish I knew for sure, kid. . .but in case you hadn't noticed, we're in a heap `a trouble."

JD was always grateful for his best friend's ability to make light of even the worst situations. Between Buck's ridiculous understatement and the comforting hand resting against him, the kid actually felt okay. He even felt up to a comeback or two.

"No shit? Thanks for pointing that out."

Buck's heart soared at JD's spirited attempt at humor, but his ease was short-lived. When the kid's own small chuckle turned into a painful bout of coughing, Buck immediately took action. Ignoring his own painful shoulder, Buck abruptly shifted the boy on to his back, but held him upright, talking him through the ordeal.

"Easy, kid. Hang on. I gotcha."

Much to Buck's immense dismay, the kid was a retribution magnet and as a result, he'd had broken ribs in the past. This was one routine they both were too damn familiar with. But, at least in the knowing, they knew too that they'd get through it - together, like always.

"Shallow breaths, c'mon. You can do it, kid."

"Oh, God," the boy moaned as he finally regained control of his breathing. The coughs had taken their toll and the boy was spent. He turned grateful eyes to his best friend and whispered, "thanks, Buck," before closing them and relaxing further into Buck's hold.

"Any time, kid. You all right there?" Buck ran a gentle hand along JD's ribcage. "You didn't hurt anything in there, did ya?"

Despite his friend's feather-light touch, the kid hissed as a few particularly tender ribs protested Buck's actions. He knew there was no point in lying to Buck about how bad he hurt. As battered as he was, Buck would see through him, anyway.

"Been better, but I'm no worse." The boy squeezed Buck's hand and then shifted it away from his burning ribs to a more comfortable resting place across his chest. "I'm okay, Buck, thanks."


At once relieved that JD hadn't injured himself further, Buck still took little comfort in the knowledge that JD was actually being open about how much he hurt. About the only times JD could ever be considered close-mouthed about a subject was when he was hurt or sick…except when he was `really' hurting, like now. Damn. If only he could offer him more than a one-armed hug and a few encouraging words. But they would have to do for now.

"Yeah, you're alright, kid. Go on back to sleep now."

Much to Buck's exasperation, the kid shook his head and opened surprisingly intense eyes.

"Tell me what's really going on, Buck. What's Gene Peterson got to do with this?" The kid stubbornly wanted to get to the bottom of why he and his best friend were captive and hurt. "I gotta know."


JD was right and Buck knew it. The kid had every right to know what was going on. The truth was something Buck had no business keeping him from, no matter how bad things looked. With a heavy sigh, he began to recount everything he knew, and everything he suspected had happened to them since Gene's arrival at their home.

Searching hazel eyes looked up in disbelief at the conclusion of Buck's story.

"But that's ridiculous, Buck. Even if Chris did retract his statement, there's no way Gene could get away with this he knows that. This is just…crazy!"

"I think that's the point, kid. Gene's gone plumb loco on us."


JD didn't know what to say or what to think. Gene Peterson was the kind of federal agent and cop he had always admired, hell…emulated. How could a man like that throw everything away out of petty jealousy? It was beyond the kid's comprehension.

What wasn't beyond JD's comprehension though were the stark realizations beginning to pervade his getting-more- lucid-by- the-minute mind. That it suddenly dawned on him that his captor was a seasoned agent who knew ATF procedure every bit as well as his would-be rescuers, and knowing this did nothing to create a sense of optimism about the outcome of this particular nightmare. If Gene really had lost his marbles, which now seemed like a sure bet, given their circumstances and taking into account the condition of his own body and that of his best friend, well, he and Buck were in deep. . .trouble. Real deep. They were gonna have to figure out a way out of this, or at least come up with a way to lead Chris and the others to them.

"So, what's the plan, Buck?" The ATF agent in JD had been re-awakened.

As JD began to shift in his hold, Buck realized with defeat that his roommate was not going to give in to the rest he needed.


"Forget it, Buck. We gotta do something here. You think of anything, yet?" JD's eyes had regained some of their familiar fire, but Buck took little comfort in that fact.


Damn fool, stubborn kid.

Buck didn't know which he found more distressing -- the fact that the kid was in dire need of a hospital bed and instead was trying to cook up some hair-brained scheme to get them out of there, one which would inevitably get him hurt even worse, or the fact that the kid's unwavering faith in his big brother was about to be royally crushed because Buck simply had no idea how he was gonna get them out of this mess.

Either way, he found it damn frustrating and he couldn't prevent that irritation from showing itself as he answered the kid's question.

"Damnit, kid. I haven't come up with anything, not a goddamn thing. You know Chris is gonna insist on contact with us, but damned if I can figure out what to tell him. I've been sitting here looking at the same walls for God knows how long, but I've got nothin' useful to tell him!"


JD hated to hear the self-recrimination in Buck's voice. He knew his best friend was feeling guilty about this mess, he always felt responsible whenever JD got hurt, so he knew how helpless Buck would be feeling right about now. Maybe all they needed was a fresh outlook on the situation, a fresh pair of eyes.

"Help…help me sit up more, Buck."


"Buck now…I mean it."

"Damnit, kid, I don't want you hurting yourself any more, all right."


Buck continued ranting all the while helping the boy shift up higher against his chest. He'd lost the argument and he knew it. JD would hurt himself trying to sit up on his own, so he had no choice but to help. Didn't mean the stubborn kid wasn't gonna at least get a piece of his mind in the process.

"It's a goddamn unfinished basement, JD…"


"…concrete floor, block walls, typical suburbia…"


"…what do you think you're gonna see that I…"

"We're on Atica, Buck…just off 29th."


JD smiled inwardly, he knew exactly where they were.

+ + + + + + +

"Buck…I know where we are."

Despite the stabs of pain shooting through him with every uttered word, the elation of realizing where they were, combined with the comical look of astonishment on Buck's face helped dull JD's misery.

"What in the hell are you talkin' about?" Buck sputtered.

"The safe-house…on Atica." The kid's eyes pleaded with Buck to understand. "We're here...the basement."

Not at all happy with JD's labored breathing while he struggled to talk, Buck still tried to clamp down his concern and keep his own tone light.

"Okay, I figured out the basement part, sport." Buck's headache was beginning to return in full-force just trying to figure out the kid's random speech, and he couldn't help but wonder if JD's mind was clear of the drugs he'd been given. "ATF don't have a safe-house on Atica, son." Gently shifting the kid in his hold he tilted the boy's chin to get a better look at his pupils. "Let me take a good look at them eyes. You got a concussion?"

JD weakly tried to brush away his friend's probing hand.

"'M fine…Buck." The kid wasn't new to busted ribs, but he couldn't ever remember a time before when talking had been this difficult and hurt so damn much. Buck being clueless sure didn't help him out, either. Keeping his breaths shallow and his words and frustration to a minimum, JD continued.

"Not ours. . .Fibbies'."


The older agent was nearly convinced that the kid must still be hallucinating, yet, despite the weakness in the boy's voice, the certainty in his eyes was unshakable.

"Okay now, let's back-up a minute, kid. Ol' Buck's tryin' to keep up with you here, but it just ain't happenin'. Now try to relax before you hurt yourself."

Looking down at the boy, he smiled and spoke softly. "Since I ain't goin' nowhere, why don't you just slow down a bit and tell me why you're so all fired up sure this is an FBI safe-house?"


JD rolled his eyes in exasperation until he suddenly realized why his partner was still in the dark. He guessed he was likely the only member of Team 7 to have ever been here before. Conceding that he really should settle down in order to think straight and try to explain things to Buck more clearly, the young agent took a calming deep breath. Not his most brilliant move of the day JD quickly discovered, as his injured ribs protested loudly and he immediately doubled over into another brutal coughing fit.

"Oh, shit," he wheezed.

Successfully quelling his own urge to panic, Buck swiftly shifted from senior agent into big brother mode as he gently talked the kid through the familiar torment.

"Easy, kid. You're all right. C'mon, shallow breaths, now. . .that's it." Wilmington was grateful that his own body had fallen into a somewhat unsettling state of numbness, but each time JD's racking coughs shook them both, he would be reminded of just how intense the pain radiating from his own injuries actually could be.

With what little exhilaration and adrenaline-born strength he'd had briefly now completely sapped, JD slumped weakly against Buck. His breathing settled, tear-filled eyes squinted up into the concerned gaze of his best friend. Smiling meekly, he whispered his thanks. He swallowed another difficult breath.

"Guess, that wasn't a good idea, huh?" he gasped.

"What, breathin'?" Buck grinned at the boy. "Everybody's gotta right to breathe, kid, even piss-ants like you," he dead-panned as he gently tousled the boy's hair.

The look the kid flashed him followed by the small smile he was given in return, lifted Buck's heart and eased his mind, allowing the big man to settle back as comfortably as possible against the wall. He kept his expression neutral, not wanting to push the kid if he wasn't up to any further explanation, but softly asked,

"So, you think you're up to telling me how you know where we are?"

"Yeah." JD attempted to straighten up once more, but ultimately didn't fight Buck's restraining hold this time. Keeping his breaths shallow, he still sighed in resignation, but rested his head against his best friend's shoulder.

"I've been here before, Buck."

"You have?"

JD nodded his head, yes. "When Chris. . .loaned me. . .to the FBI, just after I first joined you."

Buck's confused expression reflected the complete blank he had drawn in response to JD's comments. Why couldn't he remember a time when JD wasn't working with him?


JD read the puzzled look on his best friend's face and continued with his explanation. Resting comfortably, the boy's voice regained some of its strength.

"When you 'n Josiah were laid up. We weren't workin' any cases. . .and Chris thought it'd give me more experience."


Wilmington drew his eyebrows together in concentration until the memory of Josiah and him sharing a hospital room after their fateful encounter with a guardrail and the subsequent ravine beneath it had resurfaced in his mind. The combination of a mild concussion and the pain-numbing drugs he'd been given for a badly broken leg had successfully dulled his recollection of that particular time-period. The more he thought it about it though, the more he could recall the image of the kid bounding into their semi-private room, all aglow with the news that he was going on special assignment with the 'other' Feds.

At the time, Buck hadn't had it in his heart to burst the kid's bubble and tell him just how boring baby-sitting a Mob accountant for a coupla days was going to be. But of course in typical fashion, the kid had managed to not only have a good time, but had even earned his first letter of commendation, from the FBI AIC, in the process.

Apparently the star witness had been a computer geek - unlucky and misguided - and not much older than JD. They'd hit it off and in the three days JD had been there, they'd worked together to successfully break some codes that enabled the FBI to convict a Mob boss, not only for tax evasion, but for a whole slew of other Federal offenses, as well. The kid had done good and Chris had even told him so.

Yeah, Larabee had been mighty proud.

Of course Buck had been unable to contain his own excitement that all his training and guidance, even in the short time JD had been under his wing, had paid off.

He looked down and into the too-young, battered face that studied him intently and his heart swelled with the same pride all over again.


"You're really sure we're in that safe-house, aren't you, kid?" Buck didn't want to have doubts, but the basement was so barren and, aside from the boarded up windows, nothing looked even remotely memorable about the place.



Buck looked once again into the face of his roommate. The kid's eyes were shining bright with conviction, his jaw set with resolute determination. JD 'did' know where they were. The kid's word was good enough for him. Finally, a break. . .Good job, kid.

Finally, true hope. He honestly might get JD and himself out of here; home safe and sound.

A shadow of his familiar smile began to form on the older man's face and JD responded in kind with one of relief. Buck trusted him.


"Thanks, Buck," he whispered.

"Don't thank me yet, kid." The big man's expression grew serious. "We still ain't outta the woods. Somehow we gotta figure out how to let ol' Chris know where we are without Gene knowin' that we're doin' it."

"Just tell him. . .when ya talk to him. They'll get here quick."

Buck shook his head. He couldn't help but wonder where the kid's so-called genius brain hid itself half the time.

"JD---you honestly think Gene is gonna let me just tell Chris where we are without one of us gettin' ass-whupped again? In case you've forgotten, Gene don't fight very fair."

JD realized immediately that he'd said something really dumb, so he didn't bother trying to defend himself through Buck's unnecessary scolding.

"'Kay, Buck. . .I know."

The kid also knew that Buck was just blowing smoke. Buck wasn't worried about himself, hell, he never worried about himself. JD knew exactly who the big man was worried about, and although the knowledge warmed his heart, it also frustrated him to no end.

Here he was, free of any bonds, and yet weak as a day-old kitten and physically unable to make any attempt at an escape or even free his best friend. He hated this feeling of helplessness and was determined to figure out something that could be said to Chris to let him and the others know where they were. It didn't matter to JD that he'd been drugged and beaten up, if he couldn't come up with an idea, then his IQ wasn't even worth the piece of paper his MENSA card was printed on.

Shifting deeper into Buck's hold, he closed his eyes, determined to come up with the solution to their dilemma.

"Give me a minute…Buck. I'll come up with somethin'," he whispered.


As the minutes passed, Buck was certain that the stubborn kid in his grasp had finally succumbed to his pain and exhaustion again and had merely fallen asleep. So he couldn't prevent the startled gasp that leapt from his throat as JD suddenly jerked in his grasp and practically shouted,

"Got it!"

"Geesus, kid, you tryin' to give me a heart attack?"


His own heart-rate returning to normal, Buck watched with concern as the kid fought against the next bout of coughs his near-shout had tried to elicit. Thankfully, the kid remained in control and his rapid short breaths didn't turn into anything more serious this time. Relief flooded Buck's veins and he sighed and relaxed as JD finally did the same within his hold.

The kid looked up sheepishly at his friend, knowing full well he was due for another lecture on looking after himself, or at least another round of Buck Wilmington sarcasm.

"I got. . .an idea," he wheezed.

"No shit, Einstein."


Buck had obviously chosen sarcasm. JD actually enjoyed his best friend's wry sense of humor, even if he was the intended target this time, especially if the alternative was one of Buck's 'what am I gonna do with you, boy' lectures. Consequently, he couldn't really help the small smirk of satisfaction that formed on his lips.

The brief smile and hopeful look on the kid's face had Buck truly wondering what his protégé was cooking up in his mind.

"Whatcha got, kid?" Buck was hopeful too, but kept his tone easy, not wanting to put too much pressure on the injured kid. Truth be told though, the big man had come up completely empty with any ideas of his own, so he sure as hell hoped JD had something.


The boy, on the other hand, could no longer keep his trepidation at bay. He knew he had a really good idea, but he also knew that whether it worked or not was totally dependent on Buck's answer to his next question. He looked searchingly into Buck's eyes, and spoke haltingly.

"Buck? You think Chris would remember the…the girl you got caught…fooling round with in the safe-house?"

JD's intense hazel gaze was riveted on Buck's face and he watched as his best friend's dark eyes sparked with light. The boy was certain he saw recognition and understanding in their depths. He watched as the older agent nodded his head slowly and then busted out into not only one of his patented Buck Wilmington blinding grins, but laughter, too.

The kid had done it. Not only would Chris remember Kate Mayfield's name, but he'd damn well remember the incident that had mortified the hell out of Sarah Larabee and her former college roommate. Buck and Chris were both on the receiving end of Sarah's formidable wrath that time -- Buck for having embarrassed Kate and Chris for having fixed them up in the first place.

Yeah, Chris would remember. It was a favorite story of Buck's - one of those memories that Sarah, Buck and Chris had shared often, even years later, and it had always brought laughter to their hearts.

Despite Buck's own aching ribs, he simply couldn't contain his laughter. He'd been in this damn basement too long, obviously, and was feeling practically giddy. The memory was just too good not to latch on to though, and to know that this particular memory was likely going to be their saving grace was simply hilarious.

That it was the boy he was so worried for, who'd managed to come up with their salvation by actually remembering this particular tale out of the countless stories of conquests Buck had told him over time was pretty remarkable, too. Knowing that he was pushing the kid's limits of tolerance, he still couldn't prevent himself from vigorously ruffling the kid's mass of black hair -- just one more time. Pulling back, he smiled gleefully at JD.


"What?" The kid laughed, too -- softly. Looking into his best friend's face, JD could tell that Buck thought his idea was a really good one. The respect he read shining in Buck's eyes had the boy feeling mighty proud of himself. He didn't even mind all that much that Buck had just tousled his hair -- again.

"Think this is gonna work, Buck?"

Feeling as though a huge weight had been lifted off of his chest, Buck returned his one good hand to the boy's head and smoothed his hair almost reverently. He locked eyes with the boy and smiled softly, but reassuringly.

"You bet, kid. You just bet."

+ + + + + + +

The shrill ring of Buck's telephone startled Team 7 out of their collective and morose reveries. Limping only slightly, Ezra immediately stationed himself in front of the recording equipment, adorned a head-set and with an abrupt nod, signaled his readiness to Chris.

The tension pervading the room was beyond palpable. It was suffocating.

At that moment, Vin Tanner's uncanny sixth sense was shared by his partners. They all knew without any doubt that the caller was Gene Peterson.

The block of dread that had settled deep in Larabee's gut disintegrated as anticipation and anxiety rivaled each other for its position. Taking a deep calming breath, Chris answered the phone on its third ring.


<<"Let's keep this quick and no bullshit, Larabee. I know you're recording."> >

Chris wasn't even remotely surprised that Gene was watching the clock. After all, so was Josiah. The leader had already mentally prepared himself in anticipation of this very conversation. He swallowed his own fury, allowing only the veteran law enforcement officer to reveal himself.

"Yeah, we are. You know S.O.P. as well as I do. What do you want, Gene? And how are my men?" Chris no longer tried to suppress the venom in his voice as he demanded the answer about his missing friends.

<<"They're still alive, Larabee…for now. And you already know exactly what I want, I want you and I want that retraction." >>


The leader of Team 7 bristled at the threat to Buck and JD's safety, as well as the intense hatred exuding from Gene Peterson's ominous words. It rivaled his own. Peterson also wasn't trying to hold his emotions in check in any way, a clear indication of how much he was enjoying this power-trip.

Chris had to cut Peterson down; make him a little unsure of himself. Larabee knew the direction he was about to take would be tempting fate - he was about to begin playing with fire, and with the lives of two people he cared deeply for. Still, he couldn't allow Gene complete control of the situation. No matter how screwed up his head might be, Gene was still a skilled professional and keeping him off-balance might be the only way of drawing the man out from cover.

"You don't get a goddamn thing until I know my men are all right. Now let me talk to them."

Larabee's voice oozed both confidence and control and his words succeeded in eliciting the desired response. Peterson was livid.

<<"I'm in fuckin' charge here, you piece 'a shit! You ain't callin' the shots this ti-">>

Peterson's enraged rant was interrupted by Chris' matter-of-fact demand. "If I don't talk to Buck - I got nothing else to say to you, Gene."

His casual tone continued to increase the crazed agent's blood pressure and wrath.

<<"Goddamn you, Larabee.">>

Chris couldn't help but flinch at the degree of malevolence Gene was displaying, not to mention the magnitude of volume blaring into his ear. He noted absently that Standish had partially pulled away his ear-piece at Gene's continued outburst.

<<I told you I'm the leader, here, Larabee. Not you. I'll decide if or when you get to talk to anyone. I'm the one giving orders. . .>>

Chris shifted his gaze to Josiah, who flashed his open palm at him twice. Ten seconds. His time was running out. Certain Gene was also still watching the time, Larabee knew the ex-agent would break the connection within ten seconds. Despite Gene's furor, Larabee was confident the man would not risk revealing his location. They'd never be able to trace the call, but by forcing Gene's hand and making him call back, with any luck at all, something in the background or something Gene would say would be picked up in the recording and give them some kind of lead. Chris simply couldn't let JD and Buck's precious lives ride on only this phone call, he'd have to force Gene's hand and hope his friends wouldn't suffer the repercussions of his decision.

Chris felt the block of anxiety and apprehension reassemble within his gut and twist and wind its way up into his tightening throat. His soul churned with dread and he prayed he was about to do the right thing. Abruptly he turned his attention to each of his men, his usually impenetrable gaze clearly expressing the turmoil in his heart.

Forgive me, Buck. I'm sorry, kid. Dear God. . .if this goes wrong. . .forgive me.

As Gene Peterson continued his tirade, Chris was forced to tune him out. He couldn't listen to Gene's threats and still maintain the strength to do what he had yet to do. Finally gathering his courage, Chris Larabee cut off his only link - his lifeline - to the boy and his protector, and dared to interrupt the maniac once again.

"Then I guess I got nothing to say to you, Gene," he snarled and abruptly hung up the phone.


Gene Peterson was livid. How dare Larabee hang up on him? How dare he order him around as though `he' was in charge? Peterson resisted the urge to drill the phone still clutched in his quaking hand into
the wall. He knew he still needed to use it -- damnit.

His shoulders heaving with seething rage, the ex-agent wildly looked around the barren kitchen he was standing in to see what he could use to exert his mounting wrath onto. After opening one - two - three
empty cupboards, the crazed man let out a primal roar as he settled with ripping off one of the cupboard doors at its hinges and flinging it across the room, where it crashed into the wall and fell, landing in a satisfying clattering heap upon the floor.

Not only infuriated with Chris Larabee, Gene was also infuriated with himself for allowing the pompous sonofabitch to get to him like he had. He knew better than that, damnit. He knew what Chris was up to.

Hell, he knew exactly what Larabee was doing. Chris was using every trick in the book to throw Gene off, unsettle him and force him to slip up. Well, Gene new every goddamn trick too. Hell, he helped write the fucking book…yet he had still allowed Larabee to push his buttons and virtually give him the upper hand.

Goddamn him. Damn him to hell!

Peterson smiled maniacally at that thought. Well, that was exactly his intention after all. He'd show Larabee who was smarter, he'd show him who was stronger. Gene knew he was the better agent and more importantly the better man.

Chris Larabee was going to pay - with his life and with the lives of the two agents who were at Gene's mercy.

But not until they all suffered first.

Chris Larabee would get his precious phone call. But he `would' pay for it - dearly.

+ + + + + + +


"Um Hmm?" Wilmington winced as he heard the weak and raspy call of his name. He had hoped that the young man in his hold would remain asleep a while longer. JD's shattered body needed rest badly, and Buck had hoped that sleep would offer the kid some kind of sanctuary - if only temporary - safely hidden away from the brutal reality of the ordeal he was enduring.

He'd hoped the boy had slept through that eerie howl and accompanying crash he'd just heard from up above, but that obviously hadn't been the case. The noise had woken JD, and although the boy's call had lacked any strength, it hadn't lacked the emotion Buck could so easily and always pick up in his best-friend' s voice. JD was scared.

"Uunnhhh. Wha' . . .hell. . .was that?"


Damn scared. The big man shifted his hand to JD's head and gently cupped it, drawing the boy closer. He had a pretty good idea what was going on upstairs, and frankly, although it offered hope, it worried him, too. The big man swallowed his own anxiety and somehow mustered together the flip comments and confidence he needed to talk reassuringly to the kid.

"Ain't nothin', kid. No need to fret none." He watched as JD's eyes locked with his before summoning another attempt at humor.

"Sounds like old Gene's a mite upset about somethin' and I reckon you can guess what just might've pissed him off." Buck winked conspiratorially and broke into a half-way decent impression of his patented smart-ass grin. Relief flooded him when he saw understanding and a hint of a smile light the boy's weary hazel eyes.

Buck's relief faltered some as he watched JD's slight grin fade. It was undoubtedly a product of exhaustion and everything he'd been through. But it was more than that, too. The kid was obviously coherent enough to figure out that Gene's latest temper tantrum could promise both good and bad repercussions. Buck had hoped the boy would only look to the positive, though. That was JD's nature, after all. Still, he was far from being an idiot, so it was no surprise to his best-friend that JD was seeing both sides of the coin about to be tossed at them. Wanting to ease the boy's worry, he smiled once more and gave JD an approving nod, encouraging him to speak.

His reward was a hesitant whisper.


+ + + + + + +

JD had been beyond startled when he awoke to the animal-like roar coming from somewhere above his head. It had frightened him - a lot. He'd thought for one terrifying instant that he was back in that horrible nightmare he'd awoken to earlier -- before his mind and body had literally crawled out of that suffocating haze into the warmth and safety of his best friend's care.

Needless to say, he'd been more than a little relieved to discover that he actually had awoken to the security of Buck's big arm wrapped protectively around him as he lay against him.

Still that awful noise had echoed in his mind and, despite his usual bravado, the boy had found himself unashamedly seeking Buck's reassurance. He'd go back to being his old cocky self when this whole mess was over -- when Buck and he were mended and back home safe and sound. Right now, he was tired and weak and hurting…and scared. . .and he really needed his big brother to tell him everything was okay.

Buck never did let him down.

As soon as Wilmington had spoken, using that soft velvety lilt JD knew so well, the kid had felt his mind and his heart begin to ease. He knew they were still in serious trouble, but somehow Buck could at least ease his rising panic and offer him hope.

It had still amazed JD though, that even in the midst of such danger - such dire circumstances, Buck could not only calm his fears, but actually make him smile, too. Once he'd thought about it though, JD'd known Buck was right. The only thing that could've possibly happened to piss Peterson off so royally at this stage of the game would've been some kind of contact with Chris. Chris would have had to try to shake Peterson up, to keep him more off balance. And it sure as hell had sounded like he'd accomplished it.

Way to go, Chris…I think.

And if Chris and Peterson really `had' made contact, JD knew every bit as well as Buck did, that Chris' next move would be to demand proof that Buck and he were alive. JD also knew that Chris Larabee wouldn't settle for anything less than a phone call, either. Yeah, one of them would be talking to Chris real soon, and that's when they'd finally be able to pass on their whereabouts to their leader, and Chris and the others would come, take down Peterson, and get them the hell out of there. God, this whole nightmare would be ending soon. Despite the shadow of Gene's rage still echoing in JD's mind, the thought of JD's partners coming to the rescue `and' taking out Gene just had to make him smile.

At least that's what JD hoped Buck meant by guessing what had just pissed Gene off. JD was so damn tired he wasn't really sure if he was thinking straight anymore. Besides, a pissed off Gene Peterson wasn't exactly good news for either one of them `before' Chris and the team got here. Both their bodies were battered enough, thank you very much.

Shit, I wish this was over.

He allowed his smile to fade and gazed searchingly once more into his best friend's eyes, seeking that glimmer of hope and confidence he could always find in their depths. The kid watched as his mentor gave him another smile and an encouraging nod, prompting the boy to whisper his own hopes - and the name they were riding on -- Chris.


"You betcha, kid. Ol' Chris is callin' the shots now, `n you know he's gonna get us outta here real soon."

Buck and JD both could sense it. The tide was about to turn… things were about to heat up.

Real soon.

+ + + + + + +

The abrupt sound of the basement door scraping open broke Buck away from his silent reverie with a sudden start.

"Easy, kid," Buck soothed, as he felt the rapid acceleration of JD's warm breaths against his neck. "You just keep quiet and play possum, son. Let ol' Buck do the talkin'."


All JD could manage was a hard swallow and a nod. His throat was suddenly parched by fear as flashes of having been strung up and relentlessly beaten by the raving lunatic -- the really big raving lunatic -- about to come down those stairs, assaulted his mind just as mercilessly as those huge fists had slammed into his body. Playing possum wouldn't be too hard. Aside from his uncontrollable trembling, JD was already paralyzed with remembered fear.

Wilmington took a few calming breaths of his own, trying to will his heart to stop pounding so damn hard against his chest. He didn't want the kid to know just how worried he was too and he was sure JD would be able to feel the thumping each time his heart reverberated against one of his aching ribs.

At the hint of Peterson's first footfall, as he began his ominous descent down the wooden steps all-too-near them, JD's trembling increased dramatically.

"Hey, hey. . .easy, son. Easy. It's all right," Buck whispered in the boy's ear and tightened his hold, heartsick that the kid was so utterly afraid. Pound-for-pound, JD had more courage than anyone Buck knew, but he knew damn well that the kid was hurting and defenseless and he also had no doubt that the drugs JD had been given earlier were still messing him up enough to make him react this intensely to the threat heading their way.

The 'very' real threat heading their way.

+ + + + + + +

Peterson marched down the basement steps with purposeful force. He wanted his prey to anticipate his arrival, wanted them filled with dread so he could watch the fear play on their faces as he came into their view. Between the savage beatings and the drugs he'd pumped into them, he was certain they'd be basket cases by now. Gene laughed to himself, his power and his purpose surging.

Fuck you, Larabee.

Team Seven's leader might have thought he'd won that last round, but it would be his last. This was Gene's show.

He had, after all bested Larabee's old partner, a formidable foe in his own right. Buck Wilmington, with that goddamn laid back attitude of his, who could charm women every bit as easily with it as his looks could turn their heads, was now at Gene's mercy.

Yup, the same highly decorated cop, who after fifteen years in law enforcement, still had the stomach to face every fucking miserable day with a smile on his face, had been taken out by an older, more experienced, so-called burn-out. No, Gene wasn't going to deny Buck Wilmington's abilities. Because, to do that, would be to deny Gene his own supremacy.

Hell, Peterson knew Buck's history - homicide, vice, narcotics and now ATF. Christ, how could anyone who'd faced all that Wilmington had faced throughout his career, be able to even drag his ass out of bed in the morning, let alone look forward to the day? At least ninety percent of the time, even Chris Larabee looked as miserable as Gene always felt.

But Wilmington…no, nothing could shake up Buck - or wipe that stupid grin off his face. Well, nothing except seeing that kid in trouble. Any of that pathetic team, for that matter, but especially the kid. Gene could still vividly remember the way Wilmington took to training Dunne, right from the very beginning. The way those two hit it off, acting like two long-lost brothers or something. It was fucking ridiculous.

Hell, they even lived together for Godsakes, and yet nobody seemed to think 'that' was strange. Well, Gene thought it was stupid. No two people should live and work together like that and yet still get along as well as they did. It just didn't seem possible. and yet Wilmington had somehow managed to get himself a kid brother, best friend and a protégé out of the deal, a protégé who was thriving under Buck's wing, damn him.

Damn them both.

It had been bad enough having Wilmington around grating on Gene's nerves, but when the exuberant 'wonder kid' came along to emulate him and Larabee. . .well, Gene had been damn near ready to shoot the pair back then. Larabee hadn't been sure he wanted the student trainee on his team in the first place. He'd said he was too young. Well, who gave a shit about that? If he was old enough to enter the program; he was old enough to get shot at…simple.

Truth be told though, what Gene wouldn't've given for the opportunity to train a bright, impressionable hero-worshipping kid like that. He'd have molded him into his own image if he'd had the chance. Gene surprised himself with that thought…he actually found himself bemoaning his missed opportunity and recalled how at the time of Dunne's enlisting with Team Seven he had silently fumed that he himself was overlooked. Damnit…rookies had always been his…damn Larabee…that bastard had taken away every control Gene had ever had.

But then Dunne only had eyes for Team 7, and the little bastard pushed and pushed until he'd managed to get his way. Stupid little fuck, what the hell did he know, anyway? He'd've learned a helluva lot from Gene. Gene Peterson had more to offer than Wilmington and Larabee combined.

Well now the kid was getting a lesson - one in life and in death -- courtesy of Gene. And there wasn't a goddamn thing big brother Buck Wilmington could do about it, or the mighty Chris Larabee.


As Gene's boots finally touched down on concrete, the big man set his sights on Wilmington and Dunne. His breath hitched in reverence of his own brilliant handiwork and he smiled in sheer triumph. Like an artist stepping back to admire his grandest masterpiece, having determined the perfect distance to fully appreciate his own prized creation in its entirety and utter splendor. Peterson halted his movements and reveled in his glory.

There they were, his captives, huddled together in helpless misery and totally at his mercy, both having become personifications of defeat at the hands of a true master. Conquered, reduced and amassed in cuts, bruises and welts, their shattered bodies and shredded clothing providing Gene with a living, breathing canvas on which to leave his legacy.

Wilmington's arm hung lax and lifeless from the handcuff binding him - his shoulder drooping unnaturally, its dislocation obvious to Gene, despite the blood-stained t-shirt still covering it. Streaks of blood trailed down the agent's arm, originating from his wrist where it had been mangled within its cuff.

God, that's gotta hurt, Peterson smirked. Realizing with almost euphoric delight that this damage to Buck's arm was entirely self-inflicted, undoubtedly while Gene had been using young Dunne as a punching bag, fueled Peterson's veins with power and supremacy. Buck Wilmington had acted exactly as Gene had anticipated - his reason alone for not inflicting nearly as much damage on the older of the two agents as he would've truly liked to.

Gene had wanted Buck incapacitated but still strong enough and coherent enough to fight against his bonds. That way Peterson could ensure that Wilmington would suffer the loss of that struggle just as he would suffer the cries of his little brother.

Mission accomplished.

With that thought, Peterson turned his attention to the younger of his two captives. So far it seemed that Wilmington had been blatantly ignoring Gene's presence, but Gene's growing irritation quickly turned to smug gratification once his interest focused on Dunne. Huddled against the bigger man's chest and wrapped protectively in his single-armed embrace, Gene could easily tell the boy was terrified. His breaths were coming too quickly, particularly in light of the condition of his ribs. Short and shallow breaths were one thing, but rapid as they were, no wonder his 'protector' was trying to calm him down. The kid was liable to hurt himself if he didn't settle down.

Now, wouldn't that be a shame?

Peterson didn't bother to contain the light chuckle escaping from his throat.


Try as he might, in the eerie silence of this basement, Wilmington could not keep his almost inaudible whispers from Gene, nor did their captor miss the slight actions of Buck's hand as he alternately smoothed the boy's arm or squeezed it reassuringly.

Gene had already won.

The dishonored agent squared his shoulders and puffed up his chest with pride. He knew he'd already achieved the impossible. He'd shown JD Dunne just which ATF team leader commanded and deserved the most respect and he sure as hell had wiped that stupid grin off of Buck Wilmington's face. And he'd done it all right under Chris Larabee's nose.

And still, the lesson for them all had only just begun.


"Aww, now isn't that sweet?" Peterson's voice exuded oily sarcasm as he finally continued his approach, and Buck willed himself to stay in quiet control. He knew any reaction on his part would only result in one of them -- more than likely, JD -- getting hurt further. He had to continually remind himself of that fact while he fought down the overwhelming impulse to wipe that self-satisfied smirk off of Gene's face. Later. Gene would pay -- later. He and Chris would make sure of it.

Deciding it was time to try to get a rise out of the perpetually wise-cracking Wilmington, Gene continued with his verbal assault.

"Shucks, where's a camera when you need one? If this isn't a Kodak moment, I don't know what is," he laughed, leering down at the boy in Buck's protective embrace.


Buck kept trying to ignore the former agent. He'd felt JD stiffen at Gene's last barb and gently squeezed the kid's arm again in an effort to keep him settled and let him know that he would handle everything. When he felt the kid's shoulders and breathing finally relax, probably more from exhaustion than ease, Buck reluctantly shifted his focus to Peterson. He knew he had to, if they were going to get out of this any time soon, so he abruptly switched from concerned big brother into veteran agent, and began to re-assess and survey the situation.

Tentative relief flowed through him as he'd realized Gene wasn't packing anything. What Gene was carrying though, was a cellular phone and a small black case that Wilmington couldn't yet identify. Something about the way Peterson clung protectively to the case unnerved Buck, but knowing he'd soon be talking with Chris more than made up for its mystery. The fact that Gene wasn't wearing a gun obviously implied that he hadn't planned on killing them -- at least not yet.

Please, let me be right about that.


Buck looked up into Gene's eyes and his blood ran cold. Something was very odd, aside from the fact he was looking into the face of a certified maniac.

Shit. He's stoned.

That sudden realization certainly didn't ease the dread in his heart, but Wilmington swallowed the new flavor of alarm that had taken up residency in his throat and consciously chose to deal only with the positive aspects of this revelation. Sure it meant the lunatic was even more unpredictable than imaginable, but it also meant he wouldn't be on top of his game. He simply couldn't be. Chris would be able to gain the upper hand and take Gene out the minute the man slipped up, and Gene would slip up. All Buck needed was the chance to tell Chris where he and JD were and, when Team 7 arrived, they'd make their move and this whole nightmare would be over.


As he eyed the phone still resting in Peterson's grip, he realized that finally that chance was close. So damn close, he could taste it.

+ + + + + + +

Thanks to the coke-based cocktail Gene had snorted just moments before descending the stairs to confront his captives, Gene could feel a resurgence of energy flowing within him. He knew he was thinking more clearly now, in a hell of a lot better shape than he had been when he'd ripped off the cupboard door upstairs, at least.

His heart was racing and he knew that, despite the thrill of seeing Dunne and Wilmington in such devastating shape, at his masterful hands no less, the euphoria building within him was as much due to the effects of the drugs coursing through him as it was due to his triumph, his sense of supremacy and of conquest.

After months of experimenting, Gene had concocted the ideal drug for his use. Once he'd received his suspension from the ATF and had decided to accept his fate but still take some semblance of control of this destiny, he'd had the wherewithal to recognize that for his elaborate scheme to work, he'd have to be in reasonable control of his faculties.

And so he'd created his own little cocktail and had become an expert on its use. Which meant, within twenty minutes or so, he knew he'd start to feel like shit again and be in need of another hit, and that meant he couldn't waste anymore time gloating. He had to get this show on the road.


Taking a deep, cleansing breath, he gathered his swirling thoughts together and focused his vengeful gaze on Wilmington.

"Got a phone call for you to make, Agent Wilmington."

The voice was taunting and Buck wanted nothing more than to wipe that fucking smirk off of Gene's face, preferably using the soles of his boots while he did so. Buck sighed. Once again he had to rein in his emotions, think first of the kid in his hold and maintain his control. With any luck, once that fateful phone call was placed, Chris and the boys would figure out his message and get here within twenty - thirty - minutes tops. If all went according to Buck's plan, in less than a half-hour JD would be safe and on his way to the hospital while Gene was on his way to a Federal lock-up. Or better yet. . .


+ + + + + + +

Despite his better judgment, Buck met Peterson's gaze with his own, blue eyes intense and defiant, and he simply couldn't hold his tongue.

"Chris's callin' the shots, I see…asked for me, huh?"


Peterson's eyes flashed and his smug features slipped into a scowl, but he held his composure. Buck would pay dearly for that. Hell, Buck Wilmington was going to pay. . .no matter what.

Gene turned his back on his prisoners, completely confident in their helplessness, and casually walked over to the table pushed up against the furthest wall. Setting the cell-phone and black case upon it, he dragged it to within a few feet of Buck's outstretched legs.

"Believe what you want to believe, now, Buck, in the end, you'll know who the better man is."


Talk about delusions of grandeur, but Buck didn't take the time to retaliate, he had something more important to deal with than a war of words.

JD had been so quiet until then that Buck was sure the poor kid had passed out again, but as the horrible scraping sound of the heavy table being dragged along the rough concrete surface of the floor echoed throughout the barren basement, the kid cringed and shuddered in his hold and Buck felt his hatred for Gene Peterson leap another level.

'Goddamn bastard's enjoying this way too much.'

Buck had watched as the satisfied smirk had returned to Gene's face when he'd managed to awaken the kid with that clamor.

"Easy kid, there's gonna be more where that came from. Just hang on, son," he whispered to the boy.

Buck had no doubt that Gene was getting off on torturing JD, so it didn't surprise him in the slightest when Gene returned to the wall and chose to open up one of the folded metal chairs and drag it across the floor too, rather than carry it - something a man his size could've done with just his little finger.

Despite Buck's warning, JD had not only shuddered at the renewed racket, but this time the kid even brought his hurt wrist up to cup that hand against his ear. Trying to split his attention between JD and Gene, Buck was momentarily caught off guard by JD's reaction, but immediately intercepted that potentially painful move with his own hand and shifted his hold on the boy so that his ears were covered.

No wonder he was in such bad shape when Gene came stomping down those stairs.

Once again JD's actions reaffirmed for Buck that the kid was still suffering the affects of whatever drug or - God forbid - drugs Gene had given him.

JD's senses or at least his hearing anyway, seemed heightened. The only other option was that the poor kid was suffering the grand-daddy of all hangovers, and that certainly might've been a part of what was going on here, but Buck knew there had to be more to it than that.

In all the time he'd known the boy, he'd simply never seen the defiant, cocky kid so fearful - not to the point of cowering. Buck fervently hoped that JD's fear was chemically induced only, and prayed that once they got whatever godforsaken drugs that were in the boy out…JD would recover completely and Buck would never have to look into those expressive eyes again and see the terror, pain and utter confusion that he saw reflected there now.

+ + + + + + +

Gene felt another rush of power surge through him as he watched the youthful agent cringe and cower in his mentor's grip. Deftly swinging the chair around next to the table, and taking added pleasure in allowing the metal legs to screech against the concrete floor once again as he did so, Gene casually took his seat at the table as though he was simply sitting down to a meal.

As he unzipped the case upon the table, Gene began absently giving his instructions to Buck while he carefully withdrew the prized contents from the case and began assembling the pieces.

". . .no tricks, I'll be watching. . ." Buck tried to concentrate on Gene's words,

". . .no stalling, you know I'll be timing you…not that it'll help them, only your young protégé there could unscramble the signal I'm about to send them…" but his attention wasn't focused at all on Peterson's instructions, but rather on his mysterious and even more ominous movements.

From his intensely uncomfortable position on the floor, Buck couldn't see the tabletop, but he could tell from Gene's actions that he was putting something together, something fairly small.

Gene's actions were fluid, yet methodical, betraying definite experience and, because of these observations, Buck felt the return of that foreboding lump swelling in his throat, threatening to choke him this time. Gene had brought a gun, likely with a silencer, and it was that which he was putting together.

After all, if JD was right - and Buck was counting on it that he was - they were in the middle of suburbia and the sound of gun shots out here would definitely attract the cops, a fact Gene knew every bit as well as Buck did.

The question then became, why had Gene waited until now to get it ready?

Which lead to another question…what were Gene's plans for it now?

One answer was obvious to Wilmington. Gene would use it as a mighty convincing threat against JD. To keep Buck in line and ensure against any messages being conveyed to Chris when they spoke. A guarantee against Buck doing exactly what he intended to do.

But the unknown plans Gene had for that gun were what really worried the agent. Try as he wanted to deny it, once he spoke with Chris, Buck knew that he and JD were relatively expendable. He knew Chris would try to guarantee their safety, but realistically speaking he also knew Gene only needed one of them still breathing to maintain Chris' cooperation from that point forward. And if it came down to that, he prayed that JD would be spared.

But Gene wanted Buck to suffer, too. No matter how hard he tried, Buck couldn't push away that soul-churning truth. No doubt about it, JD was here in the first place because of Gene's hatred towards Buck. Sure, JD being hurt like this, in his name, would devastate Chris, but this nightmare wasn't only about punishing Chris Larabee, it was about punishing Buck, too.

Looking down at the tousled black hair resting against his chest, Buck couldn't deny how right Gene was about that. Nothing hurt Buck Wilmington more than seeing this kid hurt, so this, well…this was downright torture.


Buck swallowed once again, instinctively tightened his hold on JD, and desperately tried to blink away the potential ramifications of those thoughts.

No use.

The ominous image of the madman before him aiming his gun at JD and pulling the trigger again and again without Buck having any means at all to stop him was engulfing his mind.

Jesus Chris, he prayed in silence. You better clue in to me right away, pard. We may not even have that half-hour. You're gonna hafta get here fast, Chris. Damn fast.


". . .I mean it, Wilmington." When he heard his name, Buck finally snapped out of his nightmarish reverie, his eyes shooting to Gene's face and immediately catching the maniacal gleam in his eyes. He'd been waiting to hear the tell-tale snap of Gene loading a clip in his pistol, but the sound hadn't yet come. And now he understood why.

Dear God.

"You try to get sneaky on me, Buck, and that kid you've got there dies." Seeing the horror reflected in Wilmington's eyes brought malevolent laughter to Gene's voice, but he checked it. He knew his next words had to be delivered with just the right amount of venom. Damn this was fun.

"You know you can't protect him, Buck."


Buck couldn't prevent the hitching breath he'd taken as he looked at the man staring down at them. You can't protect him. . .can't protect him. . .can't protect him. The words still echoed in Buck's mind, a deafening mantra threatening to send him over the edge, where Gene was presently holding court.

You can't protect him.

It was the truth. . .desperately and heartbreakingly true. And with that revelation, the choking lump residing in Buck's throat let go and plummeted to his gut, shredding pieces of his heart and soul in its wake.

You can't protect him and Lord, did JD need his protection.

Gene hadn't been readying his gun, nor was he threatening to shoot JD if Buck defied his instructions.

Gene planned on overdosing him instead.


And there Peterson stood, like some mad professor out of any given 1950's Hollywood thriller, holding up a shimmering hypodermic needle like it was the Holy Grail itself, and grinning like the maniac Buck knew he'd become.

You can't protect him.

But Buck had to.


"Hey, now. C'mon, Gene. You know there ain't no need for that." Buck knew he'd failed miserably at keeping the anxiety out of his voice, but the thought of JD getting injected with God knows what deadly toxin terrified him far more than the threat of bullets could.

Recognizing a good thing when he saw it and knowing when to capitalize on it, even if `it' was the revoltingly obvious delight still forming on Peterson's face as a result of his faltering words, Wilmington decided that this was the road he'd have to travel now, no matter how much it turned his stomach to even consider the option.

"C'mon, Gene… You know me," he pleaded.

Buck had to dramatically switch gears now in dealing with Gene, play on his vanity, his ego, no matter how much that concept disgusted him. He simply had to do what it took to keep JD from further harm, and still make that fateful phone call. So, if doing 'anything' meant kissing up to someone he loathed more than anyone else he'd ever encountered in a long list of loathsome characters, he would do it.

"You got me all figured out, Gene. I ain't gonna do anything stupid and risk this boy's life, you know that."


JD stiffened in Buck's hold, weak, scared and barely conscious, but still stubborn and clear-headed enough to recognize that Buck would do just about anything to prevent him from becoming a pawn in Gene's attempts to keep Buck in line for this phone call.

JD wanted to speak up, to tell Buck not to do anything stupid to get himself hurt either, and not to cow down to the lunatic's ego for that matter, either. A firm squeeze on his arm told the kid to keep quiet though, that Buck had a plan and was still in some measure of control of the situation.

At least the kid hoped so.

And so did Buck.


At the mention of JD, Gene turned predatory eyes toward the young agent, causing Buck to protectively tighten his hold on the kid. He did not like the look in that man's eyes at all and was grateful that JD couldn't see the personification of evil that Buck was now witness to. The kid had enough nightmares to look forward to over this ordeal.

"You are so very right, Wilmington," Gene chuckled his response, but there was little humor in his tone and even Buck couldn't suppress the shiver that ran along his spine.

"I do know you, Buck, and I know you aren't a fool. The only way I can be sure you won't pull anything with Larabee is to keep the deck stacked in my favor."

The instant those ominous words were spoken Buck recognized the threat, and in that moment felt more helpless than he'd ever felt in his lifetime. He realized with a deepening horror just how truly powerless he was to protect JD and powerless to prevent their nightmare from continuing to unfold.

And with Chris not yet there to help them and awaken them from the dream, nothing else could prevent its progression.

Gene lunged toward the captive pair with surprising speed, grabbing hold of JD with one huge arm and began ruthlessly pulling him from Buck's weakened grasp.


Buck's frantic cry echoed JD's but he held on -- exhausted and weak -- with just his arm, while battered and bruised ribs screamed against the strain as did his raw handcuffed and bleeding wrist and useless arm. And yet, in the end he let go -- he had no choice.


JD shrieked again in Gene's grasp and the boy begged Buck to let him go, his captor once again wrenching his broken wrist and pulling him further from Buck's grip and JD felt any minute he was going to be ripped in two.

Still JD knew, as much as his wails shredded Buck's soul, it hadn't been his cries of pain that made Buck release him, but rather his silence and his fear.

JD breathed in gulping breaths of the stagnant basement air and his fear overrode his pain as he felt the tiniest prick of the hypodermic against his chest.


Buck's eyes were nearly as wide as JD's, as he held his hand out towards the helpless boy, a silent 'no' still frozen on his lips as he watched the wounded kid gulp in air, quaking in Gene's clutches as a needle pressed against his heart and an arm tightened across his throat.

Content with his new position, Peterson released his grip on JD's throat and picked up the cell from the table, then, once more tightening his hold on his captive, looked menacingly at Wilmington. Ignoring the soft noises and shaking body in his grasp he flipped open his cell and thumbed a number on the keypad, extending his hand toward Buck.

"Talk…and I'm warning you again," he pressed the needle contained in the hand gripping JD's upper torso, deeper into the skin and tissue covering JD's heart, causing a tiny yelp from the youth.

"Just remember, I know all the tricks of the trade, Wilmington…fuck with me and I will have great pleasure in driving this home."

Buck and JD locked gazes, the older man desperately trying to reassure the younger that he would get this right. Despite being terrified, JD trusted his big brother with his life and tried to convey that to him.

A voice drew Buck's attention to the phone.