+ + + + + + +

Larabee was worrying if he had gambled badly. Ten minutes had dragged by and still no second call. He looked to the others nervously, but all he saw there was utter faith. The phone ringing shouldn't have startled them, but it did. With a nod from Ezra and Josiah, Chris swallowed and picked up.


The blond closed his eyes as his tense shoulders relaxed slightly, his eyes opening to glance around his four friends.

"Buck…thank God. How are you both?"

Buck looked to JD as Chris' voice drifted through. "We're just peachy, stud…got me a cold beer and…"

JD's audible gulp reminded Buck of their immediate dilemma, he stared at Gene.

"Alright Peterson…I get the message, okay? Just stay calm and ease up on the kid." He turned back to the cell.

"You know the drill, wants you to meet him alone someplace and he'll consider a straight swap, and he also says he's got this cell signal bouncing all over the country…only JD could pick it up and seeing he's in front of me with the business end of a hypodermic at his chest I figured the kid won't be offerin' that service anytime soon. He'll call back to give you a time and place. ." Darting his eyes toward JD and his captor, Buck steeled himself toward delivering the line he hoped would save his and the kid's lives. "Chris do somethin' for me, would ya? Tell Katie May I'm real sorry I'll miss our date onight and that I had fun the last time we met. Thanks stud."


Peterson snatched up the cell.

"I'll be in touch." His words growled out menacingly and he smiled in triumph as Larabee's words of `Wait…I want to speak to JD…' could be heard just as he snapped the phone shut.

JD closed his eyes, this was it…Peterson no longer needed him he was a dead man. He desperately wanted to straighten himself, to stand proud as he met his end, but he couldn't. His body was severely weakened and it was all he could do to simply breathe regularly.

Suddenly though, he found himself hurtling forward and in seconds Buck had him and pulled him in close. Both agents watched Gene replace the full hypodermic on the table.

"I'll be back soon."

Buck and JD both knew he had every intention of keeping his word.

As the deranged man slammed out of the basement, JD shuddered and buried his face in Buck's chest.

"Oh God…I thought I was dead."

Buck placed his large hand on JD's head as he closed his eyes in relief, finally admitting his fears aloud to JD.

"So did I kid…so did I."

+ + + + + + +

Four members of Team Seven looked to their leader in despair as he called out to speak to JD, only to be cut off. Larabee fumed.

"DAMNIT…FUCKING DAMNIT! I'm gonna dissect that bastard inch by inch, starting from the bottom and let him watch me feed his body to the birds…GAAAAAH! "

Chris was pounding the couch, punctuating every word. Vin called to him.

"Hey…HEY! Cowboy."

His chest heaving with the exertion, Chris finally stopped and looked up. Long several moments later he spoke.

"Buck sounds terrible and that crazy bastard was holding a needle to the kid's chest, I'm guessing by Buck's tone, it wasn't empty."

Nathan instantly thought back to the lab and shuddered.

Ezra sighed. "Surveillance tell me the cell signal was jumping wildly, I fear all we may have to garner any leads is whatever noises…"

"I know where they are."

All four men stared.

"Chris," Josiah stepped forward, "Chris…how can that be possible?"

Larabee smirked, "Something Buck said. Ezra, I need the locations of every safe house there is in Denver…every one the alphabet agencies use."

With renewed vigor, the team jumped to attention. Ezra gave a small salute and picked up the phone. Within half an hour, the six safe houses had been identified, all they needed now was one more clue.

The phone rang and Chris snatched at it listening for a moment. It was Peterson.

"I'll be there."

The blond went back to the map and smiled, circling two houses.

"He wants to meet at a location somewhere between these three but this one," he tapped the map, "is in use, so I'm gonna play a hunch. Josiah, Ezra…you take this one, Vin, you and Nathan are with me…we're going here, 402 Atica." He pointed.

"Peterson wants to meet in an hour…that's all the window we have. Keep in touch and be careful."


"Chris?" Ezra limped forward, a mixture of hope and doubt coloring his tired features. "Chris, as you well know, I've been monitoring these calls and haven't a clue as to what Buck could have possibly said to give his location away."

Anticipating the question, Chris felt pride in knowing their resident gambler was the one to step up and ask it. Clearly unwilling to gamble with the lives of his friends on what may well have been a hunch. Chris inhaled then released a calming breath. Ezra didn't know that Chris had a winning hand. A sure thing. He allowed a small smirk to quirk his lips as the thought of Buck's successful subterfuge strengthened his resolve to rescue his men. "He mentioned the name…nickname, actually…of a friend of Sarah's he got caught fooling around with in a safe house."

Nodding his understanding along with the rest of the team, Ezra stepped toward Josiah in readiness to leave, looking to Chris.

"I have set this phone to forward any incoming calls to your cell Chris, just in case he calls before he sets off, thinking you are still here, we wouldn't want to tip our hand of our early departure, would we?"

Larabee looked at his men, his optimism high. "Good thinking. Okay, I think that's everything. Let's do it."

+ + + + + + +

Peterson had made his penultimate call. He had let his two captives stew nicely for a good half hour…time to make the two men he hated more than mere words could express, suffer…time to show them who was in charge.

Time for someone to die.

+ + + + + + +

JD was quiet but Buck knew he was awake. He desperately wanted to talk to him, but thought it best that the boy rest, even if it was just lying still. The brunet sighed and closed his eyes. JD's soft words broke into his tired thoughts.

"Hurts, huh?"


"Your wrist…it's still bleeding."

Buck looked at his wrist and nodded. "Yeah…it hurts, but don't you worry none, you got enough hurts for both of us, try and rest." There was a brief pause.


Wilmington couldn't help but chuckle softly. "Mm hmm?"

"D'ya really think Chris'll find us?"

Buck looked down into cloudy hazel eyes. God it was killing him to see the kid like this.

"Well, let me ask you a question, are you sure this is a safe house?"

JD nodded, "Yeah, I'm sure."

The older man smiled. "Then yeah…Chris'll find us."

"Peterson's flipped, hasn't he?"

"Yeah kid…totally Loony Toons, guess it's been comin' for quite a while now."

JD sighed and couldn't help burrowing further, "Sorry."

Buck pulled back his head to look down, "For what?"

JD tried to meet his gaze but winced as it hurt. "For…this…being so damned weak. All those others are right, Buck…I shouldn't be a Federal Agent…I'm too small…too young…I shouldn't be looking to you for comfort…hell you're hurting too."

Buck listened until the weakening voice stopped.

"Now boy…you just listen up here, you've been drugged, kidnapped, had the crap beaten outta ya and been threatened…and all because of something Chris did and I supported. No one should have to put up with shit like that, 'specially a twenty year-old AIT, I figure you're due some comfort, an' if it's all the same to you, this old man is steppin' up to give it. You got a problem with that, squirt?"

JD huffed…it would have been a laugh but it hurt too damned much.

"Guess I can live with it."

Buck drew the smaller body in closer as he smiled. 'Little shit's in a world of pain and he's still full of it.'

"Good to know, kid…good to know."


The brunet was in hell. When JD had joined the team he had been dead against it from the outset, yet in days had connected with the kid in a way akin to brotherhood. He couldn't explain it…didn't really want to, he just knew that in the short time they had known each other it was as if they had never been apart. Each member of Team Seven watched out for JD, even though only Larabee and himself had vowed to do so, but no one could help themselves, he was such a sweet kid, exasperating at times, yet missed when not around. Clever, willing and diligent, always trying to prove his worth and never quite realizing that if Chris didn't want him there, he'd be gone. And Buck had jumped in with both feet, never regretting it for a moment…until now. Because now, no matter how much Buck wanted to keep him from harm…he couldn't.


A slam of a door and footsteps coming their way tensed both agents, despite their pain.

"Oh God," JD breathed, stiffening with fear.

"Easy there boy, he's probably coming to gloat that he's off to meet Chris." Buck wished he believed that.


Peterson thundered down into the room and was next to them far quicker than ever before. Despite Buck tightening his hold on JD, the crazed man retrieved the syringe from the table, ripped the boy from the safety of Buck's hold and in a heartbeat, plunged the needle into JD's arm, pushing the liquid within, deep into the youth's muscle.

JD screamed in pain at the same moment Buck screamed in protest. Peterson threw JD back to Buck who pulled him in close.

"You fucking maniac…I…I..."

"Don't be wasting time, Wilmington, say your goodbyes…that was a big dose for such a small body."

Laughing as he went to leave, Peterson turned back one last time.

"Next…Larabee' s gonna watch you die." And he was gone.


Buck was panicking as he hauled JD up onto his chest, looking down at the kid's face as he stroked the soaked hair.

"JD…JD…kid, c'mon boy…look at ol' Bucklin' here."

Unfocused hazel eyes tried to latch onto blue.

"B…Bu…uck…sh…shit… "

Wilmington's eyes brimmed with tears as he rested his cheek on his partner's head. "Shh…shh…son…it' s gonna be just fine…y'hear?"

JD clutched at the stained t-shirt he rested against and tried to make his eyes focus as he looked up at Buck, desperate to convey one last message, his body shaking with the strain and the drug coursing through him.

"Buck…love you…always…wanted… big…broth…"


JD's body went limp, his hand releasing the t-shirt as his head lolled back and his eyes closed. Buck panicked, pulling the pliant body up and resting JD's head on his chest.

"Kid…kid…please… don't do this…JD…JD...NOOOOO! "

Tears streamed down Buck's face, his own overtaxed body quaking with grief as he rocked his young partner in his hold.

"No kid…please…not like this…hang in there son…Chris is coming…he's gonna bring Nathan…please little brother…please hang on."

Buck wept, deep and heartfelt, as he held the unconscious youth tightly, then, in anger, he looked up toward the ceiling, screaming with rage...


For the first time since his and JD's ordeal had begun, Buck felt…defeated.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stood, looking at the building. The schematics showed there to be a basement as well as two upper stories. Vin was positioned in a large oak in a neighboring garden, looking through the sight on his rifle as he scanned each window. Suddenly he froze, clearly focusing on a lower casement.

"Got the bastard," Vin breathed into his mic. "I can take him right now, Chris."

Larabee straightened at the information. "No, hold your position for now. We can't be sure Buck and JD are actually here, we're only speculating, although I'd bet my life they are. Plus, I want to kick six shades of shit out of him, rip out his heart and squeeze his balls dry…then I'll get really rough."

"Understood. " Vin remained stock still as he kept his target in his sight. "Aw fuck."

"What?" Nathan, just joining them, immediately felt nervous as Vin spoke.

"He's snortin' somethin'."

Nathan and Chris nodded to each other; it was starting to make sense.

"Nathan…talk to me." Chris ordered.

The medic had been undertaking an inspection of the area.

"There are two doors, front and rear, windows that lead to the basement but they're boarded up, however, one of the windows is broken and I found some of the boards on the inside to be loose so I'm gonna head back with a flashlight and see if there's anything down there. The window you see is the kitchen; I reckon one of us could get in through the back door unnoticed. It's a short distance from where Peterson is right now."

"He sure won't be expectin' anyone," Vin stated.

Larabee paused for thought, his lips pursed in concentration. He nodded.

"Okay, Vin…hold your position. Nathan, call Josiah and Ezra…then go check the basement and report. I'm going in the back door." He heard the acknowledgement from Vin as Nathan took off.

"I need him alive, Vin…if they're not in there…" he sighed. "But…if you need to take the shot…do it. We'll figure it out."

Vin got settled as he watched Chris check his vest and headset and make his way to the back of the house.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan began pulling carefully at the loose boards covering the inside of the basement window, eventually able to make enough space to peer inside after confirmation from Vin that Peterson hadn't moved. He ran the beam from the flashlight for a few seconds, surprised it was well lit in there as his heart pounded with fear and anticipation. An audible gasp caused Chris to speak.


"I see them," Nathan whispered, elated, yet terrified for his friends' well being at the same time. "They're together. I can't see too much due to the angle, but it's them…no doubt."

Chris nodded, despite being alone. "I'm going in…stand by."


Vin rolled his healing shoulder and raised the sight of the rifle to his eye. Following Chris' movements, his finger curled around the trigger of the primed weapon, ready for any eventuality.

+ + + + + + +

Chris carefully turned the door handle and as the door swung open, he stepped inside. Cautiously making his way down the hall toward the kitchen, his mind raced with thoughts as to the welfare of his friends. This asshole was about to pay…big time. He had no idea how true those words would be until the moment he entered the kitchen…and his phone rang.


Peterson remained bent over the table as the effects of the drugs took hold. Raising his head, he checked his watch and pressed redial on his cell, his right hand holding onto his gun before placing it on the table. The trill of a phone ringing came from behind him. Despite the drug invading his body, his reflexes were fast, built from years of honed professionalism and he cocked his weapon as he swung round at the surprised form now in front of him, a finger curling around the trigger instantly.


Vin's scope was fully trained on the back of Peterson's head. He watched as the former agent reacted to something and turned to aim his gun at a startled Larabee. A millisecond later, Vin fired and Peterson's head exploded.


In seconds, Chris Larabee had gone from impending death to watching a man's head spew its gory contents within a radius far exceeding anything he thought possible. Despite it being obvious Peterson was dead, Chris checked anyway. He keyed his mic. "Call it in, Tanner."

"Already have."

"Get down here, I'm heading for the basement." He knew Vin would need support over his actions, but for now, Chris needed to find Buck and JD. "Nathan?"


Jackson heard the gunshot and kicked open the front door, where he had positioned himself, earlier, racing through, fully armed, to the back of the house. Just as Chris called his name, he reached him. The two men made eye contact Nathan dropping his gaze to look at the prone form of Peterson.

"He's gone," Chris confirmed, "Let's go."

+ + + + + + +

Buck's heart clenched on hearing gunfire then footsteps on the stairs. He pulled JD as close as he could; part of him hoping for help, anticipation rising as natural light leaked in from an exposed window somewhere above them, the other part convinced their time was up. He visibly relaxed a little as Chris ducked his head from the top of the basement stairs, to look down and across at the huddled pair.


"Thank God." He watched Chris approach, followed by Nathan. "Get an ambulance," he begged.


Not normally demonstrative, Chris squatted next to the pair, one hand on JD's head, the other on Buck's knee, visibly moved by his friends' appearances. Closing his cell, Nathan joined them. Buck looked at the pair through his tears.

"Peterson stuck the kid…pumped some God-awful shit into him…I…I can't wake him…Nathan." Despite the desperation and true terror punctuating his words, Buck was still reluctant to let JD go, finally relaxing his hold as Nathan took control while Chris' softly spoken words penetrated his exhausted mind.

"Come on, big guy…let's get you out of these cuffs." Producing his own key, Chris winced as he unlocked the steel bracelet, gently dropping the damaged limb down, onto Buck's lap.


"Oh fuck!"

Vin stood on the stairs, staring at the four men. Seconds later he was with them, distraught at their friends' condition. Buck seemed oblivious to everyone, his eyes firmly fixed on Nathan and JD.

"Save him, Nathan…" Buck's words were whispered but cut through the tension like a sonic boom.

Suddenly, Nathan rolled JD to his side, the youth vomiting violently as his body began to convulse. They were all so focused, they completely missed the arrival of the paramedics, closely followed by the very anxious Josiah and Ezra, not surprisingly the first reinforcements to arrive. Nathan stepped back, retrieving and bagging the discarded hypodermic for analysis and evidence as the EMTs took over Buck and JD's care.


Team Seven were rooted to the spot as the basement echoed with shouts of medical jargon while the paramedics, now four in total, worked feverishly on the injured pair. But through that din and the pandemonium of the local cops and additional ATF securing the upstairs floors, the one sound that penetrated all others was the despondent weeping of an exhausted Buck Wilmington, watching as the young man he'd willingly die for, was stripped and attached to a multitude of wires and IVs, while a stranger bagged him to assist his breathing. Valiantly trying to ensure JD stayed alive.


As soon as JD's gurney was moving, Buck became agitated, the paramedics urging him to calm down while attempting to get Buck onto his own gurney. They simply made things worse. Chris touched a medic's arm.

"Let him go."

"But he…"

"Let him go."

The Team supportively surrounded the beaten ladies' man, astonished the agent could stand, let alone walk, but walk he did…proudly but slowly, his eyes still fixed on JD. He faltered on the stairs, looking at Chris as the blond held his arm to assist.

Buck finally collapsed when he was forced to travel in a separate ambulance to JD, clinging to his oldest friend through his heartbreak before succumbing to the ministering of the paramedics as they traveled to the hospital.

+ + + + + + +

Despite five determined men and several medical staff, Buck remained pressed against the glass window of the trauma room while a large medical team worked on an unconscious JD. Chris tried again.

"Buck…let them take a look at you…your shoulder needs surgery and your wounds need attention…Buck… "

The big man moaned softly at what he was seeing, then felt a hand on his arm attempting to turn him away from the vision.

"NO, Goddamnit!"

He turned wild eyes toward them momentarily, then resumed his vigil. Larabee held up his hand to ease the concerns of the medical staff, their friends watching anxiously, while Chris spoke softly to his oldest friend.

"Okay, big guy…okay, just take it easy, no one's gonna make you do anything you don't want to do, but, how about we sit down, huh?"

Buck's voice was thick with emotion. "I need to see him, Chris…you weren't there…you don't know…" Suddenly he pounded on the glass with his good hand when a curtain was drawn around the bed. Chris tugged him away.

"Okay, enough. Sit, Buck…you know this isn't pretty…come on, let them do their work."


No one knew how Buck remained upright in the chair, but he did. The doctor came out of the trauma room and addressed them all.

"We're currently waiting on a liver function test, but all blood and urine tests confirm JD's received a mix of barbiturates and an opioid. We've given him Nalaxone to block the opioid and he's had a gastric lavage…"

"A what?" Vin asked.

"It's a stomach pump using activated charcoal." The doctor answered, noting the Texan's expression of revulsion, then continued.

"We're holding off on hemodialysis for now." He paused, focusing on the beaten man before him. "He's in a coma I'm afraid and we've placed him on a ventilator temporarily until his breathing returns to normal…the Nalaxone should assist there reasonably quickly. He's on a detox program as of now. If he's not lucid in twenty-four hours, or the liver function test shows the presence of a specific chemical,
we'll review our options again."

He approached Buck. "And now I must insist you get some attention."

Chris barely caught Buck as he collapsed, unconscious, the blond easing his friend to the floor as a medical team moved in.

"He's been running on pure adrenaline," Nathan explained.

The concerned doctor nodded as he crouched to examine the injured agent. "I'm sure he has."

+ + + + + + +

Twenty-four hours had never seemed so long. Buck was told he needed surgery on his shoulder urgently, but stubbornly declined, telling the doctor he would have the surgery when he knew how his young friend was going to be and not a moment earlier. Sitting in a wheelchair in ICU, Buck dozed in and out of sleep, his friends alternating to sit with him. Hopes rose when the doctor determined they could remove the ventilator.

When JD took his first independent breaths, the team breathed deeply right along with him. After a thorough examination, the doctor turned to the men around the bed.

"The most recent blood and urine tests and the liver function test are all showing his body is dispelling the drugs. JD's breathing is almost normal…it's up to him, now."

With nods of thanks from the team, the doctor left. Buck sat upright, addressing his friends.

"Would you fellas give us a minute?"

Once alone with JD, Buck leaned in and took up the slack IV-free hand. "I know you're probably thinking it's kinda nice where you are right now…safe, warm…pain-free. But, I need you to wake up, okay? Please. These guys want me to have surgery…but I won't leave you until I know you're gonna be okay. Please son…please come back to us…don't let that bastard win."

Seeing Buck had stopped talking, the others returned to stand by him…and wait.

+ + + + + + +

Something in the darkness scared him, something…big. He didn't want to move…it might find him. JD was just about to run as far as he could when a sound drew his attention…words, but they were jumbled in his head. One thing he did know…the voice was Buck's. 'Buck…I'm afraid…why am I afraid?' He reached out his hand…'don't let that bastard win'…I won't Buck…I'm here…I'm coming…'


Everyone noticed JD's hand twitch. Buck smiled.

"I knew you wouldn't let me down, little brother…come on now…keep fighting, we can wait all day if we have to." He smiled even wider when his last words produced fluttering eyelids…the kid was fighting like hell to open them.


JD's words were barely audible, but his friends heard them, scarcely containing their excitement and only doing so because of two other patients in the room. Buck squeezed JD's hand.

"I'm right here…come on…stay with me."

"Wh…where else would I…be?"

JD's battered features were obstructed by misty eyes which Buck scrubbed at to clear. "Hey there, kid."

"Buck…boy, you look awful."

They all laughed softly.

Buck's voice hitched. "Now boy, you know that's damn near impossible."

JD could hardly keep his eyes open but there was something…something he needed to know.

"Did…did you…get him? Did Chris get him, Buck?"

Glancing around his friends' faces, Buck's eyes locked with Vin's, just before he turned back to JD. "Yeah…yeah, we got him, kid."


Buck sighed contentedly as he watched JD slip into a healing sleep. Tenderly, he touched his best friend's face and hair, then shifted to his own damaged shoulder, resignedly nodding to Chris. Time to take care of business.

+ + + + + + +

Three weeks later and Buck and JD were ready to move back to the CDC after Chris had graciously taken them in since their discharge from the hospital. That said, the team were almost all or partly around so they were never alone.

At home, it became evident things were not right. Clipped conversations and excuses of tiredness often separated the two men and Buck was at a loss as to how to put things right. JD insisted there was not a problem…Josiah called it denial. As a last resort to restore normality before the pair started their psych counseling, Chris arranged a cook-out at the ranch over the first weekend Buck and JD were at home. Neither man was able to drive. JD's wrist was in a cast and Buck's shoulder was still recovering from surgery and about to undergo an intense physical therapy regime, so Ezra offered to drive them there.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was first to arrive at the Larabee homestead. Chris greeted him casually, doing a double-take when Vin drew nearer.

"Vin, something wrong?"

"Can we talk?"

Chris turned to give him his full attention. "Sure. Beer?"

"Naw, I'm good." He paused for a moment, watching Chris sit and doing the same. "'bout Peterson." Vin paused again. He rarely shared his innermost thoughts, but he knew this was something he had to do and he felt only Chris could help him on this occasion. He took a deep breath.

"I've killed before, Chris…and God knows I wanted this man in my sights more than anything I've ever wanted in my whole life…"


"But, now it's playin' on my mind…hauntin' my dreams and I can't help to wonderin'…did I do the right thing?"

Chris shifted in his seat, silently cursing himself for assuming Vin was handling this. He had been having a difficult time…why the hell should Vin be any different?

"When you saw him turn toward me, what went through your mind?"

Vin's blue eyes locked with Chris'. "That he was going to kill you."

Chris swallowed hard as that terrifying moment flashed through his mind. "And you were right. Whatever Peterson may have had planned, I'm convinced…me walking through that door changed everything. I saw his eyes, Vin…I was a dead man. You reacted instinctively, and for that I'm grateful…you saved my life…and likely Buck and JD's too…thank you." He extended his hand and smiled as they clasped forearms.

"You realize this doesn't get you out of your psych evaluation though, don't you?"

Vin ducked his head, shaking it lightly. "Damn. Couldn't I get away with just talkin' to Josiah?"

Chris smiled. "Not a bad idea. Let me see what I can do." Clapping his hand on Vin's shoulder, he looked up as two vehicles approached. "Here we go."

+ + + + + + +

JD had stared out of the window of the Jag all the way over to Chris's. As they exited the vehicle, Buck approached Ezra. "Thanks for picking us up."

"My pleasure. Buck…"

"Mmm?" The brunet was watching JD walk toward the house.

"I'm a good listener, you know."

Buck wilted, glancing from JD to the southerner. "I…I feel like I'm losing him, Ezra. He's so full of hurt and pain…and I'm not getting through."

"It would appear he's dwelling on something. Perhaps we can get him to open up while he's here. You're not losing him, Buck…but to a degree, he is lost. We shall endeavor to discover why."

Buck nodded. "I'd sure be obliged, Ez. Thanks."


After eating, the seven sat drinking and chatting…well, six of them did, the seventh kept staring across the yard. Suddenly, JD stood and walked across the lawn toward the outer buildings.


They watched JD emerge from the barn with a shovel, walk over to the far side of the yard and dig, moving after a minute or so to a new spot.

"He's digging up my yard," Chris said to no one in particular, chewing the inside of his cheek after he spoke.

"He's looking for that damned shirt," Buck realized out loud. "What the hell is he playing at? Doc said he shouldn't be exerting himself for weeks, yet. Geesus…he's gonna damage his wrist…what's he…"
Chris halted the escalating tirade. Vin stood.

"Guess it'd be a whole lot easier if I show him where it is." He walked over to where JD was, now on his fourth hole.


JD attacked the ground like it was the enemy. These last few weeks had seen him restless and guarded…and he hated himself for it every time he saw how his behavior was hurting Buck. And now he was exhausted.

Goddamnit…he didn't even have the energy to dig a small hole!

He startled as a hand curled around his, gently taking the shovel from him. Minutes later, he and Vin were sitting off to one side of the yard, under the shade of a large tree. Vin watched JD pull the grimy shirt to his chest.

"Well, I know you're not anti-gay…so what is it about this shirt that's so all-fired important?"

JD's head snapped up. "That's not what people thought, is it? It wasn't meant like that…"

"…no," Vin interrupted. "No…no one thought that." He sighed. "Talk to me, kid. Buck and Josiah are going crazy…" Vin paused, making a decision. "…I'll share something with you…"

JD turned fully to look at the Texan.

Vin chewed his lower lip for a moment, then spoke. "…when I took out Peterson…that split second, God…it felt so good. It was all I thought about after we found his lab…and Claire. If that bastard wanted to die at the hands of a cop…I wanted to be that cop."

"And now?" JD asked, softly.

"Oh…I don't regret it…but…the satisfaction' s gone. Been replaced by guilt. I keep wondering if I should've winged him…not gone for the headshot."

"But…didn't you say he was about to shoot Chris?"

Vin nodded.

"Then…you had no choice," JD assured. "I can't tell you how grateful I am you took out that asshole…" his voice dropped, "…he hurt us, Vin…he hurt Buck…"

Seeing JD's head drop, Vin raised his hand and squeezed the back of the youth's neck. "I know," he whispered. "I'm so sorry…I can't believe he walked you out of that party with all of us there." Vin sighed. "Aaah, kid…"

JD locked his gaze on Vin. "I could've done without the beating…and the barbs cocktail…" he offered a small grin, widening it slightly as Vin visibly relaxed. "But…I was there with Buck and I think…in some bizarre way…I helped him through his own ordeal a little, not in the best way, sure…but it kept him fighting Vin, until you guys arrived."

Nodding his understanding, Vin dropped his hand from JD's neck after one last squeeze. "So…" he pointed to the garment in JD's hands, "… what's with the shirt?"

Dunne shrugged. "Aww…I dunno…hell, maybe they were gay…" he grinned at the thought of gay Muppets. "But…I kinda liked the idea of two guys sharing a home…platonically. "

Vin tilted his head. "Like you and Buck?" he smiled at the nod. "Buck don't give a shit about what others think of him, JD."

"But…what if it made him think about it? Am I so wrong to like what we have? I could tell Peterson hated it, you know…couldn't get his head around two men living and working together." His shoulders slumped.

Vin grinned. "Jeeze, JD…are you serious? Buck's not about to let you go anytime soon kid. Chris has told me time and again…he hasn't seen Buck this happy in a long time. Reckons Buck has a real deep nurturing streak in him…and it got a little too much for Larabee sometimes. But you…I don't know what it is you guys have…friendship…brotherhood…but man, if we could bottle and send it out, the world would be a better place."

JD smirked. "Don't let Ezra hear you say that…he'd insist on selling it."

Vin smiled, nodding, then grew serious for a moment. "I think if anythin', Buck's more worried you're the one wantin' to leave."

"What?" JD looked alarmed. "I don't wanna leave."

Tanner squeezed his shoulder and gestured toward the group trying hard not to look over at them, and failing. "How about we go over and set some minds at rest, then?" He stood and, extending his hand, pulled the younger man up.


Buck tried hard, but his eyes kept drifting to the pair under the large oak tree. Josiah found himself in a similar position. Try as he might, he had not been able to get JD to open up as much as he needed him to. Maybe…just maybe, Vin could find a way through the sturdy barricade JD had succeeded in putting up since he left the hospital.

"He still has nightmares, y'know."

All eyes turned to Buck, nodding sympathetically.

"Don't we all."

The focus shifted to Chris, the men a little surprised by the declaration.

"I wish I could find the words to tell you and JD how sorry I am. The thought of someone I care about being hurt in my name…" Chris stalled, words failing him.

Buck's eyes glistened as he smiled at his old friend. "You did nothing wrong, stud…whatever' s eating at JD…that ain't it. Knowing you and the guys were coming for us, kept that kid alive. His faith never wavered…and neither did mine."

Josiah, Nathan and Ezra smiled as the weight Chris had been carrying on his shoulders visibly lifted while the two men clasped hands. The past weeks had been excruciatingly difficult for all of them. Peterson's lunacy had touched each of them deeply, but for the first time in a long while, they no longer doubted they would get each other through it…eventually.


The moment was broken by Buck's hissed cry as he straightened in his chair…"Okay, they're coming over…don't look…don't look."

Ezra grinned. "Yes Buck…your cunning indifference will fool them instantly." His grin widened when Buck's cool demeanor vanished as Vin and JD drew nearer, rising from his seat and stepping down from the porch to meet them. Vin broke away to join the main group as JD stopped in front of Buck. Buck spoke first.

"You okay? I see you found your shirt."

JD nodded, to both questions. He searched the eyes of the man he considered a brother. "There's a lot I want to say to you, Buck…when we get home. I'm sorry I've been so distant…I never meant to be." He sighed. "We…we're gonna be okay…me and you…aren't we?"

Buck embraced the younger man, all the tension in his body evaporating as he felt JD squeeze back. "You bet, li'l brother…you bet."

"I'm so sorry…you know it was never about you, right?"

Buck nodded against JD's head. "Yeah, I knew, I just wanted you to tell me what was bothering you. Are you sure you're ready to do that now?"

JD also nodded, speaking a few seconds later. "But…I need to do something first, will you come with me?"

"You bet."


Larabee nodded approvingly at Vin, the younger man returning the gesture. He glanced across at Buck and JD.

"I'm guessing the shirt is more symbolic than we realized," Josiah noted.

Tanner nodded. "Yeah…it is."

They watched the pair approach. Buck addressed them all. "JD and me have something we need to do. Could one of you give us a lift?"

"We'll all go," Chris said, as if expecting what was coming.

"You may want to rethink that stud…I haven't told you what it is, yet."

+ + + + + + +

Five men stood watching their two friends from a distance. They hadn't exactly approved of what Buck and JD needed to do, but still, they supported them wholeheartedly.

"Closure, Christopher…more for our youngest than Buck, I believe. He was unconscious when Peterson died."

"Comatose, Josiah. Courtesy of Peterson," Chris spat sharply, meeting the older man's unblinking gaze. Ultimately the compassion and understanding playing across the profiler's features won out though and Chris broke eye-contact first, acquiescing. "Yeah, sure. All right." He swallowed the lump in his throat; this was the last place he ever expected to find himself.


"How are you doing?" Buck pulled JD back against him, wrapping his arm around the younger man's body.

JD sighed. "He really is dead."

"Yeah…he really is."

The youth stared at the simple headstone. "I thought I'd be full of hate, Buck. But…I just feel sorry for him. Why do I feel that way?"

"It's okay to feel that way, JD. Gene was a good man, once. He deserves some sympathy. Me and Chris…we hate the bastard's guts and would just as soon spit on his grave…you leave the hating to us, son…it's what's kept us sane these past weeks. Who knows? Maybe one day we'll see it differently, but for now…hate is good."

"He made me feel so…useless, clinging to you like a five year old…"

"Is that what this is about? Kid?" He released his protégé and turned JD to face him.

"I don't know how you survived that beating, much less the O.D. he gave you. You weren't clinging to me, squirt…I was clinging to you. You gave me the strength to focus on something other than my own pain. You gave me a reason to fight." Buck winced at the hurt in the youth's face. "You think he made you helpless? Nah…the drugs did that. He took me out too remember? It took drugs to do what he did, JD…he needed to incapacitate us to get what he wanted…he played dirty. You're a good agent, son. What you lack in age and stature, you more than make up for in brains 'n heart and courage. You shine like a new penny, keep us on our toes, drive us crazy, make us laugh…and by the time me and the guys are done with you…you're gonna be one of the best."

"You mean, I'm not already?" JD stifled a grin.

Buck chuckled, heartened to see the light back in JD's eyes. It was time to put this behind them, their friendship and the team had survived overwhelming odds, seemingly all the better and stronger for it. He started guiding the boy away from the grave.

"You'll do…kid…you'll do."

JD halted momentarily. "What I said…before I…passed out after Gene stuck me…" JD looked to the ground for a moment. "I…I…" He cursed inwardly, 'say it you idiot…tell him you meant it…'

Reaching out, Buck gently lifted the kid's chin. Grinning and locking eyes with JD, Buck nodded his understanding then slung his good arm across the kid's shoulders and, as the pair finally continued on toward the others, he declared, "Ditto, li'l bro…that goes for me, too."