Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em. . .damnit!
Summary: One man's decision to run for State Attorney General, changes the lives of seven men. . .for the better.
This is the founding story for 'US County Sheriff's Department' AU, (FCCSO) created by Marla Robinson. It primarily features Buck and JD, but by the end of the story, will have established all seven.
Hi, it's May again with just a quick note to help introduce Sue's latest story, "The Homecoming". Given how thrilled I was with our collaboration on "Tricks of the Trade" and, since the two of us have proven to share a very similar outlook on all the Mag7 characters, she and I have been "talking" more and more about them as of late. In doing so, this inspired me to send Sue a fairly detailed plot bunny. It was of an A/U (yup, another one) I had outlined back in the early 2000s but it just never came to fruition for me. Sue really liked the concept and its possibilities though and, much to my delight, has taken it on and fleshed it out brilliantly. So, despite my provision of some basic ingredients, this feast is all hers and the credit and feedback belongs to her. I truly hope you love this story and the A/U as much as I do. Thanks, Sue for bringing this idea to life so beautifully.
(Sue) My deepest gratitude to Marla, who trusted me with an idea she conceived way back in 2000 and whose additions, help and guidance have been a wonderful inspiration.
Phyllis, who has always been there for me and not only betad but brainstormed this baby for hours with me.
Karen, whose expertise and willingness to help whenever I yell is something I am truly grateful for.
Mari, a total all-rounder who is not just a great writer but is now quite the collage expert and is always there for me and I can't thank her enough.
Ladies, without you, this story would have been half of what it's become. Thank you. . .you are my inspiration. Thank you also to Blackraptor for giving my stories a home
As the plane climbed high over Boston, the young man stared down at the place he had called home for the whole of his seventeen years on this earth. He had no idea what his future held, all he knew, was the man he was going to live with was family. . .his recently deceased mother's father. Swiping at his eyes, the youth sighed. He needed a fresh start. . .and he hoped this would be it.
Sheriff Orin Travis smiled to himself while listening to a voice that had not been heard in the Texas Four Corners' County Sheriff's office for some time.
Only two men, in his opinion, had ever been serious contenders to replace him and become the sheriff of this small, mostly rural town, but both those men had left the area several years previously, one to pursue a more urban office, the other. . .Orin sighed, the other possibly lost to them through a family tragedy the man apparently could not overcome.
Two weeks ago, the current Four Corners Sheriff had agreed to seek a new calling, that of State Attorney General, prompting him to consider his options. His current senior deputy was too set in his ways for the position of sheriff. He needed a man with the charisma and energy to maintain the high standard Travis had set for his department and one who could see through the final and much needed phase of his plan for the office. Orin knew his choice had big shoes to fill. . .the history of lawmen in this town was legendary, but he had no reservations regarding his selection. . .all he had to do was persuade this man he was the right choice.
So he had visited with Buck Wilmington, a deputy working out of Houston, to persuade him his destiny lay with the municipality he had grown up in. It had not been easy, the man had left to escape bad memories, but time had mellowed him and Buck had agreed to come back to talk it over some more. Orin felt confident it was all the leverage he needed to set his plan in motion. The moment of truth was upon him. . .upon them both.
On seeing his office door opening, Travis smiled and stood, extending his hand.
"Buck. . .welcome back."
The 6'4" man's handsome features crinkled into a huge grin as he removed his hat and shook the offered hand.
"Y'know. . .I never thought I'd hear myself say this. . .but it's damned good to be back. Place hasn't changed hardly at all." Nodding to the gesture to sit, he did so, stretching out and crossing his long legs at the ankles as he got more comfortable than he thought possible.
"I'm sorry Deputy Sheriff Dunne isn't here to greet you, he's had to take a personal day. . .apparently his grandson is arriving today from Boston to live with him, but the others are around, for you to get acquainted with."
Buck sat up straighter, missing the gently added insinuation that he would need to acquaint himself with the other deputies. "Clem is still here? Lord, now that is a surprise, figured that bitter ol' bastard would have retired years ago." Buck tilted his head, his eyes narrowing. "How does he feel about me takin' over from you when you reach office?"
"If, Buck. . .if I reach office, though, I know now, I'm ready to move on, regardless. No bullshit, Wilmington, my ideal scenario would be to have you and Chris here. . .but that's not to be. By the time I'm elected, I want to have outlined, if not initiated, my plans to have a special task force working out of this building. One that can deal with all and any eventuality, made up of the best men the force and the DoJ has to offer. I want a strong representative and liaison from the Sheriff's Department, Buck. . .I want you." He sighed, relaxing back in the chair. "Clem doesn't fit the bill. Never has, and has gotten even worse since he buried his wife."
Buck stood and shook Travis's hand. "No bullshit, Sheriff. . .I'll think on it. I'm spendin' the night here, so I'll get back to you at 9:00 tomorrow morning. That suit you?"
"That suits me fine," Orin smiled. "Are you going home?"
Buck shook his head. "Not tonight. Ma's place is gonna need some airin' before it's habitable again." He returned his hat to his head and touched its brim. "See you in the mornin'."
As Orin watched him leave, his smile widened, confident in the signs he was reading. Phase one over.
Clem Dunne eyed the dark-haired boy standing at the rear of the taxi as he paid the driver and saw him on his way.
"So. . .you're John Daniel, huh?" He was shocked as the seventeen year- old dropped his small case and wrapped his arms around him, patting the youth's back before pushing him gently away as he gripped both his arms.
"It's JD. I've wanted to meet you for so long, gramps," the boy grinned.
"If you'd told me about your ma's death, you'd have met me sooner," Clem hissed, instantly regretting it when the boy's huge, sparkling hazel eyes dimmed and filled.
"Sorry. . .mom never told me where you lived," he said, softly.
Clem nodded. My God, he was the image of his mother, he had her eyes. . . her nose. . .her smile. . .but there was something else all too familiar about him, also. Fighting the swelling anger in his heart, and accepting Social Services had only learned about his whereabouts when clearing out Katharine's home, he gestured toward the house.
"Well, you're here now." They entered the two-story house and Clem pointed up the stairs. "I've given you your ma's ol' room, first left at the top of the stairs. Go get settled in, I got a beef stew on the burner; be down to eat in ten minutes."
Tentatively, JD climbed the stairs to his mother's room, pushing the door open slowly. Obviously, the bedding was fresh, but everything else appeared as it might have the day Katharine Dunne had left for Boston all those years ago. Picking up the FC football mascot bear from the bed, JD slumped down, buried his face in the stuffed toy and wept, unable to comprehend how much his life had changed in ten days.
Clem ladled out two bowls of stew as his mind raced. Eighteen years. . . he sighed, heavily. What had possessed him to ignore his only daughter for almost eighteen years? And now she was dead. . .leaving behind a bastard child that he had never even met until today. He swigged from the half empty whiskey bottle sitting alongside the stove; his mind lost in the memory of the day Katharine had told him she was pregnant. Practically before she had time to draw breath, Clem had shipped her off to Boston, to a Catholic home for unwed mothers, never to learn who the father of her child was, a secret his daughter had taken to her grave.
But Clem knew who it was, always had. My God. . .he could see it in the boy. . .and it would not bode well if he ever laid eyes on him again.
Buck pulled up in front of a rambling old house on the edge of town. Climbing out, he locked his Chevy and moved toward the front path, his overnight bag hanging by its strap from his shoulder. Adjusting it as he unhitched the little wooden gate to Josiah Sanchez' property, Buck smiled as memories came flooding back. Within seconds of ringing the doorbell, the big, friendly older man had opened the door and was embracing the chuckling deputy.
"Welcome home, Buck. Lord, but you're looking good."
Grinning widely, Buck took a step back, "Well, as you know, it would be damn near impossible for me to look any other way." As he was ushered inside, Buck went serious for a moment.
"How have you been since the funeral?"
"It was difficult for a few weeks. . .not going to visit anymore. . .but my sister's in a better place.."
Buck nodded. "Hannah was in a lot of pain. I'm sorry my court date kept me from coming."
Josiah dismissed his apology with a kind smile. "I knew you were thinking of me and that was comfort enough." They entered the wood- paneled, book-filled study and took a seat. "But enough of me. . .how are you? This career opportunity is very exciting, I'm very happy for you."
Buck looked at the person he considered his mentor, his old college professor and now a distinguished criminal psychologist, but spoke to address the man he also looked on as a father figure as he asked the burning question.
"But. . .do I really want to come back to all the memories I walked away from?"
Josiah smiled. "I think the very fact you're here has already answered that question. Now. . .you go on up to your room and get settled, and I'll dish up some lunch for us."
Buck rose. "What's for lunch, Professor?"
"My special chili."
"Hot damn. . .it's good to be home."
Josiah watched the younger man ascend the dark wooden stairs. "It's damn good to have you home, son," he whispered.
Buck pushed open the room door and smiled. Nothing much had changed since he'd last stayed here, just after the death of his mother. As well as a mentor to Buck, Josiah had become even more to him with the death of Sheriff Dan Larabee. The man had intuitively understood that Buck had been grieving a father's loss too, almost as deeply as his best friend Chris had been. Appreciated that Buck had been suffering under the added weight of staying strong and being there for Chris and damn near the entire sheriff's department. And so Josiah had opened his heart and his arms and stepped in to try and fill the void Chris's dad had left behind.
To Buck's mind and, to his everlasting gratitude, he'd damn well succeeded.
Unzipping his bag, Buck took out a framed photo of his mother and set it on the dresser, and then washed up and headed back downstairs for lunch.
Pushing back from the table, Buck blew out a breath. "Ooouiee, that was good, and still packing a punch I see."
Josiah laughed as he pushed his own plate away and wiped his mouth with a napkin. "Can't make it any other way." He looked at Buck. "So. . . have you come to a decision, or is there need for us to talk?"
Buck shrugged. "A big part of me wants this, I can't deny it, but. . .I still keep thinking on what I walked away from. I'm not sure ma would approve of me going back; she was a big believer in always moving forward and not dwelling on the past."
Josiah nodded. "But remember, you may well be returning to a place from your past, but as a very different man. You'll make an excellent sheriff, Buck, and with Orin running for Attorney General, this town's going to need you."
"Do you think Travis'll get it?"
"Oh yes. He has my respect, both personally and in my professional dealings with him. He was well liked as a judge, deemed to be fair, as he has been as sheriff, fair and diligent toward his community. He had big shoes to fill when Daniel died, but he filled them. . .and more." Josiah grinned. "I can't think of a man better suited to follow him than you, Bucklin John Wilmington.."
Buck beamed at the tribute, rising to clear their dishes. "Would you mind if I went out for a while? I'd like to stop by the old house. . .see what needs doing before I decide if I can move back in."
"When you move back in?" Josiah teased.
Buck laughed as he headed for the kitchen. "If, old man. . .if."
Buck leaned heavily against his Chevy as he gazed at the home he had been brought up in. Was he really ready to come home? Ready to deal with the painful losses he had suffered over the years? He looked across at the still burned-out ranch house Chris and Sarah had owned, just a few hundred yards from his and his mother's residence, sighing heavily at the sorry sight of a once happy home, his memories transporting him back in time.
A young girl he loved. One day she was there. . .the next, she was gone. He never knew why. . .or what had happened to her over the last seventeen or so years.
A best friend and his wife and son. Hearing Chris Larabee's name again today brought back the horror of the deaths of the man's wife and child and the destruction of the soul of someone he had considered family. . .a brother. Buck had been at the end of his rope with Chris's behavior toward him while drinking himself into an early grave, the death of Buck's beloved mother being the final straw. He had applied for a deputy position in Houston, while Chris had applied to join the FBI and the pair went their separate ways and never looked back. . .until today.
Already having decided he was going to take up Orin's offer, Buck jumped in his truck and headed for the roadhouse his mother used to own. Its sale after her passing had been just enough to cover its mortgage, plus give her a decent funeral. He never did meet the new owner; their attorneys had handled all the details.
Pulling up outside, he smiled to himself. It still looked the same. . .a lot brighter than he recalled, and it was no longer called 'The Hacienda'. Buck gazed up at the sign. . .'The Saloon'. . .it fit the place well. Stepping inside, it felt warm and inviting.. Smiling at the pretty lady behind the bar, Buck approached.
"What can I get you, senor?"
"Coffee, please. . ." he grinned wider, "my. . .you are a sight for sore eyes. What's a delicate flower such as yourself, doin' in a dusty ol' roadhouse like this?"
Inez Recillos served him his coffee and complimentary cookie and smiled, tilting her head. "I'm here because I own it, senor."
Buck raised his eyebrows. "For how long?"
"It's been in my family for around six years. My father passed away last summer, I have been running it ever since. Why are you so interested? You are not from around here."
"Actually darlin', I am. My ma used to own this place, I haven't been back here since she died and I sold it. The place looks good," he grinned, "just like its owner."
Transforming the surprise on her face into a smirk and rolling her eyes, Inez picked up a dishtowel and moved away. How many times had she heard that old line. . .still, coming from this man, the words made her. . .tingle inside, a sensation she was not prepared for. . .at all.
JD stared at the slumbering form of his grandfather lying on the sofa. Noting the empty bottle of whiskey laying on the floor, just below his lax hand, the boy guessed the man was sleeping off the alcohol. Zipping up his jacket, JD left the house, looking left and right to get his bearings, before heading off. The day they had buried his mother here in the local cemetery. . .her dying wish. . .JD hadn't even realized his grandfather was still alive, let alone living here in the town and employed as a deputy. Family Services had flown him out here from Boston and back, to bury her, only to return him less than two weeks later to place him with his maternal grandfather. Life sure was strange sometimes.
On reaching the cemetery and seeing her headstone, the emotion JD had been experiencing since his mother's death overwhelmed him and he sank to the grass on his knees, one hand holding onto the cold stone for comfort. He was unaware of the stranger next to him until the man touched his shoulder.
Buck placed the small posy of lilies on his mother's grave, tugging at the weeds around the headstone while he squatted there. A heart- wrenching sobbing drew him out of his reverie, causing him to glance to his left. He didn't know the teenager crying over the fresh grave, but seeing him huddled there and in such distress, touched the big man's heart and he approached him. "You okay, kid?"
JD jerked at the man's touch, turning to look up in surprise.
Buck raised his hands in an open gesture. "Hey, it's okay. . .name's Buck. . . I was visiting with my ma, too. . .it is your ma, isn't it?" JD's hand was obscuring the last name, but the first name on the stone was undoubtedly female.
The boy nodded, standing as he scrubbed at his eyes. Realizing the teenager was nervous, Buck took out his wallet and flipped it open.
"I'm a deputy. . .from Houston, but, I was born and raised here and I'm comin' back soon." He smiled to see the boy relax a little.
JD wiped his eyes one more time, with the sleeve of his jacket. "Hi. . . I'm JD. I'm from Boston, but I just moved here today to live with my grandpa." He frowned. "He's a deputy here, too."
Buck's return frown was followed by a glance at the grave. 'Katharine Dunne'. His world narrowed as his mind was assaulted with memories and emotion and a sudden ache in his chest at the realization of the boy's words and part of the conversation with Orin that morning. . .he had been so focused on Clem still being around, he had missed the part about his grandson arriving.
"You're. . .you're Katharine's boy? I. . .I never knew she had a child."
"You knew her?" JD asked, a small grin forming as the man's words sank in.
Buck nodded slowly, taking in the youth's features. My God. . .it was obvious. . .he had her eyes. . .her. . .there it was. . .her smile. "Yeah. . .I knew her real well. . .went to school together." He figured that was enough for the kid to take on board, for now.
JD beamed. "Maybe you can tell me about her and gramps one day."
Buck nodded, suddenly noticing the fading light. "I'd surely like that, JD. Come on, it's getting dark. . .let's get you home."
Despite the initial hesitancy, JD felt comforted by the man's smile. . . and his kind eyes, and agreed. Thanks to Buck pointing out the local attractions along the route and having a corresponding story for each of them, the drive to his grandfather' s place took no time at all. As Buck pulled away from the Dunne home, JD waved, then went on into the house. He gasped as strong hands grabbed him upon opening the door, slamming him hard against it.
"What are you doing with him? He's trash. . ."
Dazed, JD looked at his furious grandfather. "Wh. . .what?" He gasped as the man back-handed him.
"He's trash, d'ya hear?. . .trash. . .I catch you near him again and I'll whup your ass, boy."
"But. . .but he's gonna be working with you, gramps. . .he's gonna be a deputy here."
With a roar, Clem tossed the boy onto the staircase, JD wincing as his shoulder hit the stair rail. Terrified, he scrambled up the stairs and ran into his room, shutting the door and sliding down against it. Shaking, he tried to ignore the pain in his face and shoulder as the man raged on below him. He glanced at the picture of his mother on his nightstand. "Oh, God, mom. . .what have I gotten into?"
Buck's first week at his new appointment had not been an easy one, between the new job, its long days and trying to get into his home. In his time away, he had rented out the ranch-house for the first year, but it had remained empty ever since. His mother's mortgage insurance had allowed him the luxury of not needing tenants to keep the place afloat, saved him from the headache of being an out of town landlord, too. The hassle from the workmen while it was now being repaired and decorated was beginning to wear him down though. . .that and the constant 'attitude' from Clem Dunne.
The man was clearly unhappy at Buck's appointment and 'grooming' by Sheriff Travis for his 'soon to be available' position. Plus, Clem didn't like the idea of this so called 'task force' Orin was planning to put together. Having to pay out for his grandson to have things to start his new school wasn't sitting too well, either. . .precious whiskey money. . .wasted.
But now the older deputy was positively grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat. A school visit was on the schedule for today and, despite only being back in town a short while, Buck was somehow earmarked to do it. Clem's smile soon faded, however, when Buck's usual enthusiasm for all things shone through.
Deputy Wilmington scanned the small group of teens, smiling as a familiar face grinned back at him. He caught himself thinking about his darling Katharine and her sweet smile he loved so much back all those years ago. . .still loved, to this day. Since Katharine, no woman had come close to healing, or replacing her in Buck's broken heart. It was little wonder the man couldn't find a woman to settle down with. He was a bit surprised JD was in an audience made up of juniors and seniors, considering he was only fifteen, but, as he stood to address the kids, the warm memory of being tutored by the bright little beauty from his history class - half his size and a good year younger - drove those thoughts away. By the end of his talk, the only volunteer for the ride-along program was JD. With a grin and a tousle to the youth's hair, Buck handed JD the consent form to ride with him in two days time.
Little did he know this one simple act would change the course of his and JD's lives. . .forever.
The day of the ride along arrived and JD stared at the consent form. He knew his grandfather wouldn't sign it. As soon as JD so much as mentioned Buck's name, the man would fly off the handle. JD couldn't help wondering what a guy as nice as Buck had ever done to get his gramps so mad. He recalled Buck saying he had known his mom. . .maybe it had something to do with that. If he had a chance, he planned to ask.
With his Grandfather still not back from his night shift, JD searched the bureau for something the man had signed, smiling at a check that was about to be posted to pay a bill. Practicing for a minute or so, JD nodded with satisfaction at his efforts, then carefully signed the consent form, pausing for a moment on realizing he was doing something against the grain for him. At least Deputy Dunne would be in bed for most of the day. . .he'd never know.
Buck grinned as he approached the squad car to see JD standing there, waiting eagerly. He held out his hand and JD slapped the form into it.
"All set, squirt?"
"You bet," JD jumped in as soon as Buck blipped the lock. The last thing JD needed was Clem to spot him now. "Gramps still on duty?"
Watching the boy buckle up, the brunet nodded. "Yup. . .just doing the handover to Sheriff Travis, then he's done." Buck hadn't spoken to him, he found the less they said to each other, the better. He went over the form, then told JD what he expected from him and what he should do during their time together. Turning the key, Buck smiled at JD. "I'm real glad Clem agreed for you to come along. . .wasn't sure he would. Are you interested in being a cop?"
JD nodded. "Oh yeah. Mom told me my dad was a cop." His face saddened. "I never got to meet him, he died in the line of duty."
Signaling to pull out of the precinct yard, Buck squeezed the boy's arm. "Sorry to hear that, kid." He rallied. "But we're gonna have us a good day, okay?"
JD grinned back at him, oblivious to the effect it had on the man as all he could focus on was hoping for the first really good day since arriving in Four Corners.
Halfway through their day, Buck pulled into the parking lot of 'The Saloon'. "Hungry?"
JD nodded enthusiastically, then pulled a face. "I don't have much money. . ."
Buck grinned as they exited the vehicle. "Hey. . .my treat for my temporary partner, okay?" Without thinking, he put his arm around the teenager's shoulders and drew him close as they entered the roadhouse, neither feeling the least uncomfortable with the move.
Inez looked up and smiled at the pair. "Well, hello 'man who once lived here', nice to see you again."
Buck chuckled as they took stools at the counter. "Well now, I guess I didn't introduce myself last time, did I?" He offered his hand. "Name's Buck."
She took the hand, laughing softly as Buck brushed his lips across the back of hers.. "Inez," she looked at JD. "Is this your son?"
Buck returned his arm to the youth's shoulders. "This here's JD. . . Clem's grandson."
Inez smiled. "Well. . .nice to finally meet you, JD, I heard you had arrived."
"Really?" JD asked, a little surprised.
"Mm hmm. . .it's a small town, word gets around. Now. . .what can I get you?"
"Could I have milk?" JD looked at Buck for approval, smiling at the man's grin.
"Make that two please, sweet lady, and two of your finest burgers."
"Coming right up," she nodded and went off to place the order.
JD glanced around. "This is nice."
Buck agreed, leaning closer. "I'll let you in on a little secret. . .my ma used to own this place."
"Wow. . .why did she let it go. . .did she retire?" He noticed his new friend's eyes sadden and suddenly remembered their conversation at the cemetery, Buck's revelation about his own mother's passing. Wondering now if illness claimed Buck's mom too, he only had the courage to ask, "She still owned it when she died, didn't she?"
Buck took a deep breath, looking at the hat he had placed on the countertop. "There was a hold-up here. . .she got caught in the crossfire."
"Oh. . .God. . .I'm sorry, Buck."
Buck acknowledged his words, surprising himself as he kept talking; it felt good to say it out loud. "I heard the call. . .was partnered with my friend Chris Larabee at the time. Chris an' me. . .we weren't gettin' along too well. In the space of a year, his pa. . .the former sheriff, had died. . .then a few months before the hold-up, his wife and boy died in a fire at their home. Chris was in a bad place and I was barely able to keep him from coming apart. Anyway. . .by the time we got here, my ma was dead and so was the gunman. Chris walked out of here. . .on everything. . .on me. . .just when I needed him most. I guess that's when I knew it was time for me to move on. . .right then and there. So I did, haven't spoken to Chris since ma's funeral, and hadn't come back here until a few days ago." He looked at the warm hand that was squeezing his.
"Sorry. . ."
Buck laughed softly. "Some company I am, huh? Sorry, kid."
"No. . .I'm glad you told me. I haven't talked about my mom, either." He watched the deputy turn toward him, his kind eyes urging him to continue. JD inhaled deeply, dropped his head, then spoke.
"She got sick when I was twelve. . .cancer. By the time I was fourteen, I had two jobs to keep us going but she was finally in remission." he swiped at a tear. "She died a month ago. . .she fought real hard to stay with me. . .but it beat her."
Buck choked as a lone tear rolled down his cheek. His darling Kathy had died alone. . .if only he'd known. . .he could have been there for her. . . for them. . .taken care of her in her final months. "I'm so sorry, son."
Looking up at Buck, the boy was shocked to see the emotion in the man's face. "Just how well did you know her?"
The words were out before Buck could stop them. "I loved her."
As JD tried to absorb the revelation, two meals were placed on the counter before them.
"Goce," Inez smiled, then added for JD's benefit. "Enjoy." She had heard everything.
Buck nodded to the beautiful Mexican woman. "Gracias."
The smell of the food took control of JD's senses and he relaxed to dig in, surprised at how hungry he was. He wanted to know if Buck had known his father. . .but that could keep.
Buck and JD's six hours together were at an end. The former leaned across the seat as the latter rested his arms on the open side window.
"Today was great, thanks, Buck."
"Yeah, it was. See you around, kid."
Watching as Buck pulled off, JD sighed, turned and went into the house. The place was quiet; he guessed his grandfather was still asleep, so he tiptoed up to his bedroom to change out of his good jeans and into a pair of sweats. Pushing the door open, JD shrugged out of his jacket, unaware of the man glowering at him from behind his door. The creak of the door slowly closing caused JD to startle and turn sharply.
"Gramps. . .you scared me."
The menacing way the man approached him caused JD to step back, only to be stopped by his bureau.
"I called the school. . .noticed you hadn't taken your lunch. . .they told me you weren't there. They seemed surprised I didn't know you were with Deputy Wilmington today. Of course, I faked that I'd forgotten." In a swift move he snatched at JD's shirtfront and pulled him close.
JD swallowed at the stale smell of whiskey on the man's breath, shaking at the anger reflected in the older man's face. "I. . .I'm sorry. . ." He watched in horror as the man deftly unbuckled his belt and slid it from the loops, gasping as he was tossed across the room, hitting the side of his face on the foot of his bed as he fell to the floor.
"You will be, boy." Raising his arm, Clem brought the leather strap down with a vicious snap, catching the youngster across his back. JD yelped, his breath gone as pain and fear consumed him.
"Gramps. . .please. . . " He cried out again as the next blow caught his legs, then another his side. . .then his back again, and soon the only sounds in the room were the grunts of exertion from an angry man, the crack of leather and soft sobs.
Panting slightly, Clem stared at the semi-conscious teenager curled up on the floor. "Heed my words, boy. . .you disobey me again and it'll be a rod next time."
Flinching as he heard the door close, JD tried to get up but everything hurt, including the side of his face. Still huddled on the floor, weeping softly, the youngster drifted off into the pain-free blackness that beckoned him.
The next day and later that morning, Buck's senses were suddenly on alert on overhearing Clem's call to the school to excuse JD. He approached the man's desk. "What's wrong with JD?"
Clem glowered at the man he despised. "None of your fucking business, Wilmington. . .now get out of my face."
Buck returned the stare with one of his own, then walked away. What he wouldn't give to have Chris Larabee's glare right about now. His mind full of questions and his heart full of concern, the deputy unhooked a set of keys and headed out.
"You go near my house I'll have your ass, boy."
Buck looked back at Clem then continued on, knowing he wouldn't be content until he talked to the kid. He wondered if the kid had a cell phone. . .maybe he'd just get him one.
Passing the cemetery on his patrol, Buck rolled the car to a halt, smiling at a familiar figure hunched over a grave. Parking, a relieved Buck jumped out of the car and went to join him.
JD shook where he knelt. His body ached and burned, but he felt at peace, being here with his mom. He didn't hear Buck approach and, when the big man placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, JD jerked violently, partly from pain and partly from fright.
"Hey, squirt, it's just me." Buck reached for JD again when the teenager shied away. Surprised, he squatted to look the kid in the eyes. . .and that's when he saw it. He grasped JD's face firmly but gently in his hand, tilting the boy's head a little.
"How did you get this bruise?"
JD shook harder. "I. . .I fell. . .in my room."
Noting JD's whole demeanor and recognizing the signs from the many domestic calls he'd responded to over the years, Buck took a chance and lifted the boy's shirt to see his back. He growled out loud, regretting it when he felt JD shake harder. "Did Clem do this?"
JD refused to look at the man. Buck softened his tone.
"Son. . .did Clem do this?"
JD slowly looked up, huge tears pooling in his eyes. "Please. . ." he whispered, "Please just drop it. . .it was my fault, I deserved it."
Buck growled again and, standing, brought JD up with him. The boy had never seen such raw anger in a face before, the fear in his face prompting Buck to place the palm of his hand on JD's bruised cheek to reassure him.
"No one deserves this. . .I'm gonna kill him."
"Buck!" JD grasped Buck's arms. "Please. . .please, I'm begging you. . .for me. . .please, please just let it go. I made a mistake and Gramps got angry. If you draw attention to this now, DFCS will take me back to Boston and I'll end up back in the system." He choked as a large tear rolled down his cheek, dropping onto Buck's thumb. "Please. . .I wanna stay here with mom. . .Buck. . .please. . . I have nowhere else to go."
Wilmington stared at the boy for a long few seconds, fear painfully evident in the kid's face and eyes. JD's words touched him and his anger evaporated. He knew this was wrong, but something deep inside did not want this boy to disappear from his life. He vowed to be more vigilant. Buck then instinctively pulled him into a bear hug, wincing as JD cried out softly in pain as one large hand held the dark head close to his chest while the other enveloped the slight, quivering form.
"Okay, JD, okay. . ." Buck soothed, "but if you even think he's gonna try something like this again, you gotta promise to tell me, all right." Buck felt the nod against his chest and hands fist his shirt as they stood there. "And if he hurts you again, son. . . he's mine."
For now, he'd keep quiet. . .just for now, but this was not over.
The first day of summer vacation and JD ate his breakfast while he watched his grandfather prepare for work. It was now or never.
"Gramps, do you mind if I get a summer job?"
Clem eyed the young man and nodded, approvingly. "Good idea, son. It'll keep you out of mischief and help some toward your keep." He watched JD nodding. "Have you seen anything you might like to do?"
"There's a card in the window of the deli in town, for a sandwich delivery boy."
"Well, best hop to it. . .it's summer, likely there'll be plenty of takers soon."
With a nod, JD tentatively got up to wash his dishes and head out, beaming at a genuine smile from Clem and sighing inwardly that it couldn't always be this way, while trying not to think about the beating he'd taken the night before. One thing he did know for sure, it was always Buck's name that set the man off. This time, JD had simply asked if he could call on Buck to see how the man was settling in to his home, Clem had taken exception to the request.
It was nice to hear his grandfather' s happy whistle as he set off for work, later that evening, Clem would no doubt hide away in yet another whiskey bottle. . .and JD would hide away in his room with his laptop and hope the name Buck Wilmington never entered the soused man's head. The boy couldn't help wondering who he used to take his violent temper out on before JD had arrived.
Rain Jackson smiled at her husband Nathan, as he passed through the small deli on his way to work at his small clinic in town, serving as the only doctor around as well as the County Coroner. They moved together for a quick kiss goodbye, their kiss deepening as the newlyweds lost themselves in the moment. They stopped and turned toward the door on hearing a small cough.
"Didn't mean to interrupt, but I felt kinda awkward just standing here."
Rain smiled at the young man, her arms still around her man's waist. "How can we help you?"
"I came about the job," JD said, giving the black couple one of his most dazzling smiles.
"Can you ride a cycle?"
The teenager nodded.
"Good. . .well, you've got the job.. Do you mind helping around here until you go out on delivery?"
JD beamed. "No ma'am, I don't mind at all."
Nathan untangled himself from his wife and extended his hand. "Name's Nathan Jackson and this is Rain."
The teenager shook the offered hand. "JD. . .Dunne."
The doctor tilted his head. "Any relation to Deputy Clem Dunne?"
"Yes, sir, he's my grandfather. "
Jackson grinned. "So, you're the kid Buck's been talking about."
JD frowned. "Buck? Are you a policeman, too?"
Nathan shook his head. "Nope, I'm the local doc; sometimes I work with the Sheriff's Office, too." He noted the concern on the youth's face. "He was telling me you went on the ride-along with him."
Relieved that was all Buck had talked about, JD nodded.
Nathan moved through the store. "Well, I'd best get going; it was nice meeting you, JD."
"You too, sir."
The doctor laughed. "The name's Nathan." With that, he left.
Rain gestured toward JD. "Come on, then, you can help me make up today's deliveries."
The sigh from the Four Corners Public Defenders' Office could be heard clean across Texas. Ezra Standish had come into the department full of ideals and strong convictions to help those who could not help themselves. His own life as he grew up had been littered with frustration and lucky escapes as he accompanied his mother around the country from one scam to another.
Deciding he could put his quick mind and dexterity to better use, he put his mother's ill-gotten gains to work and put himself through college, then law school. His two years with the PDO had slowly disillusioned him and he was quietly coming to the conclusion he would be better off setting up his own practice and making some real money. The fact that he was looking forward to the daily delivery of his lunch. . .said it all. . .the man was bored.
He watched in amusement as a young, dark-haired teenager awkwardly made his way through the office area, leaving folders and in-trays in his wake as his basket clipped desks along the way, apologizing and attempting to put things right, causing even more chaos.
"Correct, and which hurricane would you be?"
JD looked back at the trail of destruction and gave a goofy grin. "I need to get a grip on this basket-thingy. " He fished out Ezra's sandwiches. "I'm JD. I believe you wanted roast beef. . .rare. . .with Dijon mustard?"
Standish nodded, "Correct." He took the package, handing over his money, then withdrawing it as he eyed the food. "Do I see pastrami in here, also?"
JD nodded, smiling. "Yeah, they go real well together, I thought you might like. . ."
Ezra halted him. "If this is unsatisfactory, I will not be paying you. It is not what I ordered."
"My mom said it never hurts to try something once."
Holding back a grin, Ezra unwrapped the sandwiches "And mothers know best, don't they? Or so I'm frequently told." He took a small bite, eventually looking at the young man. "Well. . .I must say, I am pleasantly surprised. Did you make this?"
"Well, from now on, I would appreciate it if you would always prepare my sandwich; if I have your word you will do so, I will enhance your gratuity, considerably. "
Dunne nodded. "You got it, Mister Standish."
Standish held out payment. "Excellent, and, JD. . .it's Ezra."
"Okay. . .Ezra, see you tomorrow."
The Public Defender grinned. "I will look forward to it."
JD's next stop was the Sheriff's Office. He looked around, disappointed Buck wasn't there. He was met by a stern-faced gray- haired woman typing something on a computer. She looked over her spectacles at him.
"Can I help you, son?"
"Sandwiches. . .we received an order from here."
"That would be mine," Sheriff Travis called as he exited his office, "I ordered some for you and Clem, too, Nettie."
JD noted how the woman looked him over as she stood to take the food.
"You look like your mother," she stated.
"You knew her?" JD asked, hopefully.
"I did. . ." she held back on admitting she knew his father, too, well aware of how Clem felt about it, and the possibility neither JD or the man knew. . .yet. "I was sorry to hear she passed on; she was far too young."
JD swallowed and nodded. He couldn't disagree with that. Realizing his grandfather wasn't around, he asked the burning question. "Where's Buck?"
"Houston," Travis answered, pulling out his wallet to pay for the food.
"Oh, I guess I won't be going over to his place later then," he replied, then adding, "I haven't seen it yet."
"He'll be back tomorrow," Nettie informed, sitting down at her desk to continue on with her duties.
Realizing he had effectively been dismissed, JD nodded. "Well, bye then. Say hi to Gramps for me."
Orin and Nettie watched him go. The older woman turned to the sheriff.. "How can Buck not see the resemblance? "
Orin raised his eyebrows. "Because he's not looking for it. He thinks JD's younger than he is."
"He doesn't know JD's seventeen?"
Nettie sighed. "Dear me."
Having been given permission by Rain to use the bike at his leisure when his duties were over, JD cycled out to Buck's home. He loved it the moment he set eyes on it, but was horrified at the house just a little way in the distance, its charred remains standing out in stark contrast against the bright blue sky and green pasture. A voice from behind him startled him.
"Do you live here?"
Turning sharply, JD's eyes locked on a blond man about six feet two, dressed all in black, with the most startling green eyes he had ever seen.
"N. . .no sir. . .I just know the guy who owns it."
"You know Buck Wilmington?" The man watched JD nod, approaching him. "Name's Chris. . .Larabee. "
The teenager gasped, glancing back at the burned out house. "That's. . . your house."
Chris seemed surprised. "Yes. . .I see Buck wasted no time in telling you my business." He sighed inwardly. So much for keeping a low profile. He found himself mulling over the boy's words. . .how did this kid know Buck?
Flustered, JD answered, sheepishly, unnerved by the man's intense gaze. "Well, he knew my mom and. . .well. . .long story."
"Who's your mother?" The FBI agent was in full interrogation mode, now.
Chris' gaze softened. "Is she back in town?"
JD shook his head, sadly. "She is. . .sort of. . .she's buried in the cemetery."
"She died?" Larabee was shocked, Katharine had been a few years younger than himself, and the last he knew of her was when Buck had admitted his love for her as well as his proposal to the girl he'd bedded in his mother's barn. A few weeks later and the girl had left town, leaving his best friend shattered.
"I'm sorry to hear that. . .?"
"John Daniel Dunne. . .only most folks call me JD." He smiled. "Are you here to see Buck? He's in Houston until tomorrow."
Chris shook his head, his earlier question answered. . .Buck was back in Four Corners. "Nope, just passing through." He sighed. "I should go. . . it was good to meet you, JD." He squeezed the boy's shoulder as he passed and walked toward the truck parked just beyond the house.
"Yeah. . .you too," JD called after him. Deciding not to dwell on as to why Buck's old friend would be in town but not want to see him, JD continued taking a look around.
Stepping from the train with his prisoner cuffed to his wrist, Buck grinned at the approach of a fair-haired Texas Ranger.
"Call me Buck, you Vin Tanner?"
The man nodded. "Vin." They shook hands and continued on to Vin's truck. "Thanks for doing this," Vin smiled, "been swamped this week."
"Always my pleasure to help out the Rangers," Buck grinned back. "Ol' Harry here's been as quiet as a lamb."
The prisoner huffed, looking at the pair in disgust as he reluctantly climbed into the vehicle.
"That'll be a first, then," Vin laughed as they buckled up and pulled out of the parking lot.
They drove in silence for a while, Buck reflecting on something Nettie had told him before he left town.
"I hear you know Chris Larabee?"
Vin nodded, "Yep, worked with the guy twice. . .seems a good man."
Buck nodded. "Good to know he's back on his feet."
Frowning, Vin glanced at him. "There's a time he wasn't?"
Buck nodded. "Long story. How is he?"
"Seemed good last time I saw him, 'course that was six months ago."
Silence descended once again, Buck looking out of the window as they traveled toward his old offices of the Harris County Sheriff's Department. He caught himself wondering how JD was doing and suddenly realized. . .he was missing home.
The next two weeks saw peace descend on the Dunne household. Clem had seemingly come to terms with Buck's appointment, only speaking to the younger man when needed and keeping things strictly professional. Clem and JD had grown a little closer, Clem pleased to see the boy happily working through his summer vacation and no longer talking about Buck during their time together. The little extra money coming in had eased things considerably, also, but it all came to a grinding halt the day Clem discovered what JD was doing every day after finishing work.
JD was happy. It had been a tough few months since his mother's passing, but he finally felt like he was home. His grandfather could be quite a decent guy when he was sober, and had even begun to tell him a few tales from his mother's early years.
But the best part of the last two weeks was coming here everyday. . .to Buck's home. He couldn't believe how well they got along. JD felt as if he'd known Buck all his life and found himself sad to leave each day, wishing. . .yes, wishing he lived here. The deputy had purchased three horses, a gray gelding and a bay stallion and mare, promising JD their first foal would be his. Buck had just told him Honey was pregnant. . .he didn't really know why Buck would want to give him such a generous gift, yet he had never been so excited.
Buck looked across at his corral to see JD watching the three horses in the paddock. He smiled. He had such love in his heart for this kid. . . at first thinking it was because of Katharine, only to quickly realize that it wasn't even the half of it. JD was quick and funny and sassy. . .all the things Buck had been while growing up, and the deputy loved it. Seeing the boy jump down from the fence and head over made Buck's heart sink. . .their time for today was up. He smiled at him.
JD nodded. "Yeah, Gramps finishes his shift a little earlier, today. If you're working tonight, should I not come over tomorrow?"
"No." Buck realized how loud he had answered. "No. . .I should be up by the time you get here." He gestured toward the horses, grinning. "You do know it'll be a while for Honey to pop that li'l baby out, don't you?"
JD chuckled, rolling his eyes. "Duh. . ." he then looked at the man he had become so very fond of. ". . .I can't believe you're gonna let me have her foal. . ."
Buck raised an arm and squeezed the back of the youth's neck. "Neither can I."
They both laughed and Buck swatted JD playfully on the side of the head before fully letting go. "See you tomorrow, kid.."
Nodding, JD waved and jumped on his bike, looking back at the deputy. "Buck. . .thanks. . .you know. . .for being my friend. I don't think I could have got through the last few months without you. I know I'm just a kid to you, but. . .it's meant a lot to me."
Wilmington grinned. "Kid. . .and yeah. . .you are a kid. . .but I don't see it like that. You've made coming home easier. Before I met you, I honestly didn't know if I would stay. . .I'm glad we can be friends. . .it means a lot to me, too."
With a huge grin, JD rode away.
"I see," Clem said into the phone, "JD left around three hours ago. Thanks Rain. . .I forgot he was stopping off somewhere, he must be running late." The shaking man placed the phone down, picked up his whiskey bottle and the cane from the hall stand and headed for JD's room. He'd ensure the boy never lied to him again.
The bike safely locked away, JD walked into the house through the rear door, calling for his grandfather as he did so. With no reply, the youth grabbed an apple and moved through the house, jogging up the stairs two at a time. He planned on going on the internet and researching the gestation and labor of horses, wanting to be fully prepared to help Buck when the new foal came.
Slipping out of his jacket, JD pushed open the bedroom door, tossing the garment on the bed. A harsh gasp left his throat as he saw his precious laptop smashed and lying on the floor, followed by a fierce pain whipping across his back and shoulder blades, then by another. . . and another. He turned as another blow from the cane in his grandfather' s hand swept down, but he managed to catch it.
"G. . .gramps?" Even as he stuttered out the word, JD could see the empty whiskey bottle lying on the floor near the head of his bed. He struggled to hold on to the stick as the man screamed out at him.
"You're wicked. . .just like your mother. . .and that bastard, Wilmington. You're a no good, scheming, dishonest slacker. . .and you're gonna pay for lying to me, boy!" He struggled to rip the cane from JD's hand, but the boy held on desperately as he pleaded with him.
"Gramps. . .please. . . what. . .what are you talking about?"
"While I thought you were working, you've been with Wilmington. . .you' re a bald-faced LIAR!"
Shaking and aching with pain, JD suddenly realized what the man was accusing him of. Before he could reason further, the stick was wrenched from his grasp and JD had to make an instant counter-move before the weapon came crashing down on him again. With all the strength he could muster, he grabbed the man's arms and pushed him out through the bedroom door, slamming it and locking it at once. To the sounds of the man screaming and pounding on the door, JD scanned the room and headed for the window.
He cursed as the sash stuck, partly with age and partly from old, hardened paint, trembling more as he realized Clem was attempting to break down the door. With a cry of relief, the window jolted open and JD was half-way through when a crash from behind caused his heart to skip a beat as he tried to hurry. A hand fisted in his hair and slammed his head back against the frame before dragging the dazed boy back inside and throwing him to the floor.
Clem was beyond reasoning now; his only goal, to punish his grandson for his disobedience, kicking out several times at the form on the floor before bringing the rod down twice more. A powerful man, he hoisted the youth up off the floor by his wrist and back-handed him, twice, screaming at the youth and oblivious to the blood spurting from JD's nose and lip while the cut to the back of his head from hitting the window frame, dripped steadily.
JD was in a world of hurt, dazed and helpless to defend himself as he was physically and verbally abused by a man he thought loved him. Barely able to focus on his grandfather, he felt himself being dragged out of the room, to hurtle headlong down the stairs, unconscious in seconds.
Clem took a firm hold of the boy and hauled him out of the room. "You like being outside? Then GET OUT!" With a push, he tossed his own flesh and blood down the staircase, unmoving as the slight body tumbled and rolled until coming to a stop in a crumpled, bloody heap at the bottom. With a grunt and labored breathing from the exertion, Clem staggered to his own bedroom and closed the door. ~~~ Seventy three year-old Daphne Pedoza was happily walking her Chihuahua, Manuel. . .named after her late husband. . .when her attention was drawn to the Dunne house. Frowning at the yelling from within, she looked up.
"Oh my!" Pulling out her cell, she dialed 911.
"Don't sass me, Buck Wilmington. . .you' re not sheriff yet." Nettie Wells bit back a grin as Buck's chuckle rattled over the radio while she worked dispatch that night. The man's presence had changed the whole atmosphere of the office, not to mention the relief of the townsfolk to have him as a candidate for sheriff. The man was well liked. . .he was a shoe-in for the job. Turning her attention away from the radio, she responded as a 911 call came in.
"Sheriff's Office, please state the nature of your emergency."
"Oh, Nettie...it' s you, thank the Lord...I thought it would be Dolores...and you know how that woman makes me mad."
"Yes, Daphne dear, I'm well aware, do you have an emergency this time? This frequency is not to ask for directions or cooking tips."
"Oh. . .yes...well. ..there's something odd happening at Clem Dunne's house...I think he's wrestlin' with a burglar, I just saw him yank someone back in through the window and now he's screamin' and yellin' somethin' fierce. Is Buck on tonight? Buck could come sort it out. . . Buck's always very kind to me. . ."
". . .can you give me a description of the man Clem is fighting with?" Nettie interrupted.
There was a long pause. Nettie tried to stay calm. "Go ahead, Daphne."
"Oh. . .well, he's not a man. . .it's a teenager. . .looked a bit like JD. . .you know. . .small, dark hair. . ."
". . .I see. Thank you, Daphne, we're on it." She took a deep breath and called Buck, aware of the sensitivity of the report, she used the 'call control' sign.
"428, 10-21. . ."
Buck answered. "428, copy." Frowning, Buck dialed his cell. "Nettie?"
"Darlin' now. . .stay calm, but there's been a report of a disturbance at Clem's house."
Buck's stomach knotted. "Disturbance?"
"Yelling. . .and Daphne saw Clem pull someone back from the window that looked like JD."
Buck signaled and turned left. "I'm on my way. . .Nettie. . .could you call Josiah and Nathan? Have them meet me there, oh and Phil. . .he hates Clem as much as I do."
"Of course. Buck. . ."
"Don't do anythin' silly, son. . .Clem's not worth it."
"No. . .but JD is." He closed his cell and put his foot down, easily moving through the light early evening traffic.
Outside Clem's home, Buck paced while he waited for the others to arrive. The house was deathly quiet now, and the soft-hearted deputy wanted nothing more than to burst in there and check on his young friend. He sighed with relief as three cars approached to eventually pull up.
"Buck," Josiah held his arm, "easy, son." He saw the brunet's eyes grow hard.
"If he's hurt that boy. . ."
"His ass won't touch the ground, Buck," Deputy Philippe Mendoza assured. Buck nodded and the four moved toward the front door, Phil breaking off to try the rear. A minute later he returned, shaking his head. "Locked."
Buck banged on the door. "Clem. . .it's Buck. . .open up!" He waited but got no reply, he looked to Phil as he called again.
"Deputy Dunne. . .open the door, this is official business from the sheriff's office." Barely able to contain himself, Buck pounded on the door so hard it rattled the windows. "Clem. . .JD! Open this door. . . NOW!"
Deciding enough was enough, Buck took a step back, raised his leg and kicked the door hard, splintering the frame as it flew backwards. The sight that greeted him buckled his knees and he moved inside and dropped to the floor next to the unconscious form of the boy he had grown so close to.
"JD?" He smoothed his hand over the youth's hair, pulling back and staring at his bloody fingers in horror. "Sweet Jesus. . .JD?"
"Buck. . .move."
Josiah's strong arms lifted Buck from the floor, allowing Doctor Jackson access. Calling for an ambulance, Phil climbed the stairs in search of Deputy Dunne.
Emotion was high as Buck eyed the damaged form of the teenager, guilt washing over him. He should never have kept quiet. . .if he'd told someone. . .maybe Travis. . .Clem would have known they were on to him. But now. . .for JD. . .now it was too late.
The doctor looked up. "It's bad, Buck, he's gonna need a spinal board." He watched Josiah squeeze the deputy's shoulders, relieved to hear the ambulance approaching.
Phil was escorting a cuffed and groggy Clem down the stairs. Seeing the man coming toward him, Buck lost it and if it wasn't for Josiah's fast reactions and brute strength, he would have been on the man in an instant.
"You bastard! How could you do this to your own kin? I hope they throw the book at you, 'cause, if they don't. . .I'm coming for you. . . y'hear. . ." his voice dropped to a menacing tone. ". . .I'm gonna kill you."
Clem glanced at the boy and shrugged. "Kid musta tumbled down the stairs."
Buck roared, lunging for him, but Josiah held firm. Mendoza read Clem his rights, then took him out to the waiting truck and the growing huddle of onlookers, but not before promising Buck he would send two more deputies over to take Buck's truck back to the station. . .it didn't take a genius to see the man wanted to be close to the injured boy..
Buck watched the paramedics work on JD, hovering close while whispering words of comfort and encouragement in the hope they would somehow reach him. By the time the paramedics were ready to transport JD to hospital, the officers had arrived to take control of the truck while the house was secured as a crime scene. Clem would no longer find himself under the Department's initial protective umbrella.
Josiah felt a tinge of irony as he watched Buck climb into the back of the ambulance to be with JD. Fate had brought these two lost souls together, he hoped its cruel hand wouldn't separate them just yet; there was too much to be resolved.
He had been horrified when Buck confided to him about Clem's first beating of JD, stunned at the thought of such violence. He feared Buck would heap guilt on himself. As Josiah watched the ambulance leave, the psychologist in him vowed to help get them both through this.
The Eagle Bend County Hospital was bustling with activity. Not that Buck had noticed. . .he'd barely acknowledged Josiah and Nathan while they sat with him and waited for news. What seemed like an eternity later, Buck stood as the ER doctor approached him and his companions. The doctor extended his hand to Nathan.
"Good to see you, Nathan. How are you involved in all this?"
Shaking hands, Nathan spoke. "I know the boy personally." He gestured to Buck and Josiah. "I'm also here on behalf of the Four Corners Sheriff's Department. This is their Criminal Psychologist, Josiah Sanchez, and this is Deputy Buck Wilmington, who's also very close to the boy."
Doctor Shandall shook both men's hands, turning to address Buck. "Deputy Wilmington, I understand this boy's next of kin was arrested for this assault."
Buck nodded. "Yeah. . .how is he?"
"Initial x-rays show a hairline fracture to the skull, contusions, abrasions, two broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder. We're sending him for an MRI scan to determine any further deep tissue damage. I've glued the cut to his head, but he hasn't come around yet, I'm afraid." The man hesitated. "It appears. . .the bruises on his torso. . .some are consistent with being beaten with something like a stick."
Buck's emotions were too close to the surface to prevent the soft moan, Josiah squeezed his arm in silent support.
"Dear God. Can I see him?"
"Sure, you can walk him down to MRI, if you'd like."
Buck nodded and entered the curtained area, groaning as he saw the dark bruising against the pale skin and the blood still caked around the youth's nostrils. He took up the slack hand, staring at the IV attached to the other one.
"Aww kid. I'm so sorry. . .I shouldn't have kept this to myself. . .I should have known it would end like this." He sensed more than observed Josiah and Nathan join him. The former spoke.
"No one but Clem's to blame here, Buck. You were protecting JD as best you could, by adhering to the boy's wishes. Let's just hope they do throw the book at him, because nothing can justify this."
Buck sighed, flinching at the red welts on the exposed upper torso and the red marks around the wrist of the hand he was holding. "The man's an animal."
He stepped back as the orderlies released the brake to the gurney and prepared to move JD for his MRI scan. Buck halted them and gently raised the sheet to cover the boy's chest, nodding to let them continue as he and Josiah followed and Nathan went in search of information and coffee.
Despite already being a deputy down thanks to Clem's incarceration, Travis didn't have the heart to deny Buck the time off to be at JD's bedside. Besides, if the truth ever did come out, the man would be entitled to it anyway.
Not surprisingly, only a day after the incident that had the community's tongues flapping, next to JD's bed is where he found the younger man. Buck seemed to immediately tense as Orin entered the room and the sheriff held his hand up to prevent the clearly exhausted man from vacating his chair.
"How is he?" Travis was visibly shocked by JD's battered appearance. He took a seat next to his deputy.
Buck shrugged. "Still out. Doc says he'll likely be out a day or two. The MRI scan didn't show any serious damage, but he took two whacks to the head during. . ." He was unable to finish.
Travis pulled up a seat and placed a comforting hand on Buck's arm, his face stern. "Clem's been released on his own recognisance. There's no solid evidence he was there when JD fell down the stairs, though he's been deemed culpable for the beating the boy received. He's been suspended from duty, pending investigation. JD won't be able to go home when he's discharged."
Buck absorbed the information, disgust evident on his handsome features. He pointed to JD.
"You, me. . .we all know he did this."
"And we also know, without proof, it's JD's word against his."
"Fine. . .well, the kid can come stay with me."
"That's for the courts to decide, not us. Nettie's looking into placing him into the system. . .for the short term."
JD tried hard not to react. He had been slowly climbing to consciousness, quietly listening to the sounds and voices around him. The last sentence disturbed him greatly, at first a little choked up that Buck would be prepared to take him in, but now. . .now it looked like he was going into the system.
He had worked since he was almost fourteen to prevent that from happening. He'd run away, first.
"Hey. . .kid?"
Realizing he must have given himself away, JD blinked his way to awareness, eventually peeking a look at Buck and Sheriff Travis, sitting by his bedside.
"Hey. . ." he rasped, grateful when Buck leaned over and offered him some water. "Thanks."
"Doc says you're doin' good," Buck smiled, taking JD's hand and stroking the back of it with his thumb. "All you need to do is rest easy."
"Gramps. . ." JD swallowed. "He. . .hurt me good, this time."
Buck's eyes narrowed. "There's been more than that one time?"
JD nodded, wincing at the pain it caused. Orin nudged Buck, throwing him a look that said 'leave it for now'. The deputy leaned further in and whispered.
"Easy, now. . .get some rest." He watched JD close his eyes and relaxed back into his chair when he was sure the boy was asleep. "He took that pretty well."
"He's in shock, Buck. . .this is only the beginning."
"Have some compassion, woman."
Back at the Sheriff's Office, Nettie glared at Josiah. "Don't you 'woman' me, Josiah Sanchez. The law is the law; the boy is a ward of the court and will be placed into care until a more permanent place is deemed suitable."
"The law's an ass."
Nettie sighed. "Quite likely, but you know as well as me. . .it's what we abide by."
"Buck wants JD home with him."
"And Lord knows, so do I, but that's not my decision. Buck's a single man in a full time job. . .I don't think it's possible. . .unless. . . "
Sanchez tilted his head, "Go on.."
"Should JD's natural father show up, he could claim guardianship with very little difficulty."
Josiah grinned. "Good point."
JD looked around him. There was a dim light in the corridor, suggesting it was night. . .or early morning. Painfully, he stretched to reach the bear dressed as a deputy on his nightstand, reading the note attached to its chest.
'Have to work. Deputy Bear will keep you company until I get back :o) - Buck'
The teenager snorted. "What. . .does the guy think I'm five or something?" He gave a small grin and the bear a little squeeze before he returned it to its post. Noting he was very much alone, JD eased himself out of bed, relieved it wasn't as painful as he thought it would be. . .'thank God for painkillers' . Retrieving his stained clothes and sneakers from the closet, he awkwardly dressed and headed slowly to the room door. On opening it, he glanced left and right. The nurses' station was lit, but abandoned so he walked as casually past it as he could. In less than five minutes, he was outside in the early dawn light and attempting to get his bearings, shivering in the cool morning air and wishing he had his jacket. Seeing a man smoking a cigarette at the corner of the building, JD approached.
"How far am I from Four Corners?" he asked.
"'bout two miles," the guy replied, continuing with his smoke.
"Thanks. . .uh. . .which way is Four Corners?"
Sighing, the man pointed. "That way."
Nodding his thanks, again, JD headed off. He needed his things, then. . . he'd be gone. No one was putting him into the system. . .no way, no how. He'd taken care of himself and his mom for years. . .he could do it again, he just needed his things.
By the time JD reached his front door, he could hardly stand, the journey and injuries causing him more pain than he could realistically deal with. Pulling out the spare key from under the upturned broken plant pot, JD opened the door and slowly inched his way indoors and up the stairs.
He could do this. . .he had to.
He was so focused on the task in hand, he was oblivious to the drunken form of his grandfather, standing, watching his ascent from the top of the stairs.
"I suppose you think you can crawl back here and apologize and everything will be alright? Well, think again!"
JD jerked at the sound of the voice, looking up and blinking. Through the haze, he could barely make out the form just two steps away, tremors coursing through him as he realized he had nowhere to go.
"Gramps. . .please. . . I don't want to do this."
The man swayed. "Oh really. . .well I do. . .I'll teach you to defy me, boy!" He swung out at the boy's head with his fist.
JD barely had time to react before the incoming fist hit him. Flattening himself against the handrail to avoid the second blow, he watched in horror as his grandfather' s momentum toppled him off- balance and he bounced heavily down the stairs, landing at the bottom with a sickening crack.
Standing, trembling for a moment, JD's heart raced as he tried to comprehend what had just happened, eventually clinging to the handrail as he edged his way down to the bottom. On reaching the prone form, his panic grew when he saw lifeless eyes staring back at him. He dropped to his knees and touched the man, expecting him to blink back at him. When he didn't, JD realized...his grandfather was dead. Pushing up, JD shakily picked up the phone in the hall and dialed 911.
"Police? Help. . .please. . .he' s dead. . .he's dead and it's all my fault. . .I did it. . .it's my fault. . .please. . .please come. . .I need help."
Dolores Keppel's night had been reasonably quiet and she was just about to go off-shift when the call came in. Keeping the youth calm, she got his address and called for an ambulance. Buck and Phil had just got off shift and were about to leave the station house when a familiar address caught their attention and they turned back.
"425. . ."
"425, 4th and Weidler. . ."
". . .and 416 for cover. . ."
"416, 5th and Yamhill. . ."
"425 and 416 responding on a disturbance at 7, Seminole Drive. Report of a possible physical altercation and injury inside the residence. Caller is John Dunne, white male, mid to late teens. Second subject is an unknown male. Unknown weapons involved."
"425, en route."
Buck was out of the door in seconds, with Phil in hot pursuit.
Arriving on the scene first, Deputy Paul Ramon stopped the truck and looked at the house.
"425, 10-23. . ."
"425 at 05:43."
Getting out of the truck he approached the front door. "425, dispatch. . ."
"Go ahead 425."
"Everything' s quiet, attempting contact."
"Copy, attempting contact at 05:44."
Grateful to see his colleague arriving, he waited for Deputy Davis to join him and the two split up, one intending to enter the back and one the front. Gun in hand, Paul pushed at the front door, surprised to see it already open. Inside he could see a white male, lying at the bottom of the stairs, a younger white male sitting close by, his back against a wall, knees up, and head buried in folded arms.
JD looked up slowly, eyes red and hazy from tears, pain and meds. His eyes tracked to his grandfather, then his head dropped back to his knees, long bangs curtaining him off from the horror around him.
A split second later, the sound of wood splintering announced Davis's forced entry through the back. His weapon was drawn as he came upon the scene but, as Ramon eased the unresisting youth to an unsteady standing position, Davis re-holstered his gun. Taking in the tell- tale blank stare of the corpse at their feet, Davis radioed for both an ambulance and the coroner, watching as Paul proceeded to cuff the kid and commence reading him his rights.
"John Dunne, you have the right to remain silent, anything you say...."
JD wasn't registering anything but pain. Everything hurt now, especially his head and shoulder, his mind fuzzy and too tired to care.
". . .if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. . ."
"JD!" Buck arrived just as the wobbly youth was being escorted to the police truck. "Why are you arresting him?" Buck exclaimed shocked at the condition the boy was in.
"It's a possible murder inquiry, Buck, we're just detaining him for questioning, he hasn't been charged. Now, excuse me." Paul eased JD into the truck and spoke into the radio.
"425, dispatch, please note miranda".
Dolores answered. "Copy, 425. . .miranda at 06:05."
Phil grabbed Buck's arm before he could say anything else. "Come on, let's just get back to the station. . .we can sort it all out there."
Reluctantly, Buck nodded as he watched JD guided into the truck's rear seat, unable to comprehend why the boy wasn't in the hospital. . . and what the hell had just happened here. He called out.
"JD. . .you're okay, boy. . .I'm here, I'm right with you." He sighed inwardly at the lack of response, but hoped he'd gotten through to the kid. . .he didn't want him to think he was alone.
Ezra Standish groaned at the sound of his pager. He looked at the luminous digital display on his bedside clock, cursing his luck at being on call that night. He called the station to confirm he was responding, slid out from his cream Egyptian cotton sheets and headed for the shower. So much for eight hours sleep.
Buck hurt to see JD going through processing. The kid only lifted his head to confirm his name, to then be guided to an interrogation room. Buck walked into the room next to it, watching through the mirrored window as JD slumped into a seat. He looked dejected and in pain and Buck's heart ached for him. He looked up as Orin joined him.
"I want to be in there."
"Come on, Buck, you know I can't allow that. There's an attorney from the PD's office due any minute. . .he'll be well looked after."
"He needs a doctor, Orin."
Travis nodded. "Nathan's coming straight here after pronouncing Clem." The sheriff shuddered, "I can't believe he's dead."
Buck recalled finding JD at the bottom of the same stairs just a few days ago.
"Poetic justice," he whispered. . .and meant it.
JD hurt. . .from his head to his toes he felt pain. It had been several hours since he had received any pain relief for his injuries and it was taking its toll on him.
And then there was his grandfather. He could feel the emotion welling inside him, vying for first place with the mounting pain. His head throbbed, as a solitary tear escaped, the misery in his face evident to Davis and Ramon as they prepared to interrogate him.
"Would you like some water?" Paul asked.
JD nodded, his eyes remained focused on the table in front of him, long bangs still veiling him from the deputies' scrutiny. Accepting the water with a soft 'thank you', he took several sips, not realizing how parched his throat was until then. His hands were shaking as he placed the plastic tumbler on the table.
Deputy Frank Davis started the recording. "For the tape, please state your full name and address."
"John Daniel Dunne, 7 Seminole Drive, Four Corners, Texas.." His words faltered as he fought back the tears. A familiar voice coming into the room caused him to look up.
"Excuse me, gentlemen. . .I sincerely hope you are not questioning my client before I have spoken with him?"
The deputies switched off the tape as Ezra entered. "Just getting the ball rolling, Mister Standish," Frank answered.
"Hmmm. . .indeed. " He placed his briefcase on the table and squatted down to speak to JD.
"JD? How are you, son?"
JD swallowed, recognizing Ezra was there to help him. "What's going on?"
Ezra was alarmed at the condition the boy was in. "Why has this boy not seen a doctor? And why is he here? He's a juvenile."
"We're just trying to establish the chain of events, Mister Standish. We have John, on tape, admitting he caused Clem Dunne's death. . .and Doctor Jackson's on his way right now."
JD started shaking harder. What was the police officer saying? He killed Clem? Tears building, JD shook his head.
"Me? No, no. . .it . . .he. . .no. . .NO!"
Ezra placed a comforting hand on JD's arm, his concern growing as JD's breathing became labored. "Easy, son. . .undoubtedly this is a misunderstanding. . . we will have this cleared up and you out of here in no time."
JD was desperate to get his point across. "No. . .Ezra. . .he, he tried to. . . punch me. . .but. . .he missed and. . .he fell. . .I'm sorry. . .I'm so sorry. . .I couldn't stop him. . .it's my fault. . ."
In the adjoining room, Travis was struggling to hold Buck back. The brunet glared at him. "For the love of God. . .Clem beat the shit out of him only a few days ago. . .the kid's still suffering. He didn't do this. . . Orin. . .you know he didn't. I'll bet my ranch Clem's liquored up when Nathan cuts him open."
A crash from the other room caused both men to turn and look.
Orin released Buck, nothing would stop him now.
The more JD tried to breathe, the harder it got until his vision darkened and he tilted forward toward Ezra. Standish just caught the toppling form before JD's unconscious body hit the floor, his chair flying backwards as he fell. Cradling JD in his lap while he sat on the floor, Ezra looked to the two deputies for help.
"Is Mister Jackson here?"
Paul hurried from the room, bumping into Buck on his way out. "I'll go check."
The attorney looked at Buck. "Mister Wilmington, good to see you. I'd shake your hand, but as you can see. . ."
Buck squatted down and stroked back damp hair from JD's cold, clammy face. "Damnit, kid," he whispered.
Holding JD a little tighter, Ezra gave a tight smile. "JD's been telling me how close you've grown over the last months. Clem was a surly bastard. . .I'm glad you brought some light into the boy's life."
Totally focused on the unconscious youth, Buck nodded, only half registering Ezra's words. "Yeah. . .he's a great kid. . .he truly is. . .so much like his ma."
They both looked up as Nathan entered the room, instantly crouching down to examine the youth. "How long's he been out?"
"A few minutes," Ezra answered.
"Why isn't he still in the hospital?" Nathan spoke as he did his checks. "He's too sick to be wandering around like this."
Buck looked at him, his face lined with worry. "I thought he was. I have no idea why he up an' left like that. I know I had to work, but I left a note to say I'd be back."
Nathan shrugged. "Well, I guess it's of little consequence now. . . there's an ambulance on the way. I called it as soon as I left Clem's, knowing he'd be in no shape to be out here like this. . .not to mention the shock of what's just happened."
JD groaned and focus snapped back to him. Buck leaned in. "Easy, pard. . . you're gonna be fine."
Just coming on shift, Nettie walked into the room to check on things. "Oh my. . .how awful, is he alright, Nathan?"
"Nothing a good rest won't cure," he admonished to the boy whose eyes were just opening.
JD's eyes widened on seeing Nettie. "No. . .I'm not going. . .you can't make me. . ." he started struggling. "I'll leave before you can dump me into the system. . .you hear me? I'm. . .not. . ." The effort and distress became too much and he drifted off again, just as the paramedics arrived. Buck looked at his shocked friends.
"Well. . .I guess now we know why he left the hospital." He, Ezra and Nathan stood to let the EMTs work, Buck approaching Nettie. "And he's right. . .he's not going into no home. I want him with me. . .how do I go about it?"
Nettie glanced outside the room where Orin stood, He nodded and she took a deep breath. "I suggest you go to Clem's home and find JD's birth certificate and any other documents he might have. Establishing his exact age will help you succeed. . .and it's a good place to start."
Buck nodded. "As soon as he's settled back in his room. . ."
Ezra interjected. "Pardon me, Buck. As I have already started my day, allow me to accompany him so you may find the necessary documents as soon as possible."
Buck was about to protest, when Nathan chimed in. "Kid's gonna be out of it for a while, anyway. . .go ahead, Buck. . .let's help him all we can."
The brunet glanced at Davis. "What about this mess?"
Ezra smiled and put his hand on Buck's arm as JD was loaded onto a gurney. "Have no fear, I am confident Mister Jackson and I will soon prove this was all a horrible misunderstanding. "
Leaning over JD before they took him out, Buck whispered in the boy's ear. "Hang in there, kid. . .I'll be with you soon, but first, I'm gonna make sure we clear this all up. . .trust me." He half-smiled at the two men as they left him to accompany the paramedics out of the interrogation room. Time to get to work.
Nettie had been adamant Buck find JD's birth certificate, so he set off for Clem's home. He hated rifling through the kid's things, but his need and determination to have the boy with him and not in the system, kept him going. Nettie said finding JD's birth certificate would be the key to his success. . .Buck always listened to Nettie.
JD had very few possessions, so he moved on to Clem's room, taking great care not to disturb the crime scene too much. Having no success there, Buck moved downstairs to the study and the bureau. Finding it locked, he sat in the leather chair, took out a small penknife and popped the lock. It took a good five minutes of searching, but a tied bundle of papers right at the back, caught his eye. Using the knife to cut the twine, it took only seconds to locate the treasured document, but there was one other thing he was unprepared for. . .an envelope addressed to him.
His heart skipped a beat as he turned it in his hand. . .it was Katharine's handwriting, he'd know it anywhere, despite the time span. He had recently been reading some of her old letters to him, though he wasn't sure why. . .probably coming home and seeing her grave, prompting his memories to surface.
With shaking hands, he ran the knife blade across the top of the envelope and took out the letter within.
"My Darling Buck. . ."
He could scarcely breathe as the words blurred and he realized he was weeping. Scrubbing urgently at his eyes he continued on.
"My Darling Buck,
"How I have missed you. As you are reading this, I know my final wishes have been fulfilled. Please read through to the end, it is important, my love."
'My love'. . .Buck choked; he hadn't been called that in nearly eighteen years.
"I asked my mother to pass these on to you, my letter and JD's birth certificate. I wanted to make sure they would get to you when I passed on.
"Have you seen JD? Isn't he beautiful? I love him with all my heart. When I look at him, I see a happier time and a man who made it so. He is the light of my life and the reason I managed to hold on for so long. My deepest wish is for him to be reunited with his father, now I know he will."
Buck frowned at the words, Kathy wanted him to find JD's father. Didn't JD say his father was killed?
"My biggest and only regret is never contacting you. My father's decision to send me away made me so ashamed and it took a long time to deal with that. By the time I had, I feared you had moved on, maybe married, so I made the decision it would be just me and John. I hope you can forgive me.
"There has never been anyone else for me, but you. You were the man I chose to give myself to, and the only man I ever gave myself to. I never regretted it, and the memory of that night and our two years together before it, is one I cherish and has sustained me through many difficult times.
"I love you, Bucklin John Wilmington, I always have and I always will. I named our son after you and the man you looked to as a father. Please find it in your heart to love our boy; he is so easy to love.
"God bless my darling
Barely able to breathe, and with hands shaking violently, Buck snatched up the birth certificate. There. . .right there in black and white. . .
Name of Father: Bucklin John Wilmington
Place of Birth: Four Corners, TX
Buck stood quickly. "Aaahhh."
JD was seventeen. . .older than he had believed. Buck had never made the connection.
He tried to walk but instead, dropped to his knees, clutching the papers to his chest as he wept openly.
"Katharine. . .oh Kathy. . .why? Why didn't you tell me? I would have come for you. . .for both of you. . .oh my God. . .I have a son."
Struggling to his feet, Buck stuffed the papers into his inside jacket pocket and left, ducking under the yellow crime scene tape, slamming the front door and jumping into his truck, oblivious that two passersby had spoken to him.
Before he realized, he was home and parked outside the barn. His natural instincts had been to tear ass to the hospital, but something inside him drove him here. Moving inside, he approached an empty stall and gazed at it affectionately as he was transported back eighteen years.
>> Hands teased and tickled as the young couple rolled around in the soft straw, kissing and giggling. Finally they drew breath and gazed at each other.
"I love you, Kathy."
The tiny brunette smiled widely and touched his face. "I love you too, Buck."
Buck sat up a little, resting on his elbow as he gazed down at her, tenderly.
"Let's get married. . .I know we're young, but, I want us to be together through college. We could get engaged. . .then marry when we graduate."
Kathy's shining hazel eyes flashed at him. "Was that a proposal?"
Buck grinned shyly. "Yeah. . .I guess it was." He leaned in and put his arms around her slight frame, drawing her in for a long, deep and passionate kiss. Breaking for air, they looked at each other.
"Well then," she whispered, "that's a yes."
They giggled, then kissed. The moment was electric and before they realized, their hands were pushing inside clothing as their breathing accelerated. Buck pushed gently back.
"I. . .I'm sorry. . .I. . .I got lost in the moment. . .I'm sorry. . ."
Kathy kissed him. "I'm not. . ." she breathed, moving against him and kissing him long and hard. Their fate was sealed.<<
Buck's big gray nickered and snapped the deputy back to present time, his misty eyes transfixed on the stall. . .the stall where they made a son. . .and he never knew that truth until today. No wonder Clem hated him. . .his own anger rising with the realization that Clem's hatred for Buck had been physically transferred to JD.
JD. . .his son. . .John Daniel. As Buck exited the barn he glanced across to Chris' burned out house, the significance of the words in Katharine's letter striking him.
'I named our son after you and the man you looked to as a father'
Daniel Larabee. The man had certainly been a father figure to him. . .and Chris, a brother. He recalled that night, after he took Katharine home. He went straight to Chris and told him about him and Kathy. He had been so happy. Little did he know, that one beautiful act and a zealous father would change the course of his life forever, eventually making the decision to follow Daniel and Chris and pursue law enforcement, and never settling down.
And denied from seeing the beautiful boy he had fathered.
Buck stared down at the grave of the woman he loved, sighing heavily.
"Oh darlin', why? We could have been so happy together. . .we would have made a beautiful family. . .you, me and JD. . .who knows? Maybe even a little lady to go along with our little man." He shuddered out a sigh as he kneeled at the graveside. "You broke my heart when you left me. I couldn't understand what had gone wrong. . .and Clem refused to see or talk to me. I reckon the only reason he never took a switch to me was 'cause he was afraid of ma." He touched her headstone as he wept, softly. "Guess now I know why your ma always looked away when she saw me too, huh?"
"I'm already crazy about JD. . .you're right, he is easy to love. I can't believe that kid had to work to keep the two of you together for three years. . .all you had to do was call, married or not, I would have been there. Well, I swear to you, here and now, Kathy. . .as long as I have breath in my body. . .I'll take care of our son. . .you have my word. . ." he traced her name with his finger, ". . .and my heart.."
Buck stood and walked slowly away, he had one more stop to make. . .then he had a son to see.
Josiah watched the younger man as they sat in the study. After Buck's initial outpouring, he hadn't spoken for a good five minutes. Finally, he looked up from the dark polished wooden floor.
"I don't know how to tell him."
Sanchez nodded. "It won't be easy, but quicker is probably better. This all started because Nettie knew only JD's real father could obtain full guardianship of him and that document is irrefutable evidence that you are indeed his father. Now, I have to ask. . .do you want him?"
Buck nodded, a slow grin spreading across his handsome face. "More than I could ever have thought possible. My God, Josiah. . .I have a son."
Josiah returned the grin. "That you have. Go claim him, lad."
Buck frowned as a thought crossed his mind. "Nettie knew? Who else?"
"Orin, I think, but it wasn't until I saw JD myself, did I realize the resemblance. "
From his wallet, Buck took out a small photo of himself and Kathy embracing before the spring dance. . .their last time together. She was glowing, and. . .beautiful.
"She must have been just pregnant in this photo." He sighed. "JD looks so much like her."
"He has a lot of you in him too, Buck, there's no doubt in my mind whose son he is."
Buck offered a sad smile and stood. "Time to claim my boy. . .if he'll have me."
Josiah stood also and drew him into a tight clinch. "You two were meant to be. . .trust me."
"Would you come with me?"
Sanchez beamed. "I would be honored."
Even groggy, JD was plotting his escape. He had meant what he said to Nettie. . .well. . .he thought he'd said it, but he might have dreamt it. It was hard to tell with the odd floaty feeling he was experiencing. He glanced at Ezra, returning the smile from the man sitting at his bedside. Wow. . .the guy had a gold tooth, how come he hadn't noticed that before? He watched the PD attorney lean in.
"Good to see you awake, JD."
"What time is it?"
"It's 3:30 in the afternoon." He paused for a moment as if deciding something, finally speaking. "I thought you might like to know, while you have been slumbering, Nathan performed an autopsy on your grandfather. " He placed a comforting hand on JD's arm as the pale youth went a shade lighter. "He confirmed the man was extremely intoxicated. Cause of death was a broken neck. Weighing the facts and the lack of evidence to suggest otherwise, and taking into account your grandfather' s previous violence toward you, the sheriff's office won't be pressing any charges."
JD choked back a sob, throwing an arm up over his head to cover his face as he came to terms with all Ezra had said. Relief flooded through him, tinged with guilt. . .and loss. He was truly an orphan, now. Even more of a reason for Nettie to arrange care for him. He had to get out of there.
A noise from the corridor drew the pair's attention. Buck and Josiah walked in through the door, twin grins adorning their faces.
"Kid. . .you're awake."
JD couldn't help offering a little grin. "Yeah, I guess so."
Buck gestured toward Josiah. "JD, this is Josiah Sanchez. He's someone very important to me."
Josiah's eyes glistened as he listened to the man he considered a son, silently reminding himself to tell Buck how much he meant to him, too. Buck continued.
"Ezra, this is. . ."
Standish offered his hand and the pair shook. "I know of Professor Sanchez. Your reputation as a learned man and celebrated criminal psychologist precede you, sir."
Sanchez chuckled. "As do your considerable talents, Mister Standish."
Buck flashed a look to Josiah and took a deep breath. "Would you two excuse us, please? I need to talk to JD. . .in private."
With a nod, the pair left the room.
Buck took a seat next to JD's bed. "I hear you've been cleared of all charges, good. . .that's good."
JD nodded. "Yeah. . .I guess."
Buck smiled. "Hey. . .I know a lot's happened in a few days. . .an' it's hard to take it all in, but. . ." he hesitated, hoping he could get this right. "There's something else I have to tell you. . .two things, actually."
JD sat up a little. "What is it?"
"Well, firstly. . .you can come to live with me."
The kid's heart skipped a beat. He wanted that more than anything. . .but he was nothing if not very familiar with how Family Services worked. "Buck," he swallowed, "I can't think of anything I'd like more, but. . .they're not gonna let you take me in just like that. . .you're single. . .you have a career. . .They'll just say. . ."
"They can't stop a father from taking responsibility for his own son."
JD stopped mid-sentence and stared at him. "Huh?" He watched Buck take his hand, suddenly feeling very nervous.
Buck inhaled deeply, he'd best get this out in one go, before his nerve went. "You remember I told you I loved your mom?"
"Well, it was a lot more than that. I had asked her to marry me, and she said yes." Buck smiled, wistfully. "I loved her so much, JD. She was the most beautiful person I had ever met. All I wanted was to make her mine and take care of her. . .forever." He glanced at JD, noting the tears rolling down the boy's cheeks. "The night I proposed. . ." he looked at his son. . .his son. . .yep, he had to tell him everything, ". . .that night, we made love, right in ma's barn. We were so happy. . .right up until six weeks later, when I went to collect her to get our results for our end of year exams. Clem screamed abuse at me and told me Katharine had gone. . .to a college across country. I. . .I was devastated, no warning. . .no word. I went through hell for months. . .never really understanding, or getting over it. . .she was gone. . .and she never even said goodbye." Buck was openly distressed now, alarmed as JD pulled his hand away.
"Let me get this straight? You screwed my mother, fathered me, then left her to bring me up, alone?"
Buck was stunned. "Don't talk like that, kid. I swear to you, I had no idea. My God, JD. . .I adored her. If I'd known, I'd have married her in a heartbeat."
"Yet in all those years, you never once came to find her. . .to find us?" JD was in turmoil. All he had ever wanted was to learn about his father. . .and now. . .he was right here, alive and in the flesh. . .yet all he could feel was anger.
Buck scrubbed at his eyes. "She left me. . .no word, nothing. I had just told my ma and my best friend we were engaged. We had just been to the Prom. . .we'd made plans. . .I. . .I didn't know what to do. . .you have to believe me, son."
"Don't call me that. . ." JD snapped, "Mom told me my dad died in the line of duty. . .why would she lie?"
Buck shook his head. "I don't know. . .I honestly don't know." He fished inside his jacket and handed JD the birth certificate and letter. Squeezing JD's knee, he got up and left the room.
Swiping at his eyes, JD looked at the birth certificate for a long time, then took the letter from the envelope and read it.
Josiah stood as Buck exited the room, taking the man into a strong embrace as he broke down. Ezra looked on in alarm, about to leave when Buck's hand reached out and held onto him. Recovering, the brunet straightened.
"It didn't go as you'd hoped?" Josiah knew he was stating the obvious, but said it anyway.
"He's real angry with me. He's hurtin' because I never came to find them."
Sanchez smiled, thinly. "Give him time, Buck. . .it's a huge shock."
"Buck?" Ezra was curious, and as Buck had clearly wanted him there, thought it best to ask.
Buck gestured for them to take a seat. Wiping a hand over his face, he explained. When he had finished, Ezra was inwardly struggling but spoke, his voice unfaltering.
"I can't think of two people more meant to be together. He is a wonderful young man, and you, are a good person...Keep faith, Buck. . .I feel sure in time. . ."
He stopped as the door to JD's room opened and the teenager peeked out, taking slow painful steps toward them. "Buck. . ."
The big man stood, his heart in his throat as JD edged toward him. Instinctively, he held out his arms, moving closer to JD, who took one large step and fell into his father's embrace, the pair weeping openly.
"I'm sorry," JD whispered.
Buck put his large hand at the back of the boy's head and held him as tight as he dared, love for the son in his arms flowing through him as JD's clinch tightened. "I'm gonna make this right, son. . .I'm gonna make this work." He felt the boy nod against his chest. "Trust me."
JD pulled back a little and through his tears, smiled. "I do."
Josiah and Ezra were visibly moved. Standish was normally an impassive man, but this moment had touched his soul. He approached them.
"It would be my honor to insure all paperwork and formalities are in hand."
Buck grinned. "Thanks. . .'preciate it, pard." He looked at JD. "Come on, kid. . .you need to rest." The weary pair headed back into JD's room, the walk through the door significant, as if it were the walk through the portal to their new life.
Honey nuzzled JD's hand as he leaned over the corral. "Hey, greedy. . . it's all gone," he chuckled. The bay mare was starting to show a little now, the proud papa-to-be standing close by, munching at the grass along with Beau, Buck's gray. JD's grin widened as his father's Chevy pulled in through the entry gate and traveled up the drive toward him and the house. JD waved as he walked to meet him.
The last month had seen a total transition in their lives. It hadn't been all smooth sailing, and both knew there would be many more bumps along the way, but the happiness they had found outweighed everything else. Life was good.
JD loved his room. It was Buck's old room, Buck now in his ma's room. It was light and airy with a huge window that gave him a view of their land, including Chris' house and land. Buck had spoiled him, buying clothes, a computer and printer, a new laptop, which JD was assured he would need for college and new furniture for his room.
For now, Buck was still. . .Buck. JD wasn't quite ready to call him 'dad' yet, though the love between the pair was evident to anyone who knew them. As Buck stepped out of the car, the pair hugged briefly.
"Good day, squirt?"
JD nodded. "Yeah, I got accepted to El Paso. It's running both BS degree courses I wanted to major in."
Buck beamed, laughing as he gave his son a huge bear hug. "Well, that's wonderful, congratulations. Seems like it's a day for celebration. Travis got Attorney General. No one's running against me for sheriff, so in a month, I'll officially be the Sheriff of Four Corners."
JD beamed. "Jeeze. . .I'm so proud of you."
Buck grinned, "Ditto, kid." The pair strolled back to the corral. "Wanna go riding, later? Just a short one, you take Beau, I'll take Firefly."
JD nodded. "Sure. I'd love that." As they stood there, Buck's eyes drifted to Chris' house. JD noted the look.
"He seemed nice. . .intense, but nice."
Buck frowned, turning fully to look at JD. "How could you know Chris?"
"He was here. . .a few months ago, when you went to Houston, said he was just passing through."
JD touched his arm on seeing the hurt in Buck's eyes. "You were away, remember? I met him right here. . .outside your house. If you'd been here. . ."
Buck smiled at his son's attempt to make him feel better. He put his arm around JD's shoulders. "Our house, son. . .and this," he made a sweeping gesture with his free hand, "this. . .is all yours."
"Ours," JD grinned, leaning into the big man.
Buck nodded, sighing contentedly, as he moved them away to go saddle the horses. "Yeah. . .ours."