by May Robinson
ATF Alternate Universe
Rating: PG-13 for language
Disclaimer: The following is a work of fan fiction based on the CBS television series, The Magnificent Seven. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp., or anyone else who may have legal rights to the characters and settings. I do not claim ownership of the characters. This story is strictly for entertainment. No monetary gain will be made from it.
Warnings: The Surgeon General advises that all those with sugar intolerance problems STAY AWAY from this story. Smarm, smarm and more smarm! JD & Buck are the central characters in this fic. Major angst, major h/c within, and did I mention smarm?
Notes: Thanks (sort of) to Linda and Cass who inspired the craving for Buck/JD smarm by leaving too many damn cliffhangers <g>, and to mog who dared me to post this to the ficlist and not leave it with the Darlins where it belongs <g>. And special thanks also to mog for creating this blessed little universe and for her encouragement and help with this story! :) And thanks to my beta-buddy Penny - if it weren't for her asking for an additional smarm scene this story would have been posted 2 weeks ago <g>.
Also, to those JD writers who like to write the kid real young, this touches on my idea of how an underage kid can be in the ATF
"Geesuz, Buck. Would you hurry up?" JD Dunne shouted from the main floor of the apartment condo he shared with fellow ATF agent, Buck Wilmington. The older man was in the bathroom adjoining his loft bedroom, trying to shave, and trying without much success, to ignore the kids impatient pacing. Where in hell did he pick that up, anyway?
"Hold yer horses, kid. We aint late."
"Yeah, but were gonna be. Sides, the movie theatres dark, Buck. Nobodys gonna care what you look like, least of all, me. Cmon!"
"Son, you just never know what pretty senoritas we might run into at yer fancy art theatre, and ole Bucks gotta look his best," the tall, handsome moustached man shot back.
"Shoot, Buck, youre gonna need more than a shave if youre tryin to look good, and we aint got time for surgery. I might be able to find a paper bag in one of the cupboards, if you want one though." The kid was as quick with a comeback as he was on the firing range. Unfortunately, Wilmington still caught the uncharacteristic edge in the kids voice. JD had started the day in an exceptional mood, but something had triggered a rare mood swing in the boy, after they had returned to the ATF offices to do some paperwork later in the day.
"Cute, kid." Wilmington smirked as he made his way down the spiral staircase. "All right, Im done. Lets get "
The kid turned to the portable phone, willing it to stop its offensive ringing. Buck picked up the line, anyway.
"Hello .Hey, Chris ." The older agent rolled his eyes at the kid, who was now sitting on the kitchen counter, swinging his legs in nervous frustration. "Yeah, Ill come in tomorrow and finish the report .Kid? Yeah, hes okay. Still a little wound-up, maybe. Not too sure whats goin on, but I aim to find out."
Wilmington looked over to his young roommate and gave the kid a visual once over, while ATF team leader Chris Larabee commented on how off the kid seemed to be earlier in the day. Larabee was right and Buck certainly hadnt missed it, which is the only reason the older man was willing to give in to the kids almost frantic need to go out tonight. Buck was exhausted from the stakeout that had lasted from the previous night into the middle of today, but JD seemed damn near desperate not to stay in for the evening.
In the time they had been working together and sharing Bucks home, the kid had grown to become son, little brother and best friend to Buck, all wrapped up in one adorable, pint-sized, smart-assed package. Wilmington loved the kid, and rarely denied JD anything - especially when he was worried about the boy. And with the way the kid had been acting the latter part of the day, Buck was definitely worried.
"Yeah, Ill have a talk with him after the show Oh, a double bill at the University Theatre." Wilmington laughed. "Get this theyre playing The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. The kid really wants to go." Buck paused, allowing Larabee ample opportunity to laugh and comment on the kids choice of movies.
Larabee led their elite special ATF unit, which had been dubbed The Magnificent Seven by their peers. The teams nickname was a term of endearment for the seven agents, but also a term of respect. Chris Larabees squad had an unprecedented record in the agency and earned more commendations in the six months theyd been together than most teams would earn in their combined careers. The title fit, despite the irony that the classic western film was twice the age of JD, the youngest of the seven men.
"Dont worry - I wont let it go to his head. See ya tomorrow, pard." Wilmington chuckled at Chris joking comments about JDs already too cocky attitude, and a penchant towards Hollywood hero worship, being a lethal combination.
"Can we go now?!" The kid sprung off the counter and was heading for the front door as Buck placed the phone back in its saddle.
JD whirled around sending the telephone a hateful glare. "Let the voicemail get it, Buck." JDs voice was strained, and Buck couldnt curb his building anxiety, wondering why the perpetually cheerful kid was so tense tonight. The boys attitude had gotten worse since Buck cut short their office stay and brought JD home.
"Gotta pick it up, kid. Might be important." Wilmington avoided the kids eyes as he reluctantly picked up the phone.
"Hello .Oh, hey darlin. Whend you get back to town?" Buck chanced a glance at JD, whose expression was now, one of dread, and Buck could see the hurt flash in the kids eyes. Something definitely aint right, here. He winked at the kid and smiled. "Uh, doll, listen. Me n the kid are on our way out the door, so can I give ya a call tomorrow from the office n we can see about gettin together this weekend? Sure, doll, thatd be great. Bye, darlin." Buck again returned the phone to its stand, and turned to the kid who looked relieved, but still miserable.
"Thanks, Buck," he whispered.
The older man faced the kid and laid strong hands on the boys shoulders, "You okay, son? Anything you wanna talk about?"
The boy smiled, but Buck could see JDs eyes mist. The kid shook his head and forced another smile. "Naw, Buck. Im fine. Lets just get outta here, please?" The kid looked pleadingly at his friend, who now knew he was on to something serious. The second JD uttered Im fine, it was telltale proof that the boy was exactly the opposite. Buck could read the kid like a book, and there was no question in his mind that JD was hurting. Buck just didnt have the foggiest idea, why?
From the day they met, Buck had deemed himself JDs teacher, big brother and protector, so it killed him now, not knowing why the boy was so upset. Their relationship was special, and JD knew he could come to Buck for anything, including a shoulder to lean on. The older man swallowed the lump forming in his throat. Hed humor JD for now, but Buck had every intention of getting to the bottom of the kids troubles before the night was over.
Buck grabbed the keys to his pick-up and slung his arm over the kids shoulder. "All right, kid. Lets ride."
Buck could feel the kid shudder beneath his arm. He looked down at the boy whose eyes were desperate. The big man ruffled the kids hair and drew JD a bit closer. "Leave it, kid. Voicemailll pick it up."
+ + + + + + +
JD was unusually quiet during the drive, insisting on playing the radio much louder than usual. Buck didnt argue. The wheels were turning in his own mind, as he tried to figure out what was wrong with the kid. Hed come to the fairly obvious conclusion that something was really eating at JD, something he didnt want to face, and the blaring radio and desire to spend the evening at the movies were simply JDs own attempts to stay distracted; to keep his mind off of whatever was tormenting him.
Although Buck had every intention of finding out what was wrong with the boy, he also wasnt going to push him. He hoped that the movies would do the trick and relax JD some, and then on the way home, Buck would talk to the boy. The problem right now was getting JD to the theatre on time. Buck knew they were cutting their time awfully close and was doing his best to get there as quickly as possible and still not rack up too many moving violations while he sped his Chevy truck through the residential streets of Four Corners. He decided to head for the interstate in the hopes of bypassing the many traffic lights through town.
The cell phone rang twice while they were driving. Each time JD answered, he spoke to one of his fellow team members - first, Josiah Sanchez and then, Vin Tanner. Buck couldnt help to smile as he listened to JDs half of their conversations. Neither man wanted to speak with Buck, but rather both men were checking up on the kid. Obviously the kids behaviour had not gone unnoticed by the rest of the team.
All the men worried about the kid. JD was simply too young to be doing what he was doing. Hell, technically, he was too young. JD wasnt yet twenty-one, the minimum age requirement for almost every law enforcement agency in the country, but Chris Larabee broke a number of rules while establishing his elite squad, one of which was hiring the kid. Larabee had needed a computer whiz with police training to compliment the rest of the team, and JD had fit the bill perfectly.
The kid was a card-carrying Mensa certified genius, graduating early from every school hed ever attended, including the police academy where hed finished number one. Due to his youth however, JD was left sitting on his hands computer programming for the L.A.P.D., and gobbling up additional university credits like they were candy, while the Feds, who wanted him desperately, waited for him to turn twenty-one.
And so, when Chris Larabee cut through all the bureaucratic red tape and successfully recruited the kid, a naturally protective Buck Wilmington took JD under his wing. Typical of Chris track record, JD disproved the skeptics, and was becoming a superb agent and a valuable asset to the team.
In six months, JD had proved his worth and his mettle time and again, but the fact still remained that JD was simply a kid, and so the team just instinctively looked out for him.
Buck always had a natural affinity for kids and strays, and JD Dunne fit into both categories. The boy was alone in the world, having lost his mother, his only family, last year. She had raised JD by herself, just as Bucks mother had done with him. In the beginning, Buck had been the first to show anything more than a job-specific interest in the kid, and an indebted JD immediately latched on to the older agent. The two shared similar backgrounds as well as outgoing, extremely likeable personalities, which enabled them to become fast friends. In no time at all, big brother Buck took the boy into his home.
And now they were simply devoted to each other. Although the other five men comprising the team were like brothers to Buck and JD, the bond they shared with each other was infinitely stronger. To call them brothers would be an understatement. Buck and JD were air and water essential to each others existence.
+ + + + + + +
The Chev hadnt been on the interstate more than about five minutes, when traffic began to slow dramatically, ultimately coming to a complete stop. The local FM station hadnt mentioned any tie-ups in traffic, so obviously whatever happened, had just occurred. Shit! As the seconds ticked by, and it became increasingly evident that they werent going to be going anywhere soon, Buck turned to apologize to the boy seated beside him. Before he could do so, he watched the boy slam his fist onto the dash, and almost whimper a seldom-heard curse.
"Shit, kid. Im sorry." Buck reached across the seat and placed his hand on the boys neck. He could feel JD trembling. The boy was about ready to burst.
JD took a few calming breaths and looked at his friend with tear-filled eyes. "I know, Buck. M sorry I aint mad at ya."
The older agent smiled. Leave it to the kid to worry about my feelings, when hes as upset he is. He sighed, stroking the boys hair. "Sall right, kid. I know. And I know damn well youre not upset about missing The Seven Samurai, either." Buck tilted his head to the side and gave the kid another gentle smile. He was trying not to push, but desperately wanted to know what was so wrong. "Looks like all weve got is time now, son. You sure you dont wanna talk about it?"
JD pulled away from Buck. "Damnit, Buck! Cant you let up for once, please!" JD glared at his best friend, but Buck could see very little anger, and mostly hurt in those big, expressive eyes.
Buck pulled back as well, raising his hands in mock-surrender. He sighed, from frustration and disappointment he could always find his way through the boys walls, but was failing miserably this time. And that broke his heart. He watched as the boy turned his back to him, leaning his head against the side window of the truck. JDs too-long bangs fell across his eyes, effectively shutting Buck away from his soul.
Buck reached out intending to place a consoling hand on the boys back. His hand hovered for a moment, as he wondered if he was doing the right thing. But Bucks own need to comfort JD, and faith in his own ability to judge when the kid truly needed some TLC, outweighed his apprehensions. He felt the boy shudder as his palm brushed the boys back, but JD didnt pull away. Buck rubbed the boys back and began stroking his hair. JD was trembling, and Buck knew that the kid was fighting a losing battle. The boy was trying so very hard to act the man, but whatever was tormenting him was targeting the child that JD vehemently tried to hide below the surface. JD was about to lose it, but that was okay big brother Buck would be there for him.
As the first sob racked JDs body, Buck rested his hand on the boys neck and began to soothe. "JD, son its all right, kid. Let it out."
JDs reaction was totally unexpected. He whirled on his friend and Buck could see tears streaming down the boys face. JD struggled to breathe as he frantically tried to regain his composure. As JD finally found his voice, he looked to his friend, and Buck could see the anguish in the kids face. "No, its not all right, Buck. Its not, damnit!"
To Bucks utter dismay, in an instant, the kid had taken off his seat belt and climbed out of the truck straight onto the road. Buck watched in relief, thanking God that traffic was still at a standstill, as JD ran across the curb lane and safely reached the paved shoulder where he stood now, looking out into the night, leaning his elbows on the barrier wall of the overpass.
Buck cursed himself for being in the center lane. Traffic had him boxed in at all sides. He signaled to attempt a lane change into the curb-lane with every intention of pulling off and settling the kid down. Using the trucks mirrors to guide him, much to the dismay of some of the other drivers, Buck inched the imposing four-by-four over into the next lane. To his horror, he saw the reflection of a vehicle approaching much too fast from behind, speeding along the paved shoulder as if it was the brickyard.
Buck frantically rolled down his window to shout his warning to JD, whose back was to the highway. JD couldnt hear him. Buck tried blaring his horn, but with patience wearing thin in almost every vehicle trapped along with him in the traffic jam, his horn and his shouts were drowned out by all the other sounds emanating from the traffic.
Buck practically flew out of his vehicle but he was too late. The speeding vehicle hadnt even tried to slow down, and Buck watched in terror as JD was struck from behind and thrown over the concrete barrier, disappearing from sight.
Whether it was the shock of actually witnessing the horrific accident or whether it was Bucks primal scream penetrating through the din of the traffic, suddenly the only sounds heard on the interstate were those of vehicle doors opening and closing and Bucks panicked shouts for JD.
Buck almost dove over the barrier as he saw the kids lifeless body laying in the gravel about twenty feet below him, but he maintained enough sensibility to find the safer route down, backtracking to find a more gradual slope to descend. Somehow, despite his building hysteria, and the fact that his heart and soul were consumed by fear and dread, the law enforcement veteran in Buck took over momentarily, and he was able to bark explicit orders into his cell-phone, identifying himself as an agent to the 911 operator, stating the exact location of the accident and that police, rescue, and air ambulance were required.
Bucks professional demeanor collapsed the second he reached the boy. "Oh God, JD!"
Buck fell to his knees next to the boy who was lying in the gravel, so obviously broken, and so very still. JD had landed on his back, but from the rips and tears on his clothing and the scrapes and already forming bruises, it was all-too-evident that JD had tumbled down the embankment, coming to an abrupt stop against a support beam from the overpass. Afraid to move JD, Buck scrambled to his other side, to look into the boys face.
Much to Bucks surprise and relief, the kids eyes were open, but his relief diminished quickly once he realized that the boys eyes were registering only fear and pain. Buck began talking to JD as he carefully assessed the kids injuries. He used a soft litany of familiar, soothing words "Bucks here, son youre gonna be fine, kid everythings all right, kid Im here, little brother Bucks lookin after ya." But Buck was finding it harder and harder to speak with any conviction, as he became increasingly overwhelmed by the extent of the boys injuries.
JDs left arm was broken. Its awkward position left no question in Bucks mind. The agent couldnt be quite sure, because the kid was lying so unnaturally, but JDs shoulder just didnt look right, either.
These injuries, however, were the least of Bucks worries. Blood was seeping through JDs jeans, high on his thigh and Buck could only assume the worst, that when the speeding mini-van slammed JD into the barrier, the boys leg broke before he was thrust over it.
What worried Buck most however, were the boys head and chest. JD was having trouble breathing struggling with short, rapid breaths. Buck noted that JDs back seemed raised up slightly, as though hed landed on top of something, and Buck feared for the boys ribs, and for what vital organs lay underneath them.
What was hardest for Buck, was looking at the boys face. JD had a large gash on his temple and blood had caked on his face. The boys eyes were still open, dazed and scared, and although Buck kept on talking to the boy, he feared he wasnt reaching him at all. JD was sheet white, shivering, and his pulse was too quick. Recognizing that the kid was going into shock, Buck removed his jacket and covered the boy. Bucks action created a reaction from JD; the boy shuddered and began to cough.
"Oh, God," JD moaned, in obvious agony.
Buck was right there. He held the boys hand and placed a gentle hand on JD's injured face. "Thats it, JD. Come on, kid. Youre all right. Stay with me, son."
The boys voice was barely audible, but hearing JD say his name, gave Buck much needed hope. "Im here, kid. Helps on the way, son."
The boy coughed again, and cringed in pain. He squeezed Bucks hand, and Buck squeezed back, letting him know he was there for him.
"Guess that pretty dumb, huh," the kid gasped.
"What? Jumpin' onto the highway? Or playin chicken with a van?" Buck grinned, as the kid gave him a weak smile, and tried to nod his head.
"Hey hey easy, kid. Dont try to move, now. Ole Buck aint got a fix on what alls broke yet." He began stroking the boys hair. JD closed his eyes, his pain-filled features beginning to relax, as did his grip on Bucks hand. "Thats it, kid," Buck murmured.
JD slowly opened his eyes, consciousness beginning to escape him. "Buck Im sorry."
"Nothin to be sorry for, kid. Ever, son. You oughta know that by now." Buck wiped away the tear that traced its path along JDs face, but let his own fall. He knew JD was fading and that terrified him He kept on talking, hoping to keep JD with him. "Just wish you woulda let me help you tonight, kid."
"Dont matter now, Buck I think looks like Im gonna be able to take care of it now."
Take care of what? Buck was confused, and scared. JD wasnt making any sense. And Buck sure as hell didnt like the hopelessness he heard in the boys voice. "I dont understand, son. Take care of what, JD?"
"My mom Buck." JDs voice was so weak. "For got her today." JD shuddered and squeezed his eyes closed tight. "Sorry mom. So sorry." JDs eyes remained closed despite the tears flowing from them. JDs eyelashes fluttered for an instant, and Bucks eyes filled again as he felt the boys weak attempt to squeeze his hand. Buck held on tight, as JDs slight body was racked with another agonizing cough. Just before the boy lost consciousness, he smiled and whispered, "thanks for bein' my brother Buck."
"JD!" Bucks whole body quaked as he felt the boys hand go limp in his own, and watched JDs face grow slack. "Cmon, kid come on back to me, son. Talk to me Oh, God!" His hands were trembling as he checked for JDs pulse, and he cried out joyfully when he found it. Oh, thank God! JD had only passed out.
It felt like an eternity, but in fact, only minutes had passed since JD had been struck by the van. Buck finally looked up at his surroundings as he heard footsteps running towards him. A crowd had formed above him, but all had remained a respectful distance away from the emotional scene unfolding between the two brothers. Bucks tension released ever so slightly as he saw the familiar faces of two of Four Corners finest, Scott Jacobs, and his partner Dave Johansen, arriving at the scene.
One look at Buck Wilmingtons face was enough to tell Scott, the older of the two partners, that JD Dunnes condition was critical. The officers would be the first of many to respond, having been first at the scene of the accident that had caused the traffic jam just up the road. Scott and Dave had viewed the scene from above and called in a report before making their way down to Buck, with blankets in hand to cover the boy.
"Choppers ETA is two minutes, Buck." Jacobs placed a comforting hand on Bucks shoulder after he carefully covered JD with the blankets. Although jurisdictional conflicts often existed between local and federal departments and officers, few existed in Four Corners, and even fewer where Buck and JD were concerned. They were both simply too damn easy to get along with.
As if on cue, more squad cars arrived on the road beneath them, escorting the Rescue and Paramedics teams to the accident scene. It had gone unnoticed by Buck, but the road had been closed both ways to allow for essential personnel only, and to provide a safe zone for the helicopter to land. Four Corners emergency crews were pulling out all stops; especially once theyd learned one of their own had fallen victim to a hit and run driver.
As the paramedics arrived, Jacobs drew Buck away from JD, wrapping Buck in one of the blankets he had used to cover the kid. He knew how hard this would be for the man. Like Wilmington, Jacobs got along extremely well with young people and, in his case, Scott had made a career of riding with and training rookies. Johansen was the latest. Scott was attached to his young partner, and losing the young man, would be hell for him. Knowing that Buck Wilmingtons very young protégé was not only partner, but kid brother well, he simply couldnt imagine the magnitude of Bucks grief, if JD didnt make it.
+ + + + + + +
Buck struggled against the hold Jacobs had on his shoulders as he tried desperately to stay close to JD, and yet remain out of the way of the paramedics working on him. The big man's emotions were in turmoil. Frantic to have JD wake up and come back to him, Buck was also thankful that the boy was not conscious to suffer through the medics' treatment of his shattered body. Buck's gut churned and his heart broke as he heard the kid moan, even in his unconsciousness, while his leg and arm were painstakingly immobilized.
Heartsick, Buck's welling tears began to fall, as he watched the boy placed into a spinal collar and his head taped to a spinal board. The agent had been around the block long enough to know that this handling of JD was simply standard operating procedure for almost any accident victim, but his growing fear for the boy's life, and for JD's quality of life, should he survive, was excruciating. Buck was terrified, helpless and felt an unbearable sense of doom enveloping him.
Buck was shaken from his grim reverie when the leader of the Rescue Team called to him. "Mr. Wilmington, we're about to lift the boy into the chopper. We've got room for you, too. Are you coming?"
Am I coming? Christ, he needs me of course I'm coming. Buck's tears began to flow again. Who am I kidding? I need him oh, God. Overwhelmed and unable to speak, Buck nodded his head and climbed into the chopper, reaching down to assist the medics loading JD into the helicopter.
Despite the gentle handling of their patient, the movement was too much for the boy and JD regained consciousness with a frightening groan, followed by another agonizing coughing spasm. JD cried Buck's name and Buck rushed forward to hold the boy's hand, to let him know he was there, but the boy's battered body continued to be racked by coughs. Tears streamed from JD's terrified eyes, and Buck squeezed the boy's hand and spoke gentle reassurances until the horrendous spasms mercifully stopped. Buck relaxed for a heartbeat, thankful that the boy's agony was over, until the frenzied action of the paramedics alerted Buck to the fact that JD's respite was not the help he had been praying for. JD had stopped breathing.
It only took the medics seconds to clear JD's airway, but in that time, Buck Wilmington had died a thousand deaths. He was emotionally exhausted and weak from the ordeal, and knowing that JD's suffering was so much more than his own, just destroyed the man. Confident that they had stabilized JD, the paramedics drew back as much as they could in the confines of the helicopter, so that Buck could return to his place at JD's side. Buck returned to the boy whose face was creased with lines of pain, but whose eyes were amazingly open, and gazing intently at his big brother. Buck placed JD's good hand in his own and lifted it to his face, and JD lay staring up at him, eyes glistening with tears.
"Hey there, kid. You should be sleepin,' JD," Buck whispered to the boy. His remaining hand shakily found its way to JD's face, but the shaking stopped the instant Buck began stroking the boy's hair, soothing the kid, and calming himself.
JD's breathing was easier, and his eyes were beginning to close as he focused on the tender voice he loved almost as much as the man it belonged to. Encumbered by weakness and the oxygen mask he was now wearing, JD was unable to speak. But, as he succumbed to the darkness calling to him, he smiled again at his brother and prayed that his eyes were telling Buck how truly thankful he was to have found a big brother, when he hadn't even known he was looking for one.
+ + + + + + +
ATF Team Leader Chris Larabee burst through the Emergency entrance doors of Four Corners Mercy General Hospital. He had received at least a dozen calls to his home from various members of the FCPD, and ATF administration, the most gut-wrenching though had been from FCPD officer Scott Jacobs. Chris was thankful Scott had been there to make the call, knowing that his oldest friend, Buck Wilmington, would be an emotional basket-case by now and in need of Scott's support.
Chris had known Buck for over twelve years. They had been the best of friends, until the loss of Chris family about four years ago sent Chris into an emotional tail-spin, one that Buck tried valiantly to save Chris from. An effort which Chris had resented the hell out of Buck for. It hadnt been logical, but logic plays no part in ones life when your family has been murdered. Overcome with such devastating grief, Chris had taken his grief out on the closest person to him at the time Buck.
Chris now was truly thankful for Buck's persistence. He was moving forward with a purpose, and trying not to live in the past. The work he was doing with the ATF was important, and Chris was taking pride in something again. He had never apologized to Buck for how badly he had treated him, and had never thanked Buck for trying to save him. But Buck was first on his list to recruit to the new team, because there was no one Chris trusted more to faithfully watch his back, as a fellow agent, as a friend, and as a brother.
Brothers. God, Buck and JD. Chris had had mixed feelings about the relationship between his oldest friend, and their youngest. It was Chris who had planted the seed, placing JDs desk across from Buck, knowing full well that his old friend wouldnt be able to resist the overflowing exuberance of the boy, and would take JD under his wing and take the time and effort to teach him right. Chris had counted on it. But what Chris hadnt counted on was the extent of the bond that had developed between the two. It was almost ethereal.
Chris had never considered that in his effort to make amends with Buck, by giving him a new family, Chris could also destroy the man, with the same gift. If Buck lost JD, they would lose Buck. It was that simple.
+ + + + + + +
Chris slowed his fevered pace, as he approached the waiting area in the surgical wing of the hospital. Admissions had informed him that, once stabilized, JD had been admitted for surgery. Chris didnt wait for the nurse to give him the details. His gut was telling him all he needed to know. It was bad, and he had to get to his men.
The image he saw as he entered the waiting area took his breath away. With the exception of Ezra Standish, the team had all arrived before him. Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez were seated on the couch, on either side of Buck, while Vin Tanner sat cross-legged on the floor in front of Buck, his hands around Bucks wrists. It was as though they were acting as protective guardians, but Chris knew too well, that Bucks assailant was attacking from within.
Chris was about to step forward when Vin looked up from Buck and silently sent him a message to stay where he was. Vin and Nathan approached Chris.
Vin looked rough, and Chris correctly assumed he had been dealing with Buck the longest Traffic all over town was a mess due to the accidents on the interstate, and the city streets were now taking up the slack. But Chris knew that Vin would have gotten to the hospital on his bike, come hell or high water. Crowded streets were no match for the man who adored JD damn near as much as Buck did.
"Hows JD? What the hell happened?" Chris needed to know.
Nathan Jackson, team member and former medic answered. His eyes were dark, filled with anxiety. "Its bad, Chris. JDs got a broken arm and collarbone and busted femur. Most of the breaks are compound, but the doctors dont think anyll require pins or plates." Nathan sighed and continued. "Thats the good news, Chris."
Chris jaw tightened, as he glimpsed at Buck and forced a hard swallow. "Tell me," he whispered.
Nathan took a ragged breath. "Hes got a concussion, maybe worse dont know, yet. JD landed hard on his back, too and his ribs are busted up pretty bad. His left lungs collapsed. Theyre goin in to have a look. Nothing in itself would be fatal But his whole bodys beat up, Chris when you add up everything theyre just not sure if hes gonna make it."
Chris felt ill. This was too much. He was listening to Nathan, but all the while watching Buck, who Josiah was trying to console. Chris eyes began to fill. "Was he conscious? Did he talk to Buck?"
Tanner could hear the hope in his best friends question. Vin had been the only one to successfully get Buck to talk to him, and so he answered Chris. "JD was conscious for a little while, pard. From what Buck told me " Vin swallowed, as his eyes welled, too. "I think JD said good-bye to him, Chris."
No. Chris felt his knees give out for a split second, but he regained his control. He placed his hand on Vins shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "Naw, Vin. JDs a fighter. Hes not gonna give up. That kids too tough." Chris wasnt sure who he was trying to convince. His words felt hollow.
Vin looked into the eyes of his friend. "No, Chris. Not today. Bucks scared real scared. JD was upset n Buck doesnt think he doesnt think JDs gonna fight today."
Chris stepped back. Thats right oh, God. Something had him really upset. He closed his eyes and shook his head. No! JD would never willingly leave Buck. He wouldnt. Chris had to tell Buck that.
Chris made his way over to his old friend, taking up the position Vin had vacated earlier. Josiah, Nathan and Vin left the two men alone.
Chris kept his gaze on Buck, until his friend finally made eye contact. Chris could have cringed from the despair he read in Bucks eyes, but he kept his expression calm, and firmly gripped Bucks hands. "Hes as strong as any one I know, Buck. If theres a way, JDll make it."
Buck shook his head violently and pulled away from Chris grasp. "No, dammit, Chris. Hes just a kid he he aint that strong he tries so hard, but hes just a boy! Hes just a boy, Chris." Bucks initial outburst faded into a whispered cry. The thread he was hanging by was unraveling.
Chris tried again. "Buck, I know how young he is, pard we all do. But that dont make him weak. JDs got more will and strength than anybody. And hes got you to pull through for, Buck. Hed do anything for you. Dont go givin up on him, all right!"
Chris was desperate to get through to Buck, but Bucks hopelessness was so strong. The leader remembered Vins words that JD had said good-bye to Buck. What the hell happened? What was so wrong? He sat down next to Buck, and placed his hand on Bucks shoulder. Buck wasnt looking at him, but Chris made sure his presence was felt. "Come on, Buck, talk to me. What happened out there? Why was JD on the shoulder?"
Buck shuddered beneath Chris hand. "I pushed him, Chris. Aw God I pushed him too hard."
Chris had been afraid of this. He could only presume that JDs reason for being out of the truck had to do with Bucks dogged desire to get to the bottom of any friends pain his stubborn will to help. God, if JD doesnt make it, Buckll never forgive himself.
Rather than dwelling on Bucks self-imposed guilt, Chris decided to focus on what, if anything, Buck had found out. Chris couldnt help but worry if JDs state of mind could mean the difference between his will to fight or to give in to his injuries. His voice was soft, with no hint of accusation whatsoever. "Buck, did you find out what was wrong with him what had him so wound-up?"
Buck shook his head and raked his fingers through his hair. His voice was hoarse, tight from fear and dread. "Not sure, Chris. He didnt say anything until he was hurt but, its got to do with his mom. Just before he passed out he said he forgot about her and he said he was sorry." Buck looked at his friend, tears about to flow. "I dont know what he forgot Chris, but it was eating him up inside. Ive never seen him so upset."
Chris squeezed Bucks hand and pinned his friend with a confident look. "Buck, you know that kid better than any of us hes not gonna up and quit on us. And hes sure as hell not gonna run out on you, not if he can help it." Chris could feel Buck shiver as he spoke with him, but his friend was starting to settle, his breathing becoming easier.
"Thanks, pard," Buck whispered. "I hope to God youre right." Buck smiled wearily at his friend.
"I am, Buck. I know I am." And this time, Chris believed it himself. He then patted Bucks back and motioned for Josiah, who was standing in the entranceway with Vin and Nathan, to return to his place next to Buck. Chris returned to Nathan and Vin.
"Hows he doin?" Vin asked for both he and Nathan.
"Better, aw hell its up to JD. You know that." Chris glanced back to Buck whose shoulders were not quite as defeated as they were when he had arrived. Hell, maybe I did help just a little. Chris allowed himself that glimmer of hope and then turned his attention to something productive. "Nate, you got your laptop with ya?"
"Yeah, Chris. Its in the truck. Whadda ya need?"
"While were waitin, I wanna see if we can find out what had JD so uptight. Bucks sure it had to do with the kids mom. Maybe we can find something out in the kids file."
"Sure, Chris." Nathan smiled. "Itll keep me busy for a while, anyway. Ill find a place to hook it up, and let you know if I come up with anything."
+ + + + + + +
Josiah had initially joined Nathan and then returned with him to report their findings to Chris. Josiah sat with Buck while Nathan relayed the information they had found to Chris and Vin. Once they had hooked up with the ATF personnel files, it had taken no time at all to discover why JD had been so distraught. JDs mother had passed away a year ago today.
It was obvious by the kids high spirits earlier in the day, that he had forgotten what day it was, and for a boy who was so clearly devoted to his mother and his memory of her, he simply couldnt forgive his own forgetfulness.
And Chris understood the boys grief. Since his familys loss, he had been in the same unbearable position before and he could remember the guilt that would strike him like lightning when the realization came that hed forgotten his wedding anniversary, or his sons birthday, and that hed dared to have a good time on one of those memorable dates. How he would loathe himself.
Of course he knew now, that his family would want nothing more than for him to move on and enjoy his life, but would JD, who was still mourning his mothers loss understand this yet? Surely not. It was too soon, and he was too young.
But in his grief, would JD be willing to give up all that hed gained with his new career, and his new family? Chris genuinely didnt think so. He marveled at JDs love for his big brother Buck. And the feelings were mutual. Chris couldnt believe that JD wouldnt want to stick around. But Chris wasnt willing to let Buck in on his thoughts, just yet. He asked the others to keep this news to themselves for a few more hours. He knew Buck wouldnt be up to facing JDs loss any day, but especially not this day. The irony would be too much for his friend to bear. Chris would wait until tomorrow to talk to Buck.
JD had been in surgery nearly two hours when tensions and tempers began to flare. The waiting room was too small to accommodate five strong-willed men of action. Bucks pacing was too painful to watch, but of course none of the men would lash out at him. Instead they targeted their frustration on their missing team member; Ezra Standish.
"Where the hell is he?" Nathan was furious. What made the team so strong was their unity, and yet Standish always seemed to be the odd man out. The men always covered each others backs, and were there for each other if one was wounded, or sick or stressed. JD would be there for all of them, so it infuriated Jackson that Ezra hadnt shown up yet.
"Hell be here, Nate. Im certain of it." Josiah was always the voice of reason and the voice of wisdom. "Hes late there must be a reason."
Larabee snapped. "Damnit Josiah. He doesnt have a good enough reason. I called him same time I called all of you. That boys fighting for his life and Ezra should be here!" Chris voice was a harsh whisper. He didnt want to wind Buck up any further, but the leader felt Standishs absence was a betrayal not just to JD, but to their team.
"I think Josiahs right, Chris. Hes comin. JDs got Ezra wrapped around his little finger, whether he wants t'admit it or not. Ezras got a damn good reason for not bein here, yet. I know it." Vin Tanners quiet, confident presence and soothing drawl succeeded in calming nerves in the waiting room. The men were about to re-take their positions around Buck when the topic of their discussion arrived in the waiting area.
More than one chin dropped at the sight before them.
Ezra Standish stood in the entranceway of the waiting room, battered, bloodied and bruised, holding an ice pack to his swollen lip and sporting a neat row of several stitches above his right eyebrow; his right hand wrapped in a tensor bandage. Standish was wearing one of his patented designer suits, however the jacket was now accented with random bloodstains and a torn sleeve. The man looked like hed gone the distance with Holyfield.
"What the hell happened to you?" Chris Larabees concern for Ezra now eclipsed his earlier thoughts.
Ezra waved off Chris question and the concerned comments from the others. "Inconsequential, for the moment. Hows the boy?" Ezras usually expressionless face was full of genuine concern. He turned to Buck Wilmington and walked over to him.
Ezra was a loner by nature and by trade, but the others had not overlooked his affection for JD. It had never been easy for the southerner to attach himself to people and as such he had a great admiration for Buck who had given of himself completely to JD, so much so, that he no longer seemed whole unless the boy was with him. Standish squatted down in front of Buck and placed a hesitant hand on Bucks arm. He spoke briefly to Buck and Bucks response was to pull Ezra into a swift, but emotional embrace. Both men were visibly shaken by the exchange, and Larabee and the others couldnt imagine what had just transpired between them.
Standish gave Bucks shoulder a comforting squeeze and returned to the others. Larabees voice shifted to the deadly tone he used while interrogating criminals. "I asked you a question."
Standish shrugged his shoulders. "I found the son-of-a-bitch."
All the men were taken aback by Ezras sudden usage of a casual, almost guttural, vocabulary. This time Jackson queried him. "Who? Whod you find?"
Standish leaned his battered frame against the wall, facing his partners. "Gentlemen, upon receiving word from Mr. Larabee of young JDs plight, I immediately departed for the hospital. While en route, I found myself listening to the police frequency on the radio, and discovered that the man responsible for JDs calamity was being pursued by undoubtedly the entire Four Corners Police Department. I was only one intersection away from the chase and spontaneously joined in the pursuit." Standish's eyes grew cold. "Needless to say, I was successful in apprehending the reprobate, before my arrival here."
Smiles were forming on the faces of the men surrounding the southerner. "Geesuz, Ezra! Whats the other guy look like?" Vin Tanner grinned.
Ezra winced. "Well, much to my immediate dismay, as I hauled the miscreant from his mini-van, I discovered that he rivaled Josiah in body-mass, and since then have been advised that the brute competes successfully as a semi-professional wrestler. It seems the behemoth was having a negative reaction to an overuse of steroids, and was therefore conducting all of his actions with the subtlety of a freight train. Godzilla, however, was not as agile as myself, and I dare say, not nearly as enraged."
Ezra began to smile as he turned to Chris Larabee, but the return of blood-flow curbed the effort. "Mr. Larabee, I find myself in the unfortunate position to report to you that brutality charges may be filed against me. I will not deny them. However, despite the judicial rights of the arrested prisoner, I am confident in suggesting that, due to young Mr. Dunnes esteem amongst Four Corners finest, the miscreant will undoubtedly be unable to procure a lawyer in our fair community willing to prosecute me."
Chris felt oddly relieved. He had prayed that Standish wouldnt let him down, and he hadnt. And although there could be considerable hell to pay over Ezra beating the hell out of the suspect, Chris knew that in Bucks hands or his own, well the wrestler should consider himself lucky.
+ + + + + + +
The hours continued to pass by when finally, Doctor Steven Bergin, Chief of Surgery, wearily entered the waiting room. Each mans heart had stopped, as had time. This was it. Chris had a supporting hand on Bucks arm and Josiah was providing a wall of comfort for Buck to lean on.
Dr. Bergins face was unreadable. Six collective breaths were held as Bergin approached Buck.
"Hes a strong kid, Buck and surgery went very well." The six men were as one, listening intently to the man they entrusted JDs life to. His words held promise, but they also knew Bergin wasnt finished.
"As you know, the trauma JD suffered was massive. Weve set the broken bones and stopped the bleeding. His lung has recovered, which is all good news. But, hes in a coma, gentlemen, and I cant assure you that hes going to come out of it."
The room was silent for a moment.
And then Buck Wilmington spoke. "I can." His voice was rough with emotion.
Chris tightened his hold on Bucks arm, worried that Buck would fall apart. "Im all right, Chris," Buck whispered. Chris knew Buck wasnt all right, but he relinquished his hold on his friend.
Buck approached the doctor. "I need to see him Steve. I need to be with him."
Dr. Bergin knew all seven ATF agents. He had dealt with each of them before, either as patients or as kin, operating on anything from breaks to bullet wounds. Bergin also knew of their bond and of the overall power of human friendship and love. And he only had to look at Buck Wilmington and JD Dunne for evidence of its strength. He patted Bucks shoulder. "Of course, Buck. Hes in post-op now. Well get him into recovery and you can move in then. Shouldnt be more than about thirty minutes."
"Thanks, Doc. Ill be waiting."
+ + + + + + +
Forty-eight hours had passed and Buck Wilmington sat next to JD Dunne spinning a tall tale of women, guns, fast cars and intrigue. The kid loved to listen to Bucks stories, and Buck prayed that JD could hear him now.
He stopped mid-sentence, to stroke the boys hair and to watch him breathe. JD was still breathing, and although his breathing was slow, it was easy. Thank God. The doctors and nurses were worried about pneumonia setting in or JDs lung collapsing again, both possible complications due to the first collapse. So far, thankfully, no signs of either.
Unfortunately there were no signs of anything else, either. JD was still in a coma. And Buck Wilmington was scared. But his current fear was an improvement from how he had been feeling. When Chris had told him about JD getting hurt on the anniversary of his mothers death, Buck was devastated. The cause of JDs anguish was made all too clear. Like Chris, at times Buck had suffered the same gut-wrenching guilt after his own mother had died. How he wished he could have spared JD that torture. Buck was so afraid that this overwhelming guilt, which had driven the boy from his home that awful night he got hurt, would be strong enough to drive him away forever. Buck had never been so terrified.
But it was two days later now, and even though JD was no better, he was no worse, and somehow Buck had found hope in that small miracle. JD was still with him, and Buck took that as a hopeful sign.
And so he kept talking to the boy.
As Buck continued to stroke the boys hair and hold the boys hand in his own, he carried on reciting his fictional story of Chris and he and bikini-clad drug smugglers.
Buck gasped as he felt the slight movement. He felt JDs fingers twitch in his hand. Buck held his breath.
He finally released a shaky breath and carried on stroking the boys hair and lightly squeezing the boys hand, but his narrative had changed to an anxious plea.
"Come on, kid. Dont go teasing ole Buck, son. JD, I know you can hear me, now. Come on."
"Aw, kid. Now I know that wasnt my imagination, son. Come on back, now."
"Damnit, JD! Now, dont piss me off, son!" Shit! Buck chastised himself for losing his temper. It felt as though his heart was going to explode. He would have to try a different approach begging.
"Aw, son now you know I need you, kid. Please, JD. Please wake up!"
"Thats it, son!" Buck felt JDs fingers move again, but it was the flutter of JDs lashes that brought tears of joy to Buck's eyes.
"Thats right, JD. Come on, kid. Please, JD. Come on, I need you, boy. Please, kid!" Buck was frantic.
"Buck?!" JD was struggling to open his eyes. Buck was ecstatic and moved to face the boy who didnt yet have the strength to turn to him.
Buck held JDs hand to his chest and would have cried out loud for joy as he felt the boy squeeze his hand, but the confusion and fear he saw in the boys eyes stopped him cold.
"Hey, easy, kid," he soothed. "Im here, now. Youre all right, son. Youre a bit busted up, but youre gonna be fine, JD. Youre gonna be just fine, kid."
JD tried to form a weak smile, but his expression changed to worry as he watched the tears stream down Bucks face. He pulled his hand from Bucks grip and touched it to his brothers face. "Whats wrong Buck? Don't cry!" The boys voice was so weak, but to Buck it was heaven sent.
"Its all right kid. You know me just an old softy, right?"
JDs hand fell back into Bucks strong grasp. "No Buck. You're scared dont be Buck. Im okay."
JD was tiring, and Buck knew he should be alerting the doctors or at least the nurses, to the fact that the boy was conscious but he just couldnt give up this moment, or share it with anyone. He leaned in as close to JD as possible, so the boy wouldnt have to work so hard to be heard. He placed his hand on the boys brow and whispered into his ear. "Im okay, kid. Youre right. You scared me, son. I thought I thought you were gonna follow your mom, kid. And I didnt wanna lose you, JD."
JDs eyes widened at Bucks words, but it was his friends face that told JD that somehow Buck knew everything. And JD remembered the guilt he had felt when he realized that he had forgotten the anniversary of his mothers loss. JD felt he had betrayed her, and that had devastated him.
But at some point while JD was struggling to regain consciousness, he realized that his mom would have been so happy knowing that her son had been enjoying himself in the protected company of his friends; his five guardians, plus one heaven sent overprotective big brother. But instead, he had rejected their concern, and ran away from, of all people, Buck the only person who had ever loved him as much as his mom had, and who had been desperately afraid to lose him. JD now knew how much that would have disappointed her. So JD had every intention of doing right by both of them.
JD gathered what strength he had to squeeze his big brothers hand. The boys eyes spilled over with tears, but he still smiled at Buck. "Im not plannin on leavin anytime soon, okay. Im not going anywhere. Promise. Sides I know my mom wants me to stay with you. "
That did it. Buck let out a quiet chuckle, and tried desperately not to lose it completely in front of JD. God, how he needed this kid. And how he loved him. Buck closed his eyes and rested his temple on the boys brow, stroking the boys hair with a trembling hand.
JD was exhausted, but he could feel Bucks struggle. "I meant what I said, you know."
Buck raised up. He wasnt sure what JD was talking about. He looked into the boys eyes. "What, son? What did you mean?"
"When I said thanks. For bein my brother. Mmoms happy too, that I got you Buck. I know she is." JD closed his eyes, but his smile remained.
And Buck was beaming. He wasnt afraid to let JD fall asleep. He knew the kid would keep his promise and stick around.
After all, thats how the kids mom had raised him.
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