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 kid’s impatient pacing. Where in hell did he pick that up, anyway?

"Hold yer horses, kid. We ain’t late."

"Yeah, but we’re gonna be. ‘Sides, the movie theatre’s dark, Buck. Nobody’s gonna care what you look like, least of all, me. C’mon!"

"Son, you just never know what pretty senoritas we might run into at yer fancy art theatre, and ole Buck’s gotta look his best," the tall, handsome moustached man shot back.

"Shoot, Buck, you’re gonna need more than a shave if you’re tryin’ to look good, and we ain’t 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 kid’s 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, I’m done. Let’s 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, I’ll come in tomorrow and finish the report….Kid? Yeah, he’s okay. Still a little wound-up, maybe. Not too sure what’s 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 hadn’t missed it, which is the only reason the older man was willing to give in to the kid’s 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 Buck’s 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, I’ll have a talk with him after the show…Oh, a double bill at the University Theatre." Wilmington laughed. "Get this…they’re 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 kid’s choice of movies.

Larabee led their elite special ATF unit, which had been dubbed ‘The Magnificent Seven’ by their peers. The team’s nickname was a term of endearment for the seven agents, but also a term of respect. Chris Larabee’s squad had an unprecedented record in the agency and earned more commendations in the six months they’d 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.

"Don’t worry - I won’t let it go to his head. See ya tomorrow, pard." Wilmington chuckled at Chris’ joking comments about JD’s 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." JD’s voice was strained, and Buck couldn’t curb his building anxiety, wondering why the perpetually cheerful kid was so tense tonight. The boy’s 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 kid’s eyes as he reluctantly picked up the phone.

"Hello….Oh, hey darlin.’ When’d 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 kid’s eyes. Something definitely ain’t 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, that’d 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 boy’s shoulders, "You okay, son? Anything you wanna talk about?"

The boy smiled, but Buck could see JD’s eyes mist. The kid shook his head and forced another smile. "Naw, Buck. I’m fine. Let’s 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 ‘I’m 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 didn’t have the foggiest idea, why?

From the day they met, Buck had deemed himself JD’s 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. He’d humor JD for now, but Buck had every intention of getting to the bottom of the kid’s troubles before the night was over.

Buck grabbed the keys to his pick-up and slung his arm over the kid’s shoulder. "All right, kid. Let’s 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 kid’s hair and drew JD a bit closer. "Leave it, kid. Voicemail’ll pick it up."

+ + + + + + +

JD was unusually quiet during the drive, insisting on playing the radio much louder than usual. Buck didn’t argue. The wheels were turning in his own mind, as he tried to figure out what was wrong with the kid. He’d come to the fairly obvious conclusion that something was really eating at JD, something he didn’t want to face, and the blaring radio and desire to spend the evening at the movies were simply JD’s 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 wasn’t 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 couldn’t help to smile as he listened to JD’s half of their conversations. Neither man wanted to speak with Buck, but rather both men were checking up on the kid. Obviously the kid’s 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 wasn’t 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 he’d ever attended, including the police academy where he’d 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 Buck’s 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 other’s existence.

+ + + + + + +

The Chev hadn’t 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 hadn’t 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 weren’t 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. I’m sorry." Buck reached across the seat and placed his hand on the boy’s 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 ain’t mad at ya."

The older agent smiled. Leave it to the kid to worry about my feelings, when he’s as upset he is. He sighed, stroking the boy’s hair. "’S’all right, kid. I know. And I know damn well you’re 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 we’ve got is time now, son. You sure you don’t wanna talk about it?"

JD pulled away from Buck. "Damnit, Buck! Can’t 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 boy’s 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. JD’s 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 boy’s back. His hand hovered for a moment, as he wondered if he was doing the right thing. But Buck’s 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 boy’s back, but JD didn’t pull away. Buck rubbed the boy’s 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 JD’s body, Buck rested his hand on the boy’s neck and began to soothe. "JD, son…it’s all right, kid. Let it out."

JD’s reaction was totally unexpected. He whirled on his friend and Buck could see tears streaming down the boy’s 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 kid’s face. "No, it’s not all right, Buck. It’s not, damnit!"

To Buck’s 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 truck’s 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 couldn’t 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 hadn’t 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 Buck’s 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 Buck’s panicked shouts for JD.

Buck almost dove over the barrier as he saw the kid’s 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.

Buck’s 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 boy’s face.

Much to Buck’s surprise and relief, the kid’s eyes were open, but his relief diminished quickly once he realized that the boy’s eyes were registering only fear and pain. Buck began talking to JD as he carefully assessed the kid’s injuries. He used a soft litany of familiar, soothing words…"Buck’s here, son…you’re gonna be fine, kid…everything’s all right, kid…I’m here, little brother…Buck’s 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 boy’s injuries.

JD’s left arm was broken. Its awkward position left no question in Buck’s mind. The agent couldn’t be quite sure, because the kid was lying so unnaturally, but JD’s shoulder just didn’t look right, either.

These injuries, however, were the least of Buck’s worries. Blood was seeping through JD’s jeans, high on his thigh and Buck could only assume the worst, that when the speeding mini-van slammed JD into the barrier, the boy’s leg broke before he was thrust over it.

What worried Buck most however, were the boy’s head and chest. JD was having trouble breathing…struggling with short, rapid breaths. Buck noted that JD’s back seemed raised up slightly, as though he’d landed on top of something, and Buck feared for the boy’s ribs, and for what vital organs lay underneath them.

What was hardest for Buck, was looking at the boy’s face. JD had a large gash on his temple and blood had caked on his face. The boy’s eyes were still open, dazed and scared, and although Buck kept on talking to the boy, he feared he wasn’t 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. Buck’s 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 boy’s hand and placed a gentle hand on JD's injured face. "That’s it, JD. Come on, kid. You’re all right. Stay with me, son."


The boy’s voice was barely audible, but hearing JD say his name, gave Buck much needed hope. "I’m here, kid. Help’s on the way, son."

The boy coughed again, and cringed in pain. He squeezed Buck’s 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. Don’t try to move, now. Ole Buck ain’t got a fix on what all’s broke yet." He began stroking the boy’s hair. JD closed his eyes, his pain-filled features beginning to relax, as did his grip on Buck’s hand. "That’s it, kid," Buck murmured.

JD slowly opened his eyes, consciousness beginning to escape him. "Buck…I’m…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 JD’s 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."

"Don’t…matter…now, Buck…I think…looks like…I’m gonna…be able…to take care…of it now."

Take care of what? Buck was confused, and scared. JD wasn’t making any sense. And Buck sure as hell didn’t like the hopelessness he heard in the boy’s voice. "I don’t understand, son. Take care of what, JD?"

"My mom…Buck." JD’s voice was so weak. "For…got her…today." JD shuddered and squeezed his eyes closed tight. "Sorry…mom. So sorry." JD’s eyes remained closed despite the tears flowing from them. JD’s eyelashes fluttered for an instant, and Buck’s eyes filled again as he felt the boy’s weak attempt to squeeze his hand. Buck held on tight, as JD’s 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!" Buck’s whole body quaked as he felt the boy’s hand go limp in his own, and watched JD’s face grow slack. "C’mon, kid…come on back to me, son. Talk to me…Oh, God!" His hands were trembling as he checked for JD’s 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. Buck’s 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 Wilmington’s face was enough to tell Scott, the older of the two partners, that JD Dunne’s 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.

"Chopper’s ETA is two minutes, Buck." Jacobs placed a comforting hand on Buck’s 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 they’d 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 Wilmington’s very young protégé was not only partner, but kid brother…well, he simply couldn’t imagine the magnitude of Buck’s grief, if JD didn’t 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 hadn’t been logical, but logic plays no part in one’s 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 JD’s desk across from Buck, knowing full well that his old friend wouldn’t 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 hadn’t 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 didn’t 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 Buck’s wrists. It was as though they were acting as protective guardians, but Chris knew too well, that Buck’s 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.

"How’s JD? What the hell happened?" Chris needed to know.

Nathan Jackson, team member and former medic answered. His eyes were dark, filled with anxiety. "It’s bad, Chris. JD’s got a broken arm and collarbone and busted femur. Most of the breaks are compound, but the doctors don’t think any’ll require pins or plates." Nathan sighed and continued. "That’s 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. "He’s got a concussion, maybe worse…don’t know, yet. JD landed hard on his back, too and his ribs are busted up pretty bad. His left lung’s collapsed. They’re goin’ in to have a look. Nothing in itself would be fatal…But…his whole body’s beat up, Chris…when you add up everything…they’re just not sure if he’s 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 friend’s 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 Vin’s shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "Naw, Vin. JD’s a fighter. He’s not gonna give up. That kid’s too tough." Chris wasn’t sure who he was trying to convince. His words felt hollow.

Vin looked into the eyes of his friend. "No, Chris. Not today. Buck’s scared…real scared. JD was upset ‘n Buck doesn’t think…he doesn’t think…JD’s gonna…fight…today."

Chris stepped back. That’s right…oh, God. Something had him really upset. He closed his eyes and shook his head. No! JD would never willingly leave Buck. He wouldn’t. 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 Buck’s eyes, but he kept his expression calm, and firmly gripped Buck’s hands. "He’s as strong as any one I know, Buck. If there’s a way, JD’ll make it."

Buck shook his head violently and pulled away from Chris’ grasp. "No, dammit, Chris. He’s just a kid…he…he ain’t that strong…he tries so hard, but…he’s just a boy! He’s just a boy, Chris." Buck’s 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 don’t make him weak. JD’s got more will and strength than anybody. And he’s got you to pull through for, Buck. He’d do anything for you. Don’t go givin’ up on him, all right!"

Chris was desperate to get through to Buck, but Buck’s hopelessness was so strong. The leader remembered Vin’s 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 Buck’s shoulder. Buck wasn’t 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 JD’s reason for being out of the truck had to do with Buck’s dogged desire to get to the bottom of any friend’s pain…his stubborn will to help. God, if JD doesn’t make it, Buck’ll never forgive himself.

Rather than dwelling on Buck’s self-imposed guilt, Chris decided to focus on what, if anything, Buck had found out. Chris couldn’t help but worry if JD’s 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 didn’t say anything until he was…hurt…but, it’s 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 don’t know what he…forgot…Chris, but it was eating…him up…inside. I’ve never seen him so upset."

Chris squeezed Buck’s hand and pinned his friend with a confident look. "Buck, you know that kid better than any of us…he’s not gonna up and quit on us. And he’s 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 you’re right." Buck smiled wearily at his friend.

"I am, Buck. I know I am." And this time, Chris believed it himself. He then patted Buck’s 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.

"How’s he doin’?" Vin asked for both he and Nathan.

"Better, aw hell…it’s 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. It’s in the truck. Whadda ya need?"

"While we’re waitin,’ I wanna see if we can find out what had JD so uptight. Buck’s sure it had to do with the kid’s mom. Maybe we can find something out in the kid’s file."

"Sure, Chris." Nathan smiled. "It’ll keep me busy for a while, anyway. I’ll 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. JD’s mother had passed away a year ago today.

It was obvious by the kid’s 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 couldn’t forgive his own forgetfulness.

And Chris understood the boy’s grief. Since his family’s 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 he’d forgotten his wedding anniversary, or his son’s birthday, and that he’d 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 mother’s 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 he’d gained with his new career, and his new family? Chris genuinely didn’t think so. He marveled at JD’s love for his big brother Buck. And the feelings were mutual. Chris couldn’t believe that JD wouldn’t want to stick around. But Chris wasn’t 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 wouldn’t be up to facing JD’s 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. Buck’s 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 other’s 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 hadn’t shown up yet.

"He’ll be here, Nate. I’m certain of it." Josiah was always the voice of reason and the voice of wisdom. "He’s late…there must be a reason."

Larabee snapped. "Damnit Josiah. He doesn’t have a good enough reason. I called him same time I called all of you. That boy’s fighting for his life and Ezra should be here!" Chris’ voice was a harsh whisper. He didn’t want to wind Buck up any further, but the leader felt Standish’s absence was a betrayal not just to JD, but to their team.

"I think Josiah’s right, Chris. He’s comin.’ JD’s got Ezra wrapped around his little finger, whether he wants t'admit it or not. Ezra’s got a damn good reason for not bein’ here, yet. I know it." Vin Tanner’s 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 he’d gone the distance with Holyfield.

"What the hell happened to you?" Chris Larabee’s concern for Ezra now eclipsed his earlier thoughts.

Ezra waved off Chris’ question and the concerned comments from the others. "Inconsequential, for the moment. How’s the boy?" Ezra’s 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 Buck’s arm. He spoke briefly to Buck and Buck’s response was to pull Ezra into a swift, but emotional embrace. Both men were visibly shaken by the exchange, and Larabee and the others couldn’t imagine what had just transpired between them.

Standish gave Buck’s shoulder a comforting squeeze and returned to the others. Larabee’s 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 Ezra’s sudden usage of a casual, almost guttural, vocabulary. This time Jackson queried him. "Who? Who’d you find?"

Standish leaned his battered frame against the wall, facing his partners. "Gentlemen, upon receiving word from Mr. Larabee of young JD’s 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 JD’s 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! What’s 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. Dunne’s esteem amongst Four Corner’s 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 wouldn’t let him down, and he hadn’t. And although there could be considerable hell to pay over Ezra beating the hell out of the suspect, Chris knew that in Buck’s 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 man’s heart had stopped, as had time. This was it. Chris had a supporting hand on Buck’s arm and Josiah was providing a wall of comfort for Buck to lean on.

Dr. Bergin’s face was unreadable. Six collective breaths were held as Bergin approached Buck.

"He’s a strong kid, Buck and surgery went very well." The six men were as one, listening intently to the man they entrusted JD’s life to. His words held promise, but they also knew Bergin wasn’t finished.

"As you know, the trauma JD suffered was massive. We’ve set the broken bones and stopped the bleeding. His lung has recovered, which is all good news. But, he’s in a coma, gentlemen, and I can’t assure you that he’s 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 Buck’s arm, worried that Buck would fall apart. "I’m all right, Chris," Buck whispered. Chris knew Buck wasn’t 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 Buck’s shoulder. "Of course, Buck. He’s in post-op now. We’ll get him into recovery and you can move in then. Shouldn’t be more than about thirty minutes."

"Thanks, Doc. I’ll 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 Buck’s stories, and Buck prayed that JD could hear him now.

He stopped mid-sentence, to stroke the boy’s 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 JD’s 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 mother’s death, Buck was devastated. The cause of JD’s 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 boy’s hair and hold the boy’s 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 JD’s fingers twitch in his hand. Buck held his breath.


He finally released a shaky breath and carried on stroking the boy’s hair and lightly squeezing the boy’s hand, but his narrative had changed to an anxious plea.

"Come on, kid. Don’t go teasing ole Buck, son. JD, I know you can hear me, now. Come on."


"Aw, kid. Now I know that wasn’t my imagination, son. Come on back, now."

Still nothing.

"Damnit, JD! Now, don’t 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!"

"That’s it, son!" Buck felt JD’s fingers move again, but it was the flutter of JD’s lashes that brought tears of joy to Buck's eyes.

"That’s 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 didn’t yet have the strength to turn to him.

Buck held JD’s 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 boy’s eyes stopped him cold.

"Hey, easy, kid," he soothed. "I’m here, now. You’re all right, son. You’re a bit busted up, but you’re gonna be fine, JD. You’re 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 Buck’s face. He pulled his hand from Buck’s grip and touched it to his brother’s face. "What’s…wrong…Buck? Don't…cry!" The boy’s voice was so weak, but to Buck it was heaven sent.

"It’s all right kid. You know me…just an old softy, right?"

JD’s hand fell back into Buck’s strong grasp. "No…Buck. You're scared…don’t be…Buck. I’m 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 couldn’t give up this moment, or share it with anyone. He leaned in as close to JD as possible, so the boy wouldn’t have to work so hard to be heard. He placed his hand on the boy’s brow and whispered into his ear. "I’m okay, kid. You’re right. You scared me, son. I thought…I thought you were gonna follow your mom, kid. And I didn’t wanna lose you, JD."

JD’s eyes widened at Buck’s words, but it was his friend’s 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 mother’s 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 brother’s hand. The boy’s eyes spilled over with tears, but he still smiled at Buck. "I’m not…plannin’ on…leavin’ anytime…soon, okay. I’m 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 boy’s brow, stroking the boy’s hair with a trembling hand.

JD was exhausted, but he could feel Buck’s struggle. "I meant…what I…said, you know."

Buck raised up. He wasn’t sure what JD was talking about. He looked into the boy’s eyes. "What, son? What did you mean?"

"When I said…thanks. For…bein’ my…brother. M’mom’s happy…too, that…I got you…Buck. I know…she is." JD closed his eyes, but his smile remained.

And Buck was beaming. He wasn’t afraid to let JD fall asleep. He knew the kid would keep his promise and stick around.

After all, that’s how the kid’s mom had raised him.


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