ATF Alternate Universe



Oh, God. He’s awake.

"Buck!!??" JD called again…a little panic in his voice.

Where's Buck??

"Calm down, kid. I'm right here." Buck reached one hand up to push the kid's too-long bangs from his eyes. Buck noticed the eyes looked scared…but clear.

"If you'd get a haircut…you could see that I'm sittin' right here next to 'ya," Buck teased.


"Says you." Buck was so grateful to hear the kid voice…and the little runt was even copping an attitude already.

God I love this kid.

"You been out nearly four hours since you came up from surgery, son." Buck rubbed his thumb on the boy's forehead…giving him something to focus on as he tried to pull free from the anesthetic.

"Sorry," JD yawned.

Buck had to laugh. Kid was always apologizing for something.

"No need to apologize, kid. How ‘ya feelin’?" Buck knew it was a stupid question. The kid obviously felt like hell…but Buck was scared…and when he was scared…he just rambled. .

"Fine," JD whispered.

"Oh, yeah…I bet," Buck smiled. "You don’t look too fine."

"Where’s Vin?"

Uh-oh! Buck was afraid this would come up.

"Buck? Where’s…Vin?" the boy repeated. "Is he…here?"

"Sure I am, kid." Buck spun around to see Vin and Chris walking through the doorway.

Thank God.

Buck shot a grateful look towards Chris.

Chris nodded to his oldest friend. He could tell that Buck was completely drained. Lord knows the kid is an exhaustive load for one 'big brother' to handle.

Buck stepped away from the bed…as if giving his permission ~ even if begrudgingly so ~ for Vin to approach.

Vin nodded his head to Buck in appreciation of the gesture.

Vin walked over next to the bed and gently placed his hand on the boy’s face. "You're a sorry lookin’ sight, kid…"

The others remembered that Vin had not seen JD before he went into surgery. His eyes filled as he took in all the equipment hooked up to the battered boy before him. "But…God…you’re a beautiful sight, too."

JD saw tears streaming down Vin’s face. The boy offered his good hand to the sharpshooter. "Don’t worry…Vin…I’m…fine."

Vin couldn't believe that ~ hurt like he was ~ the boy was trying to comfort him.

Vin took the kid's hand in both of his and smiled. "Yeah…you always are…aren’t you, kid?"

They all knew the kid had to have the busiest guardian angel ever on record…or maybe even God admitted the boy was too much for just one and split him into shifts.

"Good to see you awake, son." Chris walked over and placed his hand on the boy’s head. He left it there for a bit as he just stared at the kid.

Luckiest little shit in the world.

Buck's voice broke Chris from his thoughts. "Maybe you guys better leave now…kid needs his rest."

Buck's words cut Vin deep. "You mean 'I' should leave, don't 'ya, Buck?"

Seeing the kid…talking to him...Vin's emotions were running wild…he was coming unglued. "Why don't you just come out and say it…for Christ's sake…just say it…Buck. I don't deserve to me in here with the kid. You think I don't know that?"

"OK…you don't. And I don't want you in here." Buck was about an inch away from Vin…and was not backing down…and was not going to apologize for how he felt.

Chris stepped between the two friends.

Nobody noticed JD trying to sit up in the bed…"Buck…what's…wrong…guys??…what's…" JD cried.

Then suddenly…"Oh…God!! Buck!!" the boy screamed.

The men all turned to see JD sitting up…but doubled over in the bed. He suddenly toppled to the side and collapsed on the bed rail before any of them could get to him.

Vin gently lifted the boy off the rail. "JD…c'mon, kid. Let me help…"

Buck roughly shoved Vin aside. "Leave him alone."

"Buck…please…" JD said.

"I'm here, kid. You relax now." Buck held the boy steady. The kid was getting all worked up.

"Buck…stop…" JD gasped.

"Am I hurtin' 'ya, son?" Buck tensed.

"Stop…bein'…a jerk," JD finally got out…the kid was in a lot of pain.

"What??" Buck asked.

"I think you heard him, Buck." Chris moved Buck aside and took over holding the boy. "Why don't you and Vin 'both' wait out in the hallway."

"Yeah…please…" JD whimpered. "Chris…make 'em…leave…please…"

Chris helped JD slowly lay back against the pillows and placed his hand on the kid's chest. "What's wrong, JD…you hurtin'?"

"I…can't…breathe…" the boy cried.

Chris was afraid the kid's lung might have collapsed again. The doctor said it was always a real possibility and something that had to be watched carefully. The way the kid was hurting…it was probably so.

"I'll get the doctor…" Vin said as he headed out of the room.

"You do that…on your way out," Buck snapped.

"Buck…I believe you need to be joining Vin outside." Chris turned his gaze from JD to Buck.

"Chris…I ain't about to…" Buck couldn't believe he was serious before.

"I mean it, Buck. You heard the kid. He wants both of you out…and I'm here to see that JD gets what he wants. If that means I have to 'escort' you out…then, by God…I'll do that, too."

"JD…son…you don't want old Buck out in the hall…do 'ya, son?" Buck was trying to lay a guilt trip on the kid.

JD turned his head away from his best friend. "I…I can't…take you…guys…fightin'. Just…go…"

"JD…" Buck started before Chris grabbed his arm and walked him to the door.

"Buck…let him calm down for a while. That was quite a show you and Vin put on for him. How'd you think he'd feel watchin' that? You guys liked to broke his heart…now…come on…get out for a while."

As Chris opened the door to push Buck out…the doctor was coming in.

"What's the problem here?" The doctor made his way to his patient.

Chris hesitated in tossing Buck out on his ear…and let him stand by the door to hear what the doctor had to say about the kid.

"Son…where's it hurt?" the doctor asked.

"I…can't…breathe…" JD was barely able to get out…but the doctor understood.

"OK…let me check you out here a bit…" The doctor did a quick exam on JD. He turned towards his two friends by the door. "Has he been moving around a lot?"

"He…he got kinda upset…tried sitting up in the bed…" Chris said…trying to think of a way to explain what happened…without having to really explain what happened.

"JD…that's not good…I told you," the doctor chastised the boy. "Your lung's collapsed again. We'll have to start all over again. Now…promise me…you'll take it easy…"

"I…promise…" the boy told the doctor, who was on his way out.

"Yeah…right…" Buck scoffed.

"Shut…up… Buck," JD snapped.

Buck was taken aback by JD's verbal shot. "Sorry, kid…"

"Yeah…sure…" JD whispered. "Chris…you'll be…back…right?"

"Sure, kid. Right after I get Buck settled in the waiting room." Chris shot the kid a smile.

"Thanks." JD smiled back to his leader.

"Chris…" Buck was taking exception to be manhandled out the door by Chris.

"Don't 'Chris…' me," Chris barked as he deposited Buck in the hallway. "You brought this on yourself. You just couldn't let it slide…could 'ya? You just couldn't give Vin two minutes with the kid…could 'ya? You are some piece of work, Buck…you know that? For someone who cares so much for the kid…you can sure be pretty stupid about him sometimes. I know you're mad as hell at Vin…hell…I am, too. But JD ain't. Hear me, Buck??…JD ain't. So how's he supposed to feel when you two go to tangling in there? He doesn't feel betrayed by Vin. He doesn't realize that we're all so mad at Vin that we could spit. He just don't see it, Buck. He's…he's JD…for Christ's sake, Buck. He don't know how to be mad at one of us. And he sure as hell can't handle us being mad at each other…especially now."

"But…" Buck began.

"Save it, Buck. I gotta get back in there with the kid," Chris called over his shoulder as he walked back into JD's room and closed the door.

Buck watched the door close…

…watched the door close…

…with him on the outside…

How did this happen???

+ + + + + + +

Chris walked back into the room and moved the chair up closer to the bed. One look at the kid and he could tell he was about to break down.

Hell…why wouldn't he?

The boy had watched helplessly as two of his closest friends nearly come to blows. JD's beloved family was being torn apart…and he didn't understand why.

Chris reached over and took JD's hand in his…"It's OK, son."

That's all it took…

…the damn broke.

"What's wrong…with Vin…and Buck…???" JD got out between the sobs.

Chris gently placed his other hand on the boy's cheek. "They're just both a little on edge, kid. That's all. They're both just worried about you. You know Vin's almost as bad as Buck…when it comes to worryin', son."

"No…it's more than…that, Chris. Buck…Buck said he didn't want Vin…he didn't…want Vin…in here. And Vin…Vin said he didn't…didn't deserve to be in here. What's goin' on, Chris???" the boy was struggling…gasping for air.

"You shouldn't be talking this much, JD," Chris cautioned. "Remember?? The doctor was just in here. Remember what he told you?"

"Chris…" JD doubled up.

Chris rose from the chair…startled by the kid's painful cry. "Just calm down, kid."

Chris wished he had Buck's calming way with the boy. If Buck were here he'd give the kid a smile or a touch and everything would be fine again.

JD turned to Chris…his huge hazel eyes locked on him. "Tell me…what'd I do??? Are they…mad at me??? I…I…screwed…up…huh?"

Shit!! Kid thinks this is his fault.

"They're not mad at you, JD." Chris was trying his best to get the kid settled down…but his best was not going to get the job done.

"What's wrong then???" JD was gasping for air…about to pass out…when the doctor walked in.

"What's going on?" Dr. Stewart demanded.

"He's getting all upset again, doc. I can 't get him calmed down." Chris' efforts were not nearly enough…but were exhausting none the less.

How does Buck do this all the time?

"Where's Buck?" the doctor asked.

"Out in the hall…I guess," Chris said.

"Get him in here…now!! We've got to get him calmed down…quick," the doctor took over for Chris…trying to get the boy settled.

Chris ran out into the hallway and was greatly relieved to find Buck sitting on the floor…his back against the wall…elbows on his knees and his head resting in his hands.

"Buck…c'mon…quick," Chris called.

Buck jumped up. "What's wrong?"

"Quick…the kid can't breathe." Chris motioned towards JD's room.

Buck burst through the door, calling to the boy on his way in. "JD…son…I'm comin'…you just hold on."

"Buck??!!" the boy cried…reaching out to his brother.

Buck took the boy's hand. "S'OK, kid…big brother's here now. You just relax…OK?" He used his other hand to push the kid's sweat-drenched hair out of his eyes. "What'cha doin' getting so worked up anyway, son?"

"Buck??!!" JD was still laboring to breathe. "Help…me…"

Buck carefully lifted JD and crawled in the bed behind him. He leaned the kid up against his chest, wrapped both his arms around him and rested his chin on top of the boy's head. "Calm down, kid. You're OK. You just need to get your breath. You're gonna be fine, son. Right??? You're always fine…right?"

"Yeah." JD's breathing was coming easier and he was beginning to relax.

Buck had worked his magic on the boy once again.

"Sorry…I…kicked you…out…Buck," JD apologized.

"Ssshhh…don't worry about that now. I deserved to get tossed out on my ass, kid. I had it comin' to me."

"No…you're my…brother," JD cried. "I…shouldn't…have…"

"Ssshhh…just be quiet, kid." Buck wanted JD to settle down.

"Buck?? What's…wrong?" JD tilted his head to look up at Buck.

"You're sick, son," Buck said…obviously not understanding what JD was getting at.

"No…with…you?" JD said.

"Me?? Ain't nothin' wrong with me…I'm fine, son," Buck chuckled.

"No…you…you and…Vin?" JD was shaking his head.

"Nothing, kid. We're fine." Buck was not about to get into what was wrong with him and Vin. The kid was not up to hearing the story.

"That's…crap…Buck. Tell…me…" JD was getting agitated again.

"Nothing for you to worry yourself about, kid," Buck said.

"It's me…you guys…are mad…at me." JD was beginning to wind down. He was getting so tired he could hardly keep his eyes open.

"No, son. Not you. Now calm down." Buck stroked JD's hair and could feel the kid's head begin to bob…the boy was nodding off.


"Just rest, kid."

JD didn't have enough strength left to keep arguing and finally just gave up…knowing his friends were keeping something from him.

"It's…my…fault…" JD drifted off.

+ + + + + + +

Chris walked up next to his oldest friend…once he was sure JD was asleep. "Buck…you awake?"

"Yeah…" Buck shifted, careful not to wake the kid. "What'cha need?"

"We need to talk. Maybe out in the hall." Chris wasn't sure if Buck was ready to leave the kid yet or not.


Didn't think so.

"Maybe we can talk in here…then," Chris said, looking to the kid. "He's pretty well out."

"No…not here…not in front of the kid," Buck insisted.

"Well…where the hell then, Buck?" Chris was getting aggravated. Buck obviously didn't want to discuss the matter…anywhere. "You're using JD as an excuse not to talk about this, Buck."

"No…I'm using JD as an excuse not to rip Tanner in half…that's what I'm using the kid as an excuse for," Buck growled.

"Buck…" Chris started, only to be cut off.

"Save it, Chris. There ain't nothin' you can say that's gonna change anything. This…" Buck said…looking down at the boy in his arms…"this…is all Vin's doin'…and he knows it. And so do you…if you'd just open your Goddamn eyes."

"Don't start it, Buck."

"Don't start what?" Buck asked.

"Don't start with the 'Vin's my best friend…so he can do whatever the hell he wants' speech. It's getting old, Buck." Chris often felt that Buck was harder on Vin because he had somehow managed to replace Buck as Chris' best friend. Chris couldn't even begin to pinpoint a time when it occurred…it just…happened.

Probably about the same time as JD joined the team. Buck had realigned his priorities…and the kid was definitely at the top of the list. That didn't bother Chris…hell…he had practically thrown the two together…and had gotten exactly the response he was hoping to get from Buck. Buck had taken JD under his wing…and was helping the kid along. And the boy…he had taken Buck under his spell. Buck…whether he'd admit it or not…was 'had' from the get-go.

Buck carefully crawled out from behind JD and gently laid the boy back against the pillows.

"Tell 'ya what…I won't start it, Chris. But I'm sure as hell gonna finish it." Buck kept his voice down…but the threat was menacing still.

"Buck…we'll talk later…someplace else." Chris turned to leave.

"Fine with me…but…" Buck started, when suddenly he heard…


"Go back to sleep, JD." Buck turned to the boy.

"Buck…what's Vin's…you're gonna…finish what???"

"I said go back to sleep, JD…now how 'bout listening to me…just this once…huh?" Buck begged.

"Where's…Vin?" JD wanted to know.

"Vin's not here not, kid. He'll be back later to see you," Chris offered.

"No…he…won't," JD whispered.

"Now…why would you say that, son?" Chris asked.

"'Cause…he's mad at me…and Buck's mad…at him…and you're mad…at Buck…" JD rambled.

"Vin's not mad at you, JD. He's just not here right now. But…Nathan and Ezra and Josiah are out in the waiting room…how 'bout I send them in." Chris tried to get the kid's mind off Vin.


"Too tired to see your friends?" Chris thought it was very un-JD-like for him to 'not' want to see the others.

"No…friends…everybody's…mad," JD coughed.

"What?" Chris asked.

"Everybody's…mad…at…everybody," the boy was drifting in and out.

Gotta hand it to the kid. Even beat up…sick…or hurt…he still had quite a handle on his family.

"Kid…?" Buck reached over and touched the boy's shoulder.

"Just leave…me…alone, Buck…please," JD whimpered.

"C'mon, son…" Buck put his hand to the boy's face. "Don't shut me out…please."

"Then…tell me…what’s goin’ on."

Chris decided it was time to let the kid in on what was going on. The boy was starting to get upset again. "Buck’s real upset at Vin, kid. In fact…we’re all real upset with Vin."


"Because he didn’t follow orders, son," Chris said.

"What orders?"

"Vin was supposed to stay with you, JD. I had told him not to leave you alone. And he did…and all this happened." Chris eyed the boy up and down.

"Not his…fault."

"It sure as hell is his fault," Buck exploded.

"Buck…calm down," Chris instructed.

"Sorry, kid."

"Not…Vin’s…fault," JD repeated.

"JD…Vin was told not to let you out of his sight. We all knew the gang was close to making you. He never should have left you," Chris tried to reason with the boy.

"I told him…to go…help Charlotte."

"Don’t matter what ‘you’ told him, son. ‘I’ told him not to leave you."

"He wanted me to go…to go with…him. I told him…no. I told…him to go…ahead…I’d wait…for him."

"And…?" Chris hated to make JD think about it…but the boy needed to realize exactly what Vin had done wrong.

"And then…then all…those guys…they…" the boy’s eyes began to fill with tears and a look of terror that broke Chris’ heart.

"Exactly…you should not have been put in that kind of danger, son. I can’t trust Vin."


"He can’t be trusted…he has ‘other’ priorities now."

"I…I can’t…believe you…think Vin…can’t…be trusted." JD couldn’t believe what he was hearing. "Vin…Vin is the…most…trustworthy guy…"

"JD…look at you, kid. You think Vin ain’t responsible for this?" Buck asked.

"Vin didn’t do this…those guys…they…did this."

"If Vin would have done his job…been there with you…this never would have happened," Buck seethed.

"That don’t…make it…his fault."

"The hell it don’t!!" Buck's knuckles were turning white from gripping the bed rail so tight. He was about to go ballistic.

"Buck…calm down," Chris said.

"No…kid’s got a right to hear it…" Buck started, before Chris cut him off.

"Kid don’t need to hear it…not right now, Buck…"

"Hear…what…???" JD asked.

"That Vin ain’t got no place on this team no more…no one’s gonna trust him…ever again. No place for a man like that in our line of work." Buck decided the kid should know everything.

JD snapped his head around to Chris. "You’re…you’re gonna…kick Vin out???"

"Don’t worry about this now, son." Chris knew that JD wasn't up to hearing all the details. He felt like punching Buck for telling the boy about Vin's future with the team.

"Tell me…Chris…the truth."

"May not have any choice, kid." Chris had never lied to the boy…and now was not the time to start.

"You’ve got a choice, Chris…you’ve…always got…a choice."

"Not with this he don’t, kid," Buck said.

"Buck…there’s…always a…choice. Always…" JD turned to face his brother. The brother that he felt he just couldn't understand right now.

"JD…you don’t need to be worrying about all this. Just try to relax, OK?" Chris said.


"JD…c’mon…calm down," Buck tried.

"I wanna see…Vin…" JD cried.

"JD…" Buck said.

"Leave me…alone…you…you can both…leave…now…" JD rolled over…shutting himself off from Chris and Buck.


"Go away." The boy’s voice was muffled in the pillows.

"JD? Son?" Chris said.

JD suddenly sat up in the bed. "GET OUT!!"

The doctor walked in. "JD, what's wrong?"

"He's mad at us, doc," Buck explained.

The doctor turned to Buck and Chris. "Then leave. Don't just stay here aggravating the boy."

"C'mon, Buck. Let's go." Chris grabbed Buck's arm.

"No," Buck resisted. "He don't really mean it, doc. You know he needs me here. He'll want me in a few minutes."

"That may be so, Buck…and I really am sorry." Dr. Stewart shot a sympathetic look towards Buck. "But he doesn't want you here right now. So…gentlemen…I must insist…that you leave."

"JD!!…son!!…" Buck called out as Chris and the doctor steered him out into the hall.

The doctor returned and walked up to the bed. "JD…I'm going to give you a sedative. You need to calm down and relax. You're doing nothing but hurting yourself here."

"No…no…sedative," JD pleaded. "Not…not…till I…see…Vin."

"Is Vin here, JD?" the doctor asked.

"I want…I need…to see…him." JD was fading fast.

Doctor Stewart stepped out into the hall. "Is Vin here?" he asked Chris and Buck.

"No…why?" Chris asked.

"JD wants to see him," Dr. Stewart said.

"I don't want him here," Buck fumed.

"JD wants to see him, Buck. He won't let me give him anything till he sees him," the doctor explained.

"Well…I sign the papers here for the kid." Buck was on a rampage…pulling the papers out of his pocket…waving them in the doctor's face. "I don't want him around the kid."

"Buck!" Chris grabbed the irate man's arm. "Calm down."

Buck stood toe-to-toe with the doctor. "I mean it, doc. I don't want him in with the kid. You have my permission to go ahead and do what ever you need to do."

"I don't want to do it this way, Buck," the doctor explained. "This is not helping JD at all…you know that, right?"

"Well…I'm callin' the shots here, doc," Buck argued.

"Buck…think about the kid here. Put your feelings aside. Think about what the kid needs." Chris was trying to appeal to the big brother in Buck.

"Well, Chris…he sure as hell don't need Vin."

"He seemed pretty set on it before, Buck," Dr. Stewart said.

"Kid's sick…he don't know what the hell he needs," Buck shot back.

"He may not know what he 'needs', Buck…but he knows what he 'wants'," the doctor said.

"C'mon, Buck…" Chris pleaded.

"We don't even know where the hell he's at, Chris." Buck was beginning to waver.

"I can page him…but I'll lay you odds he's just downstairs in the lobby," Chris offered.

"Buck?" the doctor knew that, legally, it was his call. He was just hoping that Buck made the right one…for JD.

"Alright…for JD…" Buck gave in. "Little shit…always gets his way."

"You guys ever noticed…this 'look' the kid's got?" Dr. Stewart asked the men as they walked down the hall.

"Really???" Chris and Buck said…in unison.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was relieved to find Vin sitting in the lobby as he had hoped.

Vin spotted Chris approaching from the other side of the lobby. The look on Larabee's face sent a shiver down the sharpshooter's spine.

Vin rose as Chris walked up. "What's wrong??? Is he worse???" Vin panicked.

"Not really…worse…just a little 'behavioral' problem." Chris sat down and motioned for Vin to do the same.

"Kid ain't gettin' his way, huh?" Vin guessed.

"Let's just say…he's got us all over a barrel. He's gonna get what he wants…or he ain't gonna let the doctor give him anything to help him."

"So…what's the kid want? I'll get it for him," Vin offered.

Chris knew that Vin meant it. He knew that Vin had no idea what it was that the kid was wanting…but Chris knew that Vin would go through hell or high water to get it for him…whatever it was.


"What?" Vin looked up to Chris.

"Kid wants to see 'ya," Chris said.

"And Buck's OK with this?" Vin couldn't believe that Buck was willing to let him near the kid again.

"Hell, no…but as usual…little brother gets his way," Chris smiled.

"So…you're sayin' Buck's gonna let me see the kid?"

"I'm sayin'…Buck gave in …like always. That's why I'm here. C'mon."

"So…you're OK with this?" Vin asked…even though he was afraid to hear Chris' answer.

"Let's just say…I'm a little more open-minded than Buck. I have no problem with you seein' the kid. But…truthfully…we need to have a real long talk…you and me."

"Sure…whenever." Vin was making his way towards the elevator.

"If you've got any thing left after you go through the emotional ringer with the kid…maybe we'll talk then." Chris punched the button for the kid's floor…and the two rode up in complete silence.

+ + + + + + +

Vin walked slowly into JD's room. The kid was sleeping. He quietly approached the bed and leaned on the bed rail.

God…how did I let this happen???

Everything on the case was going so well…until…this…

The kid was doing an excellent job undercover. Chris was proud of him…and the kid was beaming!

They were right at the brink of wrapping the case up…and then…the bottom fell out of everything.

Vin could still see JD sitting on that bench ~ smiling and waving ~ looking like some ten year old waiting for his parents to pick him up after school.

It really wasn't Charlotte's fault.

As much as Chris would like to blame her…it really wasn't her fault.

And…God…how could the kid be thinking it was 'his' fault??? Chris had hinted at such outside in the hallway.

The kid was the most innocent person Vin had ever known…but he somehow always seemed to think it was his fault when things went wrong.

Comes from being the youngest of the group, Vin assumed.

JD always thought it was silly for Buck to blame himself every time the kid got hurt…but JD was just as bad about blaming himself all the time.

No…the blame lied with Vin and he knew it.

Never should have left the kid…Chris told me…'Don't leave the kid'.

But…Charlotte comes up…and I'm off. I shoulda made the kid come, too. Not like I couldn't have made him.

Buck woulda.

Buck would never let anything come between him and the kid.

Now…I'm at the top of Buck's 'Most Wanted List'.

'Can't blame him.

Nearly got his little brother killed.

And Chris…he's so ashamed of me…I can't hardly bear to look at him…looking at me.

He thinks of JD as a son…and I let him down as much as I did the kid.

Nathan and Josiah…are mad, too. Just not as vocal about it as Buck and Chris.

Even Ezra…who I never thought cared about anyone but himself…has developed quite a fondness for the kid lately. So…I'm shit in his book, too.

"Sorry 'bout all of this, kid…" Vin gently fingered one of the tubes attached to the boy.

JD stirred. "Vin?" he called, weakly.

"Hey, kid. Good to see 'ya."

"You, too…" JD coughed.

"Hey…need a drink, kid?"


Vin helped the boy sit up to take a small sip of water and then placed him back down on the bed again.

"So…" Vin started…"doctor says you wanted to see me?"

"Yeah…Vin…this…ain't your…fault."

"Don't see it that way, kid."

"Vin…" JD whined.

"Kid…I didn't do my job…and you're here payin' for my mistake."

"You…you had…to help…Charlotte."

"No…I had to watch you."

"She…needed you…"

"So did you, kid…so did you." Vin just wished the kid would get mad or something…anything but being so nice…it made Vin feel even worse.

"She…was…scared. I'd have…done it…to. Any of the…guys…woulda…"

"No…'fraid not." Vin had already thought that part through. The other guys…especially Buck…would have done things differently.

"Sure they…would…"

"No. Buck woulda made you go, too. That's what I shoulda done. But you gave me that Goddamn 'puppy look'…and I caved."


"Shit, kid. Don't go tellin' me you're sorry. I can take 'ya bein' mad at me…or hittin' me…but I can't take 'ya tellin' me you're sorry."

"Sor…never mind." JD smiled, but it suddenly faded. "Vin…Chris…was talkin' 'bout makin' 'ya leave."

"Figured that. He's pretty mad."

"I…I ain't…gonna…let 'im…kick 'ya out…Vin."

"You stay outta it, kid."

"No. This is…my…fault. I'm…gonna…fix it."

"Just how is this your fault?" Vin could feel the lump in his throat landing in the pit of his stomach.

How in the hell can the kid blame himself for this???

"I shoulda helped…you…gone…with you."

"Drop it, kid."

"I'm…tired of everyone…tellin' me…what to do." JD was getting aggravated…again.

"Well, kid…when you're talkin' foolish…somebody's gotta tell 'ya what to do." Vin regretted saying it…but it was too late to take it back.

"Fine. Bye…Vin." JD rolled over…shutting out yet another friend.

"C'mon, kid…I didn't mean that the way it came out."

"Sure, no one ever does. I'm…tired. See 'ya…Vin," JD whispered without rolling back over.

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Buck found Vin leaning against the wall outside of JD's room. The young man seemed to be a thousand miles away.

Vin was pulled from his thoughts by…"Vin??" Chris snapped his fingers in his face.


"Jesus…he sounds like JD…" Buck laughed.

"So…you talk to the kid?" Chris asked.


"Do any good?" Chris wondered.

"Not much…he's all pissed off at me."

"You get him upset?" Buck, as always, assumed the worst where the kid was concerned.

"Well…he's pretty mad."

"Great. This did a whole hell of a lot of good now…didn't it, Chris?" Buck stormed off into the kid's room.

"So…" Vin started. "You wanna talk now?"

"Sure. Let's go to the waiting room," Chris suggested.

The two friends walked silently to the waiting room at the end of the hall. They found it to be empty and sat down in two chairs in the corner.

"You want my badge now…or should we do that down at the office?" Vin figured he'd might as well get right to the point. No need beating around any bushes. He knew what was coming…and there was no stopping it.

"So…what???…You're quitting???" Chris asked.

"Well…it looks better on the resume than getting fired," Vin whispered. The man had never lost a job in his life. But he knew there was no hope of keeping the one he had now.

"Is that what you're worried about? How all of this affects you?" Chris was really surprised that this seemed to be Vin's main concern.

"No. I'm thinkin' 'bout that kid in there. But there ain't no way in hell I'm gonna be able to stay here," Vin broke down.

"Why?" Chris asked.

"Why??? You know why. I've heard what's bein' said. I'm off the team." Vin didn't understand why Chris was making him say all this? Didn't he realize how hard this was? Or…he probably 'did' know…and just didn't care.

"Yeah. It's been said that you're off the team. And I was the one who said it…" Chris looked Vin in the eyes…and the look was nothing short of…menacing.

Chris' look suddenly softened…somewhat…and he continued. "Yeah…I said it…right up to about half an hour ago."

Vin looked up…"So…what's different now?"

"Just somethin' the kid said." Chris relaxed and laid his head on the back of the chair.

"What'd he say?" Vin wondered.

"That there's always a choice." Chris closed his eyes…remembering what the boy had told him. "I told him I didn't have a choice…had to cut you loose. And JD…well he up and says…'There's always a choice, Chris.' So…kid gets me to thinkin'…I could choose to keep you…or send you down the road."

"And what are you choosing?"

"JD said there's always a choice. For me…to choose about you…and I guess…you had a choice to make, too. And even though I don't think you made the 'right' one…it was your choice to make. Nobody else could do it for you." Chris turned to Vin and added…"And a bad choice…I guess…don't make you a bad agent…or a bad man."

"I can't stay here, Chris."

"JD doesn't want you to leave, Vin," Chris said, then added…"Neither do I."

"The others…" Vin started.

"The others weren't hurt. If JD can forgive your choice…then everyone else sure as hell can."

"Buck's gonna kill me before he forgives me, Chris."

"JD can take care of Buck. He should be the least of your worries."

"So…who should I be worried about then?" Vin asked.

"If I was you…I'd worry about yourself," Chris said.


"Had any sleep since this whole mess started?" Chris' eyes pinned Vin down.


"Get over it. Guilt will eat you alive…if you let it. Believe me…I know."

Buck walked quietly into the waiting room and sat down next to Chris. The man looked weary to the bone. He ran his hands over his face and looked to Chris..."Kid wants to see 'ya. He's all in a tizzy…'bout…well…you know…"

Chris wearily pushed himself up from the chair. "You look like hell, Buck. Go home…take a shower…get some sleep. You keep lookin' like that around here…they're gonna admit 'ya." He patted Buck's shoulder and headed down the hall towards the kid's room.

Vin had to agree with Chris. Buck 'did' look bad. 'Course…the man had hardly left the hospital since JD got hurt. But…what else was new??? That was Buck's place when the kid was hurt.

By his side.

Vin took comfort in the fact that there were still constants in life. And one of those constants was…Buck and the kid.

The two were practically inseparable…and that was on a 'normal' day…when things were 'good'. And on days like these…when the boy was hurt…or scared…or both…the two stuck together like glue.

The kid needed Buck…just to get through times like these…and Buck…well…Buck needed the kid to 'need' him. JD played his little brother role perfectly to Buck's big brother.

Together…the two were whole…and pity anyone who tried to tear them apart…or hurt one of the two.

Especially if that someone had hurt 'the kid'.

Like Vin had done.

The waiting room was thick with tension. Vin finally broke the silence…"Why don't you just punch me out…so we can get past this awkward stage?"

Buck turned tired, worried eyes to Vin. "If I thought it'd help that boy in there…believe me…I would."

"But you ain't?" Vin asked, taking a long, hard look at the older agent.

"Like I said…ain't gonna help JD none." Buck shook his head.

"Buck…I'm real sorry. Really…if I could trade places with the kid…" Vin broke down.

"I know you would, Vin," Buck whispered.

"Guess I'll go clean out my desk." Vin stood to leave. "Tell JD I'll come by to see him later…if he wants."

"You're quitting?" Buck rose to stand in front of the younger man.

"What makes you think I'm quitting?" Vin tried to make his way around Buck.

Buck grabbed Vin's arm. "'Cause…I know Chris ain't gonna kick 'ya out."

Vin shot a surprised look at Buck. "How'd you know that?"

"'Cause I know Chris…and I know that boy in there. And…I know that what JD said got Chris to thinkin'…just like it did me."

"And???" Vin asked.

"You made a choice. That's all it was…a choice. Maybe not the right choice. No…let me rephrase that…maybe not the choice I woulda made…but everybody's gotta make their own choices. At least that's what 'wonder boy' in there says." Buck beamed at the mere mention of the kid. "There's always a choice…he says. So…I'm choosing to put this behind us, Vin."

"That's very generous of you, Buck. But…I don't think I can. I can't look at JD every day…knowing what I did to him." Vin choked back the lump in his throat.

"Well…now…then I 'am' gonna have to hurt 'ya…" Buck put his arm around Vin's shoulders. "'Cause you leavin' will just plum break that boy's heart…and I ain't about to let that happen."

+ + + + + + +

Chris put his pen down and leaned back in his chair. A slight smile crossed his face as he listened to the sounds outside his office.

The sounds he'd missed for over a month.

"Kid…I'm tellin' 'ya…if I have to sit on you…I will. Don't you think I wont."

"Yeah…yeah…yeah…" JD brushed Buck's threats aside with a wave of his arm…turning back to his computer terminal.

Buck and the kid.

Big brother Buck was back on the job. JD had been released to return to work today. Light duty only. And Buck was bound and determined to make sure that the kid didn't 'over do'.

There were only a few visible reminders of the terrible ordeal the kid had been through ~ the cast on his wrist and the fact that he was moving a lot slower than normal. The boy was getting around with a slight limp due to his still-healing broken kneecap.

Of course…there was the 'other' reminder in the office…

…the look on Vin Tanner's face…

…every time he looked at the kid.

Vin could hardly bring himself to look at the boy. It was like a knife twisting in his gut every time he watched the kid grimace as he'd push himself up out of his chair…or see the boy start to topple when he'd twist his knee the wrong way, only to be steadied by Buck, who was writing a whole new chapter on 'hovering'.

The only thing worse…was the tug at his heartstrings when he'd glance up from his desk to see the kid looking at him…and smiling.

God, kid…stop it.

You should hate me.

Vin tried to bury himself in his work. He didn't notice JD standing at his desk until he looked up and gasped…"Shit, kid…scare the hell outta me…why don't 'ya???"

"Sorry," the boy whispered.

"No…I'm sorry, JD. You need somethin'?"

"Yeah…I got a doctor's appointment in thirty minutes. Can you take me? I can't drive yet."

"Me?" Vin was shocked. Where was big brother Buck??? Why wasn't he taking the kid to the doctor??? Why was he letting him ask Vin??? Of all people???

"Buck's not gonna take 'ya?" Vin finally managed to get out.

"He's got some kind of report due in an hour…that he ain't even started yet…like always," the kid grinned. "He said to ask you. But…I…I can ask Josiah…if you don't wanna…"

"No…not that…just…I'm just surprised…that's all."

"Surprised? 'Bout what?" JD had to be the most trusting soul there was. Of course the kid wouldn't know what Vin was surprised about. He didn't see Vin the way Vin saw himself…as someone not to be trusted.

JD trusted all the other six men. He trusted them with his life…every day. But he trusted them with more, too. The kid trusted each of them with his heart.

"Just surprised that I get you to myself…that's all, kid. You've been in pretty 'high demand' since you got in this mornin'." Vin put his arm around the kid's shoulders and pulled him close.

It sounded believable. The kid 'had' been surrounded by well wishers all morning. It seemed like practically everyone in the building had stopped by, one time or another, to welcome the boy back.

Vin couldn't tell the kid the real reason he was surprised…surprised that anyone…especially Buck…trusted him enough to let him take care of 'their boy' again…so soon.

"I'll get my jacket…and meet you at the 'vator…OK?" and the kid was off.

Vin approached Buck slowly from behind…"That the report you gotta get done?" Vin asked, eyeing the latest issue of Winston Cup Scene that Buck had tucked inside a manila file folder.

"Christ! Vin! Give a man some warnin'…would 'ya?" Buck dropped the magazine and folder on his desk.

"Sorry, Buck. JD told me you couldn't take him to the doctor because you had a report you had to get done."

"Yeah…well…kid's gettin' on my nerves somethin' awful. Just need a break…that's all."

Buck fidgeted…and scratched his neck nervously. Just like he always did…when he was lying.

"Uh-huh," Vin grinned.

"So…you gonna take 'im?" Buck wondered.

"Yeah…I'll take him…if you're sure???" Vin hesitated…giving Buck a chance to change his mind.

"Sure of what?"

"Sure you can…trust…me…"

"Vin…it ain't a matter of 'me' trusting 'you'…it's a matter of 'you'…gettin' back to trustin' yourself. It's been five weeks, junior. Time to move on."

"It's hard…watchin' him…you know…and knowin' that we almost lost him," Vin choked out.

"Aww, Hell, Vin…there ain't no losin' that kid. Boy's like Velcro." Buck tossed Vin the keys to his truck. "Go on…he's waitin' on 'ya."

Vin hurried towards the elevator…slowing a little as he passed Chris' office when saw the leader leaning against the doorway.

"You takin' JD to the doctor?" Chris asked.


"Be careful. Now…you know he's gonna try…but don't let him talk you into lettin' him drive," Chris warned.

"Don't worry. I won't. Trust me," Vin called back as he wrapped his arm around the kid's neck and pulled him into the elevator.

"I do, Vin. I do," Chris whispered as he watched the team's two youngest members disappear behind the closing elevator doors.


Comments and creative criticism greatly appreciated at: