ATF Alternate Universe

DISCLAIMER: The following is a work of fanfiction 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 don’t own the characters (I'm saving up my money…to buy JD.) This story is strictly for entertainment. No monetary gain will be made from it.

I'm using Marla's JD…(Thanks, Marla…) the one that's only twenty. Now if we could just get him down to nineteen again…<g>

Here he was, driving a rented min-van on the interstate, headed for who knows what…out in the middle of who knows where…yet…still he felt perfectly at ease.

Chris Larabee had been driving for an hour now…listening to the constant chatter of his six fellow ATF agents…his six friends.

The 'Magnificent Seven', as his team had been dubbed by the other agents in the department, were headed for some much needed R & R.

Chris had really had to do some fast talking, hard selling and call in some favors…but he'd finally managed to get his team a four-day Labor Day weekend.

They'd kicked around several possibilities…and after much discussion…had finally agreed on doing some white-water rafting and camping.

Ezra Standish was, of course, the last to agree to the plan. Ezra considered a hotel without room service to be 'roughing it'…so camping was definitely 'not' his cup of tea, so to speak.

Chris was afraid that the Southerner was going to refuse to come along…but JD Dunne had given him his famous 'look'…and Ezra, needless to say…caved.

JD was the youngest member of the team. He was a small kid…short and thin…and looked about sixteen…though he'd just turned twenty. JD was too young to be an ATF agent…but being too young had never stopped the kid from doing anything. He'd graduated high school, college, and the police academy early. Chris had managed to pull some legal strings and get the youth assigned to his ATF team, even though he wasn't legally old enough.

But…like JD…very few things stopped Chris Larabee, either. He'd wanted the boy on his team…he was a computer whiz…an expert marksman…an honest-to-goodness certified genius…a natural for undercover work at schools…and a terrific kid to boot.

Despite his youth…JD fit in perfectly…and the rest of the guys adored the kid.

So…when JD gave Ezra 'the look'…it was unanimous…and the guys headed out.

Vin Tanner was a certified white-water rafting instructor and guide. He'd often threatened to leave the ATF and do just that…then he'd cool off…and show up for work the next day.

Josiah Sanchez…a mountain of a man, was looking forward to four days of 'soul-searching and inner-self cleansing'…or something like that, Chris remembered the man saying.

Nathan Jackson, always a soft-spoken man, thought they could all use a quiet weekend.

'Course…how quiet could it be with JD and Buck Wilmington along?

Buck and Chris had been friends for twelve years. Buck was out-going and loved living life to the fullest. And he loved to have a good time. And he loved JD Dunne.

Buck had taken JD under his wing shortly after the kid joined the team. 'Under his wing'…seemed very appropriate…since the others were always teasing Buck about acting like a 'mother hen' where the kid was concerned.

The two had become extremely close…they were best friends…roommates…father/son…and had 'adopted' each other as brothers.

Chris listened to the conversation…everyone enjoying each other's company…excited at the prospect of 'getting away' for a while.

Chris noticed that JD had been the most excited of all…talking practically non-stop…until about thirty minutes ago. "Did JD fall out?"

Ezra turned around to check.

The rented van had seating for six…and enough cargo room for tents, hiking equipment, coolers…and a space left for the kid…who, being the smallest…had been delegated to the floor.

Ezra looked over the equipment to see that JD had curled up in small space and had fallen asleep. "I swear. I do believe that boy could sleep in a tin can."

Buck, of course, began to worry. "Think he's sick?"

"I think he talked himself to sleep, Bucklin. Relax. But I'll check on him if you're worried." Vin wasn't fooling anyone. He worried about the boy almost as much as Buck.

Vin reached over all the stuff and found the kid. He put his hand to the boy's forehead and breathed a sigh of fever.

JD stirred and rolled over.

Chris pulled the van into a small diner. They'd been on the road for two hours…halfway there. They'd decided now was a good time to stop for breakfast.

"Should we wake the kid?" Vin wondered.

"He never wants breakfast…let him sleep." Chris decided. They'd left early…and he knew the kid was really tired when he'd helped Chris load the van this morning.

+ + + + + + +

The men walked into the diner and headed for a large booth in the corner.

Right before they got there…three men…dressed in fatigues…ran around them and slid in the booth.

"Hey…" Buck started.

"Hey…what?" one of the men asked.

"We were going to sit there." Buck knew he was dealing with some local-yokels.

"Too bad." the men said in unison.

"C'mon…three of you can sit in a regular booth. This is for large groups…like…say…six." Buck was beginning to get aggravated.

"Fuck off!" the man on the end said.

"That went well…" Ezra commented as they all headed for two tables and proceeded to shove them together.

+ + + + + + +

JD woke up and realized he was alone in the van. He sat up…and seeing where he was…assumed that the others had gone inside to eat.

JD got out of the van and walked into the diner.

He saw the others and walked over to the booth. "Hey, guys."

Wilmington pulled a chair out for the boy. "Hungry, kid?"

"No…I just came in to get some gum. See ya's back in the van." and JD headed for the counter.

Buck watched the kid make his purchase and then walk out of sight as he headed for the door.

JD started to open the door when it was pushed in from the other side, nearly knocking him down. "Watch it, runt." a huge man bellowed at the kid.

"Sorrrreeeee!" JD rolled his eyes at the man's obvious lack-of-manners.

The man grabbed JD's arm…"Watch that smart mouth there, boy."

"Hey…let go of me!" JD yelled, trying to pull away from the man.

The others heard JD's excited voice…and ran to the door.

"Let go of him." Chris said…much calmer than he felt. He was already set to tear the man apart…nobody messed with 'their kid'.

"Or what?" the man wanted to know.

"You don't want to know 'or what?' Let him go." Chris was not in the habit of having to repeat himself.

The man twisted JD's arm behind his back, causing the boy's breath to hitch in his throat.

Buck moved towards the two. "Mister…you better let that boy go."

The man twisted JD's arm higher…and JD yelped. "I'll break his arm."

Buck froze.

"I suggest you let go of the boy." Josiah pushed Buck aside. "We don't take kindly to people hurting our kid."

"Like I give a fuck about what you like." The man seethed…as the three men from the booth came and stood by him.

"Friends of yours…no doubt." Ezra had that smart-ass…should-have-known look on his face…the one that usually got things stirred up.

"Let me go…!!!" JD was squirming.

The man twisted JD's arm more and wrapped his other arm around the kid's chest and squeezed him as he lifted him off the floor.

"Fuck this shit!!" Vin charged…and plowed into JD…knocking the wind out of him…but accomplishing his objective of getting the man to release the boy. He spun JD around to Buck's waiting arms.

Vin continued on to the man…and smacked his palm into the man's sternum and he crumpled to the floor.

The man's friends made a move towards Vin…but stopped as the others surrounded them.

"This ends now, gentlemen." Then Chris turned to JD. "You OK, kid?"

JD was rubbing his chest.

"Did I hurt you kid?" Vin had his hand on the youth's neck.

"I'm fine. Thanks, Vin." JD gave Vin a huge hug…who hugged the kid back.

"Ain't that sweet…" one of the men in fatigues spat out.

Buck raised his elbow and smacked the man in the face.


"Oh…sorry." Buck grinned.

"Let's get out of here." Nathan suggested.

Chris paid the cashier and they all walked out together.

"Can't leave you alone for ten minutes…" Buck had his arm around JD. "You sure you're OK, kid?"

"Yeah…I'm fine." JD whispered.

They all piled into the van and headed out.

JD curled up again in the back and fell asleep almost immediately.

"I hope I didn't hurt him." Vin worried.

"I'm sure he's fine, Mr. Tanner. You saved the day." Ezra assured.

The four men inside the diner were watching out the window as the van pulled away.

"This ain't over…" one said.

"That's for damn sure." came from another.

+ + + + + + +

After traveling another two hours, Vin told Chris to pull into an open area up ahead. They had finally reached the area that Vin had in mind for their camp.

Chris walked around to pop open the back hatch on the van. He had to smile when he saw JD curled up on the sleeping bags. "JD…wake up."

No answer.

Chris reached inside and shook the boy. "JD…JD…"

JD moaned slightly and shifted…but made no effort to get up.

"C'mon, kid…ain't got all day…" Buck pulled JD's arm and the kid screamed.

"JD…what's wrong." Buck hurriedly moved a cooler out of the van and jumped in next to the kid.

Nathan had come running over when he heard the boy scream. "What's wrong?"

"Don't know, Nate. JD?? Son??" Chris noticed that the boy was breathing hard.

Finally, JD seemed to come around…"Huh?"

"You OK?" Chris put his hand on the kid's shoulder.

"What's wrong with your arm?" Buck was worried.

"Nothing…" JD said.

"Didn't sound like nothing a minute ago." Buck had his hand on the kid's back…helping him sit up.

"Geez…you dang near pulled my arm off, Buck." JD was glaring at his best friend.

"Well…if you're OK…help me unload." Chris told the boy.

"I'll help you, Chris." Buck didn't want JD over-doing…he still thought the kid was hurting somehow.

"No…Buck…you go help make camp. JD and I will unload." Chris gave Buck a look that told the man he knew what he was doing.

Chris wanted to see if the kid was favoring his arm.

Which he was.


"Yeah." JD turned to face Chris.

"Go have Nathan look at your arm."

"I'm fine." JD smiled.

"Just do it!" Chris snapped.

JD slinked off. Chris hadn't meant to sound so short…but he was mad.

Not mad at the kid…

…but mad at the animal that had hurt the kid.

Chris finished unloading the van and walked over to the table where Nathan was examining JD's arm.

"How is he?" Chris gently placed his hand on the boy's back…as if to say…'I'm sorry about getting mad before.'

"He'll be fine. Just sore's all. He's got some bruised ribs and a little swelling in his arm." Nathan looked disgusted. JD didn't miss the look, either.

"Sorry, Nathan." JD apologized.

"For what, son?"

"You're on vacation. You shouldn't be having to take care of me. I can tell you're mad. I'm sorry."

"JD…I ain't mad…well…I am mad…but I ain't mad at you, son. I'm mad at that…that…man…and I use that term 'loosely'…that hurt you." Nathan put his arm around the boy's shoulders…making sure that he got the point across to the kid that he wasn't mad at him.

JD turned to Chris. "See, Chris…I'm fine."

"Well…Nathan didn't say you were fine, kid…he said you'd 'be' fine…that means he needs to take it easy…and rest…right, Nate?" Chris knew the drill when it came to the kid getting hurt.

"That's right, Chris." Nathan looked to the boy. "You 'over-do' and you'll be in a world of hurt, son."

"I won't 'over-do'." JD promised and walked over to help Buck and Vin put up a tent.

Chris and Nathan exchanged knowing looks…the kid always 'over-did'.

+ + + + + + +

Vin, Buck and JD seemed to be having a little trouble getting the tents put up.

Ezra had taken a front row seat to watch the festivities.

Muffled voices could be heard from under the canvas.

"JD…that don't go there…"

"And how would you know, Buck…you ever put a tent up before?"

"Well…son…I 'was' a Boy Scout."

"So…you ever put up a tent before?"

"Well…no…but I was a Boy Scout."

Vin couldn't take it anymore.

"Would you two just shut up…JD hand me that pole there…"

"This one?"

The tent collapsed to the ground.

"No…JD…'not' that one." Vin said patiently.

Chris, Nathan and Josiah had joined Ezra. All four were laughing so hard they were crying.

Vin was the first to crawl out from under the tent. "Y'all wanna give me a hand here?"

Chris walked over and pulled Vin up.

Buck poked his head out…"A little help here."

Josiah pulled the tall man out.

JD was still crawling around under the canvas…struggling to find his way to the edge…"Guys??? Hey…guys???"

The boy finally collapsed to the ground…giggling.

Chris and Buck started rolling the tent up until they came across the kid.

JD was lying on his back…looking up at the two men…smiling. "Hey, guys…I pulled the wrong pole…"

Everyone tried to be mad…but busted out laughing instead.

"How about we have lunch first…then try the tents again later?" Vin suggested. He needed a rest from 'Heckle and Jeckle'.

"Sounds like a plan." Buck said. "What'cha think, kid?"

"I ain't hungry…you guys go ahead." JD was studying the tent again…trying to figure out what he'd done wrong.

"JD…you need to eat." Nathan scolded. "You didn't eat any breakfast."

JD was trying his best to ignore the whole lunch conversation. "You know, Vin…I bet I shoulda gave you 'this' pole, right?" and the kid swung the pole around…hitting Chris in the back of the head.

"JD…" Chris swung around and grabbed the pole away from the boy.


"Is this an example of what we're going to be putting up with for four days, son? 'Cause, if it is…I gotta say…I don't like it."

"Sorry…" JD walked off and sat down next to one of the coolers and pulled out a soda.

"JD…come on over here and get something to eat." Buck called. He knew it was useless…but he had to try.

"You know, Chris…we're on vacation…you don't have to be the hard-ass boss here." Vin thought that Chris had been a little rough on the kid.

"Well…you see if you feel the same later when you're impaled with some tent pole." Chris grinned.

"Kid's just…kinda…klutzy…that's all. Hey…who wasn't at that age?" Buck tried to remember ever being that age.

Chris started feeling that maybe he 'had' been to rough on the kid. He walked over and sat down next to the boy. "I didn't mean anything by what I said, son. Just…try to be careful out here, OK? We're pretty far from the nearest hospital…if you know what I mean?"

JD smiled. "Sure, Chris…I'll try not to screw up."

"I'm not worried about you screwing up, JD…I'm worried about something happening to you." Chris patted the kid on the back of the head as he pushed himself up.

"I'll be fine, Chris."

+ + + + + + +

They had finally gotten the tents up and properly assembled. Well…actually…Vin, Nathan and Josiah had put the tents up. Buck and JD were not allowed to help…and Chris' job was to make sure they didn't try to help. Ezra, of course, didn't offer.

Once the tents were set up, Vin suggested they go hiking and wait until the next morning to start the rafting.

After hiking for about two hours on a couple of the trails that ran through the area, they decided it was time to head back and make dinner.

"And you're gonna eat, kid…if I have to sit on you and shove it down your throat." Buck grabbed the kid around the neck and pulled him close. "Hear me, JD?"

"Yeah…yeah…yeah." JD squirmed away from the big man, spun around and ran right into…

…Chris Larabee.

"Sorry, Chris." JD hung his head, thinking Chris would be mad at him.

Chris reached out his hand, lifting the boy's chin to face him…"It's OK, JD…just make sure you 'do' eat…OK?"

"Sure, Chris."

+ + + + + + +

Nathan made a huge pot of stew for dinner. He dished up a big bowl and handed it to JD.

Buck was passing out the beers. He handed JD a Pepsi.

"Geez, Buck…we're out in the middle of nowhere. Wouldn't kill you to give me a beer." JD shook his head, disgustedly.

"Against the law, kid." Buck grinned. "Can't be breaking the law."

"Unless it suits 'ya." JD swerved to miss Buck's jab.

"Hey, Nathan." JD called. "This smells good…what is it?"

"Uh…why do you ask, JD?" Nathan thought he might have a little fun with the kid.

"I…I just mean…you know…what is it? Mmmmm-beef?" JD asked, shoving a big spoonful in his mouth.

"No…it's armadillo…" Nathan smiled.

"Pphph-uuuuuu-tttt!!!!!!!" JD spit the stew out and jumped up from his seat…dropping his bowl in the process.

"Armadillo!!! Nature's little tank????? For dinner???? Geez, Nathan…you're warped!"

"Calm down, kid. Nathan's just funnin' 'ya." Buck grinned…then turned a serious face towards Nathan. "Ain't 'ya, Nate?"

"Yeah…just kidding 'ya, JD." Nathan grabbed the boy's arm. "C'mon…get another bowl…it's beef stew, JD."

"No thanks…lost my appetite." JD walked off.

"JD!!…JD!!…Come back here." Buck called after the boy. "You get back here and eat something…"

JD was ignoring him and continued walking…heading for the river.

"Sorry…I didn't think he'd get that upset about it. I'll go talk to him." Nathan felt bad about the kid not eating. He knew that JD hadn't eaten in almost twenty-four hours.

"I'll go." Buck said.

"Buck, let Nathan go. You'll jump down his throat about it…" Chris put his hand on Buck's back. "He don't need that right now."

+ + + + + + +

Nathan came across JD sitting on a fallen tree on the path to the river. He had his back to him and as Nathan walked around to face the boy…he saw evidence that JD had been sick.

"God, JD. I'm really sorry. I was just teasing you…I sure never meant for this to happen, son."

"It's OK, Nathan…just kind of…a sensitive stomach…I guess." JD turned his paler-than-usual face to Nathan. "I didn't mean to make you feel bad, Nathan."

"Don't worry about me, son." Nathan was concerned that JD was throwing up…he knew that he hadn't eaten any of the stew…he'd spit it out. "You throw up just the one time here?"

"No…twice on the way here. I sure hope you watched where you were walking…" JD tried to flash a weak smile.

"You still feel queasy?"


"OK…we'll just sit here for a bit…till you're feeling better." Nathan sat down next to JD, put his arm around the kid's shoulders and was surprised to feel the boy lay his head on his shoulder.

Poor kid…he's really feeling bad…

After about fifteen minutes, Nathan was not surprised to hear the others approaching. "There they are…over there!" he heard Ezra call.

Vin noticed how bad JD looked…"What's going on."

"He's not feeling too good…threw up." Nathan was rubbing JD's back…the kid was leaning over with his elbows on his knees…his head hanging down.

"Kid…??" Buck reached to push the boy's too-long bangs back from his face…"You feeling sick, huh?"

"Yeah…" JD nearly cried.

"Let's get him back to camp. Get him to bed." Chris didn't even want to think about the kid getting sick out here in the middle of nowhere…two hours from the nearest…anything.

"C'mon, JD…can 'ya walk, son?" Nathan stood in front of the kid, his hands resting on the boy's forearms.

"Sure…I can…walk…sure…" JD's voice sounded shaky…and not very confident.

"C'mon, kid…I'll help 'ya up." Big-brother Buck was on the job. He took the boy's hands and gently pulled him to his feet. He waited until he'd steadied himself and then wrapped his arm protectively around the kid's shoulder and slowly steered him back to camp.

"Just can't joke about food around you, can we, son?" Buck teased, trying to get the boy's mind off the fact of how sick he felt. "You'll feel better after you sleep for a while. Gotta get rested up…big day tomorrow, kid…rafting…you're looking forward to that…right?"

"Yeah…" JD whispered.

Then Buck suddenly felt the boy go limp…and grabbed him up in his arms.

"This isn't just the stew…is it, Nathan?" Buck was holding the kid close, picking up his pace to get back to the camp.

"I don't know, Buck. I really doubt it. It could be something from before…at the diner?" Nathan cautiously eyed Vin, not wanting to upset him.

"You think I hurt him before, Nate?" Vin's eyes shifted to the boy in Buck's arms.

"Don't know, Vin…could be he's just sick. We'll check him out."

+ + + + + + +

Buck walked into the tent and laid JD down on one of the sleeping bags. "JD??…JD??…C'mon, kid…wake up for me…c'mon, son…let me see them pretty eyes of your's."


"There's our boy…he's back." Buck beamed.


"Yeah, kid…I'm here. You just lie still." Buck was stroking the kid's hair. He mentioned to Nathan that he seemed to be warm to the touch.

"Hey, JD…you still feel sick, son?" Nathan had dipped a wash cloth in one of the coolers and was wiping the boy's face. Nathan agreed with Buck…the kid's face was warm.

"I'm fi…I feel better, Nathan. Honest." JD weakly tried to shove the cloth away.

"That's good, JD. Real good. I'm just gonna cover you up and let you rest…and we'll see how you feel in a little bit…OK?" Nathan took one of the other sleeping bags and placed it over the boy.

"'kay." JD was fighting to keep his eyes open. He rolled over on his side and was asleep.

Nathan motioned for Buck to follow him out of the tent.

"How is he?" Vin asked as soon as he saw Nathan emerge from the tent.

"I think he'll be OK. He just needs some rest." Nathan told everyone that had gathered right outside the tent.

"Rest??!! He slept for half the way up here, Nathan." Buck remembered.

"Yeah…and he hasn't eaten, either, Buck…and that little stunt I pulled…didn't help him. I just want to wait and see how he is in a couple of hours before we panic."

"You think we need to start pulling up camp?" Chris wanted to be ready to go if necessary.

"Let's just wait and see. He could be fine when he wakes up. You all know how he is…sick as a dog one minute…and fine the next." Nathan knew all too well how JD tended to be when he was sick. So often the kid would be 'flying at 100 m.p.h.' and then 'crashing and burning' the very next second.

+ + + + + + +

As if to prove Nathan's point, JD emerged from the tent about two hours later. "Hey, guys."

Buck jumped up and ran over. "JD…let me help 'ya, kid," wrapping an arm around the boy's shoulders.

JD pulled away. "I'm fine, Buck…turn off your 'hover' craft, OK?"

Nathan walked up. "So…you're feeling OK, then?" He placed his hand on the kid's forehead. "Hmmmm…feels OK."

"See…I said I was fine. I was just queasy before. All that talk about eating that gross critter…yech!!"

"I'm really sorry about that, JD," Nathan patted the kid on the back.

"It's all right, Nate. Don't worry about it. We got any chips??? I'm starving."

"Chips??? You think chips are dinner, kid?" Buck ranted.

"Buck…chips are a start…leave him alone." Chris handed the boy a huge bag of chips and Ezra reached into the cooler and pulled out a Pepsi and tossed it to the kid. JD…being JD…missed the can and it hit the ground. He picked it up…went over to sit down next to Buck…lifted the tab on the can…

…"JD!! WAIT!!" Buck yelled…trying to get away…but he was too slow…

...and PPPSSSTTTTTTTTTTT…soda spewed out of the can…all over him.

Buck was fuming…soda dripping off his nose and chin.

"I'm…oh, God…I'm…sorry…Bu…" JD was laughing so hard he couldn't finish his apology.

"You think this is funny, kid???" Buck asked. "Huh???"

"Well…yeah!!!" JD was laughing so hard he was in tears.

Josiah handed Buck a towel.

Buck wiped his face and threw the towel on the ground and glared at the kid. JD was still laughing uncontrollably. "You are a freaking walking disaster area, kid." Buck, finally, couldn't resist…and he busted out laughing, too.

"I must say…there have been parts of this excursion that have made the trip worthwhile," Ezra said.

"Like?" Vin asked.

"Oh…well…Mr. Dunne's tent episode…and this…this is priceless," Ezra laughed.

"Guess I can always be counted on to screw up," JD said quietly as he walked away.

Josiah had watched JD walk off, and felt a need to follow the boy. He slowly straightened his large frame and headed after him, stopping to remark to Chris on the way…"Did I ever tell you what a good thing you did in giving that boy a place on this team, Chris?"

"Yes, Josiah…you have…many times." Chris smiled at the gentle giant. "Many times. You gonna go take care of him?"

"Yes…I will. He looks like he could use a little 'uplifting'," Josiah said, looking in the direction JD had gone.

"Thanks, Josiah. I was gonna go myself…but you go ahead." Chris knew that Josiah would cheer JD up. Josiah adored the boy and doted on him.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah found JD sitting on a large rock down by the river. "Pretty sight, ain't it, son?"

JD's head snapped around. He hadn't heard Josiah approach. "How can somebody your size sneak up on people, Josiah?"

"He who is light of heart is light of foot, JD."

"What's that mean?" JD gave Josiah a quizzical look. Sometimes JD thought Josiah was as hard to follow as Ezra.

"Mean's if you have a heavy heart…it weighs you down, son. You got something bothering you? Weighing you down?" Josiah climbed up on the rock, sitting next to the boy.

"No more than the usual…I guess," JD whispered.

"And what's that, son?" Josiah put his huge arm around the kid's small frame.

"C'mon, Josiah…everybody knows…I'm just a stupid kid…good for a few laughs…that's all." JD's head was hanging…his hair hiding the hurt that was always so evident in the boy's huge hazel eyes.

Josiah reached over and pushed the hair back…using his huge hand to gently wipe the tears that were now rolling down the boy's cheeks. "C'mon now, son…nobody thinks that. Why would you even say such a thing?"

"'Cause it's true…" JD choked out.

"You feeling all right, kid?" Josiah knew…as did all the others…that JD had a tendency to be overwhelmed with self-doubt when he was not feeling well. Josiah put his hand to the boy's forehead and felt that his fever was returning. "Maybe we need to be getting back to camp…what'cha say?"

"You go on…I'm gonna sit here for a little bit." JD turned away.

"Well…JD…I really think you need to be getting back…I don't want to leave you here by yourself." Josiah squeezed the boy's shoulders.

"I'll be fine…you go ahead."

"I'll wait…" Josiah said, patiently.

"I said 'go ahead'…what part didn't you understand?" JD snapped to the older man.

Josiah was shocked by JD's tone. JD had never spoken harshly to him in the past. Josiah knew it was the 'fever' talking…and not JD…but the fact still remained that he needed to get JD back to the camp.

"You're a sweet kid, JD…and you have a heart of gold…but you are in a 'sour' mood…that's for damn sure. C'mon…you're going back…NOW!!" Josiah pulled the boy up on his feet and headed him back to the camp.

JD was not happy…but with his size disadvantage…there wasn't much he could do about it.

+ + + + + + +

When they reached the camp…JD walked straight into the tent and laid down, never stopping to say a word to anyone.

Buck started to follow him…but Josiah grabbed him and then summoned Nathan to join them. "His fever's coming back…he was pretty testy."

"Shit!!" Buck was hoping the boy was getting better.

"Calm down, Buck. Ain't that bad. He just needs some more rest. He might be OK after that. Just give him some time." Nathan was hoping things worked out that way.

+ + + + + + +

Later, after everyone had finally gone to bed, Buck awoke to the sound of JD softly calling his name.


Buck rolled over, putting his hand on the boy's chest. "What's wrong, kid?"

"Buck??…I don't f-f-feel g-g-good," JD whispered.

Buck got up and turned on the lantern and looked at the boy. JD was trembling and sweat was pouring off him.

"G-G-God…B-B-Buck…I'm f-f-freezing."

Buck put his hand to JD's forehead…the boy's skin was cool and clammy. "NATHAN!!"

Ezra jumped up. "What's wrong, Buck?"

"Get Nathan…hurry."

Ezra started out of the tent…only to be met by Nathan and Chris…followed closely by Vin and Josiah.

"What's all the hollerin'…what's wrong?" Nathan asked coming in the tent. He went over and knelt next to Buck and the boy, pulling the sleeping bag back.

JD was curled up in a small ball…shivering…his arms wrapped around his mid-section.

"He said he didn't feel good…and he's freezing…" Buck was beginning to panic…partly because the boy was shivering so badly…and plus the fact the boy was squeezing his hand so hard that Buck knew the kid was really scared.

"Let me check you out here, JD." Nathan started to push the boy's sweater up.

"No!" JD was pushing Nathan's hands away…"No!"

"C'mon, kid…it's Nathan…it's OK," Buck soothed.

"No…l-l-leave m-m-me alone…" JD cried.

Chris knelt by the boy…trying to get through the fever…"JD…son…c'mon now…let Nathan take a look at you. He's not gonna hurt you…we're not going to let anyone hurt you…"

"Nathan?" JD looked as if seeing him for the first time.

"JD…let me help you, son." Nathan pushed JD's sweater up and pushed up his T-shirt and could see that he had dark discoloration on his stomach. "Lordy…"

"What??" Buck panicked.

"Well…with all this bruising…and the abdominal tenderness…I'd say he's got internal bleeding."

"Shit! I knew I hurt him before…" Vin's eyes filled as he looked at the boy.

"Don't…Vin…don't start it." Chris knew that JD's condition was serious…and really couldn't spare the time to deal with Vin's feeling guilty. "We gotta get him help…FAST!"

"B-B-Buck???" JD was slipping in and out. "B-B-Buck???"

"Yeah, kid…I'm here…I got 'ya." Buck was holding the boy's hand…stroking his hair…"I'm right here, son."

"I'm…s-s-so…c-c-cold…" JD's teeth were chattering.

"I know, kid." Buck pulled the kid up in this lap and rested him against his chest. He pulled the sleeping bag up over him and wrapped his arms around him.

Nathan took JD's temperature. 104. "Christ."

Ezra was on the cell phone…calling 911 to check on the nearest hospital. "The nearest hospital is thirty-five miles from here."

"Let's get him to the van and get going." Chris took the boy in his arms, while Buck made sure he was wrapped tightly.

The others were so worried about JD; they had obviously let their defenses down. They never noticed anyone approaching the camp…until suddenly…from out of nowhere, they heard footsteps…and turned to see…

…the man from the diner…

…the man that had hurt the boy before…

"Going somewhere, gentlemen?"

"What the hell??? You followed us??? You're either very brave…or very stupid." Buck made his was towards the man. He had every intention of taking the man apart…it was his fault the kid was hurt. And anyone who knew Buck Wilmington…knew that hurting the kid was not the way to a long, healthy life.

"Well…mister…I sure ain't stupid," the man stated matter-of-factly.

Chris was still holding JD. He could feel the heat radiating off the kid, and knew they had to get going…they still had thirty-five miles to cover to the hospital. "Get the hell out of the way."

"Shut the fuck up!" the man said, stepping towards Chris.

"He's sick…" Chris said, motioning his head towards the boy he held in his arms.

"Like I give a shit!" the man didn't let Chris finish. "Put him down."

"Go to hell!" Chris seethed. He wasn't about to let go of the kid.

"Like I said before…I ain't stupid…you don't think I came here by myself, do 'ya?" As if to prove his point, the other three men from the diner appeared…all carrying guns.

"Shit!" Vin was not happy with the latest turn of events.

The leader walked up to Chris…so close that he was actually brushing against JD…"I believe I told you to put him down…could go bad for the kid if'n I have to tell 'ya again."

Chris sat JD down on one the coolers and Buck knelt down next to him, supporting him.

JD was fighting to stay conscious…"Buck??!"

The leader told his men…"Get their guns," and he then turned to Buck…"Shut him up!"

Buck put his fingers gently on the kid's mouth. "Sshhh…quiet, kid."

"B-B-Buck??" JD weakly pushed Buck's hand away.

The man came over and put a gun to JD's head. "Shut him up…or I'll do it for 'ya."

"B-B-Buck…it's…s-s-so…c-c-cold," JD cried…the kid was still shivering.

"I said…SHUT HIM UP!!"

"JD…son…quiet." Buck pulled the kid to him and laid the boy's head on his chest…keeping his hand on his head. "Just lay here and be quiet, son."

The leader turned to Chris. "Where's the keys to the van?"

"What?" Chris was dumbfounded. Did this man really think he was going to get away with this???

The man pointed the gun to JD's head again…this time pulling the hammer back…"Don't make me repeat myself again. Give me the keys."

"Look…" Chris tried to reason with the man…"you can't take the van…we have to get the boy to the hospital."

"Give me the Goddamn keys!!!!" the man screamed as he grabbed JD by the collar of his sweater…and yanked him off the cooler…the kid unable to stand on his own, collapsed to his knees.

"Leave him alone!" Vin yelled.

Buck made his way to the kid.

"Get away from him…I mean it…" the man put the gun to JD's head…again…and Buck backed away. "Now…this is the last time…give me the keys…or you can say goodbye to your little friend here."

Chris tossed the keys to the man. The man pulled JD to his feet and half carried/half drug him to the van.

"The boy ain't goin' with 'ya," Vin said more calmly than he felt. He walked towards the van to get JD.

"Stay back…" the man held JD between himself and the other agents. "Boys…get their phones."

A couple of the other men went around collecting cell-phones.

"Look…take the van…take the guns…but we need at least one phone to call for help for the kid…" Chris pleaded.

"Like I'm gonna leave you a phone to call the cops." The man then began to chuckle. "The 'other' cops, I mean. Besides…the kid's comin' with us."

"The hell he is…" Chris moved towards the van.

"Stay back!" The leader was trying to shove JD into the van…but the kid was too weak to help. The man was obviously losing his patience with the boy…and grabbed him and tossed him into the van like a rag doll. The others heard JD land with a 'thud'.

"You've got everything…just…please…leave the boy," Buck was pleading.

"No way…he's comin' with us…to keep you guys in line…"

"He's more trouble than he's worth to 'ya…he's hurt…" Vin said. "Take me instead."

One of the other men turned to the leader. "He is gonna be a heap of trouble…sick like he is…"

"We'll dump him out a ways down the road…after we get away from camp a bit…you can get him there."

"If you don't do what you say…or if you hurt him…anymore than you already have…you 'will' die…I hope there is no misunderstanding on this," Ezra said.

"I don't think y'all are the one's to be makin' threats here," the man snarled.

Buck walked up to the leader. "That boy…he means the world to me…to all of us…you can't take him…just leave him here. Look…we ain't gonna stop you…you've got the van…the guns…the phones…the money…practically all the gear. Just…please…leave him. He ain't worth nothin' to you." Buck's eyes filled as he begged for them to leave his 'little brother'.

"You're right…he ain't worth shit to me…but he's 'obviously' worth a lot to y'all…so I think we'll just keep him for insurance purposes…for a while anyway. Like I said…we'll 'drop' him off for 'ya…down the road a ways," and the men jumped into the van and sped off, covering Buck with a cloud of dust as he ran after the vehicle.

Buck!!" Chris yelled as he and the others were running to try to catch up to Buck.

Of course, they couldn't keep pace with the van…but they were able to follow the tracks.

After following the tracks for about half an hour, Buck began to panic. "They ain't gonna let him go…they're gonna…" he shuddered to think of what they might do to the kid.

"They'll let him go…like they said they would," Chris tried to reassure Buck. "Kid's too much trouble…they ain't gonna want to have to take care of him."

"Yeah…he is too much trouble…so they'll just ki…" Buck stopped when Chris grabbed his arm.

Buck followed Chris' gaze up the road…and saw it…

…the crumpled little form that was lying beside the road…

…his crumpled 'little brother'.

Buck took off in a dead run. He was scared to death of what he may find…but his fear didn't stop him from getting to JD as fast as he could.

He skidded to a stop on his knees…and placed his hand on the boy's neck…

…a pulse…

Thank God!!

Buck moved his trembling hand to push the kid's hair back from his face…and his fears were realized. The men had obviously worked the boy over pretty good before they tossed him from the van.

JD's face was bruised and bloody.

Buck gently touched the kid's face…and JD flinched, but never really awoke. Buck leaned down and whispered in the boy's ear…"Sorry…son…it's Buck…I ain't gonna hurt you. You're big brother's got you now…you're safe."

The other's arrived and Nathan knelt next to Buck, who was still leaning over the boy…still whispering in his ear. "Let me get in here, Buck…"

Buck sat back hard on his backside…the man seemed dazed. Chris knelt behind Buck and put his hand on his shoulder. "Buck…you OK? JD's gonna be OK, Buck…just let Nathan check him out."

"What are we gonna do, Chris?" Now that Buck's fear of not getting the boy back was alleviated…the realization of the dire situation they were in suddenly struck him. "How we gonna take care of the kid…they've got everything."

"We'll think of something when we get him back to camp," Chris said, helping Buck to his feet.

"Well?" Chris looked to Nathan.

"They beat him up some…but they could've done a lot worse, I guess. Let's get him back to camp…try to make him comfortable." Nathan wasn't sure what was actually left back at the camp to make the kid comfortable…but it had to be better than lying on the side of the road.

Buck knelt down and effortlessly lifted the boy up in his arms, cradling him as close to his chest as possible. "He's still cold," Buck fretted, noticing the small tremors frequently running through the youth's small frame. Chris removed his sweatshirt and tucked it tightly under the kid's chin…letting his hand rest on the boy's fevered cheek for a few seconds.

Buck rattled a comforting litany to the boy. JD was still unconscious…but it made Buck feel better. He needed to be talking to the kid…and the fact that the boy wasn't interrupting him…just made it easier for Buck to ramble.

About half way back to the camp…JD started to stir slightly in Buck's arms. "Hey…son…you just rest…just relax."

"Buck???" the voice was barely a whisper.

"Yeah, kid…it's me…just relax…I've got you."

"Thanks…B-B-Buck," the kid smiled…still shivering.

Sweet kid. Hurting as bad as he is…he still manages to bless me with a smile to try to make me feel better.

"Buck??" JD was drifting off again…but needed to say something…to his big brother…first. "Buck??"

"Yeah, kid?"

"Thanks…f-f-for…c-c-coming…after…m-m-me," and the boy was out.

Buck's tear-filled eyes looked to Chris, who was walking next to him. "Does he 'really' think I wouldn't?"

Chris shook his head. "You know JD, Buck. He has no idea of how much he really means to us. I mean…he knows we like him…but I really don't think he knows 'how much' we like him."

Josiah came up behind Buck and Chris and placed a strong hand on each man's back. "We don't just 'like' this boy…friends…we 'adore' him. And if the boy 'did' realize that…my, God…we'd 'never' get unwrapped from around his little finger."


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