ATF Alternate Universe

Disclaimer: The following is a work of fan fiction based on the television series, The Magnificent Seven, formerly of CBS. 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.
Rating/Warnings: PG-13, language. **Major Smarm Warning**

Author's Notes/Comments: The following piece began quite a while ago, but fizzled quickly. Recently hearing a classic rock tune got me thinking about the piece again, and then something monumental happened, which inspired my muse and shook up a day. This little piece of smarm is for Cassie. To the lady who gave us *Buck-Hugs* that make the world right again and the Cass-sapometer, I salute you. And I dedicate this little sprinkle to you <g>.

Special thanks to Jennie for the emergency beta <LOL> and Linda L. for making sure I hung on to this story, and of course mog, for the universe <g>. To the Darlins and Babes, I hope you enjoy <g>. Thank-you Nancy for providing a home for my stories.

Buck Wilmington had just about had enough. The ATF agent had tried -- really tried to ignore it, not wanting to embarrass the kid in front of the other agents. He was trying to be respectful of the kid’s own common sense and independent need to look after himself but, dammit, this last coughing fit, complete with the occasional rattling wheeze, was the last straw -- the big brother in Buck was ready to emerge.

By the time JD Dunne ~ Buck’s roommate, fellow agent, little brother, and overall pain in the ass ~ had had to excuse himself from the briefing room due to an uncontrollable and excruciating -- at least that’s how it looked to the always protective Wilmington -- coughing fit, Buck had already bypassed the worried stage and was rapidly heading straight into frantic mode.

JD had the uncanny ability to bring out the parental side in almost anyone older than him, especially Wilmington. Since the boy was only twenty, and the youngest-ever graduate of the ATF’s SCEP trainee program, all six of the other men making up Chris Larabee’s elite hand-picked squad watched out for him. Although the very young agent had proven himself time and again as a more than capable asset, an unwritten rule amongst the team christened by their peers as The Magnificent Seven had been etched in stone -- watch out for the kid. The fact that JD had the look of a sixteen year-old, and was so damn likable, certainly contributed to the rule’s inception as did, unfortunately, the kid’s other uncanny ability -- finding trouble around every corner.

Although Buck often took his self-appointed role as JD’s guardian and big brother to extremes, this time he did have legitimate cause for concern. As Wilmington’s nightmares could surely attest, he had recently almost lost the boy in a near-drowning. Although his recovery from the incident was almost immediate, the doctors had admonished JD, or rather Buck, to watch out for any symptoms of infection. Pneumonia was of particular concern, since JD had aspirated some of Four Corners’ less than healthy pre-treated water supply into his lungs.

Buck had watched for almost a week now as the kid’s slight cough had escalated into the hacking, wheezing one that drove JD out of the meeting earlier today. And Buck knew that the kid wasn’t getting enough sleep. Hell, none of the team had been since they began working on their current case. ATF sources had advised the agency that a huge shipment of arms, including sophisticated explosives and state-of-the-art detonation devices, were being readied for illegal sale some time next week. Despite their best efforts however, the team was no closer to identifying the buyers, sellers, or location of the deal. Frustration was running rampant in the department, and some ATF agents, including Chris Larabee, were even starting to get suspicious, wondering if ‘the higher ups’ were actually purposely impeding the investigation.

With his youthful enthusiasm and stubbornness driving him, JD could be dedicated to a fault, and Buck had been forced to drag the kid home, practically kicking and screaming, away from his research the last three nights. Unfortunately, this last night Buck didn’t get much sleep either, awakened by JD’s constant coughing. The kid looked like hell today, with little color but for the dark circles under his eyes. In the morning, Buck had hounded the kid about his cough, succeeding only in starting a heated argument. The fight was short-lived though, as Buck realized there was no way the boy was going to stay home, and getting JD wound up was serving no purpose other than increasing the frequency and output of the poor kid's cough. When the normally exuberant kid fell asleep in Buck’s truck on their way to work, Buck knew the kid was in trouble but he relented, deciding that he’d watch out for the boy today and then sit on him all weekend if he had to, to make sure JD took it easy.

Buck consciously had to remind himself not to embarrass the kid by hovering over him at work all day. The Seven were meeting with members of other ATF units joining in their investigation. Although JD certainly deserved the respect of everyone in the agency, there were still agents and officials who questioned team leader Chris Larabee’s decision to give the very young student trainee a highly sought-after place on his team. Buck acting like a doting parent around the boy just wouldn’t do JD or the team any good.

And so when JD had left the briefing room during his eighth -- not that Buck was actually counting -- bad coughing fit of the morning, Buck had successfully resisted the overwhelming urge to follow the boy and make sure he was all right. When JD had returned minutes later, face flushed and looking even worse for wear, Buck checked his emotions for the moment and took comfort in the knowledge that the kid’s ass was his, and he was dragging it to a doctor, come hell or high water, once the other ATF agents were gone.

And now here they were -- coughing fit number ten -- and finally the other agents had left. Buck of course knew he was still gonna have a fight on his hands. JD hated being coddled, especially at work. It was only during the times when JD was seriously hurting or scared that the boy would almost instinctively seek out Wilmington for comfort or support but, if he allowed his mind to overrule his heart, JD’s wall of pride and manhood would appear, and he would fight Buck’s good intentions tooth and nail.

Before Buck had the chance to corner the kid, Larabee popped his head out of his office. "JD, Nathan -- my office." Chris looked serious and the kid immediately bolted from his desk and slid behind Larabee, into his C.O.’s office. Nathan remained at his desk, an inquisitive look on his face. He quickly opened a nearby cabinet and pulled out his medical/first-aid kit, otherwise referred to by JD and Vin Tanner as the bag. Jackson lifted it up for Chris to see and raised his eyebrows questioningly. Larabee nodded and then turned his attention briefly to Buck.

Buck whispered his thanks. He was off the hook. Not only was Chris JD’s boss, he was also quite simply the boy’s hero. Buck knew the boy wouldn’t fight Chris, especially if a direct order was involved.

Nathan Jackson was a former EMT and about the closest thing to a doctor the team could have asked for without actually hiring someone with the initials M.D. after their name. The federal building which housed the ATF unit did have physicians on staff, but Larabee would trust Jackson to let him know if the kid really did need to see a doctor. Chris couldn’t rely on JD’s own assessment. Hell, the boy would tell you he was fine even if he was carrying his head in his hands.

Buck felt immense relief as he watched the door to Chris’ office shut. He trusted Nathan to see past the kid’s bullshit, and he trusted Chris to handle the situation better than he could. After all, that’s why Chris was the leader.

Moments later, after Nathan had taken JD's temperature and listened to the kid’s lungs, Larabee’s door re-opened and the three agents emerged. Chris’ expression was serious and Nathan’s was etched with concern. The kid looked downright miserable.

"Buck." The voice belonged to Chris.

Wilmington tried not to scramble from his chair, and did his best to appear disinterested. "Uh, yeah, pard."

"How’d you like to escort Agent Dunne over to see Doctor Graham? He’s expectin’ you." Chris kept his voice official. "But take a minute to grab your stuff and JD’s. Don’t matter what Doc Graham says, I don’t want to see either of you working this weekend or back here until Monday -- at the earliest." Larabee steered JD over to his chair and admonished the kid to stay.

The fact that JD wasn’t putting up much of an argument, plus Chris’ tone, didn’t exactly ease Buck’s mind as to the current state of the kid’s lungs, but Nathan didn’t look too excited nor did he suggest taking the boy to the hospital, so Buck reigned in his overactive imagination and maintained his cool. "All right. Lemme get our gear."

Buck took a few minutes to gather his and JD’s personal items together. JD tried to slip in some case files but all that resulted in, aside from getting swatted with a manilla file folder courtesy of Buck, was earning twin killer glares from Chris and Nathan. He raised his hands in defeat and slumped back in his chair. As Buck gathered his and the kid’s stuff together, Vin Tanner grabbed the older agent’s arm and offered to deliver the gear to Buck’s truck, so that Buck and JD could head directly over to Graham’s office. Buck sent Vin an appreciative but silent thank-you.

With Buck shepherding JD out into the hallway, all eyes turned to Chris and Nathan. Chris gestured to Nathan, giving him the floor. "Well if he ain’t got pneumonia, he’s borderline, so either way the boy needs a break. I expect the doc’ll give him some antibiotics and send him home to bed for a week. His fever ain’t too bad, so as long as Buck babysits him all weekend, he should start feeling better soon."

The relief in the office was palpable. No one was happy to hear that JD likely had pneumonia, but the fact the kid wasn’t being sped to Four Corners Memorial Hospital was enough to ease their collective worry. Unfortunately, with the number of times they had all been wheeled in there, the ER could be renamed in Team 7’s honor. And none more than their youngest, much to the dismay of Chris Larabee. As many times as the kid had done him proud and made Chris sure his decision to recruit the boy was well worth the red tape and effort he had expended, each time JD got hurt, or each time he had to look into his oldest friend’s anguished eyes because JD had gotten hurt -- well, that just about killed Chris. He knew exactly how much JD meant to Buck and, having lost a son himself, he knew exactly what losing the boy would do to his friend. It didn’t matter that JD was twenty. JD was simply too young to have seen and suffered through everything he had and, although Larabee knew that this time the situation wasn’t grave, knowing that JD had been hurt while on duty yet again, he still couldn’t curb the pangs of guilt he felt while watching Buck usher the boy down the hall.

"He’s in good hands, Chris." Josiah Sanchez, always the voice of reason or comfort, rested a strong hand on Chris’ shoulder.

Ezra Standish agreed. "You couldn’t have played that hand more perfectly, my friend. By giving Mr. Wilmington official sanction to watch over him, JD will give in. Once they return home, I’m confident he’ll let Buck look after him."

Josiah and Ezra were absolutely right. Chris ordering Buck to look after JD made all the difference in the world to the stubborn youth. JD had no choice but to relinquish his care to Buck, because officially Buck had no choice in the matter, either. The boy didn’t put up a fight. Besides, by the time he and Buck had made their way down to the infirmary, JD simply felt too awful to think twice about his pride.

Nathan, of course, was also right. After listening to JD’s lungs and snapping off a few chest x-rays, Dr. Chuck Graham diagnosed JD with pneumonia, undoubtedly caused by the junk the boy had aspirated during his fateful dip in the river, in conjunction with fatigue and simply not looking after himself properly this past week.

After giving JD a shot of Benadryl to help him sleep, Doc Graham wrote out a 2-week prescription for Bactrim and handed it to Buck. He ordered JD straight to bed and warned Buck to keep an eye on the boy, and to bring him back on Monday for a checkup. Graham also instructed a very attentive Buck to head straight for Emergency should JD’s fever spike or if his breathing got much worse.

The ride home to their apartment was unusually quiet. JD slept the whole way again, not even waking while Buck stopped to pick up the kid’s medication or the homemade soup at their favorite local eatery. As Buck drove past all the familiar landmarks heading for home, he kept his eyes on the road and tried not to wince each time he heard the kid take a raspy breath. Once the Chev was parked in its designated spot, Buck leaned towards his sleeping passenger and gently gave him a nudge. "Hey, time to wake up, sport," he said softly.

"Hmmm. Wha-?" Buck smiled as the kid struggled to open his eyes. Good. Benadryl’s working, he chuckled to himself as he watched JD’s hazel eyes flutter open.

"Home, kid. C’mon, let’s get ya on upstairs." The big man unbuckled JD’s seatbelt and admonished his still half-asleep roommate to stay put until he helped him out of the truck. Still trying to clear the cobwebs from his head, JD attempted to shoot Buck an evil, I’m perfectly capable of getting out of the goddamn truck on my own glare but, realizing he didn’t have the energy to pull it off, he simply shut his eyes again and leaned his head back against the headrest to wait.

Deciding he could come back for their gear and re-heat the soup later, Buck made his way around the front of the truck and opened the passenger door. Nudging JD again, he slipped the boy’s arm over his shoulder and eased him out of the vehicle.

JD was so tired. He’d felt like hell for days now, but today was absolutely the worst he’d felt in a long time. As his best friend helped guide him out of the truck cab, the young agent braced himself for yet another excruciating coughing fit. Buck supported the boy and JD gratefully leaned into him. His lungs felt as though someone had poured flaming gasoline down them and the muscles supporting his rib cage, back and shoulders felt as if they’d been on the receiving end of a Mike Tyson temper tantrum. He really was a wreck.

"Easy, kid. I gotcha." As the wracking spasms subsided, and he tried desperately to catch his breath, JD realized he would’ve been on his knees by now if it hadn’t been for Buck. The big man had one strong arm wrapped around him and was stroking the back of his head with his other hand in an effort to help ease JD’s misery. Eyes tearing from frustration, pain, lack of oxygen and more than a little gratitude, JD finally straightened up and looked into the concerned eyes of his best friend and big brother. He couldn’t help but smile. "Thanks, Buck."

Gently tousling the kid’s hair, Buck returned the smile. "Don’t mention it, kid," he said as he once again shifted his position to best help usher his charge into the building.

Leaning heavily on his friend, JD planted one foot in front of the other in an attempt to move forward. It became funny all of a sudden to JD, how his body seemed to disagree with his intended direction and choose down, rather than forward, as his only option. JD couldn’t stifle the giggle as his body began to sway and his knees melted. Wow! Who’da thought Benadryl could get you this stoned?

Buck sensed right away that JD wasn’t going to be getting very far, and tightened his hold on the boy just as he pitched forward. Despite the kid’s tears just moments earlier, JD’s face now wore a tired but silly grin, and his pupils were clearly showing the effects of the drug. Buck couldn’t help but laugh along with the boy but, before the kid’s laughter transformed into those awful hacking coughs that tore through Buck’s soul as much as they did JD’s lungs, the older man decided he had best get serious and get the kid to bed. "Okay, now. You just settle down and hang on, kid. You’re goin’ for a ride."

Before JD could protest, Buck lithely hoisted the kid over his shoulder and proceeded to carry him towards the building’s entrance. Unfortunately, JD’s battered rib cage and lungs reacted immediately and Buck was forced once again to halt his progress. "Damn, son. I’m sorry, kid." Buck continued berating himself for putting JD into what was obviously an uncomfortable position, resulting in another awful fit. He immediately lowered the youth to his feet and held on to him for the duration. JD’s coughs were agonizing for both of them and left the poor kid spent, finally sitting on the ground gasping, by the time the spasm relinquished its hold on him.

JD offered no resistance as Buck shifted his hands from the kid’s waist and gently lifted him into his arms this time, to carry him home.

Whether it was simply due to sickness, exhaustion or the sleeping medication he’d been given, JD settled into bed without fighting Buck at all. In fact, Buck reluctantly had to wake the kid up to give him his first pill, plus get some nourishment into the boy. JD remained awake long enough to have some soup and to apologize to Buck for being such a burden.

Before Buck could tell the kid he was being ridiculous, JD had succumbed to much-needed sleep. The kid’s few words sliced through Buck though, and he resisted the urge to wake the boy and assure him that he was no burden.

As he sat on the edge of the kid’s bed, watching the gentle but still-labored breaths part JD’s lips, Buck continued to contemplate the boy’s words. The kid normally exuded confidence and cockiness, traits which at times exasperated his roommate but more often than not brought a smile to Buck’s face. He hoped that JD’s apology came from simply feeling awful and that JD wasn’t actually feeling insecure about his place in Buck’s life. Maybe it was the drugs talking? Damn, he hoped so.

Carrying his unsettling thoughts with him, Buck turned off the kid’s bedroom light and plodded into the living room, slumping wearily on their sectional couch. He’d left the door ajar to keep an ear out for the boy, to make sure he was all right.

Despite the fact it was still only mid-afternoon, Buck felt exhausted himself. JD’s ordeal had taken a helluva lot out of him too, somehow, but that was okay. JD was going to be fine. That’s all that mattered. Buck smiled. Having JD in his life had been an enlightenment in many ways and, at times like these, he had a renewed respect for his old friend Chris Larabee. Chris Larabee, the father, that is. Was. Damn.

How the hell did he start getting so depressed, Buck wondered.

Burden. Damn. Buck couldn’t shake it.

JD Dunne was definitely no burden to Buck Wilmington. The boy’d been through hell the past five years. Between rocketing through school and never having a chance to make any friends his own age, and his mama being so very sick on and off all that time before he finally lost her -- well, Buck had vowed to himself that as long as the kid was under his roof he was gonna have some fun, and have someone who was bigger and stronger there to look out for him. But that sure as hell didn’t make JD a burden. No, JD was just the opposite -- whatever the hell that was. A gift maybe? Maybe. Buck sure as hell treasured the kid. Nah. It was simpler than that, or more basic anyway. JD was his little brother -- simple.

Buck scrubbed his weary eyes with his hands and tried to rub the melancholy away. He’d have a talk with the boy when he next awoke and make sure JD understood everything. He’d make everything all right again.

Talk -- Shit! Buck realized with alarm that he’d promised to call the office and let Chris and the others know when he’d gotten home. Chris hadn’t wanted to call and disturb the kid’s sleep, so Buck had said he’d check in with them once he got JD tucked in.

With JD resting comfortably, Buck was thankful that Chris had resisted calling him up until now. Buck hurriedly called in to the office to give his full report. Larabee had already spoken with Doctor Graham so his only concern had been ensuring that the kid was getting the prescribed sleep. Pleased with his old friend’s news, Chris turned the phone over to Nathan, who offered his services over the weekend and promised to keep his cell-phone on for its duration in case Buck needed him. Buck was grateful and more than a little moved that his five friends ~ all single, all candidates for the testosterone hall of fame ~ were also all suckers -- when it came to JD Dunne. The kid was gonna be a chick magnet when he grew up, or at least when he stopped looking twelve. Buck was certain of it.

Buck had just looked in on JD’s sleeping form as he made his way over to the kitchen to pour himself another cup of coffee. Although it was past 9 o’clock now, he’d decided against waking the kid to feed him more soup. The kid was in a deep slumber, what Nathan would call a healing sleep, and Buck had no intention of disturbing the kid’s peace. He’d fixed himself a quick bite to eat and had long since put down the Maxim magazine he was reading, but as his eyes began to close, he decided he was due for another coffee.

He threw the wall of sound on very low, and was amazed to hear one of his classic rock CD’s emanate from his speakers. The boy’s learning, he thought smugly. Buck Wilmington would never admit to JD that he actually liked some of the music the kid purchased; well, he did tell JD he didn't mind the Wallflowers, with Dylan's kid of course. Hell, he had too much fun abusing the boy over their silly band names to begin with. Nah, give the 38 year-old agent some Clapton, Cale or, hell, The Eagles anyday. And of course, Jimmy. Now, that was music.

As the stereo began playing one of his favorite Hollies CD’s, Buck resisted the urge to turn up the volume and proceeded to make his way back to the couch with his cup of coffee. He hadn’t made it past the fridge when the phone rang. "Shit," Buck grumbled as he lunged for the phone, spilling some of his coffee in the process and unintentionally allowing the phone to ring a second time. The last thing he wanted to do was wake up the kid. He immediately wondered who in the hell was calling him on a Friday night at 9:30 when suddenly he groaned. Oh, shit! Janet! He’d forgotten all about their date. He was supposed to have picked her up well over an hour ago for dinner and a movie. "Dammit." The big man cringed as he pulled himself together and put on his most charming voice to answer the phone. He needn’t have bothered. His "hello" was drowned out by a very irate Janet Sutcliffe.

"Now, darlin,’ I’m sorry. Just let me explain." Ms. Sutcliffe was not a happy lady.

"I know. I know. I shoulda called, but things got kinda crazy and I plumb forgot about ya." Ouch, this is not going very well at all. "I’m sorry, doll. Somethin’ came up with the kid and . . ."

"Now Janet, that ain’t very nice. And it ain’t true." Buck was starting to get his back up now, but he tried to remain calm and keep his voice down.

"Now, hold on there. Look, the boy’s sick. Real sick. He’s got pneumonia and he needs someone to sit on him for a while, until he starts gettin’ better."

"What’s he doin?’ Well, he’s sleepin’ right now. Been out like a light for a coupla hours. Why?"

"What?! I’m not gonna leave him, not now. For Christ’s sake, Janet. He’s sick!" Geesuz!

"No, he’s seen a doctor and he doesn’t need to be in the hospital, but if we’re not careful he could wind up there. That’s why I gotta be here." Buck couldn’t understand why she was giving him such a hard time over this.

"Now come on, Janet! That ain’t fair. Think about it. JD’s sick and you’re just disappointed about dinner. Whadda you want me to do? The kid needs me here."

Buck was incredulous. "Well, that sure as hell ain’t gonna happen. Oh, come on. Now you’re talkin’ crazy!"

He couldn’t believe she’d ask him to make a choice. That choice. Buck was angry. The choice became easy. "Look, you really don’t want me to answer that, do – Janet!!"

The tall agent stood dumbfounded, looking at his phone. He’d been hung up on. How ‘bout that? Hell, he’d been up front with Janet about him and the kid. Buck shook his head, still not believing that Janet would ask him to choose. He was in shock.

And so was JD.

JD awakened to the phone ringing. Buck had gotten it, obviously, but, when he looked at the clock on his nightstand and realized he’d been asleep for hours, JD decided to get up. He’d go see what Buck was up to and take care of the call of nature, if nothing else. He already felt a helluva lot better, although he knew any deep breaths would bring about another incredibly painful round of coughing, so he eased out of bed carefully and moved slowly towards his open door. God, his chest hurt.

Squinting against the light in the living room JD could hear Buck before he actually saw him. Focusing his bleary eyes, he could see that Buck was in the kitchen, leaning against the breakfast bar, his back to JD. The kid could tell his roommate was uptight about something and, although Buck was obviously trying to keep his voice down, he was having less success as the conversation went on. Still feeling the after-effects of the sleep medication the doctor had given him, JD quietly shuffled over towards the kitchen. Buck was clearly upset and the kid was getting worried that something might be wrong with the case or, worse, with one of the guys.

JD froze in his tracks as he heard Buck’s half of the obviously heated conversation. "JD’s sick and you’re just disappointed about dinner. Whadda you want me to do? The kid needs me here."

JD tried to hold back an involuntary gasp. Oh, God. That’s right. He had a date with Janet!

"Well, that sure as hell ain’t gonna happen." The kid knew that tone. Buck was mad. Really mad. And they were fighting about him. Shit!

"Look, you really don’t want me to answer that, do – Janet!!"


Oh God, she hung up on him! JD felt his eyes sting. They were fighting about me. Shit. Shit. Shit! The kid remained in place, but hardly frozen now. He was shaking all over.

Damn her. With a heavy sigh, Buck set the portable phone back down on the counter, grabbed what was left of his coffee and turned back towards the living room. He came close to dumping his coffee a second time as he almost bumped into JD. "Damn, kid. You tryin’ to give me a heart attack or what!?"

When JD didn’t answer, Buck took a close look at him and immediately set down his coffee. The boy looked awful, as pale as Buck had ever seen him. And JD was trembling. All over. As awful as it sounded, he’d hoped that the boy had been too out of it to pick up the gist of the conversation he’d just had with Janet. How long had JD been standing there? Shit. By the look on the kid’s face, obviously long enough. Buck watched the kid struggle to fight back the tears as his lower lip began to quiver. He reached for JD, but JD backed away from his touch.

"What do you think you’re doing?" The kid sounded shaky, but Buck could still make out the anger in the boy’s weak voice.

Buck decided to play dumb. "Well, I’m about to take you back to bed before you drop, kid. You look like hell." He reached for JD one more time, and this time JD jerked violently away from Buck’s grasp. Unfortunately, the youth’s weary body couldn’t handle the activity and JD doubled over from another agonizing internal assault. The fit seemed to last forever, and Buck’s arms wrapped around him were once again the only reason JD wasn’t on his knees on the floor at the moment. As the kid continued to heave, he grabbed hold of Buck’s arms and focused on Buck’s voice as he rambled off his familiar words of comfort. Making them out didn’t really matter to JD. He knew the litany off by heart by now anyway and, to be honest, it was simply the sound of his big brother’s soothing voice that calmed him whenever he was in trouble like this, hell, even at the worst of times. And, as bad as JD felt, he realized these were hardly the worst of times.

As JD’s breathing began to settle, Buck relinquished his tight hold on the kid and scooted around in front of him. "Y’all right now, son?" Buck’s voice was soft, full of gentle concern. JD simply nodded his head in reply, and Buck wrapped his arm around the kid’s waist, intending to usher him back to bed. "Okay, back to bed, sport."

JD shook his head. "Couch." JD’s voice was a raspy whisper but, despite his exasperation, Buck chose not to fight the boy and risk causing another painful coughing episode. "All right, kid. But you are gonna lay down."

The boy shot Buck a half-hearted glare, but ultimately gave in easily. The two slowly made their way over to the sectional and JD half-sat/half-fell into it. Buck piled some pillows against the inside corner of the couch and lifted JD into the middle, laying him along the one half of the couch. The kid offered little opposition, even as Buck proceeded to tuck the comforter he retrieved from JD’s bedroom around his small form. The kid laid his head back against the pillows and sighed heavily.

Buck knew damn well that JD was upset about Janet’s phone call, and could tell that the boy desperately wanted an explanation but just didn't have the strength to handle the subject tonight. Buck would make it easy for him.

The big man sat down next to the kid. Knowing he was potentially settling in for the night, he stretched his long legs out along the opposite half of the couch and threw his arm over the kid’s head and across JD’s pile of pillows. JD nestled deeper, but still fought the sleep trying to claim him. He felt one of Buck’s hands rest atop his head and shifted slightly to face his friend.

Buck’s eyes glistened and his small smile was warm. "Don’t worry none about Janet, kid. ‘T’weren’t a big deal."

"How can you say that, Buck?" JD wished his voice was stronger. "She just dumped you ‘cause’a me."

"JD, it ain’t about you, all right. ‘Sides, she didn’t dump me. I dumped her, okay?!" Buck’s eyes twinkled. His voice was indignant and JD noticed that it held a hint of humor.

"Shoot, Buck. That’s not what I heard." The kid’s mood was lightening as well. Buck didn’t seem all that upset. Maybe he didn’t really like Janet all that much.

"Kid, just ‘cause I got hung up on, don’t mean that Janet did the dumping, ya know. Just means I didn’t get the last word in ‘s’all." Buck had to laugh at the confused look the kid wore.

"But the fight was about me, Buck, and that ain’t right. It ain’t right at all." JD grew serious again, and Buck couldn’t help his memory from flashing back to JD’s words when they had first gotten home.



"No, kid, it sure ain’t right." He ruffled the kid’s hair lightly and then settled his hand on the boy’s shoulder. "No, son. What Janet tried to do, just wasn’t right at all."

JD looked utterly confused now. He’d thought Buck was actually about to agree with him and tell him that he was interfering with his love-life, but instead Buck went ahead and said that Janet was in the wrong. God, he’d never understand. He turned to Buck once more to ask him outright what the hell he was talking about. "Buck, I don’t understand."

Buck shrugged his shoulders and rubbed one hand over his face. Shit, why was it so much easier to explain to potential new girlfriends where JD stood in his life, than it was to tell it to the kid’s face? And why couldn’t a bright kid like JD figure it out on his own in the first place?

JD broke the uncomfortable silence. "Buck?"

"Dammit, kid…" Before Buck could continue, his face broke out into a broad grin. He’d recognize those chords, anywhere and knew the CD by heart. *Perfect.* He was off the hook for the second time that day. Buck reached for the stereo’s remote control and turned up the volume. JD, seemingly unable to understand his best friend at all this night, was about to question him again, when Buck abruptly halted him with a hand covering his mouth. "Quiet, kid. Just close your eyes, okay. Listen."

JD gave up. He was just too tired to get into this anyway. Wait a minute. JD was listening. And as he felt Buck’s arm drape around his neck, JD felt a lump form in his throat and tears begin to well again. Was it really that simple?

For Buck Wilmington it was that simple.

The road is long
with many a winding turn
that leads us to who knows where,
who knows where.
But I'm strong,
strong enough to carry him.
He ain't heavy, he's my brother.
So on we go.
His welfare is of my concern.
No burden is he to bear,
we'll get there.
For I know
he would not encumber me.
He ain't heavy, he's my brother.
If I'm laden at all,
I'm laden with sadness
that everyone's heart
isn't filled with the gladness
of love for one another.
It's a long, long road
from which there is no return.
While we're on the way to there,
why not share?
And the load
doesn't weigh me down at all.
He ain't heavy, he's my brother.
He's my brother.
He ain't heavy, he's my brother...

"Say, Buck?"

"Um Hmm?"

"You think you could play that again?"

"Sure, kid."

"Thanks, Buck."

"Any time, son. Any time."


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He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother written by B. Scott and B. Russell