Disclaimer: The following is a work of fan fiction based on the TV series "The Magnificent Seven" and is not intended to infringe upon copyrights held by any companies involved with that production. Please do not post this to any website without permission of the author. Feedback is welcome.
Author's Notes: Where does the inspiration for a small expository vignette come from? In this case, from a dollar bill received after a visit to the supermarket. Once again, MTTMFCTAU. (Many Thanks To Mog For Creating This Alternate Universe)
Chris looked over the check for lunch at Inez' Saloon and factored a quick calculation on one of the table's extra napkins. "Twenty dollars each oughta do it, boys."
He waited placidly as the majority of his fellow ATF teammates dug into their pockets, then applied his patented 'Larabee glare' to the one immobile member. "Ezra? Your hands get frozen by the ice in your martini?"
The Southern undercover agent tsked in disgust and folded the hands in question. "Enlighten me regardin' the efficacy of havin' an office expense account, Mr. Larabee, if you don't utilize it?"
"You seem to think it's to maintain your wardrobe and car."
"Both exploited in our occupation, I might remind you." Ezra grudgingly reached into his inner coat pocket as Chris shook his head.
"I told you I'm not signing off on your T & E."
"What'd he try to get past ya this time?" Vin handed him his own twenty.
Ezra snapped a fifty out of his wallet and thumped the table for change, hoping to deflect the conversation. "We need not discuss this in front of the others."
"Well, maybe one of them can justify to me why detailing the Jag should be considered an office expense," Chris responded with an innocent smile.
Buck placed his hand over JD's as the youngest agent on the team brought out his wallet. "No need for that, son. I owe you some money from last weekend."
"Remember eating the leftover Chinese from my date with Linda?"
"So I was a little short of cash that night and I ... uh ... borrowed some from you." Buck shrugged apologetically as he removed several bills out of his wallet. "Twenty'll take care of it."
JD shoved his own wallet back into his leather jacket and pondered the unexpected windfall. "Since when do I keep extra money at home?"
"Since when do any of us have extra money anywhere?" Ezra grumbled, returning his billfold inside his suit.
Buck dropped his and JD's contribution onto the growing pile of money, then performed a final crumb reconnaissance upon his moustache. "In your night table. There was a twenty there."
Nathan tidied up the stack as he added his own twenty. "Well, we all know money's not what Buck keeps in his."
"Nope. Not money but other things worth their weight in gold." When Buck smiled back at his roommate, the chilly expression on JD's face almost caused him to reach for his jacket.
"Who said you could go into my room and take things?" JD's frigid countenance was joined by an equally frosty tone of voice.
Buck knitted his eyebrows in confusion. "Well, we always ..." His words piled into a wreck of confusion at the rare angry stare from his best friend and partner. "I mean, you know ... Mi casa es su casa. You get things out of my room all the time, so I thought "
Chris set a calming hand on the young man's shoulder. "C'mon, son. It was just a twenty dollar bill and he's paying you back."
"It wasn't just any twenty dollar bill." JD stood up with such fury his chair clattered to the floor. "Didn't you take a look at it? Didn't you see there was writing on it?"
Buck fidgeted uneasily. "No, I didn't look at it. I don't usually check for autographs before I pay the delivery guy." He glanced around at their teammates with a strained smile. "Something special about it? What'd, the Treasurer sign it for ya personally?"
"Not the Treasurer. My mom." JD regarded him with an unprecedented disgust. "She wrote a message to me on it. Gave it to me when I graduated high school." He shoved aside the tumbled chair and headed for the bar.
"JD! I didn't know!" Red-faced and hot with embarrassment, Buck placed a shaky hand on the table and started to follow, but Chris stopped him with a look.
"I'll talk to him."
"I didn't see it, Chris. I swear, I would never...."
"He knows. He just can't think of that right now." Chris set his shoulders at a peremptory angle and strode across the room.
Comforting hands sheltered the older agent and urged him back down into his seat. "I didn't know...."
JD kicked the bar's brass rail and choked on the first half of the double shot of whiskey he'd ordered as he felt, rather than saw, the black-clad man's approach. "He had no right!"
Chris grabbed him around the biceps, splashing the drink onto the mahogany bar. "He had every right." He took the glass from the young man's hand and placed it down. "You need to calm down, son."
"Really! And what if he'd thrown out a note from Sarah or a picture from Adam?" JD picked up the drink again and tossed the remains back, drowning his shame at using the most damning example to justify his anger.
"They're things, JD," Chris responded grimly. "And I'd regret it." He motioned for the bartender to bring him the same as his companion. "But I wouldn't end a friendship over it."
"Sometimes ... he just doesn't think!"
"No, he doesn't think, but he always feels." Chris took a sip of his drink. "How do you think he's feeling now?"
"Terrible, I hope. Worse than terrible." JD clutched the edge of the bar's counter, his knuckles turning white with the pressure. "I suppose you think this is stupid. What's a twenty dollar bill these days anyway?"
Chris took another small sip and waited.
"You know my ma was a cleaning lady. Got paid in tens and twenties all the time." JD sighed. "She'd leave me money on my dresser. Just like her clients," he spat out bitterly. "Money for lunch at school or for books or whatever I needed. But ..."
He released his hands and hunched over the bar. Avoiding Chris' eyes, he traced slow circles in the spilt liquor with his thumb. "You know, with her schedule and my schedule, there were plenty of times when we wouldn't see each other for days. So when she left money for me which I didn't really need 'cause I've been working since I was twelve " he declared defensively, "sometimes she'd write something on it."
A reluctant smile crossed his face. "Some of it was so mushy or embarrassing, I was only too glad to get rid of it. You know, stuff like 'I love you' or 'Don't forget to buy new underwear'."
Chris formed his own smile, remembering a few notes his wife Sarah had written in his ticket book when he was a young policeman on patrol.
"When I graduated high school, I didn't care that I didn't get a car or a trip to somewhere like the other kids." He looked up at the older man, his eyes shining. "She gave me sixty bucks after the ceremony. A day's pay to her at that time, I knew, and ..." His breath caught. "She said to spend it on something special. Well, forty of it I spent on flowers for her 'cause she was back in the hospital again only two weeks later...."
His voice thickened with emotion and he blew out a breath to gain control. "But on the third bill she had written a poem. All along the edges, you know? I couldn't spend that one. I've always kept it beside my bed."
"Buck would never have used it if you had told him."
"But he went into my personal stuff!" JD protested.
"Uh huh. And tell me again why he had to stay in the comm van on the Yuma Street raid because you couldn't find your own bulletproof vest and walked off with his. Without telling him. You know he got a reprimand for that."
"I had an earlier site call," JD defended. "Besides, this is different."
"Then maybe you shouldn't have left the money in a place where he could have found it. Or, should've told him long ago that your mother had inscribed it and it wasn't to be spent."
The black-haired youth shook his head vehemently. "Don't make this my fault!" Recklessly, he appropriated his boss' drink and swallowed half, grimacing at the taste. "You can tell him I don't want him touching my things anymore. I don't want him going in my room anymore." He downed the last of the whiskey. "In fact, maybe I need to look for my own apartment!"
Chris let JD wallow in his misery for a moment, then finally replied, "Yeah, that'll make everything right."
JD huffed out an angry response and shook his head again.
Chris looked back over to his team's table where the other agents still lingered, still comforting their dejected friend. He'd seen the hangdog look in the tall man's eyes many times over the years, too often brought on by his own thoughtless actions. When JD joined the team and developed an unexpected bond of brotherhood with Buck he'd felt grateful that his oldest friend had finally found the unconditional love he deserved for his years of selflessness.
"Ya ever wonder why Buck Wilmington, revered idol to bachelors everywhere, bought a condo with two bedrooms?"
"So he wouldn't wear out the mattresses too quickly?" JD retorted.
Chris answered with a disapproving glare. "I went with him to check out the place before he put down the payment. He'd never had a permanent home before and this was a big step for him."
Absentmindedly, he grabbed a cocktail napkin and sopped up the liquid on the bar. "And I asked him what he needed a second bedroom for. He had no family, no one who visited from out of town. He'd been so absorbed with his work and with me and Sarah and Adam Adam was two at the time I just couldn't figure it."
JD deliberated the contradiction. It had never crossed his mind before should it have? Buck had no reason for a second bedroom. No right-thinking bachelor would have considered it, and there was a perfectly good couch for anyone to crash on, anyway. He fought back an unwelcome shiver of guilt.
"So I ask him why. I mean, there was another apartment in the building. Good view, same utilities, one bedroom. But he doesn't back down." The wet napkin began to shred in Chris' fingers. "He just knew he had to have a second room. I teased him that Adam was too young for a sleepover and with all the women who'd be parading in and out of there I wasn't sure I'd ever let him. But he was adamant. And then he says, real quiet-like...."
Chris paused, lost in time. He bunched up the fragments of the napkin into a soggy pile before picking up the narrative. "He said that that room was gonna be for his own family. He didn't know who or how or when but he could wait and then, he was gonna need another room. Which was an incredibly strange thing to say, because, you know, any sensible man looking to have a family would've bought a house, not an apartment in a swinging singles complex."
"Buck isn't particularly sensible."
"You don't have to preach to the choir. And I'll tell you the truth, since he bought the duplex ten years ago the only person who's stayed in that room has been me, when he'd pour me into bed 'cause I was too ..." Chris let the thought drift off. "Until you."
JD handed him a stack of dry napkins. "I knew that'd be the punch line."
Chris finished blotting up the spill. "I know there's no getting back the item. And I know that it hurts," he said softly. His jaw clenched and he struggled to maintain his emotions. "You've just got to swallow it. Keep it on the inside. You won't make him feel any worse than he does right now."
"I can try," JD smirked.
"C'mon, son. I know you don't mean that."
"No, I don't." The young man fished his motorcycle keys out of his pocket. "I just can't look at him for a while."
Chris nodded his understanding.
JD waggled the keys. "If it's okay with you, I'm going to go over to the shooting range for the afternoon. I gotta work on my pattern anyway, all my reports are in, and I could use some cliched macho posturing to work this out of my system."
The team leader liberated the keys from JD's hand and smiled sympathetically. "You've just had four shots of whiskey, kid. You're not getting anywhere near a vehicle or a gun."
"Busted," was the muttered reply.
"Why don't you take a long walk back to the office. Maybe stop off at Starbuck's and pick up a latte for Ezra. Tell him you expensed it. You can pick up your rice rocket after five."
"No problem, kid."
"Just do me one thing?"
Chris arched an eyebrow in query.
JD glanced over at his stricken partner and roommate. "Make him do a lot of filing this afternoon."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The day dragged on as JD nursed two cups of bad coffee-chain caffeine while doing a lot of thinking and glancing at his watch. Finally the big hand pointed to the five and he mustered up the reserve to get his keys from Chris and head home. He anchored his bike next to Buck's Chevy truck and lingered in the parking structure, wishing that his roommate hadn't had the nerve to be there when he returned.
For a moment, in the quiet, darkened apartment, he wasn't all that sure Buck was there, so he called out for confirmation.
"Hey, JD," he heard back weakly.
The light of the fading sun could just barely be seen under the jamb of Buck's closed door as JD dropped his helmet on the couch and headed up the stairs to the duplex's master bedroom. Opening the door slowly, he found the older man sitting cross-legged on his king-sized brass bed, holding a beat-up cigar box on his lap. "Whatcha got there?"
"Ya know I never would have given away that twenty if I'd've realized ... I should have checked it." Buck raised an obviously tear-stained tissue to his eyes, then blew his nose vigorously into the rapidly-deteriorating fibers. "I'm so sorry, JD. I feel awful."
"I know," JD bit out. "So do I, but I'll get over it. We both will."
"You know if anyone can understand your loss, it's me." His friend viewed him hopefully. "Could you say ya forgive me someday?"
Buck's red-eyed and forlorn expression gave him the desperate need to laugh, but JD shook his head with a teasing grimace and reiterated, "Not until you show me what you've got there."
"Huh? ... Oh....You dog." His relief at absolution eased twenty years off his face. Scooting backwards, he patted the quilt for his roommate to join him. "We're all right?"
"You know I can't stay mad at you too long, you goof." JD looked down at the haphazard pattern of the bedspread and hitched a breath. "It was an honest mistake. I should've put it in a safer place and you should go the bank more often.
"It's not like I can't remember the words she wrote, I read them about a bizillion times." He looked back up at his best friend. "It's just tough to lose something she gave me, you know? Something she touched. I know, I have the memories but ..." He warmed at his friend's sympathetic nod. "We're all right. Now, what is that!"
"Okay, okay." Delicately, Buck removed the two large rubber bands which seemed to be all that held the battered box together and ran his fingers over the torn and faded label. "This is ... these are my ... well,..." He set the box between them and raised the fragile top reverently. "Ya know ma and me, well, we moved around a lot because of her ... career."
JD held back comment, wondering how being an exotic dancer, or more accurately a stripper, could be considered a career. Then he blushed at his rude thought, which Buck interpreted as respectful sympathy.
"I couldn't own a lot of things, what with packing up at a moment's notice typically and all." Buck wrested some items out of the densely-packed box. "So early on I decided that I'd make sure at minimum I'd get out with this." He gestured over the material like a magician effecting a magic spell. "Important documents and stuff. And important ... memories."
He culled out a few papers and set them to one side. "But I really got this out 'cause there's something I wanna show you and I know it's in here somewhere."
"Can I?" JD tapped a finger on the pages.
The first pile revealed a birth certificate for Buck, the condo ownership papers, a death certificate for his mother, and a folded report card from fifth grade with a scrawled comment beside the less than stellar grades:
Dear Mrs. Wilmington,
Buck is a vital member of our class, offering his wonderful senses of humor and chivalry, but he could offer so much more! Please come to discuss with me when you can.
Buck handed him more of the box's contents. Valentines. A football jacket letter. Class portraits of girls with sweet sentiments written on the back. A "Get Out Of Jail Free" card.
"From my first captain," Buck responded when JD asked about it.
Layer after hard-packed layer emerged. A white glove from his police uniform. Several cocktail drink umbrellas. Fortunes from fortune cookies. More photos. "Who is this?" JD asked breathlessly. He held up a black and white picture of a provocatively-posed woman dressed in only a hula skirt, with the caption "Ginger Pie".
"Check the other side."
JD flipped the card around and read the inscription. "To a long and successful love life." 'Long' had been underlined several times. "Who?"
"My first," Buck proclaimed. "In Baton Rouge."
"How old were you no, wait, I don't want to know!"
"Well, remember I grew up in the South, where we're allowed to drive tractors when we're fourteen."
"And a half," Buck acquiesced.
JD groaned and went back to pawing through the stack. He hadn't realized how puritanical a Bostoner he could be until he'd hooked up with the unabashedly earthy mustachioed man beside him.
He picked up a sheet of paper and unfolded it to reveal a picture of a beautiful brunette woman in pasties, a G-string and fishnets. She looked very familiar and JD felt a strange twinge pinch his stomach. Handing it over carefully, he asked, "Is this your ma?"
"Yup. From the only time she headlined. In Shreveport." Buck held up the creased, greasy flyer announcing "One Night Only - Beverly Hills!"
If his friend hadn't already reached up and turned on the ceiling fan's light, the room could have easily been lit by the blush on JD's cheeks. "You kept that," he muttered.
"As opposed to a pair of her tit tassels?" Buck grinned and thumbed through the box. "Well, they're in here somewhere, too."
"That's okay! I believe you." He found another, more formal picture of an adolescent Buck and his mother, who was holding a baby. "Who's that?" he asked hesitantly.
Buck took the picture and looked at it for a moment before replying. "Ma and me and my younger brother Beau." He traced the image affectionately. "He died of SIDS before he was two. 'Course we didn't know that's what it was then." Blotting his eyes with the palm of one hand, he placed the picture on the night stand. "Maybe I should frame this."
"I'm sorry, Buck. You never told me."
The older man mirrored his gaze with his own sad eyes. "JD, I didn't even learn your middle name until last year. I know it feels like we've known each other forever ... anyway, it does to me. That's 'cause I think we have so much in common, despite our obvious differences." He teasingly flicked a blue tassel across the younger man's cheek.
JD flinched, startled at the object and the action.
"But I suppose it's good to leave a few things to discover about each other through the years," Buck continued. "And I do hope you stay that long. 'Cause I was ..." Abruptly, he swallowed his thought and tossed the tassel back into the box.
"You were waiting for me," JD said softly.
Buck narrowed his eyes at the comment. "Waiting?"
"Something Chris said to me earlier. About why you had to have a second bedroom and ..." JD's voice trailed off. "I suppose it was a private thing you said to him that he shouldn't have told me."
"What I said to Chris?"
"Forget it." JD returned to checking the box but Buck stayed his hand.
"I had," he admitted honestly. "I hadn't thought about it until just now but ... It's okay, what Chris said to you. He's a friend. He was a good friend once."
JD extracted his hand slowly. "He's more than a friend, Buck. He's family." Tentatively, he clasped Buck's forearm, who returned the action.
"So are you."
The young man smiled, then dipped his head in pride. "Well, I am the only one you've let live in that room."
Removing his grasp suddenly, Buck exclaimed, "Oh really? Well, now that you realize how important you are to me, I'm going to have to raise your rent!"
JD blanched, which brought a hearty laugh to his roommate's lips. "Psych!"
Now Buck leafed through the box rapidly, handing his friend more pictures, many of them taken with Chris and Sarah and Adam, as well as drawings and cards from his godson. But whatever he was looking for with dogged perseverance wasn't showing up, amidst his mutterings of "Where is it?" and "Goddamn, I swear it's in here."
JD held out a playing card. "I'm sure you got this from Ezra."
Buck took it from him and regarded its fanciful illustration depicting the Queen of Hearts. "Not exactly got." He slipped the card up his sleeve. "This was from the first and only time I successfully cheated the mis-cre-ant." The card fell out and both men laughed. "I think I lost five pounds that night sweatin' fear of discovery."
Then a small tied bandanna found its way into JD's hands. He opened it, spilling the contents carefully onto the quilt, and stretched out beside them. There were two small, oddly-shaped pieces of metal, three marbles, and three small and one large tooth. He raised his eyes to his companion. "This definitely requires an explanation."
"The bandanna's from Vin. I 'borrowed' it from him on our first fishing trip." Buck sorted through the collection. Picking up the two flattened metal pellets, he weighed them in his hand. "The first bullet I took. The first bullet you took," he recited soberly. "That you took for me," he corrected. "My three best marbles. Three of Adam's baby teeth, and " He held up the adult tooth and winced. "One of mine."
"Gross." JD picked up his bullet. "I can't believe you kept this."
Buck handed him several related items. "The rosary Josiah gave me while I waited in Emergency. A paper Nathan wrote out explaining your injuries, the procedures they were doing to you and what to expect." He tousled the younger man's hair. "He never mentioned the amount of vomiting which would ensue."
Then Buck tossed a small slip of plastic at his friend. "You want your hospital bracelet?"
JD whistled in awe. "Geez, Buck, this is like looking through Mary Poppins' bag. There ain't nothing you ain't got in there!"
"Hopefully, better grammar at least."
The younger man grabbed for the box. "What else've you got of me in there?"
"Aw, be careful!" Buck raised it out of his reach. "A couple 'a things. Pictures and such."
JD's jaw dropped. "Not the one "
"Oh, yeah." Buck palmed one picture out and into his shirt pocket. "Bare-assed Dunne making his bust. Like the Canadian Mounties, John Darling Dunne always gets his man pants or not!"
JD pointed his finger menacingly. "I'm getting that picture back!"
Buck dropped the box and held up his hands in innocence. "No use threatening me. Josiah's got the negative carefully stashed away."
More items flew JD's way. Several more pictures of them together. Christmas and birthday cards. A plane ticket to Boston with a small loop of pink ribbon taped to it. "Hey?"
Buck glanced over. "When we went to unveil your mom's headstone."
"And another from our trip to New Orleans?"
"Maybe that should go with the picture of Ginger Pie." The older man grinned proudly. "I'm only sorry you don't have a picture of your first, pard."
"Oh, I got the memories, pard. Vivid memories." JD rolled over on the bed and smiled at the ceiling. "Unlike you, I don't need a picture to remind me what Charmaine looked like." Unconsciously he stuck his hand under his pants' waistband and sighed, lost in thought. Then,
"Oh my God," he heard Buck swear.
"What?" Sitting up, he was handed a newspaper clipping entitled "DENVER PD GRADUATES LATEST TASK FORCE". And there, standing prominently in the line of proud graduates, was Buckingham Wilmington IV, resplendent in uniform and Fu Manchu moustache. "Jeez, Buck. You look like one of the Village People."
Buck grabbed the page back and laughed at the picture. "Which is precisely why I trimmed the 'stache the very next day." He pointed at another graduate in the back row. "Get a load of that stud."
"Oh my God," JD swore back. "That's Chris!"
"Uh huh." Buck laid the creased article on the quilt. "That's when we were both promoted to Homicide."
"You paired up then?"
"Not right away. Chris and I were friends first. We sorta started working together on a trip we made to New Orleans not for the same reason we went." Buck looked away. "He helped me a lot with Mom's murder investigation."
Almost at the bottom of the box, he pulled out a few more pieces of paper, then crowed triumphantly. "Finally!" He held a stained cocktail napkin in his hand and flipped it over and back again.
From his vantage point, JD could see handwriting, but couldn't make it out. "What is it?"
Buck sheltered the napkin between his hands. "When you told me the reason you were so upset about me spending the twenty was because your ma had written on it, I remembered something." He paused, weighing his words in his mind before speaking again. "I know it sounds like I'm making this all up to console you, JD, but ... my ma wrote me notes, too.
"Not on money," he added ruefully. "Money didn't last long in our house. But every so often she'd stick a note in my lunch bag, or leave something on the kitchen table." He held out the paper in his hand. "She'd use the cocktail napkins from whatever place she was working."
Picking up the newspaper clipping, he viewed it side by side with the napkin. "She came upon this somewhere. Who knows, maybe one of my 'uncles' was an English professor, I dunno." He re-read the inscription to himself. "She gave this to me when I was promoted and ... it's seen me through a lot since then. Always gives me hope."
Solemnly, he handed the napkin to JD. Buck began to replace the box's contents, fidgeting in anxiety as his friend studied the words. It felt like a lifetime to him before JD finally looked up.
Buck held his breath, unable to gauge the reaction, hoping he hadn't offended the young man who meant so much to him.
Aware of their unusual bond of circumstance, aware of their remarkable connection of coincidence, he shouldn't have been surprised by JD's response.
"Buck," the younger man handed him back the napkin, giggling, "It's the same poem my mom wrote out for me."
Two days later, JD returned from lunch with a brown paper-wrapped package and handed it to Buck.
"This ain't going explode in my face now, is it?" his partner asked suspiciously. "You know I've got an important date tonight."
The attention of their teammates was upon them, completely confused that after their recent blow-up, JD would be the one giving Buck a gift.
Cautiously, he pulled off several pieces of tape.
"It's a peace offering, " JD answered, with a gleam in his eyes. "With one stipulation."
"And what's that?" Buck slipped the package out of the wrapping to discover a good-sized box of fine, imported cigars.
The young agent shared a smile with his best friend. "I get to keep the box."
If one advances in the direction of his dreams
And endeavors to live the life he has imagined
He will meet with a success
Unexpected in common hours
- Henry David Thoreau
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