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JD pressed on the headphones harder. What was that sound, he wondered. It almost sounded as if someone had grunted, as if being hit. He could still hear Ezra talking to Coleman. His cover was intact, the words rolling out of his mouth as easily as the liquid off a waterfall. So, who had made the sound? He knew to not break radio silence if it wasn't urgent. He'd jumped the gun and screwed up enough in his first eight months with the team. He was not planning on doing it again which, at times, made him overly cautious. Deciding to wait a few minutes, he went back to the conversation.
"...and I believe that is the entire order that we requested. You are most efficient, Mr. Coleman. My associates will be pleased. Now, as to delivery..." Ezra's voice dropped off. JD bent over the console, as if it would help him hear better. Suddenly Ezra's voice came over the airwaves again. "And what, may I ask, is this?" His southern drawl drew out the last word.
Coleman's voice came over the headphones. "I believe this is what is known as "Checkmate", Mr. Standish." At the use of Ezra's real name JD bolted straight up. Ezra had been made. JD waited for Chris to give word to move in. Silence. Something was very wrong. JD yanked off the headphones and jumped out of the van. He placed a small receiver in his ear as he ran through the shadows to the side of the warehouse. Moving quietly, he crept up to a window and peeked in. What he saw made the blood drain from his face. In the center of the room stood the entire team, except for Vin, who was on his knees on the floor, a bloody hand to the right side of his face. Chris stood directly behind him, a hand on his shoulder for support. Well, that explained the noise JD thought to himself. Must have been Vin being taken down.
JD moved away from the window and pressed his back against the metal building. At least, backup wasn't far away. JD glanced at his watch. Two minutes had passed. Seems like they would have been here by now, he thought to himself. That thought was quickly explained away with the next voice he heard.
"So, Larabee, not so cocky now are you?" Spenser's voice was unmistakable. JD knew immediately there would be no backup. Spenser was the contact in the local police department. If he was in on this, there would be no help coming. The young agent recalled the attitude Spenser had taken with their team leader when they had first arrived and informed local authorities of their presence and the reason for it. If he were a part of the gun runner's gang, that explained a lot about his aggressive behavior towards Chris. JD turned back to the window as Spenser asked, "Where's the kid-JD?" He stared at each member of the elite team.
"He didn't come." Chris' voice was soft, but JD caught the tone of anger that each of the team had come to recognize as dangerous.
Spenser tried to stare the ATF team leader down. Finally, he turned away. He walked right to Buck. "Where's your partner, Wilmington? You two are usually joined at the hip."
JD prayed for Buck to remain calm. More than likely, he was contemplating grabbing the man's throat and squeezing the life out of him.
Buck glared at Spenser momentarily, but shook his head. "Chris is telling ya the truth. Stupid little shit tripped over his own feet back at the hotel and broke his arm this afternoon. Fell down a flight of stairs and fractured his right arm in two places. I was pretty sore at him at the hospital, but now... well, I'm just glad he's not here to see this." The lie rolled off Buck's tongue like honey off a biscuit. Again, Spenser studied Buck's face, trying to read him.
Josiah's voice came through the earpiece. "I never thought the lads' penchant for injuries would serve him so well."
Coleman's voice broke the tension. "Come on, Jack. Kid's not here. Let's get on with this and get out of here."
Spenser stood his ground for another moment, then, turning, he chuckled. "I guess the kid's the lucky one tonight. He gets to live." The words hit JD physically.
"Shoot." JD clenched his fists. 'Think. You have to do something.' JD ran back to the van and jumped in. Making a quick call on the mobile to inform headquarters of the situation and requesting assistance, JD made a decision. Buck was going to be mad, but, hopefully, he would still be alive for Buck to threaten with death again once it was all over. He started the van, gunning the engine.
Spenser turned to Coleman. "Shoot them and leave the bodies for the ATF to find. Having their number one team totally destroyed should rock them on their heels for a while. Take the shipment down to the dock for delivery to the buyer." Turning, he tossed the team a final salute. "Goodbye, boys. It was fun while it lasted."
Vin Tanner struggled to stand. Chris took the younger agent's arm and helped him to rise. Vin glanced at his friend; a silent message of thanks sent. Buck looked up and thanked God that JD had been undiscovered and prayed that he would remain so. Ezra straightened his tie and smoothed his suit coat. Josiah whispered a prayer for the six, as Nathan took a step back and braced his feet against the blows he was expecting.
Suddenly the room was filled with the shrieking of tortured metal, the stench of burning rubber, and blinding lights as the black 4x4 Suburban tore through the far wall like an enraged bull.
Everyone in the room turned toward the sound, momentarily frozen. The ATF team recovered first. Their weapons were all lying on a table twenty feet from where they stood. As one, they bolted for the table and the weapons. The gunrunners recovered, but chose to fire at the armored vehicle bearing down on them. Although the windshield spider webbed, it did not break. JD spun the wheel and the big vehicle swung around 360 degrees, sending the armed men running in all directions. The diversion gave the team the time needed to reach the weapons. Intending to get closer to the rest of the team and use the armored vehicle as cover, JD swung the vehicle around, just as one of the gunmen threw a volley of fire at him, hitting the tires on the van. The vehicle lurched around towards the very men JD was trying to save. He jerked the wheel around and sent the vehicle flying through the big doors behind the team and disappeared down a ramp. Buck saw the look of fear on the kid's face. He also saw the determination behind that fear. Bullets were flying all around, so he drove behind some crates and returned fire. He couldn't be certain, but he thought he heard sounds of the vehicle crashing. He drove his fears back. First: secure the scene. When that was done, he could check on JD.
The firefight was intense, but short lived. When the shooting stopped, four of eleven gunrunners were dead and three more wounded, including Coleman. Spenser was nowhere to be found. Chris was not worried. He knew the man would turn up. In his heart, he knew that he and Spenser would have a showdown-sooner or later. Chris looked at his team-good men each of them. They had been lucky tonight. By all rights, they should all be dead. Instead, Buck and Ezra covered the prisoners while Josiah bound them. Nathan, who had a pressure bandage applied to his own right leg, was checking Vin. His head was still bleeding some, plus he had a limp from landing on his knee when Chris slammed into him at the beginning of the gunfire. Chris turned and saw Buck looking at the bay doors. Chris walked over and clasped Buck on the shoulder. "I'll take over here. You go check on the kid."
Buck was off before Chris finished speaking. The youngest member of the team would have joined them by now if he could. Chris hoped he wasn't badly injured. The entire team was close knit, but JD held a special place in all their hearts. To lose their youngest would be devastating, especially to Buck, who viewed the boy as a "little brother". He watched as Buck ran through the big door and slid to a halt. Chris turned away as he heard sirens in the distance. Backup was close at hand. Josiah was binding the hands of the last suspect as red lights splashed the walls of the warehouse. Chris glanced back at Buck in time see his friend of many years drop to his hands and knees and lose his lunch. "Oh, God." Chris knew it was bad. The entire team turned toward the door. Buck had not moved. Nathan and Vin joined Chris. "Chris, ya'll go to Buck. I need to check those three and then I'll be out." Nathan said.
Vin Tanner was already headed for the door. Chris caught up with him as they reached Buck. The sight of the van shook both men to the core. There appeared to be no way anyone could have survived the damage inflicted on the Suburban.
The black vehicle had left the ramp at an angle, bouncing off the edge of the ramp and slamming under a trailer parked to the side. The hood was crumpled up to the windshield, which was gone. The front half of the roof was pushed back to the second seat and the front seats were broken and laying on the second seat cushions.
Chris put his hand on Buck's shoulder. He could feel the tremors that ran through Buck's muscles as he stared at the devastation done to the metal. How could human flesh withstand forces that ripped metal? "I can...can't go. I don't...I don't want....to see." Buck stammered over his words, his voice barely a whisper. Chris gripped the big man's shoulder and turned to look at the team sharpshooter. Vin nodded and stepped off the ramp, heading for the driver's door.
Because of the way the truck was jammed Vin could not get either of the doors open on the left side of vehicle. He went to the back door and climbed in through the electronic array to the second seat, but that was as far as he could go. The roof was crushed down almost to the top of the second seat. He steeled himself to look at the drivers seat. Vin could see the twisted steering wheel with the airbag hanging limply from the center. Not even an airbag could help anyone sitting in that seat. But there was no blood on the airbag. There was no body in the driver's seat. Pushing forward as far as he could, Vin caught a glimpse of something white on the floor under the passenger side of the dash. Looking hard, he recognized a hand. JD was in the floorboard of the front seat.
"Chris, I can't reach 'em. But I can see him on the floor." Vin started to call to JD when he heard a soft groan, the white hand moved. "BUCK!! Get up here! He's alive!"
Like a switch had been flipped on, Buck flew into action. He stopped at the back door as Vin backed out. "We can't reach him this way. Try the right front door."
Vin jumped down, forgetting about the bruised knee from earlier. Buck was already at the door. The vehicle was jammed pass the firewall, the trailer floor creating a roof replacing the one torn away. The front door was popped ajar, but wedged tight. Buck grabbed the handle and pulled. Nothing happened. "It's jammed, Buck. Chris! We need a crowbar or something."
Vin turned back as Buck grabbed the doorjamb with both hands and put his foot on the back door. "Buck. Wait until we get a crowbar."
Buck never hesitated. He pushed and pulled with everything he had. Vin could only watch and hope that the older agent did not blow a blood vessel he was straining so hard. He started to reach for Buck's arm when he heard the door start to creak. Suddenly, the door swung open with a shriek of protest, revealing the item Buck Wilmington was after. He stopped short of reaching in and dragging the kid out. If he were badly injured, Buck knew it could do more harm to the young agent. So he drew a ragged breath and squatted down next to the kid's head. "JD? Can you hear me, son?" The night seemed eerily quiet. Then, slowly, JD turned his head to face Buck.
"Man, where have you guys been? I feel like I've been stuck in here for hours. I thought you guys were..." JD's voice caught and a single tear rolled down his cheek from his huge hazel eyes.
Buck took hold of JD's hand. "Sorry, kid. We had to clean up that mess you left inside first. "
"Sorry, Buck. I was just scared maybe you guys were...Sorry."
"Don't worry kid. We're great. You ready to come out of there?" Buck asked, patting the cold hand of the boy. JD nodded, so Buck reached in and took JD's arms to help him out.
"OW! OW! Don't pull. Don't!" JD cried out. The sound rocked Buck back on his heels. He saw the tears gather in the kid's eyes.
"What? What's wrong, kid?"
"My foot. It's caught on something." JD looked up at Buck and noticed his pale features. "I'm fine, Buck. It just caught me off guard."
"OK. Just don't say you're fine." Buck started to enter the vehicle. Vin put his hand on the larger mans arm.
"Buck, let me. I don't think you'll fit, unless you want to crawl over JD."
Chris took Buck by the shoulders. "Buck, step back and let Vin in there."
Buck looked down at his young roommate and best friend. He had his head resting on his arm, not looking at any of the men. Buck stepped back, allowing Vin to squeeze in under the trailer floor. The wiry sharpshooter inched across the seat and over the console until he could reach the pedals of vehicle. Vin's muffled voice came out of the dark. "I can't see anything. Anybody got a light?"
Buck heard a giggle and then JD's hand snaked around behind his back. "Here you go " JD rolled his face back and looked at Buck He giggled again. "Everything out of the glove compartment is under me. Need a map?"
Buck rolled his eyes. Reaching down to push JD's dark hair out of his eyes, he told him, "Shut up and be still." Then he smiled at his young partner.
"OK, Buck "
"Damn, JD. How'd you do this? You got your right foot under the gas pedal and over the brake." He reached over the slapped the younger man on the leg. "I've got to twist your leg some, so hold on. Try and relax."
"Ok." JD clenched his eyes. "OW!"
Buck jerked his head as Vin kicked his right leg out. "Careful Vin. Ya nearly took my head off." Buck reached out and grabbed Vin's leg to keep it away from JD's head.
Vin turned the flashlight off. "Ok. He's free."
Buck reached down and, for a second time, took JD by the arms and pulled. This time he pulled the kid all the way out of the wrecked vehicle and stood him up straight. He ran his eyes up and down, checking the younger man for injuries. "You OK?"
"I'm fine, Buck." JD moved away from the door so Vin could get out of the vehicle.
As Vin backed out, Chris put a steadying hand on his back. "You alright?" Vin straightened up, and then bent over backwards to work the tension out of his muscles. He turned and looked at Chris, nodding his head. Chris took Vin's face in his hand and turned it toward the light. "What happened to your face?"
The sharpshooter had a bruise forming alone his right jaw line and blood ran from his mouth, "Oh, I'm OK. Just contracted a small case of hoof and mouth disease-my mouth and JD's foot." Vin laughed as he wiped the blood from his face.
JD and Buck had turned to other men at Chris' question. JD dropped his head. "I'm sorry Vin. I thought I kicked the seat."
"It's ok, kid. I should have moved my head out of the way." The tracker reached over to tousle the kid's hair. JD flinched away when Vin touched the top of his head. Buck instantly took JD's face in his hands and began to search for injuries.
"I'm fine, Buck. I just hit my head on the roof when I went off the ramp." JD squirmed in Buck's grasp.
"I don't see any blood." Buck released his young friend and placed his hands on the youth's shoulders. "You weren't wearing your seat belt." It was a statement, not a question.
Chris spoke up. "Probably what saved him. When he went off the ramp, he bounced up and hit the roof, went limp and slid onto the floor." Chris looked at the damage done to the heavy vehicle. "Damn lucky, kid." Everyone nodded. If JD had taken time to buckle up, he would be dead now. Buck shivered at the thought.
Chris winked at Buck. "Man, kid, it'll take years to pay this off."
JD's head jerked up. "What?"
"Yeah.," Vin added. "You lose or destroy government property, you have to replace it."
Chris shook his head sadly. "What do you figure, Vin? Probably 100- 125 thousand worth of equipment between the truck and the electronics."
Vin ran his hands through his hair. "I'd say that's pretty close."
If possible, JD paled even more. "A hundred thousand dollars?" He turned and looked at the truck. "Can't it be fixed?"
Vin just laughed. "Fixed? Kid, you shoved the roof back at least three feet, both front fenders and the hood are ruined as well as both front doors. The radiator is lying on the ground back here, so, unless you turned the engine off, it's fried. And, in case you haven't noticed, this back wheel is about six inches off the ground- meaning that frame is twisted." Vin looked at JD. "No way it can be fixed. Totaled. Definitely totaled. Don't worry, they just take it out of your check each month."
"My check?" JD gasped. "It'll take ten years to pay off that amount. And that's if they take my whole check. I'll be paying for this until I'm 35 years old."
Buck cuffed the kid on the arm. "And what's so old about 35 may I ask?"
JD stammered. "I just ..I mean.. well, it's ok for you, Buck But that's a long way off to me."
"Yeah, keep talking kid. You won't live to worry about 25, much less 35." Buck glared at his young roommate/partner.
Chris cracked a smile and let the kid off the hook "Don't worry about it, JD. This.." indicating the wrecked vehicle "is why we have insurance."
JD visibly sagged in relief, even smiled. Suddenly, he stood up straight, a look of surprise on his face. "Chris! You made a joke."
"Chris tries to exercise his sense of humor at least once a year." Vin stated.
A low whistle drew the attention of the four men. They turned as the other three members of their team joined them.
"Well, young Mr. Dunne, never let it be stated that you do anything halfway. If you plan on destroying something, do it in a spectacular fashion." Ezra nodded his approval of the crushed 4x4.
Josiah looked at the vehicle and back to JD. "I am truly thankful that you survived, but I am in awe that you did. An angel must truly have been sitting on the shoulder of our young coworker."
Nathan walked over to examine the youngest member of the team known as the Magnificent Seven. "You ok, boy?" Nathan looked into JD's eyes, tipping his head back slightly and causing JD to stagger a bit. Buck instantly gabbed the kid to steady him, frowning as he did.
"What's wrong, son?"
"Nothing, Buck. I'm fine. Just a little unsteady." JD pulled away from the two men and fell against the side of the truck.
Buck reached for the young agent again only to have his hand slapped away. "I'm fine, Buck. Don't hover."
"Don't tell me your fine again, JD If you were 'fine', you wouldn't be staggering around, bouncing off things, like a one day old colt. Let Nathan take a look at your head."
Nathan and Buck led JD over to the ramp to sit down. Nathan noticed JD favoring his right leg. "What's wrong with your leg, JD?"
Vin told Nathan about the leg being pinned. The medic bent down to examine the leg and saw the dark stains on the top of JD's sneaker. "Looks like you're bleeding, JD."
Buck's eyes followed the trail of blood back to the spot they had just vacated. There was a small pool of blood congealing on the cool night air. "Damn, kid! Why didn't you say something?"
JD sat wide-eyed. "I didn't know. My ankle stings a little, but it don't hurt, really."
Nathan raised JD's pants leg and looked at the wound. JD's sock was red with blood that saturated it. There was a small puncture in the ankle. "JD, you got a small hole on your ankle. It's small, but it is bleeding pretty good. We need to have a doctor look at this." This statement was directed to Buck and Chris. Nathan added, as he stood and turned away from the injured agent. "I think the vein's nicked. Damage is too much for clotting to stop."
Chris nodded. "Let's get him moving. You and Vin need to be looked at also."
JD went to stand and the world darkened. "Buck?" Buck was ready and took the kid in his arms as he pitched forward and lost consciousness. "Figured that was coming. He's been running on adrenalin up to now. Kid never even knew he was hurt."
Chris looked back at the ruined truck, and then went up the ramp after his six men. Shaking his head, he thought to himself, "Kid probably doesn't even realize how close he had come to being dead. How close they had all come." Chris said a silent pray for their continued good fortune.
They arrived at the hospital and escorted Vin and Nathan into the ER, with Buck, carrying JD, bringing up the rear. The four remaining men went to the waiting room and waited for word on their injured comrades. Within thirty minutes, Nathan rejoined the others. Chris looked up as he came into the room. "Nate. You ok?"
"I'm good. It was basically only a bad scratch. Didn't even need stitches. Just need to keep it clean and dry for a week." He limped over to a chair and took a seat. Ezra pulled up a second chair and indicated Nathan to prop his leg up. "Thanks, Ezra. That is much better."
"My pleasure, Mr. Jackson. I am glad to be of assistance."
Silence once again descended on the room, as the group continued their vigil. Their patience was rewarded when a white-coated man entered the room. "Mr. Larabee?" he asked, glancing around the room.
Chris stood, along with the others. "That would be me."
"I'm Doctor Marcus. Mr. Tanner is resting well. He'll be moved to a room in a few minutes. You're welcome to accompany him upstairs. I want to keep him overnight to check for concussion, but I don't feel that he is in any danger. The wound to the head was minor and he is awake and aware. He can probably leave within twelve hours."
Chris visibly relaxed and extended his hand to the physician "Thank you very much. Any news on my younger agent yet?"
"Well, I guess that I lost that bet. He really is an ATF agent. They told me that and I didn't believe them." The doctor laughed under his breath. "The boy.."
"His name is Dunne-JD Dunne. He may look like a boy, but he's a man." Buck had stepped forward as he confronted the doctor. Chris placed a hand on his friend's arm.
"I'm sorry, Mr...."
"Mr. Wilmington. I meant no disrespect to your young colleague. I'm sure that he is a very good man and agent."
"No offense taken. Sorry I snapped at you."
"No problem. It happens when people are worried about their family. Mr. Dunne is doing well. He will have to stay a bit longer than Mr. Tanner. He is being prepped for surgery now. A vascular surgeon is going to repair the vein in his ankle. The damage is not life threatening, but the blood flow through the foot is impaired. To prevent damage, we need to reestablish that flow or he could lose mobility and full use of the foot. But don't worry. He'll be fine. Surgery will take around two hours. I'll have a nurse take you to the surgical waiting room. After surgery, I'll come take you to recovery to see your young friend." The doctor turned and left the room.
Chris clasped Buck on the shoulders. "Well, old friend, why don't you go get some coffee and I'll go with Vin upstairs. I'll join you as soon as Vin is resting." Buck nodded his head, but made no move to leave. He had a vaguely haunted look on his face. Chris had seen the look many times since the introduction of JD Dunne into the elite team. Having taken the energetic young man under wing, Buck assumed responsibility of both the young man's welfare and training. This was a situation that both men were very comfortable with. A brotherly bond had linked the two together forever.
Josiah stood and took Buck by his arm, gently guiding the mustached ladies man toward the door. "Brother, let's locate a nurse and ask for a coffee machine."
"Sounds good, Josiah. Thanks." Buck turned a grateful eye to the large member of the team. "Coffee sounds good. Maybe we can get directions to surgery waiting after coffee. Nathan, Ezra, do you boys want some coffee?"
Nathan shook his head. Ezra stood beside the medic. "I'll accompany Mr. Jackson to the surgical waiting room after I ascertain the location of that particular area."
"I'll meet all of you up there in a few." Chris turned as a nurse entered.
Buck looked at their team leader. "Chris. Give Vin our best." Chris smiled and nodded as he left the room.
Thirty minutes later, the four were reunited on the fourth floor in surgical waiting. Nathan dozed on the couch, while Josiah read the year-old periodicals lying around the room. Ezra stood at the window watching the nightlights as Buck paced the length of the room. Chris entered and surveyed the room. "Buck. Sit. You've got two hours to kill."
"Two hours? That feels like forever. It ever seem to you that time runs slower a hospital?" Buck sank onto the nearest couch and put his hands to his temples. Chris joined his oldest friend on the couch, placing his hand on his friends back, idly rubbing circles to relieve the tension he felt in Buck's muscles.
"It's not that long. Doc said it wasn't a live-threatening injury, so he'll do fine." Chris felt Buck flinch at the word 'fine'. "Sorry, Buck. I know that word and JD don't really go together, but he'll be ok. Just a while longer and the kid will be in a room and you can coddle him all you want."
"Don't want to coddle him. Just want him back home where he belongs." Buck stated flatly, but he turned to Chris with a smile on his face.
The five sat quietly for the next hour. The only noise was an occasional cough or paper rustling as one or another tried to read year old magazines to pass the time. Finally, a shadow fell in the doorway, and the five turned as one to see the doctor entering the room, a small smile on his face. "Gentlemen, we're finished and everything went well. Mr. Dunne should be recovery in five or six minutes and you can see him there. Two at a time, if you don't mind. He should be transferred to a room within three hours. You are all welcome to visit him there." The doctor held up his hands as Chris opened his mouth. "And, yes, I will put him in the room with Mr. Tanner. I called the hospital in Denver for their records and was informed that it would be best for all concerned-especially the staff." The doctor glanced at his watch. "If two of you would like to accompany me now, I'm sure Mr. Dunne has been settled in recovery."
Nathan, Ezra, and Josiah each took a step back from Buck and Chris. "As our leader, Mr. Larabee, you should accompany Mr. Wilmington and verify your young charges health. You will of course stop and allow us access to the young man on your way to inform our other comrade of his status?"
Chris shook his head at Ezra's speech. Nathan and Josiah smiled at their leader, "Ez, you have to be the only man I know of that turn 'you first' into a five minute speech."
Buck called impatiently from the doorway. "Chris! You coming or not?"
They followed the doctor down the hallway to recovery. The room held several beds, but only three were occupied. Buck moved quickly to JD's side. He placed a shaky hand on the kid's head, smoothing the long dark hair that hung in his eyes.
"Buck?" a small voice drifted up to Buck's ears and brought a smile to his face.
"Yeah, kid, I'm here. Everything went great. You're in recovery." JD's eyelashes fluttered open. Buck watched as the young agent tried to focus on his face. "Chris is here also."
Chris stepped up beside Buck's shoulder and reached for JD's arm. "Hey, kid. How are you doing?"
"I'm fine." Both older men laughed softly. The kid was lying in the hospital, fresh out of surgery and an IV in his arm, but he was fine. Buck decided that he needed to work on expanding JD's vocabulary in regards to his physical condition.
"Good. I'm going to send the others in and go let Vin know you're ok. I'll see you later, when they move you to a room. Ok?" Chris patted JD's arm and left.
Buck stood a moment longer. "JD? I'm going to join Chris so the others can come in. I'll see ya in a little while." Buck turned to leave when he heard JD call him quietly. "Yeah, kid. What?"
"Where's Vin? Why can't he come in?" Fear shone in the hazel eyes that looked up from the bed.
Buck brushed away a bead of sweat from the kid's forehead. "Vin's fine, JD. He has a bit of a concussion and they have him in a room. You're going to the same room in a couple of hours. You can make sure he stays put til he's released. Can you do that for us?"
JD's eyes were starting to slide closed, but he managed to nod weakly. "I can do that. Vin'll be ok." And, with that, he drifted off.
Buck stared in wonder at the boy that had dropped into all their lives and enriched each of them in some way or another. The big man looked upward. "Thanks for this miracle you've given us." After one more look, he turned and left the room. Three other friends were waiting to see their young companion.
Three hours later, five men were sprawled around the room. The team had visited JD and then joined Chris in Vin Tanner's room. Tanner insisted the men get something to eat so he could rest and, feeling guilty at keeping the sharpshooter from resting, they all agreed to leave and rejoin him in the morning. Chris and Buck had returned after a couple hours, in the wee hours of the morning. Vin was asleep, but, being a light sleeper, he awoke as they entered. "Sorry, cowboy. Didn't mean to wake you." Chris told him. "We wondered if they had brought JD in yet."
"That's ok. I haven't heard anything. You think he'll come up soon?"
"Should. Go back to sleep." Chris watched as Vin nodded and settled down into the pillow. "Buck, you coming?"
"Nah, I'm staying til JD gets settled in. He might need something. Why don't you go on to the hotel and I'll see ya in the morning?" Buck walked over the lowered his bulk onto a chair across the room. Chris had known the answer before he asked, but felt compelled to ask anyway. Buck would be by his "little brother's" side until Dunne was so fed up that he yelled at Buck to leave him alone. Stricken, Buck would leave with hurt feelings, causing JD to feel miserable until he could get home and apologize. They would make up and life would go on as normal. Chris had seen it many times, too many, but it never changed. In an odd way, this scenario brought him comfort in its predictability. "Ok, partner. I'll see you later. Tell Vin I'll bring him a change of clothes when I come." Chris glanced once again at Vin and back to Buck before leaving the room. The team had once again managed to complete their assignment basically intact. Their good fortune was still holding and Chris offered up a prayer of thanks to the higher powers that watched over them.
Buck awoke with a start two hours later. Something wasn't right. He felt rather than saw a shadow fall across the doorway. He got up and headed for the door, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he went. Glancing both ways, he saw no one. He checked on Vin, who was sleeping soundly. Looking at the sleeping form, he realized that this man was only three or four years older than JD. Buck often called Tanner "Junior" because he had been the youngest member of the team until JD joined. He had thought of Vin as young until JD arrived. In many ways Vin seemed much older than JD, more mature. No, Buck thought, not more mature, more aged. And then, at times, both young men acted like twelve year olds. The team had been a well-oiled machine before JD Dunne, but there was very little interaction within the ranks. The "kid", as he was often referred to, blew into their office like a small whirlwind of energy. He created chaos while, at the same time, conveying his youthful high spirits and energy to each member of the team. His energy spurred the group to become more than coworkers; they evolved into a close-knit group of friends that worked and played together-truly enjoying each other's company. But, JD's biggest impact had occurred in Buck Wilmington's life. The kid had invaded his office, his home, and his heart and Buck would not have it any other way. He had resented the intrusion at first, the chaos that his life had fallen into-the missed dates, the relentless noise and clutter in the townhouse, but he soon discovered the comfort of someone to talk to at all times and warmth of pure devotion that the boy had bestowed on him. Even with the confusion that was now his life, Buck would not give up one second of this new life. He glanced at the hallway again. "Must be tired." Buck thought to himself "Wonder when the kid's coming up."
As if on cue, Buck turned again to the hallway and a noise to see an attendant bringing JD toward the room. Buck quickly moved to the bed and turned back the covers. He and the attendant easily moved the smaller man onto the bed. Buck was relieved to see JD had no need for an IV. They had gotten to the hospital quickly and with blood loss at a minimum, there had been no need for fluids to sustain his system once surgery was complete. Buck heard a groan and turned away from watching the orderly push the gurney out to see the flutter of black lashes on alabaster skin. Buck leaned over and put a hand on JD's forehead. "It's okay, kid. You're in your room. Old Buck's going to take care of ya. Vin's here too. You did good."
JD's eyes opened and locked with Buck's. Buck recognized the look and reached for the basin on the nightstand next to the bed. Buck rolled JD onto his side and placed the basin under his mouth as JD vomited. "It's okay, I got ya." Buck felt JD relax as the sensation passed and rolled him back over. "I'll be right back." Smoothing the hair out of JD's eyes, Buck picked up the basin and headed for the bathroom. After washing the basin, Buck dried it, then wet a washcloth and headed back to his young roommate's bedside. He wiped down JD's face and mouth cleaning the evidence of his sickness from his skin. "Better?" JD nodded. "You okay? Still sick?" JD shook his head weakly. Sighing, he settled into the pillow and closed his eyes
Buck glanced at the sharpshooter as he took the cloth to the bathroom to rinse it. "Yeah. He always gets sick when they first move him. He'll be fine after some rest." Buck took up a position on the edge of the bed and bathed the kid's face.
Tanner nodded to Buck's back and drifted back to sleep. Buck glanced at the doorway again. He could not shake the uneasy feeling. He got up and shut the door after checking the corridor once again. He crossed the room and picked up the chair, setting it down on the far side of the beds. Positioning the chair in this way, he could watch both men and the door. He made a mental note to tell Chris first thing.
The sun was coming in the window the next time Buck looked up. He stretched and looked over to check his charges. Vin lay on his side facing the window. His color was improved since last night. The bruise on his jaw was hidden under a day's growth, but the one on his forehead stood out even under his tanned skin. Butterfly bandages held the cut closed. Buck frowned as he looked at JD. The kid looked paler than before. Buck stood and put his hand to his head. "Damn." He reached for the call button and pushed it. He noticed Vin watching as he headed for the bathroom. Putting water in the basin, he grabbed the washcloth and went to JD's bed to bathe his face. Vin sat up as a nurse came through the door. "He's got a fever." The nurse nodded and went to call the doctor. Buck talked softly to JD as he began to thrash around. Buck reached down and held the boy's right leg. "No. You're okay, kid. Ole Buck's here. You need to keep your leg still for me, okay?" Vin appeared beside Buck and placed his hands on the young agent's leg.
"I got it, Buck. You concentrate on him."
Buck nodded and put his hand on JD's head, his fingers entwined in the thick black locks. "You're good, JD. Just relax. Me and Vin are right here. Nothing's going to hurt ya." He bathed the young man's face as they waited for the doctor. Buck was so focused on his task, he felled to notice when the man entered and approached the bed.
"His temperature is 104," the nurse told the physician as he looked over JD's chart. He issued an order for an IV and antibiotic. His head came up as Buck reached for the nurse as she turned to leave.
"JD didn't do too good on that last time in the Denver hospital." Doctor Marcus simply stared at Buck. "He had a bit of a reaction-caused some strong side effects. Doc there said he shouldn't take that no more."
"Yes, I talked to him. He warned me about your ability to recite Mr. Dunne's medical history. I'll change that order to a more acceptable prescription. You have a fine mind for detail, Mr. Wilmington"
Vin snickered. "Only when it comes to the boy."
"He ain't no boy!" Buck growled, but he growled with a smile. He knew Vin was right. Ask what he did last weekend and he probably could not tell you, but ask what medicine JD had five months prior and he could rattle it off.
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