Finding a Balance by Sue M

Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep `em…damnit!

Thanks to Sherry for MCAT, and to Blackraptor for all they do for me

Alternate Universe: MCAT

Main Characters: JD, OCs

Summary: After a serious incident, the pressures of a high risk, intense career, and being a single parent cause JD to evaluate his life.

No children were harmed during the writing of this story...scared sh*tless, yes, but not harmed!

After an eventful Saturday with his kids, and with evening drawing in, JD took a deep breath as he pushed the shopping cart into the supermarket. Having learned a hard lesson on a previous shopping trip, JJ was strapped into the cart's seat. Standing on empty bags inside the cart, the twins flanked him, holding onto the sides like the good girls daddy had asked them to be. He hoped the later hour would mean the store would be less busy…and consequently, less troublesome for him.
Their last outing like this together, with the twins walking alongside JD, resulted in the girls happily trotting off ahead of their daddy to 'help', and JD, with JJ squealing out his delight, tearing around aisles on two wheels in a desperate attempt to keep track of them. Lesson learned, this trip he managed to sweet-talk them into riding alongside their brother where he could keep an eye on them.
Foolproof, right?
By the time JD checked out, the cashier had gathered at least a third of a cart of unwanted items. The girls had helpfully pulled things off shelves and into the cart, while JD was grabbing things he actually needed. He smiled, apologetically at the woman. It seemed to do the trick and she grinned back and sympathized with him, remarking she had once experienced a similar dilemma and from then, tried to get someone to watch her kids while she shopped.
Strapping his sleepy kids into the truck, JD ran a weary hand down his face before placing his purchases in the rear of the vehicle. He hadn't liked to ask for help. Buck and Inez's kids were divided between the Tanners and the Sanchez's. The pair hoped to enjoy a much needed weekend of 're-connecting', while appreciating their new hot tub, without being disturbed.
With Chris and Cait adjusting to the idea of becoming parents again, and Cait needing to rest up as much as possible, Ezra and Barbara as new parents and coping with baby Pearl, and Rain and Nathan taking their kids to visit Rain's family for the weekend; plus taking into consideration his brothers needed their own space, too, JD's options had been zilch, so it was either a family excursion to the store…take out, or starve! Sometimes, being an only parent...sucked.
About to pull onto the highway that would take him to the ranch road, he screeched to a halt when a silver BMW cut him up and roared away. JD pounded on the horn and flashed his lights. "You fucking maniac! I've got kids in here!" Suddenly realizing what he was saying, he turned to check on them, relieved all three were sleeping. He breathed out in relief. Jeeze, the swear jar would be groaning after that one. As he signaled and pulled out, he pondered whether the swearing would technically count toward the swear jar…after all, they weren't at home, were they?
A little way along the darkened highway JD winced as a pair of too bright headlights reflected in his rear view mirror. `Idiot'. He had no sooner flicked the mirror down to deflect the glare when the lights disappeared and the…silver BMW…roared past him.
Suddenly, the driver of the car, which was now directly in front, hit the brakes. Through the pall of smoke from the tires, JD just saw the red taillights in time to slam on his own brakes, before seeing the BMW tear off. "Jesus!"
Trembling a little and grateful to see his kids still snoring, JD continued on his way. He missed the car with its lights off, and parked on one side of the road a little further on, until it was once again behind him, lights full on and repeating the earlier movement. The second maneuver was a little too close for comfort and JD pulled over to review his options, and calm down some. He jerked when his cell rang.
"Hey Kid…Inez and me called over to see y'all. Where are you?"
JD took a breath. "Hi Buck. I took the kids food shopping. I'm about five minutes from the turnoff to the ranch road."
There was a pause. "JD…what's wrong?"
Dunne couldn't help smiling at Buck's insight. "Nothing…just some jackass in a Beamer trying to play chicken with me on a dark highway." He heard Buck mumble, he guessed to Inez…
'...Nothing' s wrong, he says, while some jerk's trying to cut him up.' "You want me to drive out to meet you?"
"Jesus, no…I'm almost home." JD paused. "Sorry…thanks, but it's cool. He's gone, now. If he comes back I'll arrest his ass."
"Alright, I'll stick around here and make some coffee, then...sounds like you'll need it."
JD clicked off the phone, turning as Daisy mumbled something about Cheetos, before settling back to sleep. Pulling off once again, he had only driven a minute when headlights came at him. JD frowned…they weren't on the other side of the road…they were on his side…and whatever it was, wasn't stopping…Oh shit!
Taking an evasive maneuver, JD streaked across into the wrong lane, struggling with the wheel due to the speed and trajectory. The truck slipped off the sloping camber and came to a halt at an angle, in a roadside ditch. His head bounced off the side window with a thunk, dazing him, but not enough to miss a sickening crunch as the BMW lost control and hit a tree. Instinctively, JD clambered out of the tilting vehicle, momentarily squatting as he fought the dizziness from the bump to his head. On standing, his anger took control and he started walking toward the smoking vehicle, fury driving his admonishment.
"Serves you right you jerkass! My kids are in that truck!" As the words left his lips, JD's heart constricted. "Shit, the kids!" He had just turned to check on them when an explosion from behind lifted him off his feet, and propelled him toward his truck. He was already out when he impacted with the vehicle and slid to the ground.
Having checked in at the security gate for the last time that evening, The L7's Chief of Security, Walter, was just about to head home for dinner when a distant plume of bright yellow flames and billowing smoke caught his eye. He guessed it was an accident somewhere along the highway, close to the ranch road, so dialed 911. He then called Vin's father and newly appointed ranch foreman, Brodie.
"Just thought I should mention…I reckon someone's crashed on the highway about five to ten minutes out. I've called it in, but thought I should ride out…see if I can help."
"Is everyone home?" Brodie asked instinctively, relieved at least to know his immediate family was home and safe.
"Rain and Nathan are due back tomorrow." Walter checked the log. "Looks like JD went out earlier…can't see him logged back in."
"I'm on my way." Brodie had no reason to be concerned, but Walter might need help, so he figured his presence could be useful.
JD heard his son crying. He hadn't been in bed long, had he? Perhaps his diaper needed changing. Not registering he was slumped against the side of his truck, JD tried to get up, hissing in pain as his ribs protested the movement. The sound of Lilah's frantic call of `DADDY!' had him shifting again, and he dragged himself to his feet. Taking a moment to catch his breath, JD looked in horror at the blazing car and tree on the opposite side of the road behind him, and it all came back to him in a rush.
"Oh God."
He staggered over to the wreck, but was beaten back by the ferocity of the heat. In no doubt that whoever was in the car was beyond any help he could offer, JD returned to his truck. Pulling open his truck door activated the small overhead interior light. His heart lurched on seeing his kids' tear-stained faces looking back at him.
"Daddy b'eedin'," Daisy sobbed out.
JD touched his head and hissed again. He hadn't realized. "Daddy's fine baby, it's just a scratch, okay?" Ignoring his own pain, he leaned in and checked the little ones for injuries. He prayed he wouldn't find any. The children's car seats were chosen because they were the best, and also, they hadn't properly crashed. He took a shaky, relieved breath, when it appeared the only casualty was the truck's back window, from when the car blew. The glass had hit the back of the seats, but fallen well short of the kids.
He looked back at the car engulfed in flames and debated going back to help, while trying not to let the fact that the vehicle was little more than a flaming shell, overwhelm him. Issuing a quick assurance to his kids, he trotted drunkenly back to the wreck. The flames were less fierce, but as he feared, its occupants were beyond help. A resuming of his children's frightened crying snapped him back to the here and now, and JD returned to soothe them. Talking to his kids the whole time, JD moved into the front of the vehicle and put on his hazard warning lights to alert other drivers to his stricken vehicle…not that he'd seen anyone but the BMW since hitting the quiet highway, but better safe than sorry. He searched the glove box for his cell, relieved to find it.
When he moved, JD felt a sharp pain and groaned out loud, cursing as the sound caused his kids to cry harder. He hugged his ribs. "'S…okay…shh…it' s fine, see? Daddy's fine." Damn…even he wouldn't have believed that. He felt a wave of heat go through him from his toes to his head and he fought to stay awake…he couldn't leave his kids alone, frightened, and in the dark. Lights approaching him and the distant sounds of sirens were some comfort. Exhausted, JD sat down hard on the rear door sill, and rested his head against the frame. His arm lay protectively across his kids laps, and the little hands tightly clasped the sleeve of his jacket.
"Aww, fuck!" Brodie's truck lights illuminated the vehicle in the ditch and his heart sank momentarily, until he realized it was in one piece, unlike the car in flames on the opposite side of the road. "Call it in," he ordered Walter, as he slammed his truck into park, grabbed a flashlight and jumped out. He released a relieved breath as he approached and the beam of light showed JD sitting there with his sobbing children. Brodie's heart clenched to see them so distressed, their small faces wet with tears, and little JJ's wide, hazel eyes staring at him as several huge sobs racked the tiny body.
"Hey guys…how are y'all doing…okay?" Their escalated cries on seeing him, made his heart ache.
Aware they had company, JD looked up dazedly at the man, blinking several times to focus. He half smiled. "Hey."
Brodie squatted down and put a finger under JD's chin to lift his head, and ran the light over him. He examined the bump and bruise to one side and a cut on the other side of JD's head. "Double whammy…good one. Were you out at any time?"
JD frowned, squinting with concentration. "Not sure." He winced and tightened the arm around his middle.
"I'll take that as a yes for now. Ribs hurting?"
Brodie looked up as Walter approached, the latter speaking. "Chris is on his way. Buck and Inez are at JD's so he's grabbing them, too." He glanced at the crying children and a quiet JD. "How bad?"
"Not serious, I reckon, though I'm no expert. I'm waiting for the paramedics to arrive and check on the kids before moving them."
"Kids…the kids…" JD became agitated.
Brodie patted the arm JD was resting across them. "Right here and all good, see?" He watched the young man visibly relax. A fire truck and squad car approached and raced past to stop at the burning car. Two ambulances pulled up and the paramedics instantly set to work.
Chris arrived and he, Buck and Inez jumped out of his truck. Buck squeezed in next to the paramedic attending JD, and smiled. "Hey li'l bro…how you doing?"
JD stared at him. "Buck…the kids."
The brunet looked to the paramedics attending to them, one of them smiling at him.
"They're frightened and distressed but look good," the EMT informed them. "We're going to take them in…just to be sure."
"No…" JD grabbed Buck's arm. He could hear them discuss the kids going in on the first ambulance and JD in the second. "They're scared…not…alone, please."
Inez approached. "I will go with them, JD."
JD nodded. "Okay, thanks."
A cop approached and Chris, Brodie and Walter turned to him. "The guy in the wrecked car is a DOS…just waiting on the coroner's office."
Inez frowned at Buck. "DOS?" she asked, quietly.
"Dead on Scene," he whispered back. He felt JD shudder and figured he'd heard.
The cop continued. "I'll need a statement from the other driver," he looked at JD. "Plus I have to breathalyze him."
Chris glanced back at Buck, warning him to stay calm. It was standard procedure…and they both knew that.
"Then we'll take some skid mark measurements… build up a picture of what happened here." He gestured to the smoldering wreck. "If it's any consolation, we've had several reports about a silver BMW tearing up the roads around town. If the plates match…"
Chris nodded his understanding. They all looked when three little voices started wailing. All three children leaned away from the arms holding them, and clenched their little fists towards their father. JD's eyes filled and he tried to stand, but Buck and the paramedic held firm.
"It's okay…they're safe and Inez is with them." While he spoke the Hispanic beauty was soothing the little ones as they were taken to the ambulance. A paramedic from the first ambulance approached. "If Mr. Dunne and the lady want to ride with us, we can manage."
"Yes please," JD begged.
Arrangements were agreed. Chris squeezed JD's arm. "You'll need to be breathalyzed."
JD nodded, wearily. "Figured."
The four men watched the ambulance pull away. Chris and Buck followed it in. Brodie and Walter returned to the ranch to fill the others in and arrange to first get JD's truck out of the ditch, and then to a garage.
Next day and the Tanners were hosting the family barbecue. Rain and Nathan were back and all the adults watched in amusement as Lilah and Daisy animatedly shared their adventure with the kids as best as they could articulate, complete with additional scary monsters, apparently.
Bruised but otherwise fine, JD was sitting quietly on the porch swing. JJ was fast asleep and snuggled deep into JD's neck as the young tech used his one leg to gently propel the swing. He had barely spoken since arriving, seemingly deep in thought, and clearly uncomfortable as JJ's weight aggravated his bruised ribs. He looked up and smiled at Cait when she insisted JJ come to her, the little one snuffling gently as he was passed over before settling again.
Buck approached and stood in front of JD. "Hey, you okay?"
The younger man didn't look up at him. "Yeah, fine, thanks."
Buck frowned. "I'll take that as a no. Talk to me."
JD paused for a long while, finally looking up at his mentor, best friend and big brother. "I can't do this anymore."
Sensing something big, Buck tried to lighten the moment. "What, sit there? Well get up off your butt and walk around…"
"I'm not joking, Buck." JD struggled to his feet, unaware others were listening, and that the children were being diverted to the play area.
Buck looked down at the deck then back up at JD. "We've been down this road, Kid…no point in going over old ground…"
JD waved a hand. "NO! No…listen, think on this…just for one minute. Take Inez out of the picture…yeah? Now try and imagine one day…just one day, and how you'll cope with your kids alone, no Inez, no Aunt Isabella…just you."
Buck sighed. "No one takes this lightly, JD. We know how tough it is for you alone. You also know, we're here for you, whenever."
JD licked his lips. "I know you always mean to be, but it's not always possible, is it? You all have lives, too. And now it's made me think how I should consider what happens if I'm out of the picture, as well." He sighed. "Maybe it really is time to put my kids first instead of my career. I'm not twenty one and single anymore, I have responsibilities..."
"Bullshit! Where the hell did that come from? You've had responsibilities for four years. Jeeze..." Buck took a breath. "Look, you're in shock, okay? By tomorrow you'll know that. We've all, always been there for each other…nothing's changed."
JD shrugged. "Well…maybe I have." He looked up. "Or maybe I should."
Buck glanced at the others. Chris nodded; the message…'go for it'.
"Yeah, you know what? Perhaps you're right. Time to move on…play safe. Good point."
JD narrowed his eyes. "Play safe? PLAY SAFE! Is that what you think this is about?" He stared at Buck, but the man's deep blue gaze was giving nothing away. Emotion building, JD straightened his spine and stared, defiantly. "Okay...well then...fine! Perhaps as you think I'm such a coward, then I will."
Buck shrugged, a gesture opposite to his desire to pull the kid in close and tell him everything was going to be okay. "Whatever! You know best, right? So, yeah…perhaps you should."
They glared at each other. Buck continued. "And while your ass is earning shitloads of money at some hotshot computer company somewhere, all warm and cozy, you let us worry about keeping out the maniacs that put bombs in buildings, drugs in classrooms and guns in kids' hands."
JD took an angry step forward. "Stop it!"
"Why? It's not like it's a secret…we've been doing it for ten years. Dodging everything life threw at us…together. But hey…for you, that's in the past, right?"
"How can you say that to me? It's not about that, Buck and you know it!"
His gaze softened and, despite resistance from the younger man, Buck finally pulled JD in close. "Yeah, I do…we all do. Just like we all know you're no coward, Kid." He gently touched a hand to JD's bruised face. "Look, you had a wakeup call yesterday…and now all you can think about is 'what if…'" Buck placed the raised hand over his own heart. "As long as I have breath in my body…and I know that goes for the rest of us, too…those babies are covered…just like you. There's little we can do about you being alone, but the support is here…always has been." He tilted his head. "Just stop being so fucking independent and ask for it!"
"I wasn't being independent," JD mumbled. "It was just a shopping trip…you had the hot tub, Vin had your kids…Chris and Cait…" His shoulders tensed. "Trying to find a balance between coping and knowing when I can't is…hard." He looked at the men and women gathered around him.
"Yesterday, doing a simple everyday task, some crazy decided he wasn't gonna let that happen. I felt so bad the kids went through that, and all the guilt I carried when Casey left, came flooding back. The thought that maybe I couldn't be here for them, or protect them," he shuddered. "…It scared me."
Chris squeezed Cait's waist as he held her and spoke. "It scares us all, Kid. And you're right, balance is what makes it all possible, that and having people to rely on. If you want some time to think about this, that's what you'll get, but the question outstanding, is one I've asked before…are you still prepared to walk into what we do every day and give it everything…despite what crap may lay ahead? Because we all know…there are no half measures or pause for doubt in our business."
JD looked at him for a long while, his eyes reflecting the pain and turmoil of the past twenty four hours. His tense shoulders slumped. "Hell Chris, you know me. In truth…I couldn't imagine ever doing anything else." He sighed and tentatively touched the glued cut on his head before looking at the six men he loved as brothers. "I guess I just freaked out. Sorry." He choked and dropped his gaze. "it was the thought of the kids being hurt…me in no fit state to help them...or worse."
Buck closed in tighter. "Every parents' nightmare. You're not alone. Just remember, we're not always psychic…" he winked at Vin. "Except for Tanner. Let us know when it's getting too much. Your kids are adorable, we love having them over."
JD composed himself. "I'll try." A small grin formed. "Adorable, huh? Just remember, I warned you. It's like sending in three Tasmanian Devils after a sugar feed."
Relieved the crisis had been averted, Buck chuckled and they all took up seats. "Always said they took after their dad."
The End