A Survivor's Soul

by Phyllis

Seven Investigations Universe

The first thing JD became aware of was pain; pain in his wrists, elbows, shoulders. They burned and the muscles connecting them, ached. His head and hip hurt as well, like he had fallen and banged them both. Testing his bonds, he discovered he was suspended with his feet off the ground.

The second thing he noticed was that it was still dark. He wondered if Vin was all right? If the guys were looking for them yet? He found that when he moved his head he could feel something touching his hair and ears, his nose and chin. After moving his head around and rubbing against his arms, he figured out that he had a bag or some sort of hood over his head.

He was acutely aware that his mouth was sealed with what felt like tape. JD became conscious of air moving sluggishly around him, chilling him slightly. The thought came to him that he had been stripped and hung up like a side of beef by someone who probably did not have his best interest in mind and panic took hold. The youth fought foolishly against his bonds. All he succeeded in doing was tearing the tender skin of his wrists and wearing himself out. He did manage to feel material rubbing his thighs and the tug of the waistband on his skin. At least he still had on his shorts. That was something.

A sound, a small scrape came to his ears and he stopped thrashing to listen. When the man spoke, it was right next to JD's ear. He jerked in fright.

"Welcome back, Mr. Dunne. It's been a long time."

JD felt the man, whoever he was, grip his legs and he kicked out at his unseen tormentor. He had a moment's satisfaction as his legs connected with something solid and the man grunted. But the satisfaction dissolved into fear when he felt strong hands grip his throat and squeeze. JD had the fleeting thought that at least he wouldn't hurt anymore. As consciousness began to slip away though, he saw Buck's face flash in his mind and he knew he had to fight. His cousin had to know that he didn't just give up and die.

JD kicked out again. He bent his legs and brought his knees straight up. Once again he connected and the grip around his throat loosened a bit. He kicked once again and the hands left his throat completely. Breathing in as best as he could through his nose, he listened for sounds from his captor, but all he could hear was his own heart pounding in his ears. As his breathing and heart rate slowed, he heard a faint chuckle.

"Guess you're going to be a fighter. You know, out of all of them, I only had two that fought back. Each of the others accepted their fate like lambs. They delivered up their sin filled lives without a single struggle; relinquished God's gift and returned to his fold without a whimper. But you, you know that this mortal life is a gift. You and the old woman are the only ones that understand what I am trying to do."

JD listened as the man moved around him. He was circling and JD fought to keep turned toward the sound of his voice. At times, the man reached out and ran a finger along the exposed skin, causing the boy to twitch and jerk at the touch.

"I have to cleanse you of your sins before you can meet your maker. The others would not confess their sins. They claimed to be innocent of the crimes against their God."

JD wondered who the others were and how had they been able to deny anything if they were gagged as he was. Then it came to him; they were gagged because this man didn't care what they had to say. They were all guilty in his eyes.

" But I knew better. You see, God has given me the ability to see past the skin and into the souls of man. He granted me this gift after he took my daughter, as a reward for the just life that I have lived. She was actually the first, though I didn't know that then. I thought that one of the ones from the day care center was responsible. I asked each of them and they denied any knowledge of Tammy's death."

The man paused, mumbling to himself. Suddenly, it was clear to the young man. JD now knew that the man who had drugged them, was the murderer that Seven Investigations had been hired to find. He should have realized earlier, but fear had clouded his mind. He remembered the pictures, the descriptions of the murdered people. Icy cold fingers ran up and down his spine and he had the fleeting thought that it would have been better if he died, choked to death at the man's hands, than the way the others had died. But he couldn't give up, wouldn't give up. He knew the others would find him. They must know who this man is, because they called Vin to warn him. JD wondered what they had found out. Had the man been after Vin or him? 'Well, that's a stupid question', JD admonished himself. 'Must've been after me, or Vin would have been hanging here.'

JD was glad that the man had not taken Tanner. If there was a hunt to be done, Vin was the man for the job. JD would not have been able to help much if it had been Tanner they were searching for. The question reminded in JD's mind, 'why'? He didn't know any of the victims. Why would this lunatic zero in on him? JD was still trying to figure out some kind of motive when the man began to rant again.

"Had to cleanse the girl of her mother's sin. Tarnished my beautiful Tammy with her immoral ways." The voice moved away. "Purified the mother and her lover, but too late. The child was stained with the mother's sin. But I helped her, sent her to heaven pure. Drove the demons out. Showed her the evil of lust and personal pleasure."

The voice came close again and his volume rose with the righteous conviction of a zealot, an insane fanatic, certain of his position. JD began to shiver as the intensity of the voice increased.

"Yes, purified each of them. They knew of my daughter's impurity and said nothing; allowed the evil to grow within her beautiful young body. But they are with God now. And you are the last. I can rest in God's hands once I have banished the devil and shown you the way of the Lord."

JD heard a whooshing sound and, as the last word was spoken, the bat impacted on the front of his exposed thighs. His body lurched as the pain exploded through his legs. He wanted to scream, but the gag prevented any sound escaping. Tears cascaded down his face and he fought to breathe as the bat continued to fall. His last thought before consciousness fled was of his cousin. Buck would now be alone, no family. 'Chris, please take care of Buck for me.'

+ ++ + + + +

Detectives Simmons and Gaffney were waiting at Jaquiss' address when Chris pulled up. The men gathered at the sidewalk leading to the house.

"Got the warrant. You're along as a courtesy." Simmons' eyebrows raised at the glare Larabee gave him. Chuckling, he continued. "I had to say that. Now that I have, my partner and I will go first. Let us lead. We'll knock and ask the questions when he answers."

Buck opened his mouth as he stepped around Chris. Larabee threw an arm out and halted him. "Agreed" he said. The two detectives started forward. "As long as he's there."

Simmons turned back. "And if he's not?"

"There might be something in there that can tell us where he has JD. We won't stop at the door."

Simmons studied the three men in front of him. Glancing at his partner, he nodded. The five men moved forward. Gaffney rang the bell and they waited. Thirty seconds and two rings later, Buck banged on the door. Nothing. No sound, no response.

"I don't think he's here" Simmons said. A moment later the door opened. The detective turned around and found himself looking at Josiah Sanchez.

Simmons automatically turned and looked behind him. Larabee and Wilmington stood there with innocent looks on their faces. He turned back.

"What the hell are you doing in there?" he demanded.

"I just wanted to make sure he wasn't out back." Josiah explained. "Funny thing, I got around there and the back door was open. Thought there might be trouble, so I went in to check."

Gaffney smothered a laugh behind his hand. Simmons cocked an eyebrow at first one man then the other. He started to say something, but Buck cut him off as he passed.

"Well, door's open. May as well go in."

Buck pushed past Josiah and entered the house. Chris was right behind him. Josiah followed them into the interior of the house.

Simmons stepped in and called to them. "You find anything, we won't be able to use it in court."

Chris turned. "You have a warrant."

"But I haven't given..oh, never mind."

The five men spread out around the bottom floor of the house. Within minutes they had searched the first story and found nothing. They moved up to the second story. Buck took the first door he came to and each man behind him followed suite.

Once again, each man entered the hall after finding nothing. Everyone except Chris met at the hallway. Buck frowned and headed down the hall, glancing into each room until he located his partner. He stepped into the room and gaped at the sight.

"Oh, sweet Jesus" Josiah whispered at Buck's shoulder. The five men gathered in the end room. Each man shuddered as they took in the scribbling that covered the walls.

The room had obviously been the daughter's. A canopied bed sat against one wall. A dollhouse sat under the window, dolls staring out the tiny windows. The entire room was painted in pink and white, frills everywhere. But scrawled on all the walls were the words of an insane man.

Simmons pulled out his cell phone. Dialing, he waited for an answer as he read the words. 'The father's sins shall be visited upon the son' 'Purify' 'Have to cleanse the souls' 'Into God's Hands' 'Purge the Devil' On and on the words ran, each wall covered with the red paint and obscene words. He turned away as the connection was made, speaking quietly.

Chris glanced over at Buck. The man was pale and swaying slightly. Chris reached out only to have Buck shake his head at the gesture.

"I'll be all right as soon as we find the kid." That said, he turned and left the room.

Chris looked over to see Sanchez and Gaffney watching. Josiah nodded at the slight indication of Larabee's head. Josiah left and followed Wilmington down the stairs.

Chris pulled out his phone and dialed Ezra.

"Yeah, Ezra. We're at the house. He's not here." Chris listened for a moment and then, "Okay. Why don't you three come over here? We can work out what to do next."

Chris went to find Buck and Josiah. He was not looking forward to tell his partner that the others had found nothing at the factory.

+ ++ + + + +

Awareness came slowly. JD tried to move and pain assaulted him from what seemed to be, every nerve ending. The only thing that prevented the scream from escaping was the gag. He fought the nausea that threatened to rise. JD was sure he would choke to death if he gave in to the urge.

Tears escaped and rolled down his face. His mind told him that the pain caused the tears, but he knew that was only part of the reason. Truth be told, he had never been so terrified in his life. The man who had beat him planned on killing him and there was nothing he could do. If Buck and the others didn't come, JD knew what was coming. He broke into a cold sweat at the image that sprung to mind. He prayed that his cousin and their friends would come soon. 'Please. Buck, guys, please hurry.'

A door opening drew his attention and he listened as someone entered the room. They walked slowly, shuffling as they approached. Maybe someone had come, someone who could help. JD waited.

A hand touched his shoulder and started to move down his bare back. JD shivered as the hand reached his waist and moved around to his stomach. He wanted to kick out, but he didn't have the strength. At least that's what he thought.

"The devil is strong, but God is stronger. If you deny the immoral ways of the flesh, you will enter the gates of heaven and God will welcome you. I can help you, you know? That is the reason that God gave me this ability to see into the soul. To find people who were in need of cleansing. But I'm tired and can't go on any longer, so you will be the last. I can rest after this."

JD's heart sank. The man had reached the final step and the guys had not come. The boy prayed for his friends He knew they would be there for his cousin. As long as Buck had the others, he would all right.

Like the man who held him captive, JD was tired and becoming resigned to his fate. He didn't want to die, but he didn't see any way to avoid it. His muscles were so strained, so bruised that he didn't think he could move to defend himself. That's what his head told his body, but his heart told him something else. When he felt the hands grip the waistband of his shorts, his heart spoke out with one last burst of adrenaline and he drew his legs up in a last gesture of defiance. Pain screamed through his entire frame and drove consciousness from him. He never felt his knees connect. He never heard the thud as a body fell to the floor at his feet. He knew nothing except the release from pain and fear.

+ ++ + + + +

The six men of Seven Investigations stood gathered around Nathan's SUV in front of Jaquiss' house. The house was alive with activity as the police gathered evidence and information from within. Detectives Simmons and Gaffney approached them as they stood on the walk out front.

The men turned and the two detectives stopped in front of them. Chris spoke first. "Anything in there that might point us in a direction?"

Simmons shook his head. "No. There's not much in there other than the stuff we saw on the walls." He held up a stack of Polaroid's in his hand. He handed them to Chris as he reached out. The detectives moved off to one side as a patrolman approached. They stood several feet away, talking in low tones.

Chris flipped through the shots and passed them to the others. Ezra, Vin and Nathan had comments about the shots. Their views were the same as the others. They were shocked and sickened by the rumblings of an obviously sick individual.

Vin looked at the photos. He kept coming back to one. Finally, he turned to the others.

"Chris, what do you think about this?" holding the photo out to the blonde.

Larabee took the photograph and looked at it as the others gathered close. "What are you thinking, Vin?"

Tanner took the picture back. He looked at the words again. ‘Return to where it began.’ He looked at each of the others. "What if he went back to the beginning?"

"What beginning? We’re at the house." Buck yelled. Fear had the man at the end of his rope. He turned away from the others and walked away.

Vin turned to Chris, a question in his blue eyes. Chris tilted his head. "Where?"

"The day care." Tanner stated. Buck spun around and walked back.

"Mrs. Appleton’s?"

Vin nodded.

"That’s as good a place as any to start. Let’s go." Nathan said.

Buck jumped in with Chris and Josiah. Vin and Ezra rode with Nathan. Buck pointed the way. Within minutes, they were parking out in front of the house.

Chris wasn't surprised when unmarked police car pulled up behind them and Simmons and Gaffney got out. The two detectives joined the six men.

Simmons smiled as he spoke, but the glint in his eye was stern. "You boys left a little too fast. Made us think you might know something."

Feeling that the detectives had been straight with them, Chris held out the pictures. "Forgot to give these back. This one," Chris tapped the snapshot on top, "we thought might mean something. Thought we might play a hunch."

The detectives looked at the picture and then the house. Nodding, they drew their weapons. "As good a place to start as any. " Simmons agreed. An nod of his head has his partner going around to the back.

"Nathan, you and Ezra go with 'em. Vin, you go too. " Chris instructed. The three men nodded and trotted after the detective.

Simmons pushed through the gate and started up the broken walkway. Larabee joined him and Buck and Josiah followed him. The yard was overgrown with weeds. Shutters hung from their hinges as well as the door. There was not a pane of glass intact on the front of the house. It looked abandoned and desolate, still the men approached quietly.

They mounted the stairs cautiously, as wary of the rotting wooden steps as the man that might be inside. Simmons pushed the front door open with a loud creak that echoed through the empty rooms. Heavy curtains blocked light from illuminating the cavernous rooms. The four men spread out and started checking the rooms for signs of anyone having been there.

The dust on the floor bellowed up to dance in the little light that filtered in the rooms. They moved from the front room to the hall and moved toward the back of the house. Chris tapped Simmons on the shoulder and indicated the stairway leading to the second story. Simmons shook his head. "Downstairs first. Can't imagine he would want to carry people up and down those stairs if he didn't have to."

"Good point." Chris conceded quietly.

They continued down the hallway and entered the kitchen. The shrill ring of the phone caused all four to jump. Simmons pulled the instrument out of his pocket and, glancing at the number, hit send. "Yeah" he spoke curtly, looking at Chris as he listened. He looked around and nodded. "Right, we're on the way." He flipped the instrument closed. "Basement."

He moved past Chris and approached a door in the far wall. He turned the knob and glanced in. He turned back to the men behind him. With no more explanation, he processed down the stairway. Chris moved to the door and looked down. Looking to see Josiah and then Buck, he moved down.

The stairs ended at a wall. They moved around the corner to join Simmons. The sight before them froze the three men where they stood. Gaffney had walked over to stand next to his partner. Whispered words floated softly across the narrow expanse. "I called for an ambulance and the meat wagon."

Simmons nodded an acknowledgement.

Buck felt a cold sweat break out on his face as he gazed at the scene. JD hung from a rafter by a rope tied around his wrists, his feet several inches off the ground. He had been stripped down to his boxers and blood and sweat streaked his body. Jaquiss lay on the ground at the young man's feet, a pool of blood congealing at his head. Vin and Nathan stood in front of the battered body of his cousin, while Ezra had moved to the knotted rope end attached to the wall.

"Hold up a minute, Ezra" the medic instructed. He carefully reached up and removed the hood from the boy's head. The man heard a soft swear come from Tanner's direction, but concentrated on the form in front of him. Reaching up, he felt from a pulse. He nodded as he located a weak heartbeat.

Vin reached up to remove the tape over the boy's month, but Nathan caught at his wrist. "Wait, Vin. I don't want to move his neck anymore than necessary." Tanner nodded and lowered his arm. "Okay, Ezra. Lower 'em as easy as possible. He's got some broken bones. We need to be slow and gentle."

Those words broke the spell and Chris, Buck and Josiah moved forward. Josiah headed to where Standish stood. "Hold up, brother, let me help you."

The barrel-chested man took hold of the rope and together, they gently lowered the bloody body to the ground. Nathan and Vin helped to guide him down.

Buck squatted on the ground, supporting JD's head as he was laid out. His mouth was pinched tight as his eyes ran over the abused body. Tears sprung to his eyes and he had to take several deep breaths to calm his self.

Vin knelt next to his friend, guilt evident on his face. Chris stood beside Vin.

Nathan was reaching out to check JD's necks, when he saw the bruised stomach muscles tighten. He moved his hands to the boy's back as he yelled out orders.

"Buck, get that tape off his mouth. Quick. Vin, Chris, help me roll him. Hurry. He'll choke."

The three men quickly carried out the orders. JD's body convulsed again and his stomach emptied itself just as they turned him onto his side. Buck absently stroked the black hair out of the pale face as he softly spoke soothing words to the unconscious form. When the convulsions stopped, they rolled him onto his back once again. The sound of sirens could be heard and Nathan breathed a sigh of relief that help was close at hand. Buck continued to speak softly into the boy’s ear. JD never made a sound.

The EMT's arrived within two minutes and began checking the injuries that covered the young man's body. The men stepped back out of their way. All except Buck. He remained at his cousin's head and continued to speak softly into his ear. Only the tremors visible in the man's hands revealed his intense emotions. After assessing JD's condition, the paramedics immobilized him on the stretcher and got ready to transport.

Buck stood and tried to follow. Chris reached out a hand and took hold of his arm. Buck jerked his arm loose and turned on his old friend.

"I need to go with him, Chris."

"I'll drive you. Nathan, go with JD."

"The hell you will!" Buck yelled.

Chris nodded at Nathan. The tall black man hesitated a moment and then followed the stretcher out the door. Buck turned to follow and Chris moved in front of him.

"Dammit, Chris, get out of my way."

"Buck, I need you here. JD's in good hands. Nathan will make sure he's treated good."

Buck's eyes burned with anger. "Why?" he whispered.

Vin, Ezra and Josiah all stood near the body, watching, listening. The detectives had moved away, but were still in the basement. Chris stepped closer to Wilmington. He placed a hand on the man's shoulder. The tense muscles twitched under his hand. Chris stared into the man's face. Buck's eyes roamed the room, taking in everything, except the dead body of Jaquiss'.

Finally, he met Chris' eyes. The anger smoldered in the blue fields of Wilmington's eyes. Chris acknowledged that anger with a soft word.

"JD" Chris stated. "He needs you. He needs you calm and strong. Sitting around the waiting room will make you crazy. Nathan can make better decisions right now. Remember? That's one reason we hired him. Let the man do his job. Your job is JD. He needs you to figure out why this happened. And we have to be able to explain that to him. We have to understand ourselves before we can help him."

"Chris, the man was crazy. What is there to find out?" Buck implored.

"Who killed him, Buck?"

Wilmington finally looked at Jaquiss. Buck walked over the studied the area. Chris followed and took a position next to the others, watching. It was obvious that a blow to the nose, one that drove the cartilage upward into the brain, had killed the man. Buck's eyebrows rose as he turned to his partners.


The two detectives joined them as Tanner squatted down and studied the face. Looking up, he stated, "Kid must have kneed him in the face. Pretty good shot considering he had a hood over his head. Drove the cartilage right into his brain."

"I noticed that our young friend had a gash on his knee. Odd to have a blow delivered to an upright man by the knee, wouldn't you say, Mr. Tanner?"

"I'd say it's downright impossible, Ezra." Vin looked around. The man had taken the kid twenty-one hours ago. How far had the torture gone before they arrived, before JD saved himself?

All the men had gathered around. Simmons asked Gaffney to go out and see if the coroner's wagon had arrived. The young detective nodded and trotted up the stairs and out of the oppressive room.

"Did you notice JD's boxers?" Josiah asked.

Buck turned away, his hands propped on his hips. Chris watched as the man struggled with his emotions.

Vin cocked his head as he thought. "Yeah. They were pulled down on one side." His head nodded as he pictured the scene.

Buck had taken a deep breath and straightened his shoulders as he turned back to the others. "So he probably.." Buck didn't finish the statement. He glanced over as Gaffney returned.

Vin shook his head. "If you ask me, the kid drew his knees up when he felt the guy trying to remove his shorts. Jaquiss' would have been bent forward making his self a prime target." Buck stood, chewing on his lower lip as he studied the scene. He glanced back at the body of the murderer.

The detectives were looking around the dark basement for any evidence they could find. A table stood off to one side against a wall. It held all the evidence they would need. The bat that lay on the table was still tacky with JD's blood, but there were older stains dried into the wood. A test would reveal if those stains were blood from the previous victims.

Chris was standing at Simmons shoulder, listening as the two detectives talked quietly. He glanced over his shoulder and checked on Wilmington. He knew the man wanted to go to the hospital, but Chris also knew he would be a basket case if he had to sit and wait while Dunne was examined. If Chris could keep Buck occupied for a while longer, they might be able to contain him once they got him to the hospital.

Feeling a presence at his shoulder, Chris turned and found himself looking into the eyes of Josiah Sanchez. "Chris, I think you have stalled long enough. Buck is not the only one hurting here." Josiah dipped his head toward Vin and Ezra. Ezra had a hand on Tanner's shoulder. They weren't talking, just standing, as if waiting for something. Chris nodded.

"Detectives, we're headed over to the hospital. If you need us, you have my number." Chris turned and strode out of the basement, four men close on his tail.

+ ++ + + + +

Nathan sat in the waiting room, his head hanging down. They had taken JD to an examination room and he wasn't allowed in. The EMT's had stabilized the young man and called in his vitals as they raced to the hospital. Nathan had listened to everything they had ascertained about JD's condition. He felt hopeful, but he kept a tight rein on that optimism until the doctors verified the EMT's assessment. He hated waiting. But he knew of the seven of them, he was the best at it.

Loud voices drew his attention to the door and he looked up to see his five co-workers coming through the doors. Chris was up front, closely followed by Buck. Nathan quickly found himself surrounded.

"How's JD?"

"Any word yet?"

"How's the kid?"

All five men were asking questions. Nathan threw up his hands. "Whoa! Ya'll just hold on a minute." Once they had quieted down, Nathan told them what he knew.

"Okay, I talked to a doctor for just a moment. The boy's stats were good. Doctor Cope came out for a minute before they headed up to surgery" Nathan gripped Buck's arm, as the man seemed to wilt. "Buck, he was bleeding on the inside. Doctor seemed real positive about the boy's chances."

Buck nodded as Nathan spoke. After they had taken in the news and settled down some, Nathan led them to the surgery waiting area and everyone found a chair. The men sat down in the hard plastic chairs and prepared for the wait.

It was three hours before the doctor came through the doors. Everyone had consumed at least two cups of coffee. Buck had become more vocal as time passed. Six men surrounded the man as he approached Jackson. The man glanced around, but did not appear apprehensive in the midst of the group.

"Mr. Jackson"

"Doctor Cope, this is Buck Wilmington, JD's cousin. The rest of these men are the people we work with."

Doctor Cope nodded and turned his attention to Buck. "Mr. Wilmington, we've repaired as much of the damage as possible. The boy was beat pretty badly. I gather from Mr. Jackson, that the young man is the victim of the killer that's been in the paper lately?" Buck nodded.

"Well, I'm glad that he survived such a brutal attack. He has a multitude of broken bones and some severe bruising. He was hemorrhaging from several internal lacerations. We had to give him two units of whole blood. His blood loss was substantial, but I don't think there is any permanent damage. Right now, he's still in the surgery theater. An orthopedic surgeon is setting some of the bones that were fractured. His left arm is the most severe. Doctor Eubanks will be pinning the forearm after the swelling has gone down. Right now he is setting and immobilizing the frac

ures that he can. Mr. Dunne should be out in an hour or so. He’ll most likely be out of it for several hours until the anesthetic wears off. I want to suggest that you all go home and get some rest."

He threw up his hand as he noticed several heads start to shake. "I didn’t think so. Have it your way. Make yourselves comfortable. I’ll have a nurse come in and get you after he’s settled in a room."

Buck stuck out his hand and shook the doctor’s hand. "Thanks, doc. Kid means a lot to us." His voice cracked as he finished speaking. Turning away, he walked over to the window and stared out at the night sky. Doctor Cope nodded to the others and then turned and left the room.

The others went back to their chairs and made themselves comfortable. Chris sat watching Buck for a few minutes and then got up and joined him at the window. He stood shoulder to shoulder, quietly looking out. Finally, Buck put both hands out and leaned on the glass. Sighing heavily, he turned his face to Larabee.

"I feel like I'm losing it, Chris. I can't stop thinking 'bout what could 'a happened. What would've happened if he.. We didn't get there; we couldn't help him. 'Why?' I keep asking myself, ‘why did this’.. I just.." he stammered. He shook his head as if to clear it.

Chris crossed his arms and leaned against the frame surrounding the window. "The ‘why’ isn’t important, Buck. The guy was insane. Whatever his reasoning was, we’ll never understand it. All we can do now is be there for JD." He watched as Buck struggled with his emotions. Chris allowed him time to fight his internal battle. When Buck took a deep breath and released it slowly, Chris continued. "The kid is going to need help. He's a sweet kid, Buck. He always looks for the good in people. This is going to be hard on him. But he’s not brittle, Buck. He’s a strong kid. We just need be there to support him until he builds that strength back up."

Buck nodded. "That kid is everything to me. The idea of this assault is so.. filthy." Then he snorted. "I wish I could kill ‘em, Chris."

Larabee opened his mouth and Buck held up a hand.

"I know. You all wish the same thing, right?" Buck stated for Larabee

Chris looked at him with no expression on his face and Buck knew he was right. The blonde used his chin to point to the chairs and they both moved to sit down. Vin glanced up as they approached. He glanced down quickly before making eye contact with Buck, but Chris saw the look and knew that Vin was going to need as much help as their youngest member. Unfortunately, there was no helping Tanner until they could see the kid, because JD was the only one that could help lift the guilt from the shoulders of the quiet young man.

They had been sitting for two hours when a nurse came through the door. Doctor Cope had told her about the six men waiting to see the patient, but she was still not prepared for the immediate response her entrance evoked. She was tempted to turn and run when the six men jumped to their feet and moved toward her en masse. She smiled nervously as she glanced at each one.

"Gentlemen, Mr. Dunne is in recovery. He's still under, due to the sedative, but Doctor Cope is allowing one or two of you to see him. The others are welcome to come to the doorway, but they must stay outside. Two minutes is all. We have other patients to consider. He is doing well and we'll move him up to a room as soon we're sure he's coming out from under the anesthetic."

She turned and walked back through the door. A parade of six followed. The nurse paused at the door. Buck stepped up beside her and turned to the rest. "Chris, you mind if Vin comes in with me?"

Larabee smiled. "You read my mind." But Vin was shaking his head.

Buck ignored the furtive look Tanner wore on his face. Taking the smaller man by the arm, Wilmington drew him through the doorway. Vin tried to pull away, but Buck held firmly to the sinewy arm until they were standing by the bed.

The sight was inconceivable. JD's face was unmarred and therefore misleading. The bruises in his throat were visible, though, and the damage just seemed to get worse. His leg was encased in a cast and propped on a pillow. His left arm had the same treatment, which caused Buck to frown. He thought they were going to wait until the swelling had gone down. Making a mental note to ask about that later, he continued to survey his cousin's injuries. There were two bags of fluid suspended above the boy's head and tubes disappeared under the blanket covering his slight frame.

Buck reached out and placed the back of his hand against the cool skin on the young man's face. JD moved his face away from the touch and moaned. A nurse came over and, after checking the monitors and IV's, laid her hand on the shoulder opposite from Buck. Once again, the boy moaned and moved away from the touch. Buck felt Vin step up close to his shoulder.

"Buck, he don't where he is. He probably thinks he's still in that basement and ya'll are Jaquiss. Talk to him, he might recognize your voice even if he doesn't understand the words."

Buck nodded at the wisdom in the words. He looked over the nurse and she stepped back. Gently he reached out again. "JD? It's me, kid. It's Buck. You're okay now. You're safe, JD." He stroked his cousins' arm as he waited for a reaction.

At first the semiconscious youth tried to pull away, but after a few words, he stopped. His head turned toward the voice, a frown pulling at his features.

"You're okay kid. It's over. He's gone and he won't hurt you any more. JD, can you understand me, son?"

Buck watched as the young man struggled to open his eyes. His reward was a flash of color as the eyes barely opened and then closed again. He held his breathe as parched lips moved.

"Bu..?" The name came out more like a puff of air then a word, but it was enough to bring a smile to the big man's face and a tear to his eye. He glanced at Vin and saw him visibly relax.

"Yeah, kid, it's me. Vin's here, too."

A shaky hand latched onto Wilmington's and hung on. "No" the youth whispered.

Buck frowned as Tanner stood up straight and took a step back. The tall man reached out and grabbed the wiry ex-bounty hunter by the arm once again, afraid he was about to flee.

"Wait just a minute, Vin. Boy's not awake. He don't know what he's saying."

Vin leaned in close to Buck's ear and hissed. "I shouldn't be in here. He knows what he's saying and he don't want me in here." Tanner pulled against the strong hold Wilmington had on his arm. Movement drew their eyes back to the youth in the bed.

"No, Bu.. Vin..Vin's in trouble..down… help.. help. Buc..help Vin." JD pleaded.

Buck turned his attention back to Tanner. He breathed a sigh of relief at the change in Tanner's bearing. The muscles in Tanner's jaw were flexing as he struggled with his emotions. Finally, he stepped close to the bed and leaned down.

"Hey, JD. I'm here. I'm okay. You need to rest now. Don't be worrying about me." He was amazed as he saw the boy relax.

As he stepped back, the nurse moved near. "I'm sorry, guys, but you'll have to leave now. I'll come get you when we get ready to move him upstairs."

Both men nodded. Buck leaned down close to JD's ear. "JD, I have to leave now, but we'll right outside. You rest and I'll be right there when you wake up." Buck pulled the hand from his sleeve and stepped away from the bed.

He and Vin turned and started to the door. They could see the others standing at the door, questions written on their faces. Those same faces suddenly frowned. Buck and Vin were just reaching the door when an alarm went off, stopping them both. The two men turned to see nurses rushing to the bed where JD lay.

Buck rushed back to see JD struggling against hands that fought to restrain him. JD's eyes were open and he looked around wildly, not focusing on any one thing. Buck's growled 'Back off' froze everyone. He stepped around one nurse and pushed in front of another to get to his cousin's side.

He took the boy's head in his hands and gently turned the flushed face toward him. "It's okay, JD. Just relax. I'm right here. Ain't nobody going to hurt you."

Terror was evident on the young face, but it receded as Buck's voice broke through. Tears sprung to the haunted eyes. "Buck?"

"Yeah, kiddo, it's me. You lay back and relax. I'll be right here."

A grip that contradicted the young's man weakened state, held the man's arm. Buck took that hand in his own and squeezed, while his other hand brushed at the boy's sweat-soaked hair.

"Don't leave me. Please, Buck. Don't." JD lost his battle to stay conscious and his head sunk into the small pillow.

Buck's hand was shaking as he continued to stroke the dark hair. He didn't look up as he whispered, "I need to see that doctor."

The nurses had all moved off, but one. "If you'll just step outside sir, I'll have Doctor Cope paged." She stood at the end of the bed, her arm held out, pointing the way.

"I am not going anywhere." Buck stated slowly.

"Sir, you can't stay here. Please, if you'll just.."

A new voice interrupted her. "He's not leaving. Get the doctor." She looked into the green eyes of the blond speaker. "Now." She nodded her head as she stepped back.

The nurse moved off and Chris walked over to Buck. "What's going on, Buck? The kid okay?"

Wilmington' head shook as he softly replied. "I think he had a panic attack when we walked away. He's got a death grip on my hand and he's not even conscious."

Chris looked down at the young man. JD wasn't conscious, but neither was he relaxed. Tension was prominent in his features. The two men stood and watched as the boy slept.

"Gentlemen." Doctor Cope studied the monitors and JD’s chart. "I understand that we had a problem? Why don't we step outside and discuss it."

Buck glanced at the man before turning his attention back to the kid. Chris pointedly glared at the doctor. Doctor Cope met his gaze for a moment before glancing away. Larabee beckoned Cope to step away from the bed a couple of steps.

Dropping his voice, Chris explained, "You know what happened to JD, right?" Cope nodded. " Kid's scared. He panicked when Buck tried to leave. I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job, but I think you should let him stay. Panic is the last thing the kid needs."

Doctor Cope nodded as he listened. Chris paused and the man took advantage of the pause. "I think that we can arrange that. The young man is coming around; his vitals look good. I see no reason why we should not be able to move him to a room. Give me a couple of minutes to arrange it and we’ll get him moved."

Chris nodded and Doctor Cope extended his hand. Gripping the extended hand, Chris thanked the man.

"Nothing to thank me for. I’m only acting in my patient's best interest."

With that, the man moved away and Chris moved back to stand next to Buck. Wilmington glanced over and Chris nodded. Buck sighed and turned his attention back to the sleeping figure.

"Buck, I’m going out to let the others know what’s going on. I’ll be outside if you need anything." A slight nod was his answer. Chris went out and joined the others.

"How fares our young compatriot?" Ezra asked as Chris came through the doors. Everyone had moved toward Larabee.

"He’s resting. Buck will be staying with him. They're going to be moving him to a room in a little bit." Everyone seemed to relax a bit with the news. After milling around a bit, the five finally settled down to wait.


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