by Purple Lacey

Eighteenth story in the Angel Girl series.

Characters: Buck, JD, Casey, OFC

Disclaimer: All standard disclaimers apply.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to MOG for inventing the ATF universe and allowing us to play in it. Thanks to the ladies at Blackraptor for giving these stories a home. Thanks to all the lovely people who took the time to send such nice feedback for the other stories in this series. Your kind words do a lot to grease the creative wheels so they keep turning.

“Hey, Casey! This is a nice surprise. JD didn´t tell me you were coming over today,” Buck grinned at his roommate´s girlfriend as he opened his front door to her on the chilly Saturday afternoon. “Get on in here out of the cold. JD´s in the den.” Buck took her arm to help her across the threshold and helped her remove her coat after he closed the door.

“JD doesn´t know I was coming today, Buck,” Casey said as she looked at the tall, handsome man seriously. “I really came to talk to you if you have a minute.”

Looking concerned Buck said, “Sure, Casey. I just need to let Rita know I´ll be a minute. Come on back and say hi.”

Casey followed the man to the large homey kitchen where his housekeeper, Rita, and his three year old daughter, Angela, were busy making and decorating gingerbread men.

“Look what I found,” Buck announced as he entered.

“Hello, Rita. Hi, Angel. How are you both today?” Casey greeted the room´s occupants.

Angela quickly jumped down from the stool she was sitting on by the island counter and ran to the young woman.

“Aunt Casey! Hi! We´re makin´ gingerbread mans.”

The young woman knelt down to hug the enthusiastic child. Angela stopped talking long enough to return the hug and add a sugar-smeared kiss on Casey´s cheek.

“You can help if you want to. Daddy was helping but he kept eating the choc´ate chip buttons and Rita gots mad at him and told him he better stop or she was gonna spank him,” Angela finished with a giggle. She leaned against the young woman and whispered, “Rita´s really funny! She wouldn´t really spank Daddy, ‘cause he´s too big, but she says he doesn´t need to know that!” Little Angela covered her mouth with both hands to hide her giggles.

Casey laughed with the delighted child and gave her another hug. She leaned close to the child´s ear and whispered, “Okay, I won´t tell him then. It´ll be our secret.”

“´kay, Aunt Casey. You want to help us make gingerbread mans?” Angela asked again.

“Aunt Casey came to see to me about something, Angel. Maybe she can help later if she has time, alright?” Buck interrupted, swooping the child up and tossing her in the air to make her squeal and laugh. He deposited her back on her stool and turned to speak to his housekeeper.

“Casey needs to talk to me for a while, Rita. I´ll be back in a bit, alright?”

“Certainly, Senor Buck,” Rita smiled at her employer and then sent another to JD´s young girlfriend. “Ola, Senorita Casey. You go do what you need to do and Angela and I will finish the cookies and then get started on dinner. You take your time.”

“Thanks, Rita,” Casey said before following Buck out into the living room.

“What´s on your mind, Casey?” Buck asked. He gestured Casey to take a seat on the couch and then sat in the chair across from her.

“Buck, have you noticed any differences in the way JD has been acting lately?” Casey jumped right in.

“Yeah, that I have,” Buck stated seriously. “He´s been moping around here like a kid that just lost his dog, but only when he thinks no one is watching. If I ask him about what´s bothering him he gives me a song and dance about it just being my imagination and everything is fine. I can´t get anything out of him. Do you know what the problem is?

Casey sighed. “I get the same response from him. He tells me nothing´s wrong, but he hasn´t been the same since we came back from our skiing trip to Vail two weeks ago.”

“Did anything happen while you were there? Did y´all fight or anything?” Buck asked.

“No. That´s what makes this so frustrating. Everything was wonderful, almost perfect in fact. I´ve never felt closer to him, and he seemed to feel just the same, but ever since that trip he´s seemed so lost, so sad. I don´t know what´s wrong with him, Buck, and I don´t know how to help him,” Casey sighed as she raised distressed eyes to her lover´s best friend.

Buck reached out and took her hand in his and gave her a reassuring squeeze. “Don´t fret, darlin´. We´ll find out what´s wrong. We just have to work together,” Buck grinned. “Now sounds like the perfect time to beard the lion in his den. Let´s go see if we can´t find out what took the red off that boy´s candy cane, okay?”

Casey nodded her head and rose to follow Buck from the room, hope rising in her heart.

Buck and Casey entered the den quietly and observed JD standing with slumped shoulders beside the window. In the window´s reflection they could see JD was gazing at the snow covered scene without actually appearing to see anything. An aura of desolation seemed to surround the usually happy and outgoing spirit of the young man that Buck looked on as a younger brother. The deep sadness on JD´s face struck a blow to Buck´s heart making it ache for his best friend. Buck glanced down at Casey and met her equally concerned look. Nodding their heads in silent agreement, the two determined people continued into the room and stood behind JD, causing him to start in surprise when he realized he was no longer alone.

”Uh, hi guys...” JD began, standing up straight and desperately trying to hide his upset behind a happy façade. Unfortunately for him, his friend and his lover had already seen enough to know something was wrong and neither person was about to let him get away with pretending otherwise.

Buck laid his hand on the young man´s shoulder, stared into his eyes seriously, and asked, “JD, what´s wrong?”

“What? Uh… nothing´s wrong, Buck. Why do you ask?” JD tried to hold onto his unconcerned air as Buck´s eyes seemed to drill straight into his soul.

“JD,” Casey said as she gently took his hand and held it between both of hers, “Buck and I have both noticed how unhappy you´ve been for the last two weeks. You try to make everyone believe that nothing is wrong, but we both know you too well. You´re hurting, hurting very badly, love. Tell us what´s wrong, JD. Let us help you. Please, JD. It hurts us both to watch you like this.”

JD looked from Casey´s face to Buck´s and they saw his shoulders slump once more in defeat. Just as Casey and Buck knew JD, JD knew Casey and Buck. There was no way he would be allowed to gloss over his pain when two such caring and stubborn people as his roommate and his girlfriend were determined to root out its cause and vanquish it. He might have been able to stand up to one of them, but knew he would never be able to do it when they presented a united front against him.

Gently disengaging himself from the other two, JD began pacing around the room, trying to find the words to explain his feelings. He could feel their eyes follow his every move but neither spoke, allowing him to begin when he was ready.

“I just don´t know what to do anymore. I feel like my heart´s being torn in two, right down the middle.” JD spun around and faced them, almost spitting out the words before falling silent once more and resuming his pacing. “I know what I want, but I don´t know how to get it. Not without hurting someone. Not without hurting me, too. I don´t know what to do…” JD trailed off. He sank onto the nearby sofa and dropped his head into his hands in despair.

Buck and Casey shared another concerned look. They hurried to join the young man, Casey sitting beside him on the sofa, and Buck sitting on the coffee table in front of him. Both reached out and took one of his hands into their own.

Casey chaffed his hand between her own gently, trying to give some physical comfort to his man she loved so much. “JD, Sweetheart, you´re scaring me. Please, tell me!”

JD gazed at her with eyes so full of love and pain she gasped. “I love you, Casey. You know that don´t you?”

“I know, love. You know I love you too.”

“I love you more than I ever thought I could love one woman. If I ever lost you I think I´d lose half of my soul. I´d just go crazy. I need you, Casey. I want to spend the rest of my life loving you, being with you, sharing everything I have and everything I am with you. I want to make a family with you, and to see you holding our children. I want to sit on the porch swing late in the evenings and watch the sunsets with you. I want to laugh with you when you´re happy and hold your hand when you´re sick. I want your face to be the last thing I see at night and the first thing I see in the morning. When I die, I want to do it holding the memory of our life together close in my heart. That´s what I want.” JD finished quietly, his eyes never leaving hers.

Casey´s eyes filled with tears as the heartfelt words of this man touched her deepest soul. “Oh, JD, I want that, too. With all my heart, you know I do.”

“If you love Casey and want to be with her, and Casey loves you and wants to be with you,” Buck said gently with a little smile, “then I don´t see where there´s a problem, kid.”

JD sighed and looked at his roommate, his inner conflict still raging in his eyes and said quietly. “The problem is Angel.”

Buck glanced at JD and then Casey in surprise. “Angel! I don´t… what would… JD? Why is Angel a problem?”

The distraught man turned his head to look at his lover once again, squeezing her hand before turning to face Buck as he tried to explain.

“Angel is your daughter, Buck. We all know that, but … it´s like she´s mine too. She has been since the day you brought her home from the hospital. I love her just as much as I could possibly love my own child. I´ve shared almost everyday of her life with you. I was there when she was teething and was so fussy we thought we´d go crazy. I took my turn walking the floor with her when she came down with colic, you remember? I was there the day she first learned to sit up and when she learned to crawl. I was so happy I almost couldn´t speak the first time she said my name. I was just as proud of her when she learned to walk as you were, Buck.”

Smiling at the shared memories, Buck said, “I know you were, kid. You´ve always been there for both Angel and me. No one could have asked for a better friend these last three years. You know Angel loves you just as much as you love her, don´t you? You´re her favorite “uncle”.”

“Yeah, I know, and that´s where the problem is. I love Angel, and Angel loves me, and like I said, I´ve lived with her almost since she was born.”

“JD…,” said Casey as she began to get an inkling of the problem.

Buck was a little slower on the uptake and just continued to stare at his roommate in confusion.

JD sighed and tried to explain further, “It´s really ironic that I´ve never even been married but I know exactly how a father contemplating a divorce would feel.”

The light of understanding began to dawn in Buck´s eyes as JD continued, “How could I move out and not see her everyday, Buck? After almost four years of listening to her at breakfast, of playing with her before bedtime, of kissing her owwies better, what would I do? The thought of not being there is killing me. She´s your daughter…. but she´s mine, too,” JD finished in a whisper.

“I´ve heard so many sad stories of children of divorced parents who can´t understand why a parent would leave them. They start believing the reason is because of something they did, and sometimes never believe it when they´re told otherwise. I would never want to hurt Angel that way, Buck. I never want her to wonder if I left her because of something she did wrong. I couldn´t stand for her to go through anything like that and she´s just too little to be able to understand why I wouldn´t be with her anymore.

I´d cut off my right arm before I hurt Angel, but I don´t want to hurt Casey either, and just allowing her to continue in this relationship as it is when we´re both ready for a deeper commitment would hurt her. I don´t know how to fix this. I want to make all of us happy, but I don´t know how!” JD hung his head overcome with sadness.

“Oh, Sweetheart,” Casey murmured as she put her arms around her distraught lover, at last fully understanding the source of her man´s pain.

Buck´s mind raced. He could hardly believe he hadn´t seen it. If only he had thought it through before, he might have been able to save his friend the emotional upheaval he had been suffering for the last two weeks. He should have made things clear to his young friend right from the start. Buck shook his head in disgust at himself. Oh well, hindsight was not going to solve the current problems of his young friends.

Buck reached out his hands and captured the chins of the two young lovers on the sofa and used his light grip to turn their faces to him then dropped his hands when he had their attention.

With a gentle, understanding smile Buck told them, “You know, with a little work and some help from a few good friends, the basement could easily be turned into a great little apartment, just perfect for a pair of newlyweds.”

JD froze for a moment, stunned by his friend´s offer, then looked at Casey who gazed back at him with a look of growing hope.

“You´d have your own entrance so you could come and go as you pleased. You´d have all the privacy you´d want, and still be as much a part of Angel´s everyday life as you want to be. It might not be a permanent solution, but it´s a start,” Buck finished then fell silent, waiting while the young couple considered his solution.

“You really mean it, Buck?” JD whispered in wonder, seeing the answer to all his problems dangling right in front of him.

“Absolutely, kid. If you two want it, it´s all yours,” Buck grinned.

JD turned to face Casey, the first real smile anyone had seen on his face in weeks breaking out. “Casey? Honey? What do you think? Could you…” he began only to be interrupted when Casey flung herself into his arms.

“I´d live with you in a hole in the ground, JD Dunne,” Casey said lovingly.

“I´d take that as a yes, if I were you, JD,” Buck laughed.

JD laughed with him in sheer joy as he felt the ocean of sadness he had been immersed in for so long recede like the tide rushing out. JD looked at his best friend, the deep well of love and gratitude he felt for the generous man sitting across from him shining brightly in his eyes, “Buck… I…”

Casey interrupted when she pulled out of JD´s arms and leaned across the small gap separating them, to throw her arms around Buck´s neck and place a heartfelt kiss on his cheek. “Thank you. Buck! You´ve made me so happy. You´ve made us both happy. You´re the best big brother a girl could ever have.”

“You´re welcome, darlin´,” Buck said as he returned her enthusiastic hug. “All I ask is that you make my little brother here happy.”

“It´s a deal!” Casey laughed, letting go of Buck when JD grabbed her around the waist and tugged her back into his own arms.

“There´ll be none of that!” JD growled jokingly.

“Ah, kid, she can´t help it. It´s just my animal magnetism at work,” Buck grinned.

“Well you and your animal magnetism can go find your own girl,” JD said and looked down at the glowing young woman in his arms, “this one´s mine.” He leaned down to place a gentle kiss on Casey´s lips. The kiss seemed to grow in intensity and feeling, and Buck began to laugh, and fan the air in front of his face.

“Wooo, it´s getting warm in here!” he joked. “You two better hurry up and get hitched before Angel sees something she is waaayyy to young to see!”

Laughing, the two lovers broke their kiss and sat back on the sofa, still wrapped in each other´s arms.

“Why don´t we go take a look at that basement and y´all can start planning the way you want it. The sooner we get started, the sooner y´all can start your life together,” Buck stood up and motioned his friends to lead the way.

Casey had eagerly started out of the room when JD stopped and pulled his hand from hers. He turned to face Buck. JD looked into the pleased eyes of his best friend and said, “Thank you.”

The words were simple but Buck could see every emotion his friend was feeling shining out at him from those soulful brown eyes.

Buck reached out and pulled his friend into a hug. “No need to thank me, kid. That´s what brothers do.”

The End

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