A Life in the Balance

by Sue M

Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em but if I could they'd be on season 10 by now!

Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language

Thanks to Mog for the wonderful ATF/AU

Thanks always to Phyllis...my rock, my guardian angel.

Thanks to Chris Whitworth for a direction.

For Mari.

"Enjoy you're life while you can, you little shit...you're dead...d'ya hear me Fed...?....DEAD! "

The officers of the court struggled to drag the ranting man away as he turned his whole body and accusing eyes toward Team Seven, in particular, one JD Dunne.

JD watched him go, trying not to show how the words were affecting him, comforted as he felt a hand on each of his shoulders, one Buck's, the other Chris'. Larabee sneered at what he considered to be the man's pathetic threats, offering his own trademark glare as a gesture of his contempt, then guided his youngest out of the court.

"Come on...I need some fresh air."

Once outside, JD took a deep breath. "God...I'm glad that's over, Metcalfe's one mean bastard." He removed his suit jacket and pulled off his tie, unbuttoning his shirt at the collar.

Chris nodded, "That he is, and thanks to your testimony, he's going down for life. And don't worry about idle threats, once that scum is safely locked away, his little empire will switch hands, or crumble. Either way, he won't have many friends left to call on."

JD agreed, "Yeah I know...probably felt he had to say something...to keep up appearances, I guess."

The team walked toward their vehicles parked next to the sidewalk just outside the courthouse, splitting between the two cars. JD walked around to the offside to jump into the back seat of Chris' Ram. He looked across at his teammates and shrugged as he put his hand on the doorhandle.

"'Sides, if I worried about every threat issued after a trial, I'd have gotten out of law enforcement ages ago."

A distant roar of a car engine didn't register with any of the seven until it was almost upon them. Frowning, Buck and Vin turned to look toward the noise, closely followed by the rest of them.

JD barely had time to register that the car was aiming for him, taking a tiny swerve as it reached him. Buck's panicked yell seemed distant as JD felt an impact to his left hip and was flying through the air, to land hard on the hood of Chris' truck and then slide off to drop awkwardly between the two cars, landing with a thud on the ground, his head making a little 'crack' sound as it made contact with the edge of the pavement.

In seconds, Vin sprinted and was crouched in the center of the road, his weapon drawn. He fired three rounds at the car, which swerved violently, spun full circle and stopped. He, Nathan, Josiah and Ezra ran to the car, closely followed by other officers that were outside the building, while Buck and Chris dropped down to JD's side

"Holy crap...kid...? JD...can you hear me?" He looked at Larabee. "Chris?"

Larabee was calling for an ambulance while checking for a pulse, trying hard not to focus on the growing puddle of blood under his youngest agent's head.

Buck frowned at the swelling huddle of spectators.

"Fuck off, all of you, there's nothing to see here."

He was trying hard to keep it together but the very sight of his roommate and friend lying bleeding on the ground was almost too much to bear and it took him a few seconds to register that the rest of the team were now around him and Nathan's voice was gently ordering him to move.

Where the hell was the ambulance?

+ + + + + + +

Buck's heart lurched every time the doors to the ER waiting room opened.

"God...how much longer?"

Josiah squeezed the brunette's arm, "Easy, Buck."

Larabee rose to his feet from his position at the other side of Wilmington and walked to the window. With an unexpected growl, he slammed the open palm of his hand hard against the wall and remained there, unmoving as he stared out into the hospital parking lot. The others looked to each other and patiently waited. A few minutes later, Chris turned back to them, his expression a mixture of anger, frustration and sorrow.

"Right in front of us...what sort of a crack unit are we that allows one of our own to get mowed down RIGHT IN FRONT OF US?"

Vin moved from the wall he had been leaning against and approached him.

"Easy, cowboy...no one's happy about this, but right now, Buck's a little too fragile for 'what ifs."

Chris sighed heavily and stared at the Texan, a silent understanding passing between them. They both turned as a doctor entered the room and stopped next to Buck, who was now on his feet, along with the rest of his teammates.

"Just to let you know how Mister Dunne is doing. Considering what happened he's had a remarkably lucky escape, coming out of this with severe bruising to his left hip, his ribs, in fact, quite a lot of bruising to his body, and a concussion. The cut to his head has been glued and dressed but he has no broken bones. He's unconscious but all his vitals are stable and I have every confidence once he's awake he'll make a full recovery. Is there anything you'd like to ask me?"

"H...he didn't break anything?" Buck stammered.

"No, nothing. He's just being transferred to a private room, so if you'd like to go on up to the waiting room on floor five, someone will come for you when he's settled."

Buck's shoulders slumped in relief. Chris placed a supporting hand on one of them and shook the doctor's hand with his free hand, thanking the man for the news. Fifteen minutes later they were all stood around JD's bed in room 502, marveling at the day's minor miracle.

+ + + + + + +

A slow swallow alerted the six agents to the possibility of their youngest finally waking up. It had been a grueling thirty hours and Buck was drained, refusing to leave his 'little brother's' side any longer than necessary and only then to go to the bathroom, choosing to take any refreshments offered while remaining at the side of the bed.

The brunette stood and leaned over the younger man, stroking the youth's forehead and hair in an effort to ground him.

"Come on, son...you can do it...listen to ol' Buck's voice now and follow me out...that's my boy."

JD knew someone wanted him, but he really wasn't sure he was ready to answer just yet. But then something in the voice...a plea almost, well, he could hardly refuse after being asked so nicely. He blinked his eyes open a little, wincing at the pain the light caused him.

"Buck?" he whispered.

The brunette grinned, "The one and only...was beginning to wonder what was keeping you...here have these..."

He slipped a few ice chips into JD's mouth and watched in fascination as a range of emotions flooded the youth's face as they dissolved.


"You're cold?" Buck asked.


Buck laughed and turned to the others who were also chuckling.

Chris moved in and looked into the young man's eyes.

"Looks like you came off pretty good, son...the car that hit you doesn't look so good though."

"A car...h...hit me?"

Chris cursed himself, 'let him remember himself, Larabee', "Yeah... don't you remember?"

"N...no...sorry." He winced, showing extreme discomfort, "Hurts..."

Buck stroked his friend's cheek. "I know, kid, try and relax, you're gonna be mighty stiff and sore for a while."

"'Kay..." and with a soft sigh, JD drifted back to sleep.

Nathan opened the door, "I'll go tell the nurses' station he woke up so's they can alert his doctor."

They all nodded. A few minutes later the door opened and the five agents were surprised to see Orin Travis standing there. Chris approached him.

"What's wrong?"

Orin smiled inwardly, he should have known Larabee would guess something was up.

"Metcalfe never made it to prison; he escaped long before he got there. Looks like it was well coordinated, all the guards are dead. As of now, I'm putting guards outside this door and will keep you apprised of the situation as often as I can."

Chris groaned, Buck released JD's hand and approached.

"Are you saying JD's still in danger?"

"I can't be sure, Buck, so for now I'm taking no chances. Metcalfe has made no secret of his feelings about Dunne, and I'm guessing his outburst in court was more than just an idle threat now...he clearly knew he was going to try to escape. I'm pulling this team off active duty until further notice. I know how much you boys care for each other and I can think of no better solution than for JD to stay in the protective custody of six men he already trusts with his life."

Each man straightened at the compliment, silently vowing their determination to come up to expectations.

+ + + + + + +

Four days later found JD sitting on the bed waiting for his lift home. He was still very stiff and sore from the bruising but his pain meds were more than adequate and he was desperate for a change of scenery.

Ezra idly cleaned his fingernails while Vin sat and checked his gun. Travis had arranged for the seven men to stay at a Federal-owned apartment until further notice as Metcalfe hadn't been seen since his escape, and despite there being no further attempts to get to JD, the AD was taking no chances.

JD looked at his friends and sighed, "Sorry guys."

Both men looked up.

"And just why are you apologizing, my young friend?"

"Aw, come on Ezra...you surely have better things to do than baby-sit me right now."

"True, I have other things to do," the southerner stated, "But not better things to do. I would have it no other way than to be available to ensure your safety, young man, as is the same for each member of this team. It is no less than I would expect of you."

Vin nodded his agreement.

JD allowed himself a small grin, "Thanks, guys," he whispered. His head jerked up at the noisy entrance by Buck and Chris, Buck pushing a wheelchair.

"Alright kid...you're good to go. Josiah and Nathan have appointed themselves the housekeepers and are currently shopping for our dinner." He gestured to the chair, "Your chariot awaits."

Smiling, JD shook his head and rolled his eyes, carefully slipping off the bed and dropping into the chair. He looked up at Buck and caught the look on his best friend's face as he stared at the colorful bruising on the young man's features.

"Ready when you are," the youth said softly.

Larabee nodded to Standish and Tanner and the latter moved to the front of the group while Ezra and Chris took up the rear positions.

JD shuddered at the efforts being made on his behalf, but inwardly smiled knowing these amazing men had his back. They made their way through the hospital, all four men never dropping their vigilance for a second, three of them flanking their youngest while their hands hovered over their holsters, prepared for any eventuality.

Before long they were on their way to their new temporary home.

+ + + + + + +

JD put down the controls of his X-box and looked across to the table at Chris. The man had been sitting there, absorbed in some paperwork for over an hour and JD was curious.

"Anything interesting? "

The blond cast him a sideways glance. "Nothing earth-shattering, no. Just going over some of the casework, see if I can work out where Metcalfe might be. Do you need anything?"

"Nah...I'm good, besides, I can get it myself, you know."

"I know," Larabee grinned, "Just allowing you the opportunity to 'work' me while you have the chance."

"Damn..." JD grinned "On second thought..."

"Too late, kid," Chris chuckled.

Buck came from the bathroom and ruffled the youth's hair.

"I hope you washed your hands first," JD scolded.

"Oh yeah," Buck winked at Chris, "But we got no towel so..."

JD slapped Buck's leg and run his hand through his hair, mainly to tidy it, but sub-consciously checking for moisture, which gave Buck cause to laugh.

Vin returned from the kitchen and dropping down next to JD, once more took up the other controls of the X-box.

"So...where were we?" he asked as he munched on his sandwich.

"I'd just whooped your ass for the third time," JD gloated.

Tanner waved it off, "I was just getting warmed up, I always let my opponents win the first few, lulls 'em into a false sense of security."

JD let out a little noise to show just what he thought of that and the two resumed their game.

Buck joined Chris at the table and shuffled some of the scattered papers to read them.

"Anything, pard?"

Chris shook his head, "Nope, it's like the guy just...vanished. "

"You know Travis is gonna put us back on active duty soon, don't you?"

"Yeah," Chris agreed, "It's been two weeks, I guess we can't stay hidden forever."

"Maybe the guy up and went to Mexico, or Brazil, or somewhere," Buck speculated.

"Well," Ezra interrupted as he entered the room with some coffees, "I'm sure wherever he is, he's having considerably more fun than we are."

He instantly regretted his words as he caught the expression of the youngest.

The screen flashed up 'Game Over' and Vin raised his arms in triumph, dropping them instantly as he noted the change in atmosphere. JD got up.

"I'm just gonna lie down for a bit," he informed, ducking Ezra's gaze as he went into the bedroom.

Buck turned and glared at the southerner. "Ezra..."

"I know, I know...I did not intend to upset the lad, I was merely...pay no mind, I will go and speak to him."

He looked at the others and touching his fingers to his head, followed Dunne to the bedroom.

"I guess we're all getting a little stir-crazy," Josiah added as he brought in a large pot of chili, gesturing to Chris to move the paperwork.

Nathan was following him in with the cutlery.

"Yeah, but at least we've been out occasionally, JD hasn't had any fresh air since he left the hospital."

Chris tapped the papers on the table to tidy them, "Maybe it's time for a change of venue."

+ + + + + + +

As JD lay face-down on the bed, he ignored the tap on the door, guessing whoever it was would come in anyway. He felt the bed dip as someone sat on the edge next to him, then he felt a warm hand on his back.

"JD, please forgive my careless remark, it was in no way directed at you personally." He was a little surprised as the youth turned his face to him, his eyes red.

"I...I know Ez...it's just," he sighed deeply, burying his face in his pillow, "I feel so bad you guys are stuck here with me. And...for how much longer? Am I ever gonna have a normal life again?"

Ezra rubbed his friend's back in a soothing motion as the youth remained on his stomach, hugging his pillow.

"Consider this a temporary inconvenience, John Dunne, I believe our illustrious leader is hatching a plan as we speak."

Ezra's actions relaxed JD to the point of drowsiness. "Good, 'cause I don't think I can take much more of this," he yawned. In a few minutes he was asleep.

Ezra rose carefully from the bed and taking one last look at the sleeping form, he crept from the room and quietly closed the door.

Standish joined the others at the table.

"He ok?" Buck asked as he chewed.

"Yes," Ezra nodded, "But I fear this enforced incarceration is affecting his demeanor far more than he has been prepared to admit."

Chris swallowed, "We know, and I'm telling Travis we're moving to my place, at least there he can breath in some clean air, and we can have a bit more space." He watched as Josiah heaped some chili into a bowl, got up from the table and took it to the kitchen.

"For when he wakes up," he grinned.

"I guess we should be planning on a return to duty," Vin commented, watching as Chris nodded.

"Yep, Josiah, Nathan and Ezra'll go back after the weekend, me and you'll go back around mid-week, Buck, you can do whatever suits, but I think we should bring JD back in the following week."

Buck grinned, "Sounds like a plan, stud."

+ + + + + + +

Three weeks on and all thoughts of Metcalfe were firmly in the backs of Team Seven's minds as they tackled their new case load. Chris, Buck, Vin and JD had been out and about following several leads. JD had been accessing his PDA and idly looking out of his window, when he noticed a black Ford pull up alongside, thinking nothing of it at first. A movement alerted him to the driver, the only occupant of the car and JD looked again as a familiar face pointed two fingers in a mock-gun display and mouthed the words 'bang'.

"Metcalfe," he breathed.

Buck turned to him, frowning and now, also looking out of the window.

"M...Metcalfe!" JD found his voice.

They all turned to the side just in time to see the man gun his car past them and roar away.

Chris floored it as Vin called it in, contacting the rest of the team directly after.

JD's heart was thumping but he wanted this more than anything. He turned to Buck but the man was fully focusing on the chase, frowning as the prison escapee drove toward some old abandoned offices, stopped the car and ran into the building.

The four agents were seconds behind him, checking their weapons as they exited the car.

"Buck, you go left, Vin, right, JD...you're with me." Larabee hissed.

They cautiously entered the building and went in the directions they where ordered.

Wilmington took in a deep breath to steady his nerves, grateful that Chris had dragged JD with him.

One less thing to worry about.

He cautiously peered around the corner of the derelict office but found it empty.

'I know you're in here somewhere you bastard' he thought to himself, despondent as yet another corner turned proved fruitless and the worry for his teammates once more crept around the edges of his mind.

A noise to his left caused the brunette to turn sharply, squinting hard into the dim area, it's only light, cast from high windows, long neglected and caked in grime.

As soon as he heard a noise behind him Buck cursed himself for falling for such an obvious trick, turning slowly to see Metcalfe grinning and pointing a gun straight at his heart.

"Bad move, Fed...with you out of the way, that little runt's as good as dead."

Buck glared at him, "You so much as put one finger on that boy you bastard, so help me..."

As the noise of the gunshot registered in his mind, Buck felt the impact of the solid concrete floor, and as he lay there he looked to his left to see his assailant slip out into the outer offices. Desperate to protect his friends, Buck tried to call out but no sound came and though he desperately wanted to cling on to consciousness, inky blackness enveloped him, relieving him from the God-awful pain in his chest.

At the sound of the gunshot, Larabee flipped open his cell and thumbed four on the keypad.

"Back-up, Josiah...now. "

He looked at JD, nodding once, and they moved toward the area the sound had come from. Larabee sent Dunne left while he went right, wondering now if they were looking for Buck or Vin. Satisfied his area was clear he backtracked to where JD had gone, halting instantly as the younger man's gun pointed his way.

As JD relaxed, Chris moved forward, his heart pounding as he took in the image in front of him.

JD had spotted the prone form on the cold floor and satisfied they were alone, he checked Buck's neck for a pulse, all the while scanning his surroundings.

He felt a faint movement under his fingers and closed his eyes for a split second in relief. JD shuddered and swallowed hard to push down the rising bile in his throat. His best friend looked like shit as he lay in a puddle of his own blood and the youth knew he couldn't waste any time getting help.

A noise caused JD to turn his weapon to it, relieved to see Chris.

"We need Nathan, Chris," he breathed, desperately trying to control the emotion that threatened to overwhelm him.

The blond nodded, never once taking his eyes off the man lying injured on the floor, but seconds later, saw both agents turning their heads on hearing gunfire.


+ + + + + + +

Tanner turned sharply at the sound of the gunfire and headed toward it. He figured he was almost there when a familiar form stopped dead in front of him, the man's gun raised, as was Vin's.

"Give it up, Metcalfe, it's over."

"It's over when I have that little shit lying in pieces on a mortuary slab," he smirked, raising his gun.

Vin fired and the man fell dead, now sporting a third 'eye'.

Tanner lowered his weapon, walked over and kicked the body to be sure the man was dead. He crouched down and felt for a pulse.

"Not on my watch, bub," he whispered.

The Texan spun and raised his weapon again at the sound of footsteps, relaxing as he saw Chris appear. The blond walked over and also checked for a pulse, although there was no doubt due to his appearance that Metcalfe was dead.

"Good enough," he stated grimly, then looked away from the body and back at the Texan.

"Buck's been shot, we gotta go."

+ + + + + + +

JD had stripped off his shirt and was applying pressure to the wound, Tears dripped off his nose as he leaned forward, looking at his partner's pale, slack features and listening to his ragged breathing.

Don't die," he sobbed, "Please Buck...don't leave me...I can't do this without you...please, please hang on...do it for me...and Chris...please Buck, please...please don't die."

The youth jumped as hands held his shoulders. He turned to see a familiar dark face as the sound of sirens drifted nearer.

"NATHAN!" he yelled, as he stood, "Nathan help him, please...it's...it' s bad," he sobbed, clinging to the medic, "Please...help him, don't let him die."

Nathan gave JD's hand a reassuring squeeze as he gently removed it from his arm and dropped to Buck's side. Chris took JD by the shoulders.

"JD, easy, boy...Nathan's here now and an ambulance is coming." Chris' words belied the terror that gripped his heart as he stared at the prone figure of his oldest friend on the floor, barely noticing Josiah's arrival. He snapped out of it as he felt sobs wrack his youngest's body. Instinctively, he pulled the youth in to comfort him and as JD gave in to the tremors, Larabee pulled him tighter, oddly comforted by the closeness.

Team Seven watched in horrified silence as the paramedics went to work on Buck, adding an IV and intubating him, seemingly concerned about the brunette's breath sounds and eventually loading Buck into the ambulance.

As the vehicle screamed away, Chris and JD sat in the back in silence, the youth clasping his big brother's hand to his own cheek as his eyes took in the white pallor of the man, the youth's other hand clinging to the material on the knee of Chris' trousers, not even realizing the blond had placed his own hand on top of the younger man's and was squeezing tightly.

The two men followed the gurney until it got to the doors of the ER at which point they stopped and watched in silence as the doors swung from the activity. Chris guided the younger man to a chair and they sat, preparing for the inevitable long wait.

+ + + + + + +

JD's hands propped up his head as his body gently rocked back and forth on the plastic chair. Josiah and Chris were either side of him, while Tanner sat in front, straddling a chair. Nathan and Ezra had pulled two more in to complete the circle and they all sat in silence. Dunne knew Larabee was scared...he had seen it in his eyes and felt it in the way Chris had clung to him in much the same way as JD had clung to Chris, and the leader of Team Seven being scared terrified JD almost as much as the thoughts as to what was happening to Buck in the operating theater.

Vin sat patiently watching the youth, still a bundle of energy, but not projecting it in his usual exuberant manner. JD had become totally withdrawn and Tanner found himself willing the doors to the theater to open to at least get a reaction out of him. Twenty minutes later and four hours into the start of their ordeal, Vin got his wish. They all stood to greet the doctor.

The doctor pointed to his chest.

"The bullet entered here and punctured and collapsed his right lung causing a right pneumohemothorax, the pathway missing the pericardium by two centimeters. His heart stopped twice on the table but he's come through it.

To summarize, the bullet just missed his heart, we've re-inflated his lung and successfully repaired all internal damage. There are three chest tubes inserted into the right pleural cavity to drain a large blood clot and he's currently on a ventilator. Gentlemen, at this time I cannot in all truth confirm that Mister Wilmington will survive. We will be taking him to ICU in the next few minutes."

Doctor Brooke's eyes immediately went to the pale young man who had gasped at the onslaught of information and visibly wavered as he had continued to explain. The doctor was convinced he was only remaining upright due to the firm hold on him by a stern-faced man in black clothing and a slimmer more casually dressed man with shoulder-length brown hair. "Can we see him soon?" Chris asked.

"Just one of you I'm afraid..."

Again his eyes went to the young man with incredibly large hazel eyes, and watched as huge tears rolled down the youth's cheeks, causing the doctor to wince inwardly. He made a decision.

"This goes against everything I believe to be right for the patient under normal circumstances, but I know of you, and I have an ICU isolation ward of four beds which is currently not being used. I'll have Mister Wilmington transferred there and it will enable you all to be with him."

JD let out a soft sob as Chris' look to the doctor conveyed his thanks. Doctor Brookes nodded and left.

JD sat down hard and covered his face with his hands.

"Buck's a fighter, son," Josiah soothed, "We mustn't give up on him... he wouldn't give up on us."

JD couldn't bring himself to look up, not even when a nurse came to direct them to Buck's room. Chris pulled him to his feet and held on to him.

"Come on," he urged and wearily they all moved on to where Buck now lay.

+ + + + + + +

Despite his initial hesitation, JD was sitting next to his roommate and hadn't moved in twenty-four hours, save for a bathroom break. He had refused to drink or hadn't touched it when it was brought to him so his body was dehydrating.

The youth couldn't take his eyes from his big brother as the big man lay there, white and gaunt, a machine breathing for him, his upper body swathed in dressings...a soul delicately balancing between life and death.

Dunne was holding Buck's hand as if willing his energy into him.

Vin touched him on his shoulder. "Kid, some of us are gonna get some food, why don't you come with us?"

JD shook his head, "Not hungry, Vin...thanks."

Tanner looked at Larabee who's lips were pursed in concentration.

"JD..." Chris began. The young agent threw him a glare.

"NO..." then softer, "No, thanks...I'm fine."

With a quick nod and a gesture to the rest of them, Chris stepped outside with his team.


The blond raised his hand, "Forget it Ezra, those two came from the same mold, I swear. The more we push, the more he'll dig in..."

He trailed off as he heard a voice and cracked open the door a little. JD's voice rasped out.

"So it's like this, if you don't come through this...I'm resigning. I love this team, these men, our home...my life, but if you're not here to tell me when I screw up, or growl at Chris when he's about to rip my head off, or watch a movie with, or share a take-out, or..." the youth let out a shuddered sigh, "Then I don't think I can bear it. When mom died...I thought that was it...I had nothing, no one...I was lost, Buck. Finding this job, the guys and you...hell, I couldn't have written a fiction novel better. It would tear out my heart to lose any of you, but to lose you...please, Buck, come back to us...don't make me have to make that kind of decision...don' t...don't leave me...please."

JD placed his head down on Wilmington's cold hand and sobbed.

Chris quietly closed the door and turned to four deeply affected agents.

"He's not gonna die, the old bastard's too ornery for that."

+ + + + + + +

Thirty-six hours later Buck was off the ventilator and his pain meds reduced, but despite the team's initial euphoria at what seemed an improvement, he was still not awake. All the men, bar JD, had come and gone over the days, and were distressed at how increasingly exhausted the youth looked. But JD was determined, and nothing would persuade him to move. Chris had decided he was going to get the kid out of there, even if it was only for a half-hour. He stood and looking to the other four men, nodded to Josiah.

With a heavy heart the profiler placed his arms around JD's chest, lifting him from the chair.

JD frowned as his head twisted to work out what was happening to him. "Wha...hey...no...NO! Josiah let go...LET ME GO!"

Dunne had started to struggle but his teammates were determined now. "JD, get a grip, you need a break...calm down and..." Chris began to admonish.

The youth howled at Larabee as he struggled. "Chris...no, please...just leave me, I'm begging you, please, this is not your decision to make. Buck...WAKE UP, GODDAMNIT...BUCK! "

+ + + + + + +

This was a nice room, a silent room. A little bare, but nice nonetheless. It was quiet and peaceful, and just occasionally soft words from warm familiar voices penetrated the walls. Just as he was wondering whether he should stay in his new-found haven, Buck's thoughts were interrupted by a sound that disturbed him. A voice... pleading, distressed, loud and fearful...JD...his boy...someone was hurting his boy...JD...JD...


That one raspy word stopped the room dead. Josiah's grip on JD relaxed and the youth dropped back to the bed and clasped his best friend's hand. Chris found himself doing the same from the other side of the bed.

"Buck?" JD whispered, leaning right into the man's face. He was rewarded by a flutter of eyelashes and several moments later a glimpse of dark blue. For the first time since the shooting, JD showed the beginnings of a grin.

"Y...you ok...kid?"

JD laughed and cried all at once. "I am now..."

+ + + + + + +

The next time Buck awoke, and was more fully aware, it was evening and his room was quiet and dimly lit. He could feel something heavy against his left arm and glancing over he could see it was resting next to a still dark head that was laid on the edge of the bed. Buck slowly raised his left hand and placed it gently on top of the head, carding his fingers through the thick dark hair.

"First time he's slept in days," a soft familiar voice whispered.

Buck turned his now smiling face toward the sound to see Chris mirroring JD's position on the other side of his bed, but sitting upright as opposed to lying down.

"Little shit never could sleep well when I'm away," Buck sighed.

Chris allowed himself a grin, "Good job you're back for good then."

Buck nodded. "Never was one to leave my family for long, too much of a home boy." He stopped the movement through JD's hair as the youth snorted softly and woke, stretching slightly.

"Buck...sorry, I must have dozed off...you ok? Can I get you anything?"

Buck grinned at his partner, trying hard not to give away how the fiery pain emanating from deep in his chest was affecting him.

"Got most everything I want right here...what's this I hear about you not resting?"

JD rubbed a hand over his face and attempted a glare at Chris, which amused their Team Leader.

"I...I'm good, honest. Are you ok, Buck?...I mean, you know...really ok?"

The brunette smiled wider and nodded carefully, "Yeah kid...I'm tired but I'm ok." He turned to Larabee, his body tensing. "Metcalfe?" Chris stood and leaned in, "Dead, pard...Vin got him, back at the warehouse."

Buck relaxed a little. "Thank God..." He squeezed both men's hands tightly and fell into a healing sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Another two days and Buck had hardly moved in the bed. Doctor Brookes had tried in vain to get the big guy out to use the bathroom, but despite the indignity of using a plastic 'bottle' to urinate in, Buck insisted on using that in preference to climbing out of bed. While Buck was sleeping, the doctor called all six of his friends to the outer waiting room.

"It's such a small step, but the sooner the man takes it, the sooner I can consider sending him home. I just wondered if any of you had any ideas as to why he is so nervous about it."

Chris sighed, "He's been a little down in the last twenty-four hours, but it's not surprising when you consider what he's been through."

JD lightly cleared his throat. Chris folded his arms across his chest and tilted his head slightly, clearly someone did have an idea.

"Err...he asked me not to say...but..." JD looked at the others, clearly torn between loyalty and duty.

Ezra stepped forward and squeezed his young friend's arm.

"Son, do you think Buck would hold out on us if it was to help you?"

JD looked back at Chris and got the nod of permission he was seeking.

The youth sighed, "He told me he felt as weak as a kitten, even turning slightly in the bed made his body shake from the effort. I think he's afraid to fail, and that he's afraid it's because his injuries are more debilitating than he's been led to believe." He looked around his friends, resting on the doctor.

"I told him he's wrong, that you'd tell him if it was worse than you thought, but..." JD looked at Chris, "He jokes around a lot, you know, but he's such a proud man...he's so busy being there for everyone else, he hates showing weakness in himself...he hates asking for help...hates being a burden..." the youth's eyes filled, "Why would he think he's a burden, Chris? I'd do anything for him, why...?"

Larabee stepped forward slightly, enabling him to cup the back of Dunne's neck.

"It's just the way he is JD, it's up to us to bring him around, persuade him to accept our help, you up for it?"

JD nodded, "Of course."

The blond looked at the doctor. "Leave it with us."

Brookes nodded, "Buzz me when he next needs the bathroom...once I see he's able to use it, I can seriously consider releasing him."

+ + + + + + +

Two hours later Buck was awake and chatting happily with his 'brothers'. He leaned over to JD and whispered.

"Kid, can you get me one of those bottles, I need the bathroom."

JD looked at Chris and Larabee nodded to Nathan, who left the room.

"Hey, kid...speed it up will ya...my eyes are swimming here," Buck hissed.

Dunne stood and extended his hand, "Come on, Buck...I'll help you to the bathroom."

Wilmington scowled, "Not now, JD...just get what I need and we'll talk later."

Chris stood, "Buck...get your ass out of this bed and use the bathroom."

JD's head dropped as Buck glared at him. The brunette turned back to his oldest friend, "Chris...not now...I can't..." He looked at the door and his face fell as Nathan returned with the doctor.

"Oh, just wonderful."

After a few minutes of posturing, resignedly he started to maneuver out of the bed, the angst in JD's eyes spurring him on. Buck had been told numerous times he was ready, but he wasn't so sure.

And he knew the team were watching...willing him on and he loved them dearly for it, but despite his fears and reservations, it was the eyes of his oldest friend and his best friend that made him wince, and want to do it...for them.

He was convinced his shaking legs would never take his weight as he clutched the bed rail for support, terrified to let go.

JD stepped forward and took one arm, "Come on..." he whispered, confidence oozing despite the gentleness of his voice. Chris walked around the bed and took his other arm...green eyes conveying his silent message.

With a grunt, Buck stood, steadied himself and took two tentative steps, in seven he was at the bathroom door, his eyes shining as he looked back at six men, their faces reflecting their obvious pride at his achievement. He released his grip on Chris and JD.

"Thanks, guys...I got it from here." He disappeared slowly into the room.

The doctor nodded his approval to the six men around him, he knew the man could do it...he just needed his friends, his brothers, to be there for him.

"I have some paperwork to put in order," he smiled and nodded to them as he left.

JD's grin was infectious as Buck re-emerged from the bathroom. He shuffled over to the youth and raised his hand to JD's cheek, snickering as he saw his roommate move slightly as if expecting a slap. Buck stared kindly at him for a moment or two then cast his eyes around his friends, finishing on Chris.

"Thanks guys."

+ + + + + + +

Buck and JD were home. They'd stayed with Chris for a few days but the brunette wanted his own bed and reluctantly Chris had agreed. Buck smiled warmly as his roommate brought a milky drink, some magazines and a TV guide into the bedroom.

"Anything else?" JD asked.

Buck's smile faded a little, "Yeah, I wanna know why you've hardly slept since I got shot." He watched the emotion flash over his friend's face.

"Come on, son...you need to talk about it. Chris isn't keen to put you on active duty until you're sleeping properly...here... "

Buck shuffled over in his king-sized bed and patted the top covers of the empty space next to him.

JD snorted a laugh, "How strong did Nathan say those painkillers were?"

Buck's gaze remained determined and he patted the space again.

"What...do you think I'm some kid or something?" JD kicked off his sneakers.

"I suppose you think you can just get me to lie down and it'll all be better, huh?" He was now on the bed, laid on his back.

"Just because I see you bleeding to death every time I close my eyes, you think this will help?" He pushed his dark hair back, away from his face.

Buck chuckled. "JD."


"Shut the hell up and go to sleep."

JD yawned and closed his eyes, "Oh yeah...'cause it's that simple..."

A few minutes later Buck glanced across at the young man and smiled widely as soft, steady breathing drifted up from the sleeping form. He turned the TV on, keeping the sound low and snapped off the light on his nightstand.

"Nah, kid...life isn't simple...but it sure is good."

The End