Disclaimer : Unfortunately, the Magnificent Seven do not belong to me. Not making any money from this either. But, for the love of the boys, I persevere. . .. And I also bow down to the creator of the ATF AU. Thank you. I also do not own the songs I used in this fiction; it's just for the purpose of writing this story, which has no monetary gains what so ever.
A li'l' note from the author: This is a not-really-a-sequel for my first ever fanfiction, 'Anniversary'. Although, it may seem I'm pilling a whole lot of hurt on Buck, but this is just my take on the events that occurred in that story. I love feedbacks. So, feel free to send you thoughts in. It makes my day.
| "When the day is long and the night is yours
When you're sure you've had enough of this life
Well, hang on,
Don't let yourself go,
And everybody hurts sometimes. . ."
| ". . .and our lives are forever changed
We will never be the same
The more you change
The less you will feel.."
The Seven retaliated as one if anyone was foolish enough to hurt one of them. But it was hard retaliating against the silent enemy that took their youngest. The six pallbearers wore a look that sent cold shivers to the mourners; a mix of grief and undeniable urge to eradicate the person responsible for eliminating one of them. The Seven hated Fate with much intensity at that moment, and as they each fired seven shots for JD using their weapons, they were each mentally slaying Death, crying for their fallen comrades, for their breaking hearts and shattered souls. . .
Buck stood in front of the coffin, trying to remember the last time he had seen JD laugh. He supposed an image of JD laughing would make it easier for him to deal with his world crashing down a couple of days earlier. But such luxury eluded him, for all he saw in his mind's eyes was JD crying, unable to bear his pain, from the disease and also from the impending separation from his brothers. Buck's forearm was still black and blue from JD grasping it for one last futile struggle against a persistent enemy that did not show the slightest fear for Chris's glare, Josiah's prayers, Nathan's healing touch, Ezra persuasive powers, Vin's unspoken threats and Buck's own very vocal, very likely to be carried out intimidation. The enemy came down upon their unsuspecting youngest, and only manifested itself when it had fully taken over the once strong body. The body that had survived nine gunshot wounds (four of them for defending one or the other Seven) was helpless against a relentless enemy that took exactly what it had come for.
In the last two weeks JD was confined to the hospital, Buck never left his side. His own needs became an unnecessary bother in the silent battle he waged against JD's disease. He gave himself a half an hour break every day in the evening, whenever JD was coherent enough to ask him to leave and have something to eat. Chris tried the official route; he tried ordering Buck to go home. This was met with a raised eyebrow and a shake of the head. Chris never thought he would be lucky enough to get at least that much of a reaction from his oldest friend.
"You really thought that was going to work on him?" Vin asked Chris. All Seven were in the lounge opposite JD's ward. They had come straight from the office, after taking the rest of the day off.
"No," Chris answered. "I just thought of giving it a try."
"You're lucky he didn't punch you," Vin said, turning away. "I know I would have."
"So would I," was Chris's reply.
It was late evening when Buck came into the lounge again. His shoulders were slumped and there was an unmistakable haunted look in his eyes. Even without a second glance, the rest of them knew hope was lost. The battle was no longer in their favor. The rest of the Seven gathered around Buck.
"Strength, Buck," Josiah's whispered words seemed too loud in the silent room.
Buck shook his head. "I don't have any strength anymore, Josiah," Buck spoke, his voice firm, fighting the tears. "I couldn't even protect my own best friend."
"Buck, it's not your fault JD is sick," Nathan said, the healer helpless watching those around him suffer.
Buck looked up at Nathan, tears spilling over. "He's not sick, Nathan," Buck replied. "He's dying. . ."
The statement was a punch to their stomach. It was said with a certainty that numbed them all. When JD was first diagnosed, his oncologist had told them that the disease was in its final stages of destruction. Death was inevitable. The Seven would have drawn their guns at him if they had had their firearms with them. They would have asked the doctor to change his diagnosis, to tell them something else. Something they really wanted. . .needed to hear. That was the day Buck's personal hell began. And today, he had been pushed into the deepest pit of despair. By JD himself.
Buck had been in the ward, telling the recent adventures of little Bucklin, who was learning to read from Ezra. Ezra had done a fine job at it that the boy was now speaking with a Southern accent reminiscent of Ezra. Ezra had never been more proud in his life. And little Bucklin had started calling his six godfathers using their surnames. Chris was not amused when he heard the three-year old boy screaming, "Mistah Wawabee, Mistah Wawabee. . ." at the top of his voice when he saw him at the hospital. JD, lying down on his bed, listened with half a smile. He could not laugh because it was too painful for him. When Buck looked up, he saw JD was crying.
"Hey, don't worry about it," Buck said, diverting the actual reason for the tears. "Chris will get over it. Not sure about him getting over Ezra calling him 'Wawabee', though."
"Buck," what was once a full-bodied voice was now a mere rasping whisper. It hurt Buck to listen to it as much as it would have hurt JD to speak.
"You need anything, buddy?" Buck said, as he stood up to stand next to JD's bed. Buck's hand still held on to JD's, as they had when he first came in almost two hours ago. At this moment, he would have given anything, anything at all for JD.
JD was crying softly. He looked weak. . .he was weak, but the grip on Buck's hand was strong. It was as if he did not want to let go.
"Pain. . .too much. . ."
Buck's heart broke when he the words. But he kept a calm expression, not realizing his eyes were giving him away to JD who knew him better than he did of himself.
"JD. . ."
JD took a deep breath. "I. . .you. . ."
"Yeah, buddy. You and I. The one and the same," Buck said, struggling to keep his voice steady.
"No. . ..I'm. . .better looking," JD managed with a chuckle.
"We'll put that to vote one day," Buck said, unable to ignore the violent coughs wrecking the frail body. "Casey's votes against all the women in HQ."
At the mention of her name, Casey, stood up from the couch she had been sitting and came towards the table. She came close, but it was Buck who had JD's attention for now. Casey did not mind that. She knew how much the rest of the Seven, Buck especially, meant to her husband. Especially when all of THEM gave HIM away at their wedding.
JD tried to smile, but only managed to grimace. Buck pressed the button on the side of JD's bed to raise him to a slightly upright position. He took cup on the table beside him and held it for JD to drink from. JD pushed it away.
"I. . .love you, Buck. . ."
That was when Buck started crying. His soul was screaming, unable to bear the pain the JD's words are causing him.
"You're gonna be all right," Buck lied, not believing what he said.
JD nodded. "I'm. . .fine. . .Need. . .to. . .rest. . ."
Buck nodded, moving to embrace JD. Tears fell from his eyes onto JD hair. JD held on to Buck, sobbing.
"Guys. . .see. . .them. . ." JD managed to say. Buck nodded again. Casey, crying silently at the foot of the bed, came over to hold JD. Buck felt being torn into two when he left JD's bedside.
"He wants to see us," he told the rest in the lounge.
They walked into the wards in the classic Seven formation; Chris at the front, flanked by the rest of them. Other agents in Denver ATF referred to this as the 'Arrowhead'. Chris was the tip of the arrow, the rest of them forming its sharp edges. Nobody wanted to cross path with the Seven when they walked on by. They have never been known to harm anyone, but then again, no one dared to take a chance on that assumption.
Casey moved away from JD when the rest of them came towards the bed. Josiah put a hand on shoulder, assuring her they were all there for her. She nodded, understanding, and gave them the space they needed.
"Josiah. . ." JD voice was a mere whisper now.
"Here, son. . ."
"Ti. . .Tim. . ."
Josiah knew what JD wanted. It was Timothy 6:12. Softly, he began quoting, "Fight the good fight of the faith. Lay hold on the . . . the eternal. . .eternal. . ." Josiah's tears choked back the words.
"On the eternal life to which you were also called. . ." Ezra's smooth voice took over from Josiah. Despite the his voice being silky smooth, Ezra was crying, as was the rest of them, each holding on to JD's hand. "And have confessed the good. . .the good. . ."
"And have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses," Josiah helped Ezra to finish.
"I had a blast with you guys," the simple statement took almost every breath JD had in him.
"And we now appreciate Twinkies more because of you," Vin said, trying to smile despite the tears. Twinkies were JD's favourite junk food. Vin and he once cleaned out a store of its Twinkies supply when they went on a road trip to New Mexico. Chris had mentioned then if they got lost on their way back, they could just follow the Twinkies' crumbs trail back.
"Nathan. . .keep. . .guys. . .safe. . ."
Nathan nodded, promising himself to take that promise to his grave.
"Ezra. . .tell lil' Buck. . .stop. . .Mr. Wawabee. . ."
Ezra, known for his poker faces, was now crying openly. There was no need to hide his emotions with his brothers. Not when it had overwhelmed him.
"Vin. . .don't. . .shoot any. . .computers. . ."
"Where's the fun in that?" Vin said, his mind already made up never to go near a computer again. He will handwrite his report, every God-damned one of them, from now onwards.
"Chris. . .thank you. . .for this. . ."
Chris shook his head. "Thank YOU, JD. . ." Chris Larabee, toughest SOB in the ATF was crying openly, holding on to the man he knew as a boy. The boy who talked himself into the team of men, and made them realize that sometimes being the youngest was harder than it appeared.
"The six of you. . .more adventure. . ."
Chris shook his head again. "Never. We will never be six. It will always be Seven," he promised.
JD nodded. "Look after Buck?" he asked this to everyone. Buck was crying unable to say anything.
"I. . .have. . .to. . ." JD's body heaved as he took in another breath. "Love you. . .guys. . ."
The grip holding Buck's and Chris's hands went slack. No more struggles, no more pain. The enemy won. And the rest of the Seven felt something within them die as well. Unfathomable grief descended upon their hearts. The Seven had lost to Fate.
At JD's request, the coffin was kept closed during the funeral. The disease had taken its toll on his physical body. He was hardly the bundle of hyper-kinetic energy they knew. It had changed his barely thirty-two year-old countenance to that of a person decades older. In the church where they held the wake, there were pictures of JD. There was one with JD was holding little Bucklin for the first time. There was also his wedding picture; Casey looking just a little overwhelmed with the Seven flanking her and JD. There was one with him and his mother, taken when JD was twelve. JD had given the picture to Buck, and the rest of the Seven collectively thought the world should know JD had also been Rachel Dunne's son. Others were of him in his Boston PD uniform and some as an ATF agent. Most showed him wearing ridiculous hats. Buck smiled through his tears when he remembered among the first words he had spoke to JD on their first meeting was to ask him to get rid of the stupid hat he wore.
"Buck?" Chris's voice broke his reverie.
Buck turned his gaze from the coffin to his oldest friend, the only one who can come close to understanding his anguish at the moment.
"You've been standing there for quite a while," Chris spoke softly. The church was already filling up with others who had come to pay their last respect to ATF Agent John Dunne. This included the Travis family, agents from other teams and the select few who have had the pleasure of JD's friendship, outside the circle of the Seven.
"Can't think of anything else to do," Buck replied. It was already painful; he wondered how he was going to leave this place when everything was over. How he was going to turn his back and walk away from the one person who had enriched his life in more ways than he could imagine? And what would he do now? Buck could not remember doing anything without being reminded of JD.
Animal maggotism. . .Is that a disease?
"How about a beer?" Chris suggested gently, laying a hand on Buck's shoulder. "Later? At the Saloon."
Buck could not help hating Chris for suggesting that. Some part of him knew the hate was irrational. Above all, he knew Chris was trying to help Buck to get over this, as Buck had done for Chris many, many years ago. But there was some part of him that felt the need to hang on to the pain for as long as he could. It reminded him of JD.
"Hell, let's skip the beer," Chris amended, almost to himself. "We'll have milk. The kid would appreciate that."
Buck felt a dam breaking within him. Tears fell from his eyes. He knew his brothers were hurting too. What they needed now was each other to help them through the pain. Like so many burdens before him, he was not expected to go through this alone. Buck had his brothers to help him cope and to help them cope. And being burdened by pain was not the way to remember JD. Buck and JD had gone through so much together that it would be unfair to let the bitterness take control of JD's memories.
"Milk sounds good," Buck said, his eyes on Chris's. There was unspoken appreciation for Chris and what he was trying to do.
"Good," Chris said, smiling. He turned his gaze back to the coffin and they stood together until it was time to lay JD to rest for the final time. Buck held on to his brothers' strength and when the time came for them to return, it was the most difficult decision the Seven had to make; to walk away from the cemetery. And when they did, Buck knew what he had to do now that JD was gone.
It was Buck who went to each of the remaining Seven and gently moving them away from JD's grave. Because Buck knew JD would not want his brothers to be weak. And Buck knew JD expected him to help his brothers through this. And Buck knew it is he who has to be strong now.
". . .You don't have to put up a fight
You don't have to always be right
Let me take some of the punches for you tonight. . ."
Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own
Requests from other agents and higher brass to fill JD's place in the team was turned down with ruthless animosity. . .
Two weeks later. . .
There was a slight knock on the door. Only Chris looked up from the conference table the team were seated at, discussing their latest case. There rest of them were unbothered with the interruption. Travis tried not to get insulted at the pointed ignorance aimed at him.
"We're kind of busy," Chris told Travis. There was no defiance in his voice, only a hard edge that entreated not to be pushed any further.
Buck suppressed a smile. Chris rarely defied Travis and today's action would have caused JD to go all wide-eyed and jaws open.
And with that thought, pain struck again, reopening wounds that Buck knew would never, ever fully heal. Buck closed his eyes as his vision blurred. In his mind's eyes he could see JD with an anxious expression.
Sorry about that Buck, JD voice, far away, was remorseful.
Ain't yer fault, kid.
Buck opened his eyes and saw Travis leaving. Five pair of eyes were staring icily at the door. It was an open display of hostility, but the judge decided to let it go. Confronting the Seven in their turf is NEVER a good idea; the outcome was always bloody, or at the very least, painful, for the opposition.
When Travis had left their office, they looked at the manila folders he had left on Josiah's desk, which was closest to the door. All of them knew the contents of the folder; they also knew why Travis had brought them in this time. The rookie agent who had brought the same set of folders yesterday morning to Team 7's office, had gone back to Travis, shaking with fear. He had hardly taken a step inside the office when a throwing knife struck mere inches from his foot. He heard a southern voice telling Agent Tanner that killing the messenger would not be a good idea. It would have helped if Agent Standish had actually looked as if he meant what he said. The rookie would have been glad if Agent Standish had even just looked, but the other agent had been staring at the screen of his laptop, hardly paying any attention to the rookie. The warning itself was not meant to console the rookie. It was to placate Agent Tanner who was reaching for another knife. Travis then took it upon himself to deliver the files to Team 7.
"Who do we have to shoot to get some peace around here?" Nathan muttered, vocalizing the thoughts of the six men in the room. If they had an answer to that, the remaining Seven would have done exactly what they were thinking.
Buck could not take his eyes off the folder. It was the dossiers for candidates short listed to replace Special Agent John Dunne in Team 7.
Replaced. Buck hated the word. For, how do you replace a friend? How do you replace the life of a party? How do you replace the sense of boyish wonder JD brought into work with him everyday for the past eight years he had been in team?
How do you replace a piece of your soul?
It was not the first time the higher - ups have tried to find a replacement for JD; this was their third attempt, in fact. The idea of shooting someone has became very tempting indeed for Buck.
"We should burn the whole lot of 'em," Vin suggested.
Buck could see JD's eyes widen with anticipation. Hell, if JD had been here, Buck himself would have gotten Ezra and Vin involved and rig up explosives in a warehouse to blow the files into oblivion. That was more like Team 7.
That team, of course, no longer existed. What is left is a shell of the fun-loving, warehouse-blowing, illegal-cable-tapping, no-nonsense team. Perhaps, one day the laughter might return. Buck seriously doubted that. Nothing is ever the same once it's broken. . .
Don't go there, Buck could hear JD's voice pleading. Time will heal the wounds. We will always be stronger after we are broken.
"I'm gonna go and let Travis take this back," Chris said. This time, the menace in is voice was unmistakable.
"I'll come with you," Vin offered. There was almost an anticipated silence; as if everyone was waiting for another person to offer to go with Chris. That other person was supposed to be Buck.
"I'm going to get some coffee," Buck said, a little too loudly, as he rose from his seat. His mug of coffee was left untouched in front of him on the table. Buck hurried out of the room, ignoring the stares from his friends. He went into the pantry and was about to close the door when Chris held it back.
"You want to talk to about it?" Chris asked, going straight to the point.
Heart on his sleeve, Buck was never one to go hiding when it came to dealing with emotional issues. Chris was his oldest friend, he knew what was bothering Buck. He also knew that Buck really did not want hide behind that door.
"The files," Buck said, as he let Chris into the pantry.
Chris nodded. "It's botherin' you?"
"If I had to tell you that it does, then it's an insult to JD," Buck said, not looking at Chris. They were both leaning by the counter, hands folded across their chest.
"It's bothering all of us," Chris said.
"I know," Buck said, desperation creeping into his voice, as he strived to make Chris understand his predicament. "But, don't you think I should be reacting more to this?"
"Like going on a shooting rampage?" Chris asked, frowning. But there was a glint in his eyes as he understood exactly what Buck was trying to tell him.
"Something like that," the tension in Buck slowly recoiled as he unburdened his problems.
"Do you think JD would appreciate that?" Chris asked, as a matter-of-factly. "'cause if he does, I wouldn't mind shootin' a couple of people myself!"
"This is a joke to you, isn't it?" Buck asked, uncharacteristically on the verge of loosing his temper. Just when he thought Chris would understand. . .
This time, Chris turned to face Buck. "Buck, listen for a bit, okay?" he said. "Grief doesn't have to be destructive...YOU taught me that. And no one is looking to you to start hell-raising because JD died; even though it wouldn't be wrong if you did. Because the moment you do, we're gonna jump on that bandwagon too and ain't nothin' gonna stop us! We are hurting as bad as you are, but it is your strength in facing this that is keeping us sane. We all miss him. Vin's goin' crazy not having JD to laugh with or to plan practical jokes. And we know you do more than anyone of us. Which is why you not going on a 'shooting-rampage' has kept the rest of us in line. We cannot grief as badly as you do. But we can grief as dignified as you do."
Buck nodded. This time the tears were flowing freely. "Thanks. . .for understanding," he said.
"You understood more than I do," Chris said, touching Buck's arm. "You don't have to thank me for this." Chris's gaze shifted from Buck to something on the shelf behind him. He reached out and took a Twinkie bar from it.
"You wanna share?" Chris asked.
"Maybe later," Buck said, wiping his eyes. "Right now there's a Texan I need to pat down for weapons before you two go see Travis."
There was genuine laughter for the first time in many weeks between Buck and Chris. Chris looked at his oldest friend. He's gonna be all right, he thought to himself. He'll get through this. I'll damn well make sure he does.
It was a promise Chris could not fulfill to the end.
Thirteen months later, on a beautiful summer day, Chris was shot while coming out of a grocery store. He had been shopping for the barbeque at his ranch, a weekly get-together that was almost a ritual to the Seven. He was shot in the back by some half-brother of a small-time gun dealer who took big offence of Chris sending his pond scum brother to prison. . ..
Chris called Vin first because the Texan was already in the ranch, while Buck was on the freeway headed for Chris's place. Vin's phone call to Buck came just as Buck was turning his truck into the exit leading to Chris's ranch.
"How bad is he?" Buck said frantically, as he made an illegal U-turn to get to the grocery store. He knew the location of the store.
"He. . .he. . ." Vin's voice was breaking up. It was not the static. Buck pressed the 'Cancel' button and threw his phone on the seat next to him.
Buck had never driven that before and got to the grocery store in two minutes, which was ten-minutes too fast on a normal drive. . .
Buck killed the engine and ran towards the crowd of people standing outside the store. He pushed his way through and when he came up front, he saw Chris on the ground.
There was so much blood on the parking lot. Someone had tried to help, but it was not enough...
"Someone call an ambulance!" Buck yelled at no one in particular, as he got down next to Chris. "Chris! Chris! Hang on, stud. We're gonna get you to a hospital!"
Buck considered moving Chris, but he was not sure of the extent of Chris's injuries. Buck had seen his share of blood before, but this time, it sickened him, weakened him, for he already knew the outcome of someone loosing so much blood.
But this ain't just someone, Buck yelled inwardly. This is Chris Larabee. The toughest, meanest SOB in the history of the ATF.
"No hospital," Chris rasped, as Buck gently moved Chris's head unto his lap.
Buck would have shaken Chris when he heard that. "Shut up, Larabee! You're not in charge anymore!"
Chris nodded. "You. . .lead. . .now. . ." he said, wincing.
Buck shook his head. "Don't talk like that!" his voice broke when he realized Chris was crying as he said this. Turning to the crowd, he yelled, "Where the hell is that ambulance? We have a federal agent down!" He looked back to Chris. "Just hang on, Chris. You'll be fine. Then you'll regret your decision to put me in charge."
"Pain. . .too painful. . ."
Once again, Buck's world darkened, as it had in that hospital room a year ago. This time, the darkness seemed ominous.
"You really want to let Ezra hear that?" Buck said, trying to keep Chris fighting for as long as he could.
"Ezra. . .don't leave him, Buck," Chris told Buck, his hands gripping Buck's. "Keep him close. Keep everyone close. Vin. . .take care of him. . ."
"No. . ." Buck was crying. "You're gonna be fine." He did not look at the blood staining his clothes and all around him on the ground. The grip on his arms was weakening.
"Chris!" a familiar voice cut through the subdued murmurs of the crowd.
"Vin's here," Buck told Chris. "We'll. . .we'll get you to the hospital."
When Vin broke through the crowd, he stood stunned for a minute; taking in the sight of the blood and Chris, lying on the ground, his head cradled in Buck's lap. He saw Buck crying and fell to his knees beside Chris.
"Cowboy?" Vin's voice was a like a young child. With his blue eyes wide in disbelief, he looked like a child.
Chris caught Vin's hand in their patented arm-grip and drew him closer. Vin bent down as Chris whispered something into his ears. Vin listened, tears glistening in his eyes, then he nodded. Buck looked away; he knew Chris and Vin shared a bond that he could never understand. Just like what he and JD had. The friendship with Chris was something quite sacred to Vin and Buck did not want to intrude on that.
"Buck. . .keep Tanner out of trouble. . ." Chris's voice was trembling now, as was his whole body. "Ezra too. . .I love you all. . ."
"I love you, Chris. . ."
"You are my best friend. . ." Chris looked at Buck as he said this. Buck nodded, crying. Chris's steely grey eyes began to loose its lucidity, but the grip on Vin's hand remained strong. His body stopped trembling and peace descended upon Chris's countenance. Darkness, on the other hand, gripped Buck's heart with its icy claw. It was not over yet. Not when he was the only one crying, holding Chris's lifeless body close to him.
Vin cried two days later when he pumped in seven rounds into the man who shot Chris Larabee in the back. This was after he crippled the man with a shot from the building across the street of his apartment. Team 7 tracked down Chris's killer within twenty-hours after their leader's death; rest and nourishment had been an unnecessary bother. The remaining Seven were there for the execution. . .
I should be the one pulling the trigger, Buck thought, as he watched Vin squeeze the last bullet on the lifeless body of the man who destroyed any semblance of their old life once and for all.
None of the remaining Seven stopped Vin as he ruthlessly pursued Chris's killer. It was only after the seventh round was shot that Josiah put a hand on Vin's shoulder.
"Enough," Josiah said softly, almost pleading. Not for mercy for the killer. But for Vin's soul. Or what was left of it.
Grief does not have to be destructive. Buck had said that once. Chris had reminded him of that a year ago. But this grief consumed him. He felt nothing but sorrow and anger. Both emotions amalgamated into a feeling of emptiness. Sorrow has found a permanent abode among the remaining Seven. The anger has burnt a wound in them that would never fully heal. The sight of Chris's killer pleading for mercy in front of the five angels of death appeased the anger, for now.
Team 7 had died with Chris yesterday in the parking lot. Nothing else remained.
Vin did not move from his spot. He was crying; his body trembling with every heart-breaking sob. The rest of the stood around him, ready to support him when needed. Ezra removed the gun from Vin's hand. But no one could move Vin from where he was standing.
Buck stepped up to Vin. "Vin?" he called. Vin looked up at Buck, his face damp with tears. He shook his head, as if already disagreeing with whatever Buck was going to suggest.
"Let's go," Buck said, holding out his hand.
Vin just looked at the hand. It was the same hand that had saved him a million times, but today, he wondered if he could be saved.
"Let's go, Vin." This time, Buck reached out and took hold of Vin's hand. He gave a gentle tug and Vin took a step forward. His friends closed in on him; Josiah holding him as they walked out of the place they would always remember as Hell. They made it outside the building only to be confronted with a livid Travis and two SWAT teams.
"You can clean up the mess in there," Ezra told them, in a voice that expected no reply. "The scum-in-residence has three cartons of sawed-off rifles. . ." Ezra went on to list out seven other felonies, leaving out the most obvious one of killing Chris Larabee. "He drew the gun on us. Agent Tanner was forced to shoot him down."
"This is wrong, Standish," Travis said, as the Seven exited the building. All five men stopped in their tracks and turned around to face him. Travis realized then just how dangerous these men could be. There had always been a controlled malevolence about them; but today, everything was laid bare in front of him. Travis found himself actually afraid of the remaining Seven. And when Buck stepped up in front of him, Travis thought he was going to die.
"Yes, this is wrong," Buck said, his voice soft. But there was no mistaking the hard edge in it. "The scum deserved worse. Much worse. The only reason it's not as bad as we would've liked it is because Chris wouldn't have wanted us to do this. So, yeah. This IS wrong."
"It'll cost your careers," Travis told them. Ezra burst out laughing, much to Travis's surprise. A quick look at the rest of them indicated a 'who-gives-a-shit' expression on their faces. Team 7 walked away from Travis and got into their van. Vin and Buck sat at the back of the van, silent as the rest of them.
They drove straight to Chris's ranch, where his remains were. There was a wake in his ranch house; presided over by Raine. Those who came to pay their last respects were surprised to see that none of Chris's teammates were there. When Raine was asked about this, she just gave the same answer to everyone, "The boys have some loose ends to take care of. They'll be here soon."
They drove to the edge of Chris's property and stumbled out of the van, as if drunk. None of them were; it was just the pain and exhaustion weighing them down. They stood silent, staring at the rolling meadow beyond them; beautiful under the glorious summer sun. Chris had never really got around to fencing in his property; he loved the wide open space too much. A lone oak tree marked the border of his property. It would be his final resting place.
It was what Chris had wanted. When he first bought the ranch, he and Buck had ridden out to the edge of the ranch. Buck still remembers the conversation they had that day.
"There is it, Buck," Chris said, as he got down from his horse. He walked towards the tree and turned around to face his oldest friend. Buck noted the relaxed manner Chris had moved and spoke. It was two years after the death of Sarah and Adam and for the first time since that day, Buck saw genuine happiness in Chris's eyes. And Chris was setting up a home for the first time since the devastating fire that had killed half of his soul. "My own piece of heaven."
"It's beautiful, Chris," Buck had commented, his words inadequate to explain the stunning beauty of Nature that lay before him. The green meadow stretched on endlessly until it disappeared into horizon.
"When I die, this is where I want to be buried. . ."
"You're bein' an idiot again. How the hell did you get into the ATF. . ." Buck got down from his horse; the humor in his voice masking the concern he felt for his friend. Chris shouldn't be talking about death. Not when he had just made the first step away from his misery.
Chris gave Buck the Glare, which never had the same effect on him as it did for others. But, nevertheless, he continued, despite Buck giving Chris his version of the Glare. "When I die, this is where I want to be buried. In my own heaven. close to my home and this. . ." He opened his arms wide as he turned to face the meadows again. "My own piece of heaven. . ."
Chris was buried. . .in the grave his brothers dug for him themselves. They gave a seven-gun salute and collapsed beside his grave, not knowing what to do next. They just collectively hoped wherever Chris was at that moment, he had a glass of whiskey, a cheroot, his wife and soon beside him.
And like he had done a year ago, it was Buck again, who went to each one of the remaining Seven, coaxing them back to their feet, hiding his own tears as he got them back to the ranch house. Once again, he was the anchor for everyone else. It was a job he hated. . .he never asked for it. It left his own grief unattended. . .
C'mon, big fella. I'm countin' on ya to help the rest of them through this, Chris's voice held an urgency.
I don't know if I can deal with this responsibility.
You lead now. This time it was Chris's voice from the parking lot.
Buck closed his eyes, which only sharpened the image in his mind. He opened them again and saw the ranch house coming into sight. It did not have the calming effect he thought it would. This was Chris's home. And Chris was no longer living there.
This single thought threatened to reopen the flood gates of his emotions. But Buck had more important things to do than to wallow in his own misery. He had to take care of his friends.
And that is how Buck is expected to deal with his misery. His healing would come, as he helps the others to heal as well. JD and Chris would have approved.
Nathan was the first to leave the team voluntarily. After Christmas that year, he resigned and took up teaching first-aid and basic medical courses for paramedic in California. The remaining Seven were drunk during his farewell party and heartbroken during his departure. . .
"You guys keep safe, okay?" Nathan told them, as they stood in the airport, ignoring the last call for Nathan's flight. It was the final day of the year.
"That's your job," Vin's statement would have sounded threatening if it was not for the wan smile.
Nathan looked guilty; as guilty as he had looked when he first broke the news of his resignation to the rest of them three weeks ago. They had asked why he took the decision. His reply was that he was going too old for their daredevil adventures. And that Raine wanted something more stable in her life with him. They could counter-argue with that.
"I'll see y'all for Easter, 'kay?" Nathan said, his voice trembling. There was desperation in his voice the others could not miss. He looked at each one of them. Vin, the chronic junk food addict, whose silence within the Seven was even more pronounced than before. Josiah, their unintended spiritual stalwart who had asked him not to go, not to sever the bond between them. Nathan had argued that the bond could never be broken. Ezra, who had never once displayed any hostility towards Nathan, despite all the things he had said and done, nodded in agreement; both with Josiah's pleading and Nathan's own logic. Nathan could not look at Buck. For if he did, he will see the disappointment in Buck's eyes.
It was Buck who nodded in reply to the question. He knew Nathan's indecision regarding the move to California. He also knew that if he speaks, the only words that would come out are those begging him not to go. And Nathan will never leave if he heard those words spoken. But it would not be fair for Raine, who just wanted her man to be safe. To stay on in Colorado even after Nathan had resigned job would have been futile, for Nathan would have definitely joined in the Seven's adventures, even as a civilian. The move was necessary. For Nathan. Or so she thought.
Nathan finally boarded the plane at the final call. The Seven remained in the airport, watching the plane take off, their heart strings tugging painfully as distance increased between themselves and their brother.
"Let's go, guys," Buck said softly. The rest of Seven moved away reluctantly from the glass walls of the waiting room. They stood facing each other in a circle, each trying to be strong for the other. More so Buck, who was now Team 7's new leader. He was the one who guided them, both in the office and out. And it was he who told the others in the tumultuous weeks after Chris's death and Vin's trial at the Bureau Court that neither Chris nor JD would have wanted them to leave the ATF. This was, of course, after Vin was cleared all charges and had his suspension withheld. Vin was now going to a Bureau psychologist; hating every minute of it, but staying on only because Buck sits with him in every session.
God, I swear the next time the man says 'and how does that make you feel?' I'll strangle him. . .
Vin never finished that statement because Buck was giving him a glare rivaling Larabee's. Even when his own sentiments echoed Vin's, Buck knew Vin's job security was in the shrink's hands. It would not help Vin if the psychologist is harmed during their session.
Josiah turned to his theological books with more fervor than ever before, so there was no risk of him being destructive there.
I'm a spiritual man. Sometimes I turn to the wrong spirits.
Not with me you won't.
No one has ever seen Buck more serious than the time he hauled Josiah out of the bar downtown, three days after Chris's funeral.
Ezra was a little trickier. He tried pissing Buck off in every manner possible; showing up late for work, defying direct orders, though not on the field, adopting a devil-may-care attitude to his own safety during undercover assignments.
Why are you doing this?
I'm not doing anything, Mr. Wilmington. Everyone was back to being addressed by their surnames again.
You've always watched our backs, Ezra. Can I count on you not to leave us when we need you the most?
The answer had been Ezra returning to his desk and the sound of the paper shredder in the office being used. Buck knew then how close he had been to loosing Ezra.
Buck thought he had been doing a good job keeping them close, keeping them together. Today, however, with his heart breaking as he watched Nathan walk away from the circle of the Seven, he knew he failed. The team was broken. Buck couldn't even. . .
"We're here, Buck," Ezra spoke, as they exited the airport building. Josiah and Vin were already headed towards their car. "Nothing is broken. A little stretched, perhaps. But, we're still here. Those of us who need an occasional nudge from you to.. to help us along."
Buck gave a hollow chuckle. "We're a real screwed up bunch, aren't we?" Buck could not help the words that stumbled out of his mouth.
"We always were," Ezra's reply was accompanied by a smile. Buck smiled, nodding his head in agreement. "I would suggest group therapy for the lot of us, but I don't think there's anyone out there brave enough to take us on."
"So, we're still the same bunch of crazy guys?" Buck asked, just playing alone, glad for this surreal conversation amidst the gloom around them.
Ezra thought for a while. "Though there is less of us, Buck, I do not think we're in any trouble of being less crazy than we were before."
This time Buck laughed. "What would we do without you, Ezra?" he said, as they approached their van. Josiah and Vin were already in the vehicle; Josiah driving, while Vin his preferred seat near the window in the backseat.
"What would WE do without you, Buck?" Ezra said, just before they got into the van. Buck just smiled. He had needed to hear that. And Ezra had needed to say it. And he surprised himself by managing it in less than half a dozen words.
But none of this uplifting conversation came to any good when they arrived at their next stop after the airport. Casey had invited the Seven over for lunch, telling she had something to tell them. The Seven, already regulars for Friday night dinners and Little Bucklin's pre-school concerts, were more than glad to have the opportunity to spend some more time with their godson. Lunch was a noisy affair with a lot of laughter; most of them for the sake of the boy, some quite genuine, especially when Ezra's Zegna jacket was at the receiving end of a mashed potato missile, launched by Josiah. After lunch, her neighbor came to take Little Bucklin away for a while, to enable the adults to talk in peace.
"I've got a job offer," Casey plunged right in.
The Seven expressed their delight over this news. A trained vet, Casey quit her job when little Bucklin was born. There was no need for her to work after JD's death; the pension she received adequate enough for her and Little Bucklin's needs.
"In California," she said, softly, almost as if afraid the words might harm them.
"I'm really beginning to hate that place," Josiah muttered, shaking his head. Casey was sitting just out of earshot, but the rest of them heard it.
"You're going?" It seemed only Vin had the courage to ask this.
Casey nodded. "It's a great offer. . ." She went on to explain the benefits of the animal hospitals she would be working in; day care centre for little Bucklin, college funds. "It'll be good for little Bucklin," she concluded. She was looking at every one of them.
"When. . ." Buck's voice trailed off, wondering what Chris's reaction would be in this situation.
"Day after tomorrow," Casey let the axe fall, unknowingly hurting the four men sitting in front of her. Perhaps she knew, for she averted her glance when Buck looked up at her.
Buck saw Vin opening his mouth to say something, but Texan remained silent. Josiah was looking straight ahead, at the picture of JD, Casey and little Bucklin. He was probably remembering the day little Bucklin was born; JD fainted twice in the labor room, the Seven in the waiting room making everyone nervous and jumpy. When the nurse finally brought little Bucklin out of the labor room, it was Buck who held the baby first, followed by Chris, Vin, Ezra, Josiah and Nathan before JD carried his son for the first time.
So that the lil' guy will know he has six uncles looking after him, besides his mom and dad.
Four of the six uncles were battling indecisions in their minds. Should they stop her? Should they demand her to stay on in Denver, just so that they felt it was right?
"Casey," Buck finally spoke. He swallowed, easing the lump in his throat. "Isn't that a little too soon?"
Casey's expression flitted from stunned to annoyance to something less readable. The rest of the Seven were feigning ignorance, though Buck could sense their readiness for battle. Being one of mind, he knew they would fight on Casey's side, even though it would pain them to do so. For all that mattered now was Casey's happiness and little Bucklin's well-being.
"I mean, it looks as if you haven't packed anything yet," Buck said. The tone of his voice was friendly, but the rest of the Seven heard Buck conceding defeat. Casey looked relieved and the rest of them offered to help in any way they could; Ezra asking is he could make a few calls for her, which she declined, and Josiah offering to fly out to California with her. She declined this too, saying the hospital she was going to work at has arranged everything. So, basically, the Seven realized, she was telling them what she was going to do. With or without their consent.
Little Bucklin left Denver two days later, probably the only kid to have the most amount of toys in cargo in the history of the airlines. He was too little to understand why his godfathers had tears in his eyes when they said goodbye to him, or why they hugged him so close before his mom took him away.
"No reason to think he's goin' to be miserable there," Buck said, as they walked out of the airport of the second time in three days. "He's a tough one. He'll be all right. He'll look after his mom."
The rest were hardly listening to Buck, who sounded as if he was trying to convince himself. They stopped in front of Josiah's Suburban.
"I feel like I've lost JD forever now," Vin said softly. The others stared at him, hardly believing the Texan to be so open, so honest with his feelings. "I always saw a bit of him in little Buck. Now, I've lost that too."
We've lost much more than that too, Buck wanted to tell him. But this was no time to sit around and discuss the many degrees of their loss and unhappiness. Vin too looked as if he was expecting no reply. They got into the car and drove away from the airport, their heart strings tugging painfully once again. This bond, they all knew, will not survive the distance.
Three years later, the team received a telegram from Raine. 'Nathan dead stop heart attack stop'. The healer who had always monitored their eating habits and groaned at the amount of junk everyone ate died of the very disease he fought to prevent among his friends. The remaining Seven went to California and were the pall bearers. They fired their guns seven times. . .
After Nathan's funeral, the Seven decided to pay a visit to Casey, who lived an hour's drive from Nathan's home. When they rang the doorbell of Casey's home, it was answered by a dark-haired boy, six or seven years of age.
"Can I help you, mister?" the boy asked Ezra, who was standing closest to the door. There was no recognition in the boy's eyes for the four men who stood in front of him.
"Is your mom here?" Buck said, moving into little Bucklin's view.
The boy's reply was to run back inside the house, hollering for his mother. A few seconds later, Casey came to the door. A tall, blond man was right behind her.
Casey, of course, recognized them. But she did not seem too excited about seeing them outside her door. She looked. . .
She invited them in for coffee. Buck declined on their behalf, citing the long drive back to the airport for their evening flight. Ezra filled Casey on the reason why they were there. Casey was sorry to hear about Nathan's death. She couldn't attend the funeral because she was on duty.
"He looks like. . .like JD," Buck remarked, as little Bucklin watched them cautiously from behind his mother. The blond man put an assuring hand on the boy's shoulder, for which, little Buck gave an upwards glance of appreciation.
Casey smiled. Then, she introduced the blond to the Seven. He was Dr. Stuart Malloy. She married him last Christmas. He has adopted little Buck.
"Buck," little Buck said suddenly, looking at Buck. Recognition dawned in his eyes. The boy came forward towards them.
Buck smiled as he crouched down in front of JD's son. He swallowed, trying not to cry, as the boy embraced him. "I remember you," little Bucklin told each of them, as he hugged them.
"And we never forgot you, Mr Dunne," Ezra said, as he gave the little boy the gifts they had brought for him.
"We'd better get going," Buck said, standing up again. "It's nice to nice to see you again, Casey." Casey did not know if she should be offended that he did not say anything about meeting her new husband. None of them even gave Stuart another look. Then, he looked at little Bucklin. "Goodbye, lil' bit."
A little bit of JD.
"Will I see you again?" the boy asked, looking earnestly at each of them. He remembers the happiness that was usually associated with the presence of the men he knew as his father's friends.
"We'll always be around, Bucklin," Vin said. "You just remember that." Buck could not help feeling proud of Vin. The statement was gentle enough to be an assurance to little Bucklin, yet firm enough to be recognized as a fact no adopted father could challenge. Stuart, who knew about the Seven, kept his peace. They were far too far apart geographically to be of threat to him, but somehow, after meeting them in person, he realized that the miles between them and the boy were mere numbers. Little Bucklin shared a bond with them. He was part of the Seven. And he would forever be protected by these men.
They kept their goodbye short and walked away from the house, to their rented car.
"Guys, wait up," Casey's voice stopped them. They turned and saw her walking towards them, alone.
"Stuart's good to Bucklin," Casey said, as she stood in front of them; almost imploring them to understand her decisions.
He'd better be.
"Bucklin needs a stable father figure in his life," she went on. The rest of them nodded, no one wanting to tell Casey that they understood. They did not like the distance, nor Stuart, but they understood. This was the best they could do.
"If you need anything, we're just a phone call away," Buck told her.
Casey nodded, watching as they got into the car. "He's still a Dunne," she told them, as Vin gunned the engine.
"You keep him that way," Josiah said gently, smiling. She nodded and the Seven drove off, not looking back. The drive to the airport was silent.
And at the airport, Josiah bade them farewell. He said he was going to Guatemala. He wanted to reach out and help people. Buck argued that he already was.
This just does not stop, does it, Buck thought, losing the struggle to stay calm after Josiah broke the news to them.
Josiah said his soul needed mending.
"And who is going to help us mend, Josiah?" Ezra asked softly, through gritted teeth, trying to keep his voice from breaking.
Josiah had not been expecting this question. None of them were expecting this. The big man had been withdrawn since they came to California; they had thought it was because of Nathan's death.
"Sometimes we just have to find a way to heal ourselves," Josiah said, not looking at any of them.
Buck wanted to tell him that his way of healing was hurting his friends more than any of the events in the past two days. But when he saw Vin struggling between his anger and understanding of the situation, he kept silent. There was no need to add fuel to the fire threatening to consume all of them.
"Josiah," Ezra said, stepping in front of the big man. "When you have reached your destination, please, let us know. We. . .need to know where you will be."
Josiah nodded. "I will pray for all of you," he said softly, almost as if whispering, as he hugged each of them. "For peace. And for strength." Buck saw Vin no letting Josiah go as soon as they drew apart. None of them wanted Josiah to go. But none of them will stop Josiah from finding the peace he needed.
They had watched the big man go, crying softly in the airport.
The following summer. . .
I'm too old for this, Buck thought as he awoke with a start that morning. I'm gonna quit this job. Today.
It is with this thought that Buck wakes up for work every day. Well, on the occasion he sleeps, anyway. And everyday, he goes to work, taking pride in what he does best and comes home, thanking for another day. And ruing the next day. For the he would have to face the next day and be reminded all over again of the people he had lost in the past five years. Healing comes in the form of the friendship he is blessed with. Vin and Ezra seemed to be holding really well, but then again, they never openly discussed how bad they had hurt. Or were still hurting. They just took on a day a time.
That morning, Buck drove straight to the mall, where Ezra would be meeting with some gun runners for information on the next drop. In the events that require it, Team 7 joins forces with Team 8 on large stings. Currently, they were in the midst of a sting that had been ongoing for three months now. Buck, who was in charge of the sting, along with Team 8's leader, Ryan Kelly, felt it was time Ezra got out and they busted the perpetrators involved in the gun smuggling ring. But Ryan wanted Ezra to stay on just a little longer, until they got the names of the ring leaders. Vin too protested, but Team 7's opinion was considered then rejected, on the basis that the job was only half done. Buck and Vin would have protested even louder, but they were at the risk of being taken off the sting. That would mean leaving Ezra's safety in the hands of these clowns. Buck and Vin held their peace. Ezra went back undercover.
When Buck got to the mall, he was surprised and then angry when he realized that the mall was open for business as usual.
"The perps already nervous, we don't want to get suspicious," Kelly said, when Buck pointed this glaring mistake out.
"The whole point is they're nervous," Buck argued back. "That puts a lot of civilians in danger. And we don't have enough agents to protect them all."
"Wilmington," Kelly placed a hand on Buck's shoulder, only to have it shrugged off. They were only working together; not friendly enough to be all patronizing to Buck. "It's just a short meet. We'll keep them in our view all the time. If they try something funny. . ."
"If they even try something funny and Ezra or any civilians get hurt, I'll kill you myself," Buck said, walking off to Vin, who was getting ready to take his position on the clock tower not far from the food court where the meet was supposed to take place.
"You think he'll tell Travis you threatened him?" Vin asked as Buck helped him with his vest.
"Do you want to make bet on that, Mr Tanner?" Ezra's gambler persona could be heard from the tiny mike they wore in their ears. Ezra was already in his position, seated at one of the tables in the food court, waiting for the action.
"Kelly's a tattle-tale," Buck said. "He's gonna tell. Sorry, Ez. No bets this time."
"How about if we bet how long it would take before Mr Wilmington shoots Kelly?" Ezra was not giving up just yet. It was just something to lighten the tense moments that lay ahead.
"Shut up, Standish!" Kelly's voce rang clear from the mike.
Team 7 laughed. It was a long time since they did; but today laughter flowed freely. As they took their positions, Buck realized it must be because the wounds were finally healing. It had been a long time since Buck felt acutely alive. He actually felt. . .happy. There was a feeling of something good happening that day.
But when the time came for action, nothing good happened. First of all, the food court was filling up with the breakfast crowd. It all went downhill when a boy from Ezra's neighborhood recognized him and called out his name, just as the three perps were walking into the food court. Ezra ignored the boy, but one of the perps caught the boy and started questioning him.
"Take them down. . .GO!" Buck shouted orders as he ran toward the boy. "Don't draw your guns. Vin?"
"I got 'em," Vin's voice was calm. "Go save the day."
The others agents have already surrounded the perps, while mall security moved the people away to safety. But it was not over yet. Ezra was still in the midst of the perps, as was the boy; all of eleven years old and not looking for excitement beyond the games arcade. The boy was too far for Ezra to attempt anything, but Buck saw an opening.
Should I do it?
Eight agents have surrounded the two perps and Ezra, while another four were cautiously moving towards the third one, who was holding the boy in front of him, his gun poking nastily at the boy's throat. Buck was to the left of them perp, unnoticed.
You can save the boy, Chris's voice sounded sure. And Buck has never doubted Chris.
It happened all at once. The two other perps gave up at once, without drawing their weapons. But one of them saw Buck creeping towards their ally, and shouted a warning.
The third perp turned his gun on Buck. . .
The boy wriggled out of the perp's hand. . .
Vin squeezed the trigger. . .
Double shots were heard. . .
The perp fell to the ground. . .
Buck fell down, as a burning sensation passed through him. Before he could hit the floor, strong hands caught him.
"We got you, Buck," JD's voice was clear as the first time he heard him. "We got you."
Buck knew something good was going to happen that day. He wanted to say something, but he was soothed into deep slumber. And as he slept, he felt the presence of all his friends. They were all close to him. It felt good. It felt really good.
He took the bullet to his head; doctors managed to take it out, but Buck never came out of the coma. . .
Buck watched as Vin and Ezra kept vigil beside the bed. He was standing at the foot of the bed, looking at his own body. Or, his remains, to be precise. But he was no ghost. He felt solid; as strong as the day he joined the SEALs.
This was it. The end of one journey. Another was about to begin, and Buck was not afraid at all. He would not be alone.
"They gonna be okay?" Buck asked, as he felt the presence of Chris beside him. Chris too looked younger and stronger, not like the last time he saw he saw him. It was the same with JD and Nathan.
Chris took a moment before he answered. "They'll be fine."
Buck nodded, turning to look at Ezra and Vin.
"I don't want them to go through this anymore," Buck spoke of the thin hope Ezra and Vin were hanging on to.
"Whenever you are ready," Chris said.
There were no tears this time as Buck touched Vin and Ezra for the last time. He would be seeing them, when their time came. Until then, this was just a temporary separation. He wished he could tell this to Vin and Ezra. He just hoped they understood that he was not giving up on them. He just wanted their own suffering to end.
Buck walked away from Vin and Ezra and into the white light beyond. JD, Chris and Nathan were waiting for him. And as the welcomed him, his broken heart and shattered soul healed. Buck felt complete again.
. . .on the third day, he flatlined. He was given a posthumous award for bravery. He was buried with his medal and a picture of himself, JD and Chris, taken on JD's first Christmas with the team. Josiah was not there, but seven shots were fired during Buck's funeral. . .
-- THE END --