Rating: PG 13
Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven do not belong to me.
They are the property of CBS, Mirisch and several
others, with whom I have no ties. No money was
recieved from this work. What else is new? ;-)
Warnings: Well, my wonderful beta, Marla, insisted I
put a hanky warning on this one, and it probably rates
about a nine on the Cass Sappometer. There is h/c, and
some smarm, but amist all the icing and sprinkles, I
swear there is some cake.
** I must give special thanks to Marla. Without her
suggestions and beta skills I truly doubt if this
piece would have ever seen the light of day. Also, a
very special thanks to everyone who wrote me with very
kind and encouraging words when I chose to take a
break from writing. Thank you. This one's for you, and
all the writers who have kept me entertained over
these last few months. Especially the Darlin's. You
guys are great**
Whew, my intro's are still long-winded.
God Gave Me You
God gave me you to show me what's real.
That there's more to life than just how I feel
And all that I'm worth is right before me eyes.
And all that I live for, though I didn't know why
Now I do 'cause God gave me you.
-Houston, Goldmark and Hicks, Brian White & Asylum
There are times in a man's life when he questions
everything he thought he held true: his motives, his
prejudices, his weaknesses,.... and his
Right now I find myself at such a point, an impasse,
as Ezra might say.
The hand holding my gun trembles ever so slightly and
I force myself to stay calm as I weigh my options.
One look into the hazel eyes that are brimming with
defiance, fear,and more trust than I could ever think
myself worthy and I know exactly where I stand, and
undoubtedly where I'll fall.
*How did we get here, kid ?*
Raising my other hand slowly, I back away from the
beautiful, smiling woman that is holding a very ugly
9mm to my best friend's head.
As soon as I lower my own weapon to the floor, my eyes
meet cold blue ones and I realize how ironic it is
that something I have cherished my entire life is
going to be the source of my demise, and someone I
have loved for only three short years will make my
easy and incredibly hard.
Taking a quick breath, in the the time that I know is
not nearly a second but feels like forever, I gather
the courage to try and convey all that I
need to as I finally look at JD and smile.
I have heard that there are acts so vile that
witnessing one could quite possibly cause a
body to feel their heart fracture.
As I watch my best friend's world shatter I now know
that these tales are true. He realizes exactly what we
both are about to lose. My breath catches as I
comprehend that I am the cause behind his pain and I
know his look of pure terror will chase me to my
The thought that I have saved the life I value most,
but sacrificed both our souls in the process, slams
into me at the same moment and with the paralleled
intensity of the slugs from Dierdra's gun.
Shouts erupt simultaneously around me, and I'm not
sure if they are my own or those of the rescue party,
maybe both. I barely recognize JD's voice screaming
my name as I fall to my knees and then the rest of the
way to the unforgiving concrete floor.
I land in nearly the same spot that Dierdra had left
the delivery boy bleeding the first night Ezra and I
had made contact. Maybe this is my penance for
choosing duty over helping him.
It's funny how I expected my death to somehow be
For one, I didn't think I would be taken out by a
woman, well, unless I was at least 90 and my ticker
gave out in a moment of heated passion. Now that would
be a death fitting me, but this, this has to be wrong.
I have always heard that people see their lives flash
before them when they leave this world. 'That', I was
looking forward to. I took pride in the fact that
I'd at least have a helluva show to watch on my way to
see St. Peter. But as I lay here in a warm puddle of
my own blood, only one memory surrounds me. A memory
from last week when I’d learned that no matter how bad
things get, refuge can be found at home.
That when you think you’ve lost yourself, you can
always find your way in the presence of someone who
I guess it goes to show that life truly is made up of
the small moments, the little things.
Maybe the Big Guy himself just wanted to remind me of
what a gift he'd given me during my run in his game,
or maybe..he wanted to show me what I have to fight
It was Wednesday morning and the apartment was quiet,
the whole building was in fact.
Not even Mrs. Chuly was up yet to walk her yappy
little pup, that Buck insisted believed itself to be
some sort of rooster hell bent on waking up everyone
in the neighborhood with the rising sun.
Only a small amount of light wafted in from the French
doors that led to the deck, as the weary ATF agent let
himself in and closed the door quietly behind
He'd been gone nearly two weeks and he hadn't realized
just how much he had missed the loft, that he shared
with fellow agent, best friend, and little
brother, JD Dunne, until he was greeted with the
familiar sights and smells that were often taken for
He paused just for a second to let it all wash over
Dorothy had been right, there was no place like home.
Buck took in each inch of it greedily and didn't even
wince when he realized what a wreck the place was. If
the truth be known, he would have been more worried if
it had been clean.
After nearly tripping over the basketball and Nikes
tossed in the hall, he gratefully stripped off his
Armani suit jacket and tossed it on the back of the
overstuffed olive green sectional sofa he'd bought
when he'd first moved in to the place. For some
reason it looked more inviting than it ever had, even
the color didn't look that bad, and he wasn't sure if
it was because he was tired of sitting in those stupid
glass-looking chairs at the penthouse, or because he
was simply homesick.
The latter was probably a good bet because his old
Lazy Boy recliner looked heavenly. In fact, most
The bookshelves overflowing with magazines, CD's,
DVD's, and a fair amount of model cars and trains
nearly brought tears to his blood shot eyes
and Buck was almost afraid to glance at the 'Wall of
Sound' in fear that he might break down and start
hugging Lela, JD's PC which rested on the small desk
near their gas fireplace.
Chuckling softly at his own sappy behavior, Wilmington
avoided the snowboard partially blocking his access
into the kitchen, and tossed the keys to Ezra's Jag
onto the bar. He unstrapped the shoulder holster he
was wearing and deposited it onto the table before
opening the refrigerator door.
Living in a penthouse had its perks, but half the food
Standish had ordered from roomservice had seemed more
like cat food than the cullinary delight his partner
had disdainfully defended it to be. Duck liver just
wasn't Buck's cup of tea, give him a burger and fries
any day, and he did not intend to share the blame when
Chris had a coronary after he received the expense
Unfortunately, the returning agent was only a little
surprised to find nothing consumable in the house.
The countless pizza boxes and take-out cartons
littering the living room were evidence enough to what
solo roommate had undoubtedly been eating the last
week or so. At least the kid hadn't starved while he
was gone. That was only one of the concerns that
Wilmington had given thought to when he took the
Playing Ezra Standish's right-hand man and bodyguard
was usually a position reserved for Vin Tanner, the
team's quiet sharpshooter. However, when the
DEA asked for the Seven's help with a lead they had
gotten on one of the most prolific crime families in
the US, a lead they had paid for with the life of one
of their own, problems had quickly arisen.
For one, when JD had done the preliminary research on
the group in question, 'mighty mensa' had discovered
two people in the organization that could be linked to
Vin. The small time players had been taken in by
Tanner during his pre-Magnificent Seven time, when he
had been a Marshall. So, even though the thugs were
low in the 'family', Chris Larabee had refused to let
his best friend anywhere near the case.
That had left Buck with the rare opportunity to join
the conman of their crew on this particular
infiltration. He wasn't thrilled at the prospect of
undercover work, but took the assignment with no
argument. Well, there were no arguments from him,
JD had protested quite loudly, which had amused the
others to no end. It appeared that they thought turn
about was definitely fair play. Wilmington, himself,
even had to admit the kid had nearly nailed every
argument that his protective older brother had ever
used to protest any dangerous assignment JD had been
given in the past.
However, after one of the famous Larabee 'chats',
Dunne had come around and agreed to go along with the
plan, for the sake of the operation, of course.
Despite his acquiescence, Wilmington had been the
recipient of several long hours of coaching from his
roommate, who had dug up every little detail
on everyone he thought his best friend and Ezra might
come into contact with.
Of course, the only person Buck was interested in was
the woman in charge. After all, Dierdra Brunellie,
besides being the granddaughter of one of the most
powerful arms dealers north of Mexico, was
as JD would put it, phat.
The idea of getting close to the exquisite lady, no
matter how professional it might have been, excited
Wilmington, who never failed to enjoy the workings of
a woman's mind, even a devious one.
Especially a woman as complex and fascinating as
The thirty year-old beauty had single-handedly taken
over her Grandfather's operation and turned it into a
'corporation' that would rival some of the
drug cartels on the east coast. Her skill at
combining her cunning and good looks to propel herself
to the top of the ATF’s elite list of most wanted
criminals fascinated Buck considerably.
That was until he had the pleasure of meeting the
bitch in person.
Not more than a few hours after their introductions,
he and Ezra had been forced to watch as she exacted
punishment on one of her employees for messing up a
The boy, a kid no older than JD, had been beaten
mercilessly by the two juggernauts that Dierdra like
to call her personal companions. They answered to the
pet names Zeus and Apollo, but Buck liked to call them
Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber.
After they had finished with their victim, the hired
assassins had left him bleeding and unconscious on the
concrete floor, while the lovely Dierdra had treated
them all to lunch. She had politely apologized to her
new business associates for the spectacle and
explained with a twinkle in her dark blue eyes that
blood always made her hungry.
Buck had his serious suspicions that she was a
That would have explained the weird nocturnal
activities and sick sexual practices that he
would later find out about.
It had taken all of his restraint and a sharp glance
from Standish to prevent the agent from blowing both
their covers and driving a stake through her heart to
rescue the young man, who just happened to have had a
painful resemblance to JD.
That, of course, was one of the big reasons Buck
Wilmington did not work under cover more than he was
forced to. Cruelty was something he could not
condone, even for the greater good. His heart was too
big. It was his weakness.
Nearly as great as his other weakness, the one who was
undoubtedly responsible for the latest science project
growing in the ice box.
"JD," the agent breathed, running a hand over his
tired eyes and shaking his head. He suddenly decided
that sleep was more important than nourishment at
However, more important than catching up on the
shut-eye he had missed because of Deirdra’s
extravagant entertaining all night- every night, was
checking to make sure that the one behind the current
disarray of the CDC, as the team affectionately liked
to call the bachelor pad, was still in one piece.
Except for making regular phone tags with Chris, Buck
and Ezra had been very careful not to chance any
contacts with the rest of their team until they
had established themselves with the Brunellies. It had
been 12 days, going on 13, since the agent had laid
eyes on his roommate.
He'd not even had a chance to see the kid the day that
he'd left home. JD had been gone with Vin when the
call came in to move and Wilmington had left a note on
the coffee table along with keys to his Chevy. He
knew JD would be pissed. They had an understanding
about things like that and with the trouble that they
had endured the last few months, it wasn’t something
the kid needed to deal with; but Buck hadn’t had much
choice in the matter.
Although Josiah and Nathan had assured him that they
would keep a close watch on their youngest partner, it
had still been hard for Wilmington to lose all
contact with the kid. In the three and a half years
since their meeting, Wilmington had never been away
from his best friend for more than acouple of days at
a time, except for one time when Chris had
sent JD to a conference for two weeks. That had not
ended well for anyone,least of all JD.
But Buck was home now, if only for one night.
With one last glance around the beautifully messy
domicile, Wilmington smiled to himself and started for
the small downstairs bedroom.
Pushing the door slightly open, the agent peered
inside. The glow from the lights in the fish aquarium
allowed him a view, despite the dark blinds concealing
the windows. The rhythmic sound of soft breathing
reached Buck's ears and he was about close the door
when his eyes adjusted and he noticed that instead of
the long black hair that usually found its way
out from under the red comforter, there was a mass of
light brown locks.
Wilmington's grin widened and he gingerly stepped into
the room. Unfortunately, as soon as his foot landed on
the second floorboard to the left of the door it
creaked and Tanner instantly sat up in bed,
reaching for the weapon that Buck knew would be
resting on the nightstand.
The agent silently cursed himself for not remembering
the built-in alarm system, that drove JD crazy but
always let his big brother know when the kid
had made it in from one of his late nights, and he
quietly called out to Tanner before he became one of
those people who ended up getting shot
in their own homes. "Vin! It's Buck!"
"Geezus!" Tanner sighed, laying his gun back down and
switching on the small lamp by the bed. "What the hell
are you doing here, Bucklin?" he whispered
harshly, pushing himself up against the headboard.
Wilmington grinned at the sleepy-eyed agent and strode
the rest of the way across the small room. "I live
here, junior. What are 'you' doing here?"
Tanner tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn. "JD
and I went to a hockey game. It was late when we got
back so I decided to stay."
Buck cast a quick glance around the room, instantly
noticing that it was a lot cleaner than usual, before
giving the other man a knowing smile.
"Looks like you've stayed more than one night."
Vin smiled. "I had to clean the place up a little to
find the bed. Are you sure he's still not a
"I think the effects last a couple of years, sort of
like a hormone hangover," Buck replied, sitting on the
corner of the bed. "How is he?"
"He's alright. He wasn't too happy about you being
gone when we got back from Nettie's that day, but
Josiah explained the situation in his
'fatherly' way, and that helped."
Vin gave his friend a sympathetic look. "JD has
a plan for you to make it up to him."
"Was wrecking the apartment part of that plan?"
Vin laughed. "No, that was him 'reacting to the
stress of the situation'. Like a puppy who wrecks the
house when it’s left alone."
Buck raised an eyebrow at his friend. "Huh?"
"Rosalind's explanation, not mine."
Buck rolled his eyes. He wasn't exactly fond of the
good Dr. Rosalind, psychiatrist extraoridinaire and on
again-off again love interest of Josiah Sanchez. He
just didn't trust a woman who analyzed everything from
the way a man ate his french fries to the vehicle
he drove. "Next thing you know, she'll be suggestin'
I send the kid to obedience school."
"Close. She suggested that he stay with Chris for a
It was Wilmington's turn to laugh. "Oh, I bet that
"For a few days. Then, my best friend 'suggested' that
maybe JD would be more comfortable at home, with me as
a substitute roommate."
"Kind of like giving the puppy an old shoe to keep it
"Funny," Tanner said. "I don't know why Chris didn't
just stay himself as much as he drops by. I think he
really thought the kid should stay at the
ranch, but that he'd feel better being here."
"He had that rough of a time?" Buck felt little
strings of guilt tighten around his heart.
Seeing the familiar look of concern flash behind
Wilmington's dark eyes, Vin tried to reassure his
friend. "Just some nightmares and an attitude
Buck rubbed at his temple where a steady pounding
alerted him to the headache that was about to rear its
ugly head. “I knew this was too soon after that whole
kidnapping fiasco with that psycho Phillips. The kid
still hasn’t gotten over that and I up and leave
without so much as a good-bye.”
Vin knew the whole team had their concerns about Buck
leaving so soon after the incident their youngest
partner had suffered through. Even though JD was very
capable of taking care of himself and a top-notch
agent, there was a side to him that needed assurance.
Buck provided that, he was the kid’s anchor during the
turbulent times and his protector when there was a
threat. The most recent ‘threat’ had been Jared
Phillips, who had appeared out of the shadows from the
dark recesses of Chris and Buck’s past, and wreaked
havoc on the Seven only a short month ago.
The escaped felon had managed to shoot Vin, poison
Ezra, and kidnap JD before the team even knew who they
were dealing with. It had only been luck that they
had found the kid in time. The fact that Phillips now
rested in the Lakeland Cemetery didn’t begin to make
up for what he’d put JD through, what he’d put all of
them through, but it was over now and they all needed
to get past it, especially Buck and JD.
“Come on, Bucklin, it ain’t like you been on vacation.
The kid understood this was business. He’s a cop
through and through. You know that. We were in a tight
spot. He’s alright. Really.” The sharpshooter smiled.
"Besides, Travis adjusted the attitude and the
rest of us took care of the sleeping trouble by
wearing the kid down during the day."
Buck could read the sincerity in his friend’s lucid
blue gaze but still felt worried and was about to say
as much when Vin changed the subject. "Speaking of
business, how's the Brunellie situation? Where's Ez?"
Buck raked a hand through his hair and sighed.
"Ezra's at his place, probably sleeping off all the
fifty year-old scotch he shared with Victor Spano."
Vin sat up straighter in the bed. "Spano? Victor 'the
Wilmington nodded. "Oh yeah. He's one of Deirdra's
many influential admirers."
"That means the tip the DEA got could be on the
The tall agent rubbed at his eyes and stifled a yawn.
" That's what we thought, but why don't we talk about
that in the morning."
Vin glanced at the Harley Davidson alarm clock sitting
on the nightstand. Its red glowing numbers read 5:15
and the ex-marshal looked back at his friend. "It is
Buck picked up a pillow and tossed it at his friend.
"Not for some of us, junior. I'm going to bed."
Vin caught the feather-filled object and tucked it
behind his head as he scooted back down under the
covers. "That is if you can 'find' your bed."
Wilmington groaned as he realized exactly where his
best friend must have been sleeping if Tanner had
taken over the kid's room. "Great," he muttered as
he turned to go. "I leave for a little while and my
life goes to the dogs."
"Nighty-night," Tanner called, turning off the lamp
and not bothering to hide his amusement.
Buck shot a glare over his shoulder at the younger man
before shutting the door behind him. "Don't let the
bed bugs bite."
Wilmington softly rattled off a litany of grumbles
about cocky agents and annoying younger brothers with
each step he took up the spiral iron staircase that
led to his loft bedroom.
If it hadn't been for the faint blue light from his
television casting an eerie shadow, he would have
probably tripped over the hockey stick at the top of
the stairs. The small screen was blank except for the
blinking 'Game Over', but it illuminated enough of the
room that Buck was able to maneuver his way through
the piles of clothes and such.
He let his eyes follow the black cords hooked to the
video game below the set to the lump of quilts on the
JD lay spread-eagle atop the mass, one hand still
holding the controls to the Sega Genesis, the other
grasping the pillow his head was cushioned upon. The
sound of music softly reverberated from the headset
still attached to the young agent's ears and Buck felt
his mood lighten as he stepped closer to the youth.
JD always looked younger in his sleep, but lying in
the middle of Wilmington's huge bed, surrounded by all
the things that screamed of the generation he was
from, dressed in one of Buck's old Jimmy Buffet tour
T-shirts and a pair of sweats, he had never looked
the kid he was always trying to deny.
Wilmington's mind went to the boy he had watched
getting beaten in Dierdra's warehouse and he had to
swallow back the wellspring of emotion that threatened
to overtake him.
He wondered if that kid was someone's son, someone's
best friend,....someone's little brother. Sitting
carefully on the edge of the bed, he gently laid his
hand atop the mass of black hair and swept the
ever-present bangs away from JD's closed eyes.
Mesmerized by the steady rise and fall of JD's breath,
he marveled at how watching another person breathe
could bring someone such peace.
He'd heard of parents sitting for hours on end
their children sleep but had never given it much
thought until one, energy-filled, exuberant twenty
year-old had fallen into his life.
Now, as he relished in the sight of 'his' kid safe
and sound, untouched, for the moment, by any cruelties
of the outside world or the harshness of their line of
work, he understood completely the meaning of
It was as if the old Buck Wilmington , the wild, not
a care in the world bachelor who feared any sort of
commitment, had somehow been replaced by the person
sitting here in the middle of the disaster area, which
had once been the throne of his manhood, gazing at the
culprit who had converted him with nothing less than
JD Dunne had simply shown Buck what was important in
Wilmington managed to slide the earphones from his
best friend's head without much trouble and he smiled
as he recognized the song playing.
Stevie Ray Vaughn was better than Flat Biskett, or
whatever the hell that guy’s name was, any day.
The kid mumbled something in his sleep once the music
was gone and hugged the pillow he was holding tighter,
but didn't wake. Buck tossed the CD player on the
other side of the bed and proceeded to try and do the
same with the Sega paddle.
He leaned over the sleeping agent and had just about
pried the kid's fingers from the control when hazel
eyes fluttered and opened with a start.
JD jumped as he just made out a large blurry form
hovering over him in his peripheral vision. "No," he
gasped, attempting to roll over onto his back, to
ensure a less defenseless position. His honed skills
taking over without conscious thought.
"Easy kid." Buck caught the hand that would have
connected with the side of his head. "It's me."
Luckily, Wilmington was well practiced in this
scenario from many nights of waking his roommate from
more bad dreams than anyone JD's age should have had.
He held onto the struggling youth until his words sunk
in. "It's alright, son."
"Buck?" JD gasped, his fear giving way to relief. The
young agent instantly recognized the voice and his
body relaxed as the familiar touch registered with
"Didn't mean to scare you," the older agent explained,
letting go of his roommate and sitting back on the bed
beside him. "I figured the game was over."
Even in the dim light Buck could recognize the look of
confusion still lingering on the the kid's face. He
held up the Sega control. "Trying to get in some
practice while I'm gone."
JD rubbed at his eyes, a sleepy grin tugging at his
lips. "I don't need any practice to whip you."
"Says you," Buck replied, playfully wrapping the kid
on the forehead.
JD pushed himself up on one elbow and peered
expectantly at the other agent.
"What are you doing home, Buck? Chris said it would
be Friday before we heard from you or Ezra again. Did
something break in the Brunellie case? Where's Ez?"
Buck clamped a hand over Dunne's mouth. "Nothing's
turned in the case and Ezra is probably sleeping,
something you should be partaking in yourself."
"Partaking?" JD practically giggled, pushing his
friend's hand away.
"You've been with Ezra way too long."
"Yeah, and you've been alone too long. Forgot that
Ol' Buck is still a good foot taller than you and can
squash you like a bug if'n he has a mind to."
JD snorted as if the other man had just told some
ridiculous joke. "Are you kiddin', I haven't been
alone since you've been gone."
Wilmington's confused look was enough to encourage the
kid to continue.
"Monday," JD looked up at Buck with a grim face, "the
day you left, Josiah took me out for dinner at 'On the
Border', his treat, and then to the Rec
where we played some ball."
The kid grinned up at his roommate. "Wait 'til I show
you the new jump shot Terry showed me."
Buck laughed. "How many times I got to tell ya', son?
Short men can't jump."
JD rolled his eyes but kept talking. "Tuesday, Nathan
and me caught the new Toy Story movie." Dunne was
quick to add a justification after Wilmington's
smile grew wider. "You know how Nate loves those
"Yeah, I know how 'Nate' loves those," Buck replied,
remembering that the last movie he had seen with JD
had been about a talking mouse.
"Besides, I didn't want to go watch the new
Schwarzenegger movie because I thought me and you
could catch it next week."
Buck glanced away for a moment. "I may still be under
Some of JD's exuberance seemed to fade. "Oh."
"What about Wednesday?" Buck asked, trying to change
the topic and recapture some of the kid's energy that
he had missed more than even he had realized.
"What'd you con the guys into that day?"
As planned, the smile returned. "Chris and I left the
office early to pick up that new colt that Jon sent up
from Arizona. You should see him, Buck. He's
something. Chris said I could even help break him."
"If he doesn't break you first," Wilmington teased,
instantly bringing a feigned look of annoyance to the
other agent's face.
"Thurs-day," JD said, stressing each syllable to
protest Buck's going 'there'. There being the place
where 'big-brother Buck' took over the body
and brain of 'fellow agent and peer Buck'. "Thursday,
Vin and I went to the new ski shop out near the mall."
"That explains the new snow board downstairs."
"That's for the trip we're going on."
Buck frowned. "The trip 'who's' going on?"
"The trip 'we' are going on." JD grinned. "The one you
Wilmington remembered that Vin had mentioned the kid
had a plan for him to make-up the whole leaving
fiasco, so he decided to play along. "That doesn't
sound too bad. We could head up to Aspen as soon as
JD was up on his elbow again. "Really?!"
"Why not. You and Vin can chase each other down the
suicide slopes on those painted pieces of fiber glass
with all those other adrenaline junkies and I
can hunt snow bunnies at the lodge."
JD plopped back down on the bed. "Yeah right, Elmer
Fudd," he replied around a huge yawn, "hasn't Dierdra
Brunellie ruined you for all other women
The smile faded from Buck's face and he suddenly felt
as if he needed a long hot shower. Just hearing the
woman's name spoken out loud made him feel dirty.
"You okay, Buck? Is something up with Brunellie? "
Wilmington shook his head and forced a grin back on
his face. "I'm just tired, kid."
"I bet," JD grinned. "Ez told Chris that Dierdra had
taken an instant liking to you."
"I guess it was the old animal magnetism working its
magic," Wilmington replied with as much humor as he
could manage. He wasn't about to let anything about
Dierdra ruin the grace period he'd been given.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Dunne pushed
himself up to a sitting position and stared hard at
his roommate. Wilmington sounded like his old self,
but something felt different, something JD
couldn't quite put his finger on.
"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" Buck nodded over his
shoulder, "I mean you're the one who survived that
tornado that must have blasted through
here, or was it an earthquake?"
"I wasn't really expectin' you to be home anytime
soon," JD replied.
"Besides, the guys have kept me pretty busy. It's
been constant activity around here."
"If Chris and Vin keep this up, you'll be volunteering
me for long term undercover assignments."
Dunne's brow furrowed. "I thought this was just a one
"It is," Buck reached out and slapped his partner on
the head, "I'd rather be working the streets any day
as playing this game." Wilmington winked at his
friend. "You know I like myself way too much to
pretend to be
JD laughed at the half sincere/ half joking statement.
" At least 'Brett Wills' gets to live in a penthouse
with maid service."
Buck shrugged. "Yeah, but he has to live with Ezra.”
JD grinned. "Good point. I remember that week he
stayed with us when he was hurt."
"He's worse when he's not on pain medication. I now
have a whole new respect for Junior.”
The kid nodded and yawned. "Definitely a strike
against being 'bodyguard Brett', but I want to hear
about the perks, like playing house with Dierdra
Buck held his grin in place. "Sounds like you're too
worn out for that kind of bedtime story, sport. How
'bout we talk about it tomorrow?”
"Okay, have it your way, Brett," Dunne sighed,
grabbing his pillow and starting to get up. "I'll take
"No," Buck put a hand on the kid's shoulder. "You stay
where you are. I'll sleep downstairs."
JD started to object but the serious look on
Wilmington's face changed his mind and he reluctantly
laid back onto the bed, but kept his eyes on the older
agent. "You going to be here when I wake up, or are
you just going to leave a note?"
Buck held his roommate's gaze. "I'll be here." He
pulled the blankets from the bottom of the bed and
tossed them over JD. "I won't leave again without
The day JD's mother had died, he'd been late for work
and had not said anything to the woman as he dashed
out of their small Boston apartment, leaving her with
the private nurse he had hired so he could continue to
work for the money they desperately needed. The next
time JD saw her, it was already too late for words.
JD had shared that story with Wilmington not too long
after coming to Denver, and Buck had taken it for what
it was. A request. A condition. A warning, even.
Life is too short to leave things unsaid.
"Swear?" JD's voice was softer, as if sleep was
starting to claim him again.
Still, he raised his arm and extended his pinkie
Wilmington smiled and hooked his pinkie with the
offered one and pulled. "I swear, kid."
I gasp as a flashing pain tears through my side,
bringing me back to the tortuous present, ripping away
any lingering warmth and comfort that the memory had
given me. God, how I wish I were at the apartment
right now, back at that moment. If only I had known
then what I know now. I could have saved Vin and JD so
much suffering. Maybe, I could have saved myself.
I try to squirm away from the source of the renewed
pain. White-gloved hands hold me down on the cold,
metal table, and the flourescent lights shining above
me let me know that I’m either in the ER or on the
alien mother ship.
“Easy, Buck, we’re getting ready to take you into
surgery,” Dr. Stewart says in a calm tone, as if he
were just giving me a routine check-up. The fact that
I recognize the surgeon’s voice is proof that I have
spent far too much time at Mercy General and the
realization that a trauma specialist is in with me
lets me know that ‘this’ trip is a serious one.
Suddenly, the events from the warehouse become all too
clear and I recall what has led to my latest visit
with Dr. Stewart. “JD!” I whisper, although I’d
really meant to scream. My body refused to cooperate.
“Mr. Dunne is in the waiting room,” Stewart answers,
continuing to fight some battle with a bleeder, that I
assume is mine.
“I got it!” he announces to the group frantically
working around him. “Put him under, and alert Mason
that I may need his assistance.”
“No!” I say louder, surprising everyone as I jerk my
hand from the nurse trying to start a new IV. “JD!”
Stewart’s face is near mine now and he looks angry.
“Buck, I promised that boy that I’d do my best to save
your sorry ass and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let
you make that difficult task any harder for me.”
I swallow hard wincing as another wave of pain crashes
over me. “I....made...a ...prom.ise..too.
Stewart shakes his head. “No. You can see him after
you’re out of surgery.”
He makes to straighten up, but I weakly catch his
hand. “Can ...you..promise..I’ll get..that chance?”
The remorseful glimpse I catch in his dark eyes before
he can regain his detatchment tells me all I need to
know. He doesn’t think I’ll ever see JD again.
“We don’t have time for this,” he hisses, but turns
and storms out of the room just the same, leaving his
team shocked and more than a little confused.
I ignore their ministrations and let the young nurse
have her way with my IV. All my focus is needed for
holding the darkness at bay, as I pray I won’t break
my word to the kid.
“JD!” Dr. Graham Stewart’s sharp tone had everyone in
the small waiting room looking his way, and his
blood-covered form caused more than a few gasps and
“Oh God,” Dunne said shakily. Chris Larabee felt the
tremor run through the kid that was sitting next to
him on the uncomfortable plastic couch and tried to
fight back his own fear that was dancing up his spine.
“Easy,” the leader of the seven breathed as he
steadied the agent beside him. They had both made it
to their feet, but JD swayed unsteadily. Larabee again
considered the wiseness of giving into the kid when
he’d allowed him to skip his own visit to the ER.
“He’s dead,” was JD’s whispered reply and Chris
tightened his hold on him as Vin, Ezra, Nathan, and
Josiah all gathered around them.
“Don’t think like that, kid.” Vin's words rang with
confidence, but Ezra didn’t miss the way his friend
inched slightly closer to Larabee. The one thing that
Standish had ever known to frighten Tanner was the
thoughts of losing one of their team. It was a phobia
“What’s wrong, doctor?” Josiah was the first to speak
as Stewart stopped breathlessly in front of them.
“Mr. Wilmington has a request.” The physician looked
straight at JD. “He wants to see you, son. He refuses
to go into surgery until he does.”
Stewart had witnessed the connection between the seven
ATF agents on many occassions and he never failed to
be touched by their fierce loyalty for each other, or
love for one another. The bond between Buck and JD
was evidence to a fact that Stewart had always
believed. Family was not determined by blood alone.
So when the young man in front of him hesitated, and
actually retreated a couple of steps, the doctor was
more than a little puzzled.
There had been more times than he could count when
he’d had to have JD Dunne physically removed from
Wilmington’s side when the boisterous agent was
injured. The kid was almost as tenacious as his big
brother when it came to making himself a nuisance
to the medical staff.
“Did you hear me, Mr. Dunne? Buck needs to speak with
JD shook his head no and swallowed back the fear that
had sprung to his throat in the form of a huge lump
that was threatening to choke off his air supply. He
knew exactly what Buck wanted to say to him, and he
would be damned if he was going to let that happen.
“I..I..can’t,” the kid managed to say, before pulling
out of Chris’s grasp and running towards the narrow
hallway adjacent to them.
“JD!” Chris called but his youngest agent didn’t stop
and he started to go after him when Vin grabbed his
“Let me, cowboy.” Blue eyes locked with green ones,
and a silent messaged filtered across the invisble
link that bound the two men. “You go see to Bucklin.”
“We don’t have time for this,” Stewart stressed,
impatiently. “This is a real emergency, gentlemen, not
a scene from Chicago Hope. Mr. Wilmington needs to be
in surgery. Now.”
“I’ll talk to him,” Chris finally said, nodding to
Tanner who took off in the direction JD had gone.
“We’re here for you, brother,” Josiah said softly,
reaching out to squeeze their leader’s shoulder as he
passed. If Buck didn’t make it, JD wouldn’t be the
only one who’d be losing family.
"JD! Hold up!" Vin called as he jogged down the
corridor framed by sterile white walls. The kid was
only a couple of feet in front of him, but still the
tracker was grateful when he saw the younger agent
stop in front of the row of drink machines.
It had been a long week, and an even longer night,
for all of the team and Tanner wasn't up to a chase.
From the way JD was breathing when he reached him,
neither was he.
Dunne was in tip-top shape, and often ran with Vin
and played raquetball with Ezra, besides joining in
afternoon basketball games with Buck. So the fact that
he was holding his side and practically gasping for
air alerted the other man that the kid was
suffering from more than just emotional pain.
"You alright, kid?" Tanner asked, laying a
steadying hand on JD's shoulder.
"I'm fine," Dunne replied, straightening up and
leaning against the Coke machine behind him.
"You sure? Dierdra's goons worked you over pretty
good. I sure the hell wasn't fine after they got a
hold of me."
JD looked at his friend, easily picking out the
fading purplish marks around Tanner's left eye and
below his right cheek. His broken fingers were still
taped and the way the sharpshooter stood slightly
hunched over made JD wonder if Vin's ribs were hurting
as badly as his were.
Zues and Appolo had come close to killing the
sharpshooter when they found him meeting with Ezra.
The whole Brunellie case had went down hill after
that. Chris was angry and worried, a deadly
combination, and had wanted results. Buck had wanted
JD off the case and off Dierdra Brunellie's payroll,
and Ez had wanted revenge. They all three got their
wishes, but the results had not come in a neat little
"I'm okay, really." JD tried to put as much sincerity
in his voice as possible. "Buck came in before they
could do any real damage."
Tanner shook his head and wondered at just 'what'
exactly his partner considered damage. One of JD's
eyes was black and a nasty looking cut ran ran from
his bottom lip to his chin. "Buck would want you to
see a doctor, kid."
Dunne bit his lip to keep the threatening tears at
bay. "Buck wants me to see him, too."
Vin watched his friend wrestle with whatever
demons he was wrestling and waited for JD to continue.
"I can't do it, Vin. I know what he wants." JD's
voice broke, and a tear escaped before he could catch
it with the back of his hand. "I just can't!"
Tanner continued to hold the younger man's gaze.
"What does he want, JD?"
The kid nearly choked on the words. "To say
"That ain't true!" Vin heard the harsh words escape
his lips, before he even consciously chose to speak
them. "Bucklin's not going to die. He's too
damn stubborn. You should know that, of all
people." Tanner couldn't understand why the kid was
saying such nonsense. He and Wilmington were
as close as brothers, JD should 'know' that Buck was
going to be fine. Just fine.
JD flinched as he saw a dark anger flash in the light
blue eyes that had held nothing but compassion a
moment earlier. "You weren't in the ambulance, Vin.
"I don't need to see," Vin interrupted. "Buck ain't
going to leave you, or Chris." *Or me.* "If he wrath
of Chris Larabee didn't get rid of him all those years
ago, a bullet sure the hell ain't gonna' do the job."
Dunne dropped his gaze from the other man. The
unfamiliar look mirrored in the face of his friend was
too much to take in. Vin was scared. And if Vin
was scared,...well, JD knew his own fears were
He now knew, without a doubt, that he was going to
"Did you hear me kid?" Tanner asked, stepping
closer to the younger man and giving his arm a slight
JD finally looked up, realizing his teammate was still
"Are you coming or not? They can't hold off on the
surgery." Tanner watched the silent struggle behind
the hazel depths, understanding the battle, but
desiring its resolution all the same.
"Buck needs you, JD. This time 'he' needs 'you'."
Chris Larabee strode through the metal doors of the ER
like he went into any unknown situation. His head held
high, shoulders squared, jaw set, and eyes hard, to
mask any feelings that may lie vulnerable just beneath
He was ready to do battle. He was prepared to dare
anyone, or anything, to get in his way. Chris Larabee
was on a mission.
The seasoned ATF agent wavered only slightly when the
familiar beep of the monitoring machines, the sound of
instruments striking metal trays, the ugly green
partitioning curtains and the smell of blood ambushed
Even with all these dreaded things assaulting each of
his senses, Chris trudged on. It didn't matter that
each sight and sound around him was associated with
one of his men being hurt, with one of his family
being in peril, and with yet another failure of his
leadership. No, that didn't stop him.
Larabee continued through the onslaught of
shell-shocked nurses and blood-splattered doctors
until he made it to his oldest friend's side. With a
deep breath and fighting back a wave of nausea, he
took ahold of the ghostly pale hand in front of him,
and gave it a slight squeeze. Had it only been a week
since he stood in nearly this same position with Vin?
"You really fixed yourself good this time, huh pard?"
Dark blue eyes opened slightly and peered up at him
with a glimmer of the mischief usually found there.
"You always said that...," Buck swallowed hard, weakly
gripping the hand holding his, "..that women would be
the death of me."
Larabee shook his head, the reality of his old
friend's words crashing upon him, like unexpected
mortar from the enemy. How could Buck be talking
about dying? He had more life in him than anyone
Chris had ever known.
He also had too much to live for. Buck had a family
now. Chris had seen to that. How could the man be
thinking about turning his back on such a gift. Grief
and hurt merged and morphed into anger.
"What the hell did you think you were doing out there,
Wilmington?! You know protocal. Never put your gun
down in a hostage situation. Never."
Chris's voice rose with each word and several of the
staff gave him stern glances for shouting at the
Of course Buck knew exactly what Chris was doing.
Distancing himself, preparing himself for the blow of
losing another person he loved.
Buck didn't need no damn PHD in psychology to
recognize defense mechanisms. He'd learned about them
all from the master himself. The man standing in
front of him now.
He'd also learned his way around them. "How's the
Chris would have laughed at the totally predictable
manuever if he hadn't felt as if his heart was caught
in a vice grip. "He's fine."
"Fine ain't a word I want..to..hear...when it comes to
JD, Chris. That bitch didn't hurt him, did she?"
Larabee sighed. "No, Buck. She won't be hurting anyone
Buck closed his eyes. "Good. I figured Junior would
take care of her..after..JD was out of harm's way."
"It wasn't Vin." Chris waited for his old friend to
look at him again. "Ezra shot her."
Buck forced a fair imitation of his usual crooked
grin. "Tell'im I'm glad he finally got around to
takin' out the trash...he'll know what I mean."
Chris wasn't fooled by his friend's smile. Pain was
all too visible in his features. "Buck, Dr. Stewart
needs to get you down to surgery so he can patch you
Wilmington squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and
tightened his grip on Chris's hand. "Hell,
pard...there ain't no fixin' me ..this time. 'Bout
like that old teddy bear Sarah kept tryin' to patch up
for Adam. Remember? Poor thing had more stiches than
Frankenstein. That boy just wouldn't give it up."
Chris swallowed hard, trying to determine exactly
where his voice had gone to. Oh, he remembered the
stuffed toy that Buck had brought to the hospital the
day his son had been born. He also recalled the total
devastation in Adam's eyes when Chris had mentioned
getting rid of Ringo six years later.
And as fearless as he was, Larabee just didn't think
he could let down another son. "JD ain't going to give
you up all that easy either, Buck."
"You'll help him, pard." Wilmington stared into his
old partner's eyes. "Just like you did for Adam when
we buried ol' Ringo out in the backyard. He
...forgot..all 'bout him....after ya'.. got him that
"Godd**mit, Buck!" Chris shouted, causing one of the
young nurses beside him to drop the instruments that
he was putting away. "You ain't no fuckin' toy
that I can replace for JD!"
"Vin and Ez'll ..help," Wilmington replied weakly. He
knew he was hurting his friend, but he also knew he
had to make sure that JD would be taken care of. "He
looks up to 'em. You know how crazy he is about'em.
"I know how he feels about his big brother," Chris
said bitterly, leaning closer to his friend. "Do you?"
JD's worried voice brought both men's attention to
him. He was standing in the doorway, Vin and Dr.
Stewart flanking him.
Larabee straightened to his full height and pulled his
shoulders back, glancing down at Buck.
"I'll talk to you in recovery," he said in the voice
he used when giving a command that wasn’t to be
disobeyed. Then he released Wilmington's hand and
walked towards JD and the others.
Chris gave the kid a reasurring smile before slipping
past him to come along side Tanner. "Buy me a cup of
Vin cast an unsure glance in JD's direction but then
nodded. "How 'bout we get Ez to treat?"
"Sounds good," Chris replied, and then stopped to look
at JD once more before leaving. "We'll be in the
JD didn't reply, but Dr. Stewart motioned for the two
men to go on.
"I'll see that he gets there."
Stewart watched the two ATF agents leave and then
sighed as Dunne made his way towards Wilmington.
Where in the hell had his professionalism and
objectivity gone? The doctor in him screamed that he
time that might be needed to save a man's life; but
another part of him,the voice that he was sure
belonged to his dearly departed mother, whispered that
there were more important things than waging war
against the hands of fate. Like knowing when to let
go. Like tying up loose ends. Like saying good-bye.
Graham shook his head and raked a hand through his
graying hair. No. It wasn't his job to prepare people
to die, to help them accept their sentence.
That was for the clergy and grief counselors. It was
his lot in life to do the impossible. And he would.
He would save Buck Wilmington, even
if he had to wrestle the Almighty himself.
*God.* He looks horrible. I see the dark bruises on
his face and anger surges from a very dark place deep
within me. I had wanted to kill Dierdra’s favorite
pit bulls when they’d tortured Vin to find out why he
was meeting with Ezra, but when they’d dared to touch
JD, I’d known death was too good for them.
I feel my heart quicken even before the monitor
registers the change and I try to force myself to
remain calm. For the kid’s sake.
One of the nurses, the one Chris stole ten years
from, is at my side checking me for signs of arrest
before I can blink an eye, but I try to ignore the
JD sidesteps him to make it to my side and I know he
is scared. I feel it more than anything, although all
the signs are there to see. Hazel eyes wide and
unblinking, bottom lip held firmly in place by
perfect, white teeth, fist clenched so tight that each
knuckle is beginning to look like a snow-capped
mountain top. And of course, no hint of the usual
ever-present JD Dunne smile.
"Damn, kid, I...can't ..look...that..bad." My words
are harder to get out now, and I'm afraid that my time
is going to run out before I get to say all that I
A slight grin appears and some of my pain fades. "I
wouldn't count on any of the nurses falling over
themselves to get your number any time soon,"
he replies softly, and I would have laughed if that
would have been an option. Again, my body would not
"I'll ..have..you know that I..have had
lie, but it feels so damn good to pretend like
everything is normal.
"A trip to X-ray doesn't constitute a date." The kid
doesn't miss a beat, and I smile.
"That depends on who's .takin'..the pictures, son."
JD shakes his head, and I'm taken by just how much he
reminds me of Chris. "You're so full of crap, Buck."
He reaches for my hand when I don't answer, and it's
not until I hear the slight panic in his voice that I
realize I have closed my eyes. "Buck?"
"Sorry," I say, forcing my uncooperative eyelids to
open. "I need..to..tell.ya' some things, JD."
"No you don't, Buck. You just need to rest. Dr.
Stewart's going to do surgery real soon, and
everything will be fine."
I know he doesn't want to hear what I have to say, but
I take a breath and continue on. "Before you came
along, kid,. . .didn't have a clue. . . .was ...I was
kind'a lost, and. . .'s funny. . .I didn't
even know it."
My mouth isn't in sync with my mind and it
frustrates me to no end. I want him to understand what
he has given me. What he's brought to my life.
"Buck..you don't have to say this. You're going to be
fine, and then you're just going to be mad at yourself
for lettin' me know all this stuff," JD stumbles over
each word, fighting back the sobs that are quietly
wracking his body and my heart aches more with each
hitched breath he gets out.
"You know I won't ever let ya' forget it. Especially
when you start yelling about the apartment being
dirty, or there not being any milk left in the
carton, or me leaving the lid off the tooth paste
"I love you, kid," I say quietly, interrupting my best
friend's ramble. "You're the best and...I'm .so proud.
I want to tell him more. Things like how thankful I am
that I had the chance to be his teacher, his friend,
..his brother, but even I know my strength is failing
me, and I haven't even told him what I promised
Even if I could say more, the lost look on his face
would have probably stopped me.
He is staring at me, tears streaming down his face,
and I feel as though I have let him down for the
second time this day.
"JD Dunne speechless?" I wince at my attempts to
manage a chuckle. My need to make him feel better
overpowers my common sense. "Ez owes me twenty. He..
swore it'd never happen."
"You're going to have to go now son." Dr. Stewart has
slipped in behind the kid and places a hand on his
shoulder to usher him out. "I'm sorry."
"Go on, kid," I say, unable to hold my eyes open any
longer. "Go find Chris. He'll need you."
I don't have to see his face to know the pain that is
etched there. He knows what I'm trying to say, what
I'm attempting to do.
I'm doing nothing less than Chris did when he hired a
twenty year-old kid and placed him at the desk across
from mine. My oldest friend opened the door that day
for the greatest gift I ever received. Now, I plan on
returning the favor. For both of them. "Good-bye,
"Buck?" His voice breaks and I almost wish I could
open my eyes to see him.
"JD, you've got to go now. We're taking him down to
surgery." Stewart's voice is calm and confident.
"I'm not saying it, Buck!" JD shouts at me, and I hear
people moving around us, trying to remove him from
the room. "Do you hear me, damn it?! I ain't
sayin' it. It don't count, unless we both say it!"
I can still hear JD shouting as he's dragged from the
ER and down the hall. His words are like bullets,
slamming into me all over again. Puncturing my soul
and spirit in the same way that Dierdra's had torn
through my flesh and bone.
With the renewed agony comes a collage of scenes
flashing through my mind. A parade of memories, like
pictures on a musuem wall. Two silver spurs, a black
medical bag perched on an obsessively clean
desk, a gold-toothed smile and a mock salute, a rubber
chicken and pink snowballs, a model train set, a black
and silver motorcycle helmet, a basketball and Nikes,
an apron with 'Kiss the Cook' written on it, and a
black and orange cat sleeping on a silver Jag.
I see a man all in black, a man with a lop-sided grin, a man in a designer suit, a giant of a man with his arms always open, and one with his hands out always
ready to help. And I see a kid....all alone. A
kid..worth fighting for...A family worth fighting for.
“A full house, I win.” Vin Tanner said, lifting his
blue eyes from the hand of cards spread in front of
him. He frowned at his opponent. “That’s the third
time I’ve beat you, Ez.”
“Yes, it appears my streak of bad luck is continuing.”
Standish replied, picking up the cards and slipping
them back into the deck.
“I never beat you,” Vin continued with a raised
eyebrow. “Hell, I never beat JD. You don’t even let me
win when I’m hurt. What’s going on?”
Green eyes looked everywhere but at Tanner. “Nothing
is ‘going’ on with me. I’m fine. Perfectly fine.” The
undercover agent ground out the last two words as if
they were some sort of blasphemy.
“And that’s a bad thing?” Vin reached out with his
good hand and grabbed the other man’s wrist. “If
that’s what you’re thinkin’, you need to stop it.”
“Mr. Tanner,” Ezra finally met his friend’s gaze, “we
both know the dangers of undercover work. You and I
have played the game many times. I am a professional,
an expert. I was in charge.”
“And Bucklin has been in law enforcement longer than
either one of us has. He knows all the risks. He
would never blame you.”
Ezra dropped his gaze to the cards he was
unconsciously shuffling between his hands, and then
glanced towards the two figures sitting on the couch
across the room. Chris and JD hadn’t moved since
security had paged Larabee to come to the ER. It had
taken both the leader of the seven and Josiah to get
JD to come to the waiting area. “He may not, but I
have to wonder if the same could be said of everyone.”
Vin couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Well, that
wasn’t exactly true. He could believe it, but it still
pissed him off. “You’re joking right? You think Chris
or the kid would hold you responsible or maybe you
think they wished it was you who Dierdra
Ezra stared at Tanner. “Are you so sure that they
“Damn, Ezra, get over it. When are you going to stop
thinking that your life is any less important than
anyone else’s. That got old after the first year or
so.” Vin leaned across the table. “ People have
different places in a organization, some seem more
influential than others, but that doesn’t make ‘em any
less necessary in the functioning of that structure.”
Vin tossed Ezra’s own words back at him. “You told me
that the first case we worked undercover together. It
made sense to me then , and I reckon the same thing
can be said about a family.”
Standish glared at his partner, his own anger and
worry starting to get the best of him also. “ If Buck
dies we won’t have a fam,..” Ezra cleared his throat
quickly, “..a team..any longer, Vin. Have you thought
A hurt look flashed quickly behind blue eyes and Ezra
felt a pang of remorse. After all, it had only been a
few days ago that he was in fear of losing Vin.
Before the sharpshooter could recover enough to reply,
Standish spoke again. “Let’s just not discuss this any
“ All right.” Vin stood abruptly and pinned the other
man with an icy gaze. “ But just to set the record
straight, we wouldn’t have had a ‘team’ any longer
if’n you’d been shot either, you stupid son of a,..”
Tanner’s words trailed off and he squeezed his eyes
shut and grabbed hold of the table.
“Vin?” Ezra was on his feet in an instant as the
sharpshooter swayed, and nearly pitched forward.
“Shit!” Standish heard Larabee curse and their leader
was across the room and at his best friend’s side
almost before Ezra could make it around the table to
where Vin was standing.
“What happened?” Chris looked expectantly at the
undercover agent as he put an arm around Vin’s
shoulders and steadied him.
“I..I.’m not quite sure. He was fine and ..,” Ezra
grasped for the right words to say. The words he was
afraid to say. I screwed up. Again. I pushed just
enough for him to have to push back.
“I stood up too fast,” Vin answered, before Standish
could confess his imagined sins to Larabee. “I got
dizzy, that’s all.” Tanner had opened his eyes again,
and glanced from Chris to Ezra.
Chris let him go and raked a hand through his short
blond hair. “You should go home, cowboy. You just got
out of the hospital yourself. ”
One look at the pale, haggard features of his best
friend, and Vin knew that Larabee was nearly at the
end of his rope, but leaving while Buck was still in
surgery wasn’t an option. “I’m all right, Chris. I
want to stay.”
“Damn it, Vin,” Larabee snapped, “I got enough to
worry about here as it is. I don’t need to be thinking
that you’re going to fall over at any moment. Now go
home. Or better yet, back to my place. That’s an
The sharpshooter stood up a little straighter, despite
the protest of his ribs, and met the eyes he knew
better than his own. “I ain’t leavin’, cowboy,” he
said a lot calmer than what he felt. He wasn’t about
to be drawn into an argument with his friend. He’d
already fell for Ezra’s tactic.
“When’s the last time you ate?” Chris asked, bringing
a look of surprise to both the men in front of him.
They were expecting another angry outburst. “And I
don’t mean any of those damn spongy pieces of sugar or
a candy bar out of the vending machine.”
Vin looked at Larabee and shrugged. “I don’t know.
Yesterday, when you cooked dinner at the ranch, I
"Why does that not surprise me." Chris sighed heavily
and turned to Ezra. “Take him to the cafeteria, Ez,
make sure he eats something hot.”The leader let his
eyes linger on his undercover agent for a moment.
“Make sure you get something for yourself. You look
almost as bad as he does.”
“Do you want us to bring something back for the kid?”
Vin let his gaze go to where Josiah and Nathan were
now sitting with JD.
Larabee shook his head. “It won’t do any good. He
ain’t in the mood for much of anything at the moment.
And I don’t feel like arguing with him.”
“But you don’t mind arguing with me?”Vin let a
half-grin tug at his mouth, and Chris actually smiled
“Get him out of here , Ez, before I order him
sedated,” Larabee told Standish, who nodded and
offered a mock salute.
The two agents were about to leave when their
attention was drawn to the silver doors that Dr.
Graham Stewart and Dr. Harold Mason had just entered
through. They changed directions and followed after
Chris who strode across the room to JD’s side.
“Gentlemen,” Graham spoke, his eyes locking with
Larabee felt his heart speed up but he kept his
features unreadable because he knew that his men were
watching him. Whatever Dr. Stewart had to tell them,
he was sure it wasn’t the news that they had been
“How’s ,Buck?” JD’s voice was almost pleading, and
Chris was glad that the others were there for the kid.
He wasn’t sure how much help he was going to be.
“Mr. Dunne, ..JD,” Stewart started and then motioned
towards the couch that Dunne had just risen from, “why
don’t you sit down.”
The young agent shook his head no. “Just tell me. Is
“He’s alive, son,” Harold Mason answered. The younger
physician had treated the seven on several occasions
and was almost as familiar with them as Stewart was.
“But?” Nathan Jackson voiced the question on all of
his teammate’s minds. He’d been in the medical field
long enough to know when there was going to be a
“But, Mr.Wilmington’s condition doesn’t give us much
confidence in his recovery, I’m afraid.”
“What do you mean?” Vin stepped forward and Chris
could see that he was shaking slightly. “He made it
through five hours of surgery. That has to be a good
Larabee moved along side his best friend and
unconsciously laid a hand on the sharpshooter’s
shoulder. “Did you not get the bullets?”
Graham scratched at his chin and sighed. “We removed
the bullets, Agent Larabee, and we repaired the damage
but I for one do not want to give you false hope. I’m
sorry. All we can do is wait.”
“I can’t believe this is happening,” JD said softly as
he slumped to the plastic cushions of the sofa.
Dr. Mason gave his colleague a hard look and then
knelt down in front of the kid, who was holding his
head in his hands. “JD, Buck fought really hard in
there. I haven’t ever quite saw anything like it.
He’s tough, and if anyone can survive, I know he
Stewart cleared his throat, a sign Mason knew meant
that his old friend wasn’t thrilled with his comments,
and he spoke to Larabee again. “We’ll be keeping him
in ICU after he’s out of recovery. We’ll make sure
that you all can see him then.” Graham caught the
other doctor’s gaze and then added. “I’ll arrange for
JD to sit with him.”
Mason smiled and patted the youngest member of the
team on the shoulder as he stood up. “You hear that,
JD. Dr. Stewart would not risk the wrath of Nurse
Geralds unless he believed Mr. Wilmington was going to
pull through this and charm her into thinking that it
was her idea to break the rules for you.”
JD finally looked up and stared at the surgeon with
tear-filled eyes. “Do you really think he has a
Harold sighed, and avoided ‘the I told you so’glare
that Stewart shot him. It was never good to play this
game with patients. “There’s always a chance, son.”
“That sounds like good odds to me,” Standish spoke up
confidently, bringing his partners’ eyes to him. He
sat down beside of JD and laid his hand on the back of
the younger man’s neck. He could feel the tremors
shaking the slight frame, and the fear and mixture of
hope he saw reflected in the hazel gaze that met his
made him do something out of character.
Funny though, that at that moment it seemed as natural
He pulled the kid into a brotherly embrace and
whispered, “I’d bet on Buck any day.”
“What are ..we ..going to do if he dies, Ez ?” JD
choked out, not fighting the consoling, that would
have usually had him offering up some sort of corny
joke or defensive remark about not being a kid that
needed to be coddled.
Ezra rested his chin atop JD’s head and held him a
little tighter. The southerner looked up at his other
teammates and met Vin’s steady blue gaze. “I don’t
know, son. But whatever we do, we’ll do it together.”
JD Dunne sat quietly in the middle of the apartment
that had somehow become his home. He was dwarfed in
the overstuffed, lazy boy that had seen more than its
share of service over the years that Buck
Wilmington had owned it, but JD would have been
lying if he'd denied it was his favorite place to sit.
He scrunched farther into the cushioning and looked
out the glass French doors in front of him, watching
as the flakes of snow drifted in a steady white sheet
gray sky above.
The CD changer let out a soft buzz as the next
selection reverberated from the 'wall of sound' and
Dunne's eyes drifted to the stereo as Jimmy Buffet's
voice filled the room. The lyrics didn't seem to fit
his mood but their presence was a comfort just the
As the song continued, JD let his gaze sweep the room
around him. The place looked lonely. It was actually
clean for once, everything in its proper place, well,
except for the suitcases sitting in front of the bar.
Vin and Ezra were responsible for the cleaning,
although the kid expected that Standish had brought in
a maid service for some of the chore. Not even
Vin was brave enough to tackle the kitchen.
As he looked around, JD remembered how as a boy he'd
been mesmerized by all the different homes he'd had
the chance to see because of his mother's occupation.
Sometimes, when there was no money for a sitter, JD
would go along with the woman who spent her days
taking care of houses she could only dream of owning.
Some places were fancier than others, and certain
homes appeared as if they had not been lived in
between cleaning visits, while some looked as if a
tornado had struck them. JD never tired of the ones
with spiral staircases or secret hiding places
domestically transformed into closet space,
but he remembered that his mother always liked the
dirty ones the best.
She'd laugh at things she'd find and even wager as to
what had transpired in the dwelling to put it into
such a disarray that it would take her hours to clean
Her young son had not understood his mother's opinion
because of the extra work these places caused her, so
she'd tried to explain it to him one day. 'A home
that is happy, is one that is lived in, John Daniel.
Making memories is a messy business.'
JD smiled as the last words floated through his mind
and he looked around him once more. Everything she'd
told him had been true. The CDC was a perfect example
of what she had meant.
After a typical 'Friday poker night', or a 'Football
Sunday', the apartment would usually be littered with
dishes, traces of chips and peanuts, and discarded
shoes and socks. There was always extra beer in the
'fridge, or spare blankets in the closet in case
someone decided to stay the night. Pictures of happy
times were scattered around everywhere, putting the
lives of the people who lived there and their friends
Trophies from hard fought softball games lined the
fireplace mantle as well as ribbons from horse shows
and framed newspaper clippings of a marksmanship
contest and an opening of a new homeless shelter.
The CDC was more than a home to the two inhabitants
who resided there on a regular basis. It housed the
memories of seven men. It sheltered a family.
And that was the fact that haunted JD Dunne as he
contemplated his departure.
"JD?" Vin Tanner's soft drawl brought the younger man
from his reverie and he focused on the lanky
sharpshooter leaning against the bar.
"Are you ready for me to take these down to the Ram?"
The sharpshooter glanced down at the luggage.
"Yeah, go 'head." Dunne pushed himself up from the
chair and picked up his jacket from the sofa. "I'll be
on down in a minute."
Vin started to go, but then stopped and faced his
friend once more. He knew that leaving was going to
be hard on his friend. "You all right, kid?"
JD smiled. "I'm fine."
Once his teammate had gone, Dunne grabbed the remote
for the stereo and switched it off. With a deep
breath and one more look around him he picked up his
snowboard and started towards the door.
He'd just pulled it open and made to step out when he
nearly collided with one out-of-breath Buck
Wilmington. "Damn, kid..I thought you'd gotten lost or
"Buck, you were suppose to wait in the truck. Dr.
Stewart told you no exerting yourself," JD shot back,
sharper than he meant to.
Wilmington grinned. "I took the elevator."
JD frowned. "Then why are ya' breathing so hard?"
"I just passed Mrs. Chuly's granddaughter," the older
man explained with a twinkle in his dark blue eyes,
"and I must say that I could almost grow to like that
overgrown rat that old woman passes off as a
dog if she had Miss Lori walk him everyday."
JD shook his head but couldn't supress the smile that
tugged at the corner of his mouth. " Dr. Stewart also
said 'no' women, Buck."
"And just what am I suppose to occupy myself with at
the ski lodge if I can't exert myself or entertain any
of the fairer sex, sport?"
Dunne's grin widened. "That's why Ez is coming on the
trip with us. He doesn't like to ski, so Vin and I
thought you two could room together."
"I can already tell I'm going to be counting the days
'til we come home," Wilmington groaned.
JD looked back over his shoulder at the CDC and then
to his best friend again. "Well, we don't have to go.
I mean, you just got out of the hospital yesterday,
neither of us has been here in weeks."
Buck reached out and laid his hand on the kid's
shoulder. "The house will still be here when we get
back, son." The older man waited for his
roommate to meet his gaze. "Besides, I promised my
little brother that I'd take him on this trip." Buck
winked at JD. "And I always keep my promises."
Wilmington noticed some of the concern thankfully
seemed to slip from his best friend's features and the
kid finally closed the door. "Yeah, but are you going
to keep your promise to Doc Stewart?"
Buck threw his arm over his roommate's shoulder and
steered him toward the elevator. "Now, son, don't
worry 'bout Ol' Buck. I ain't goin' to go and do
anything stupid like look over the gifts I've been
JD pushed the down button and raised an eyebrow at his
best friend. "Gifts?"
Buck nodded. "Yeah, gifts," he pointed up to the
ceiling, "you know..from the Big Guy."
JD was beginning to get concerned again. "Is this
about your animal magnetism?"
Wilmington rolled his eyes in exasperation. "No," he
sighed. "That ain't the only worthwhile thing God gave
JD still looked puzzled. "You're not thinking the
Chevy is heaven sent I hope, because if you are, we
need to ask Nate if you're taking too much pain
Buck slapped the boy on the back of the head and gave
him a playful push into the empty car as it opened.
Why wasn't it easy to talk about these things unless
you were on the brink of death or drunk. "I was
talking about you, kid."
The famous JD Dunne smile appeared and Buck knew for
the first time in weeks that his little brother was
going to be all right, that somehow all the things
he'd been through would be just a shadow of a bad
memory to the resilient youth in a matter of time.
The kid punched the button for the ground floor and
glanced back up at the other man. "Huh, and all this
time I thought God gave 'me' you."
Both men broke into wide grins and, for the first time
in weeks, Buck knew that the kid's big brother was
going to be all right too.