DISCLAIMER: The following is a work of fan fiction based on the television series, The Magnificent Seven. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of CBS, MGM, TNN, Hallmark, The Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp., or anyone else who may have legal rights to the characters and settings. I do not claim ownership of the characters. This story is strictly for entertainment. No monetary gain will be made from it.
AUTHOR'S NOTES, THANKS, ETC.: Thanks as always to my beta-extraordinaire Penny, whose cheerleading and added touch are always appreciated and, to Sue Kelley for her gracious pinch-hitting today and the expertise I wish she didn't have but am willing to exploit ;-)
Deftly balancing one steaming cup of black coffee on top of another, ATF Agent Josiah Sanchez quietly pushed the door to Four Corners Mercy General Room 404 open to reveal two of his teammates. His family.
Neither man acknowledged his entrance, although Sanchez figured that, despite the fact that it appeared he was asleep, Buck Wilmington knew he was there. Or at least knew that one of his friends had walked in the room. Buck was just a little preoccupied at the moment with JD.
The boy had managed yet again to get himself hurt during an arms bust and the rest of Team 7 had been sticking close. . . for them both. Although, as Saturday had become Sunday, most had given up taking up permanent residence in the fourth floor waiting area and had made their necessary appearances at the office, at home or back at the site of the bust. There was always at least one of them at the hospital though, to give Buck a needed break – or rather to supposedly make him take a break. Now it was Josiah’s turn.
Even though the doctor working JD’s case had assured them that the kid’s concussion wasn’t severe, that his collarbone would heal just fine, as would his ribs, Sanchez still had no intention of trying to separate Buck from JD just yet.
And until JD woke up, spoke to Buck, and Josiah witnessed the lines of tension and worry deeply etched in Wilmington’s face transform back into the laugh lines more characteristic of him, Sanchez didn’t intend to be any further away from this room than the hospital’s main floor either.
Coffee cups now rearranged into each hand, Josiah approached the bed quietly, reverently, averting his gaze from both the image of the bruised and battered young man and that patient’s self-proclaimed guardian. Choosing to focus instead on the small table next to JD’s bed, it was a damn site less unsettling to look at.
He was standing beside and a little behind Buck now. The tall man was seated, if you could call it that, in a chair shoved so tight against the mattress it was hard to tell where the chair ended and the bed began. At least with the bed rail down, Buck could rest part of his body onto something comfortable. After all, he’d been parked in that damn chair since the boy had been moved from the E/R into this room during the pre-dawn hours of Saturday.
Blessedly, the kid wasn’t hooked up to as many wires as he could have been, so Buck could at least rest his head and folded arms on the mattress alongside JD. As far as Sanchez was concerned, the close proximity had to do their youngest a world of good and he knew Buck well enough to know that he needed to be there.
And if Wilmington was determined to stay awake, at least he could rest.
Speaking of which. . .
"Brought you some coffee." His words were soft, as much for the sake of Buck’s frayed nerves as for the injured boy, as he set his own drink on the table and slipped Buck’s cup into the now proffered hand.
He sounds exhausted, Sanchez thought, almost regretting the fact that he just gave his friend more caffeine to help keep him awake and maintain his vigil. Almost. Being there and awake when JD did was a hell of a lot more important than sleep to Buck, despite what the health profession might say. Sanchez knew Buck would sleep eventually. The doctor said, since they started cutting back on his meds, JD’d be waking up any time.
"Don’t mention it," he replied, winking as he added, "especially to Nathan."
As tired as he looked, God bless him, Buck still snorted at the inside joke and Sanchez grinned widely in relief. Thankful that Buck’s sanity was still hanging in there.
While Wilmington straightened himself up in his chair and shook out some of the cobwebs from a mind undoubtedly cluttered with too many what ifs and maybe he should haves, Sanchez removed a small bag from his jacket pocket and pulled out a packaged granola bar which he offered to the younger man. "Now this you can tell Nathan about."
As Buck accepted the snack, he chuckled slightly and then, turning his attention once more to the wounded youth in the bed, his bearing changed and he suddenly shook with the heavy, worry-laden sigh that escaped with his breath.
With a heavy heart, Josiah quickly stepped closer and placed a supportive hand on the younger man’s broad shoulder, not entirely surprised when he felt the slight lean into his grip. Sanchez understood exactly how painful it was to have someone you felt protective of seriously hurt.
He knew Buck wasn’t going to break down while JD was still infirm and vulnerable, but that didn’t prevent Josiah from massaging a soothing hand into the tense muscles of his friend’s back. JD was going to need Buck’s strength soon, and since Buck was obviously still suffering in his own right, Josiah was more than willing to lend some of his own in the meantime.
"He’s gonna be just fine, Buck. You know you can believe that now." Sanchez hoped the conviction in his voice equaled the certainty in his heart. Sometimes a man, especially one who had thought he’d watched his whole world crumble before him, needed to hear the truth from a friend. Even if who knows how many doctors had already offered their expert assurances.
"I know," Buck answered too quickly. Then, as if he was finally starting to believe it himself, again. . . "Yeah, I know." Reaching up to pat the hand once again resting on his shoulder, he straightened and turned his glistening gaze to meet Josiah’s, midnight eyes revealing his emotions as plainly as they were spoken. "Thanks, padre."
There were times in Sanchez’ life that he cringed when his nickname of "preacher" or its numerous permutations were uttered, particularly by those who didn’t know him all that well. Didn’t know him like Team 7 did. And didn’t know the troubled past the word could conjure into his mind and heart. Yet, when used by the members of his family, he knew them to be terms of endearment and of unwavering respect.
He understood far too well the responsibility that came hand in hand with the alias. Sometimes the burden of being the team’s confidant and resident father figure was more than he felt he could bear. More than he deserved. Other times, when he knew his words and strength of faith offered his friends a chance at a little peace and hope, he was honored to bear that weight.
Times like now, when the naked gratitude shining in Buck’s eyes swelled Josiah’s heart with more pride and faith than he ever could imagine. Yeah, he was more than happy to carry the load.
"That’s what I’m here for, son."
Even though Wilmington was more than a little preoccupied with the kid so desperate to send him to an early grave, Josiah’s rumbling words of comfort triggered a memory that nearly jolted Buck from the chair he’d been glued to for the past 36 hours or more. . .
It was Sunday. Already.
Seeing that his older friend had already quirked an eyebrow in reaction to his obvious and sudden agitation, Buck sheepishly had to look away.
It’s not that he felt overly guilty about forgetting today exactly. Hell, everyone who knew him, especially Josiah, knew that JD being hurt meant Buck’s world stopped until further notice. That he functioned on autopilot in all things unrelated to the kid.
Still, here Josiah was, bighearted as always, offering a shoulder to lean on, words of comfort and a rock-solid presence that helped ease Buck’s worries simply by its mere existence. Simply by being there. Whether he was in over his head, like with that undercover fiasco with Don Paulo and his gang, or having to deal with the sudden prospect of becoming a father, and then dealing just as suddenly with the reality of not becoming a father to Lucy’s baby, Josiah was the one that Buck could count on to talk to.
Buck didn’t have that with Chris. Not anymore.
Chris carried too much pain of his own for Buck to even consider unloading any of his own miseries upon him. Especially when JD was hurt. No, Buck couldn’t share that kind of pain with Chris. It hit too damn close to home.
But Josiah was always there for him and for JD. Offering his strength, his faith and his prayers. Buck loved him for that.
And even though today had been in the back of his mind for over a week, what with being undercover with Ezra, the bust and then the godawful aftermath, well, it just slipped through the cracks. He’d make up for it though. Starting now.
Taking another chug of the coffee his friend had given him, Buck allowed the hot liquid to work its magic. Warming and waking a body numb from lack of sleep, a fear of losing JD he still couldn’t shake entirely and, the relief of Josiah’s words. The same words the doctors and nurses had been reiterating since they’d rolled the boy into this room after the CT scan had finally given them the all clear. The kid was bumped and broken in a few places, but not anywhere he wouldn’t heal. Thank God.
Setting the still steaming cup on the table next to Josiah’s, Buck shifted his chair around and settled back into it so that he could better face his friend. His arm closest to the bed naturally gravitated toward JD’s wrist and he allowed his hand to rest there, easily encircling the kid’s smaller one. Content in the fact that the pale skin beneath his loose grip felt warmer to his touch, and more like JD than it had even a few hours earlier, he allowed himself to change his focus from youngest to oldest.
"Say, Josiah, you know what day it is, don’t cha?"
The ex-profiler had been wondering about that little flicker of unease he’d seen in Buck’s eyes just a moment before. Not that it was as worrisome as the exhausted, post-traumatic shroud Buck had been wearing ever since the boy had been transferred to this room. But, to look into that expressive face which had been running the full gamut of emotions for nearly two days now and see a new anxiety there, one he knew was directly related to him, well, that just did not sit well with Sanchez at all. Especially when Buck’s question had just enlightened Josiah as to why Buck was acting that way.
Shaking his head at the stupid, tenderhearted fool in front of him, he consciously lifted his hand, running between his calloused thumb and forefinger the small crucifix he wore. Hoping the mythical powers of the tiny sapphire and amethyst chips inlaid within it would work their magic. Otherwise, if Buck dared apologize to him like Josiah suspected he was about to, Josiah was going to kick his ass straight into next week.
"Yeah, I do," he sighed. At this point Josiah’s tone changed from understanding to downright condescending. "But just because I do," he bit his tongue, keeping the words young man to himself, "don’t you for an instant think that I give a damn that it slipped your mind. Especially this weekend."
"Aw, Josiah. . ."
"I mean it, Buck," Sanchez interrupted as he shifted away from Wilmington to move closer to JD. Cupping a gentle hand above the boy’s brow, he marveled, not for the first time, at how so damn young the kid looked in his sleep. It was no wonder they all felt so protective of him. No wonder that the man who had opened his home to the orphaned soul lost his heart to him as well.
Not wanting to wake JD, he softened his voice, all the while stroking the silky, soft ebony beneath his touch and taking care to avoid the bandage swathed around the youth’s head. "Honestly, son. It’s not that last year didn’t mean anything. Hell," he smiled at the memory as he continued, "thinking about it still warms my soul. But today. . . today, the only thing that matters is that this boy is mercifully going to be all right, that you’ll be takin’ him home in a few days and that this extraordinary family we have is still whole."
"You really sure you feel that way, Josiah?"
Oh, for God’s sake. Sanchez knew that Buck’s equilibrium was always a little off when things went amiss with JD. Hospitalize the kid though and Buck’s confidence sunk like a stone. Still, he hated to hear the uncertainty in his friend’s voice, hated to think the precedent Buck set the previous year was causing him this much grief today when there was so much more to be concerned about. Especially knowing that if the shoe were on the other foot, Buck would understand completely.
And there it was actually, the crux of the situation.
The solution was right there in front of him. Problem was, did Josiah have the right to use it?
He decided he had to. He had every faith that JD would forgive him.
"Buck, did you know JD stopped by my place a couple of weeks ago? Seems he was troubled and looking for a little guidance."
The succession of expressions that played across Wilmington’s face was almost comical. Almost. Josiah fully expected his using the boy’s name would immediately draw Buck’s attention to the youth lying unmoving in the bed. It did. And the surprise followed by the dash of hurt were every bit as predictable. After all this time, the idea of a troubled JD turning to anyone but his mentor and roommate for comfort or advice seemed almost absurd. Which is of course where the look of concern Buck now wore came in. It could only ever happen if JD was troubled. . .
"About me, Josiah?"
"Easy, Buck, let me finish." The poor man suddenly looked ill, like he’d just been the recipient of a sucker-punch, yet Josiah knew without a shadow of a doubt, that once he told his tale, Buck’s spirits would soon be soaring.
Apprehension was still reflected in Buck’s eyes and Josiah could see that the grip his friend held around the boy’s wrist had tightened, but he received a nod of encouragement from Buck, so he knew he could continue without any further interruption.
Buck stole another glance at JD. Even though he knew the kid was truly alive and on his way to recovery, after the disastrous turn of events that led to JD being hurt during the bust late Friday night, he couldn’t help himself from needing that visual reminder. He still found it hard to believe the kid had survived.
Despite the fact that he could feel the warmth of the wrist within his hold, could feel the steady, if a little slow, life pulse when he held onto it just so, he needed to look into that young face to truly accept that JD was still with him. Though his color was even paler than usual, when Buck looked into the slack, thankfully unmarred features, he could almost convince himself that JD was only sleeping. A well-deserved slumber after a successful late-night arrest. And it was only the unnatural lighting of the room that accentuated the contrast between his dark lashes and hair and the fair skin.
And he could try to forget about the fact JD could just as easily have died out there the other night. He could pretend it never happened.
And now Josiah was telling him that JD had been troubled recently, that the independent and too proud for his own good kid had actually sought out help.
And from someone other than his roommate no less.
It worried him that JD sought out Josiah, because if that was the case then Buck knew with all certainty that the cause of JD’s plight had to be him. Could Buck have done something to piss him off? Buck nearly chuckled at that. Well, sure. Every day, truth be told. But could he really, truly anger or hurt JD either knowingly or otherwise?
Not now, anyway. He was convinced of that.
Maybe a year ago or before, when JD had first moved in. Two stubborn personalities like theirs had to clash at times. It was a rule. Add to that JD’s rebelliousness and desire to be treated like an adult and Buck’s natural protectiveness and desire to keep him young, butting heads was to be expected. But once you mixed in the mutual respect, loyalty and remarkable devoted friendship that had developed between them and continued to grow to this day, Buck was pretty sure that nothing he did or said could be what drove the boy to seek guidance from someone else. There had to be a different reason.
So, maybe he need not really worry. Besides, the glint currently residing in Josiah’s eyes spoke more of something good on the horizon than bad. He sure could use some more good news, he decided and nodded for Sanchez to continue.
"Well, it seems he was suffering a bit from a dilemma," Josiah started, speaking even softer than before. His lips now had a slight quirk to them to add to that glint, which had Buck damn near assured he wasn’t going to mind what it was Josiah was going to tell him after all.
"You see, a special holiday was coming up, one that JD had never had occasion to celebrate before, and he wanted to know what I thought your reaction would be if he gave you a gift for it. I think he was horribly afraid that the gesture would embarrass you or make you feel uncomfortable."
"You shittin’ me, preacher?" Buck asked in a hushed voice filled with astonishment. He knew he had every reason to believe his friend but to actually hear, out loud, what Josiah was saying to him, well it simply took his breath away. He looked back down into JD’s sleeping face, the poor kid totally oblivious to the conversation taking place just inches away from him. He felt that it was wrong somehow, hearing the words from Josiah rather than JD, knew the boy had opened up to Josiah in confidence. Still, he was so glad Josiah had chosen to break that confidence and let him know what JD had been thinking about.
Buck could feel the warm glow of pride rush into his cheeks, couldn’t prevent the smile that demanded his lips part, the sparkle of tears that welled in his eyes before spilling over to trail down his face. My God.
Would JD giving him something for Father’s Day make him feel uncomfortable?
Stupid little shit.
Of course not.
He couldn’t keep his eyes off the boy now, desperately wishing he’d wake, no longer willing to wait so they could talk. So he could tell JD he had nothing to be afraid of.
He realized then that Josiah would have already taken care of it for him. Eased the kid’s mind at least some. Sanchez’ love for the boy damn near rivaled Buck’s own and it was Josiah more than anyone but perhaps Chris who knew that JD was as much son to Buck as little brother or best friend. He looked up at his older friend at that moment, gratitude already shining from his eyes and when he spoke, his voice was still choked on the emotion of Josiah’s revelation. "So what’d you tell ‘im?"
The expression Josiah wore was a mixture of pride and delight, his toothy smile bright as he placed a hand to Buck’s neck. "I just told him the truth, Buck. Told him you’d feel like the luckiest man in the world."
Even as fresh tears sprang anew, Buck beamed at the God’s honest truth just spoken by his friend. Finally releasing his hold of JD’s hand, he exchanged it in his grasp for the arm still resting across his shoulder. "God bless you, Josiah," he said as he tightened his grip.
"He already has, son. He already has."
Buck hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath until he suddenly released it with a deep sigh. It looked like the kid was waking up again. He’d been eagerly anticipating the moment but had long since abandoned hope of having a lucid conversation with JD any time in the immediate future. Admittedly, about an hour earlier when the kid had stirred into semi-consciousness, he had managed to mumble a few coherent words. Before he puked on Josiah, that is. The kid had succumbed to sleep again though, within only a few minutes of cleaning him up.
At least it had been a start though. Hell, the first few times JD had woken since the morning, he hadn’t even lasted long enough to throw up, and all he’d managed to utter were the few moans and whimpers that were still enough to twist Buck’s gut just thinking about them. With each subsequent awakening the boy’d forget about the prior one and although that didn’t seem to concern the doctors or Nathan, it sure made Buck feel uneasy about the kid’s concussion.
He had to trust them though. Besides, JD’s color was certainly better now. Even Josiah had agreed to what Buck had figured was simply a wishful observation the last time JD awoke. Now, Buck felt a little guilty thinking it but he almost preferred how JD had looked when he’d been so deeply out of it. At least he looked peaceful then. In the last few hours or so the kid’s brow had become creased and pain was etched in small furrows around his eyes and mouth. That seemed so wrong to Buck. There was something just so totally incongruous about seeing lines of pain surrounding those long little-boy lashes he picked on JD about.
Watching him lying there in the hospital bed, Buck couldn’t deny – not that he ever had call to – that the kid no more resembled the decorated ATF agent he was than did the plush stuffed bear currently perched next to his pillow that Rain had left for him earlier in the day.
But he did look a hell of a lot more like the boy who’d dropped in on Josiah to talk about Buck and Father’s Day.
Buck smiled at the thought.
Not for the first time since he and Josiah had talked.
There was no question that he loved JD like a son, even if most people thought they acted like brothers. Just how would a father of a kid JD’s age act around him, anyway? He hoped most had as much fun as he and JD did. And if they didn’t, Buck sure as hell wasn’t of the mind to go changing his ways just to accommodate convention.
No need to fix something that definitely wasn’t broken.
Josiah’s news wasn’t going to change anything either, he’d make sure of it. Make sure JD knew that everything was still good between them.
All that was needed for that to happen was for JD to wake up. Well, and actually be coherent.
Even before he and Josiah had talked, Buck had been anxious to speak to the boy. To remind him how important he was to him. Truthfully, over the past two years, he had probably been more open with JD about his place in his home and heart than what would undoubtedly be considered the norm between two men. Two straight men, at least.
There’s where that concept of convention came in again. Buck didn’t really give a damn though. He’d learned from his mom early on the importance of letting family and friends know how you feel about them. And although both of them lost their mothers young, neither he nor JD bore any guilt for not telling them how much they were loved. Because they had known. Just like with Buck, the kid’s mama had raised him right too.
Buck Wilmington might be considered overly demonstrative, over-emotional, hell, over the top, but he refused to believe that too much love was a bad thing. There was altogether too much bad shit happening in the world these days to not acknowledge the good things in life.
Or in his case, the best.
There goes that godawful whimpering sound again. Buck wished like hell he could take away the kid’s pain, but he knew only time would be able to do that. Well, time and modern medicine. He’d do what he could for JD though, help ease him back into the real world, if he was truly ready.
Those long black lashes were fluttering now and Buck moved in close, to within inches of the boy’s face, helping to calm him and see him through the dense fog of his awakening. The fingers of JD’s IV-free hand were entwined with Buck’s now, weakly squeezing against the pull of consciousness and Buck held firm. Trying to anchor the boy to the light but reluctantly willing to let him go, if the kid truly wasn’t ready to take center stage yet.
"- - Unh - -," the kid moaned as his body tensed and Buck began a soothing litany.
"Easy, JD, you’re okay," he murmured into the silken waves. "That’s it, wake up, boy, everything’s all right," he continued, rhythmically smoothing a hand through his hair and trying to imbue the kid with his own strength and ensure that JD knew he was safe.
Buck could feel the tension leaving JD as he relaxed into the mattress and the fingers entangled with his slackened their grasp. The kid didn’t let go entirely though, so neither did Buck. He’d keep up the TLC until he was sure JD didn’t need it any longer.
"Oh, fu--ck," the kid groaned and Buck couldn’t help but smile.
"You called," he answered, knowing full well what JD had actually said.
"You wish," the kid replied wearily and Buck chuckled, rejoicing in the realization that JD was not only lucid, but coherent enough to be the smart-ass he loved so dearly. Blinking away the swell of unexpected tears, Buck continued to laugh softly, although to anyone paying close attention, at least the first of that laughter suspiciously mimicked a sob.
Overcome with relief, he lowered his cheek against JD’s hair, gently cradling the bandaged head in an embrace. Buck closed his eyes then, thanking heaven for JD’s survival.
"Not even in your dreams, sport," Buck whispered gamely, lips brushing unnoticed against JD’s hair before he let go, finally straightening his stance and distancing himself enough to allow him a good look into the kid’s face.
"How you feeling? You look like hell," he affirmed as he helped the kid drink the water he’d had waiting for him. "Easy, not too much," he coached and JD took one last swallow and obediently relinquished the cup to Buck’s hold.
"I’m okay," JD responded although to Buck the patient didn’t sound anymore convinced of his words than was his roommate. He blinked a few times and slowly took in his surroundings, the look of confusion marring the youthful face a telltale sign that JD hadn’t a clue how he’d wound up in his current predicament. "What happened?" The kid asked, not at all unexpectedly.
"What do you remember?" Buck responded, adding, "Take your time," as he witnessed the kid’s obvious struggle. He had all the time in the world and sure as hell wasn’t going anywhere.
JD felt like he’d been run over by a bus. As his scrambled brain tried to remember the cause of this latest trip to Mercy General, he soon realized his body was still waking up to the infinite aches and pains that seemed to be everywhere. Everywhere but his legs, maybe. His head was spinning and throbbing to its own erratic beat, his vision was fuzzy and he felt thisclose to puking, something he couldn’t help but think he might have actually done already. Great, another concussion. Eric Lindros had nothing on him in that department, the kid thought ruefully.
His upper back was hurting too, telling JD he dare not try to shift position on the bed. But, since he thankfully could wiggle his toes and flex the muscles in his legs, he wasn’t going to worry too much about why his back ached or why deep breaths hurt up there too. Moving his left arm was another story though. His collarbone simply had to be busted. He’d been there, done that before and the idea of the two ends of bone grinding together was enough to send JD’s eyes darting for something to toss his last meal into.
Buck must have noticed how green he’d suddenly become because the next thing JD knew, the big guy was telling him to breathe easy, matching him breath for breath and running a gentle hand through his hair. Distracting him from his suffering. JD’s stomach settled along with his nerve endings, the discomfort coursing through his body easing as he closed his eyes to the tears of gratitude he felt pooling beneath his lids.
The kid could hear a tremor of concern in Buck’s voice and he realized he must be scaring the man by simply lying there, eyes tightly shut in misery. The desire to ease Buck’s worry forced JD’s eyes open again but he couldn’t prevent the trickle of moisture that spilled along his face as he focussed on the fretful features of the man he looked up to most.
"I’m okay, just give me a minute, all right?" he answered, appalled at how weak his voice sounded to his own ears.
"Sure, kid." Buck answered, apparently not at all shocked by how feeble JD sounded.
Not that JD’s roommate didn’t look anxious. To JD’s eyes, Buck was wearing his "you scared me to death, you little shit, but thank God you’re alive" look of concern and not his "please don’t die on me, kid" look. Both of which JD realized with a certain amount of mortification, he was simply way too familiar with. But the former was certainly better than the latter, and he was relieved he didn’t have to bother looking around for the lack of medical hookups potentially impaling him to know that he wasn’t on death’s door. His head hurt too much to try and Buck’s calm demeanor, despite his concern, told him he didn’t have a whole lot to worry about in terms of his recovery.
Despite the insistent headache, he did spend another moment trying to remember what had happened to him. He remembered the prelim, getting ready for the bust, checking the monitoring equipment and helping Ezra and Buck test their wires. He even remembered the teams going their separate ways as they all fell into their assigned roles. He definitely remembered telling Buck to be careful and promising that he’d keep an eye on him and Ezra. Any memories after he climbed into the surveillance van though were more than a little vague.
"Don’t push it, son, we’ve got plenty of time." JD almost had to laugh as he listened to the tone his friend used. After two years he was still amazed by Buck’s ability to instill a million emotions and meanings into just one sentence and one voice. How he could scold and soothe in the very same breath. Command and plead. In the end though it didn’t really matter which meaning JD latched onto. He’d do as Buck bid.
The younger agent knew Buck had his best interests in mind and JD was too tired to try to think for himself anyway.
Except he did concentrate harder on his recollection of the gunrunners’ bust. Buck’s arm resting along his helped to ground him and keep him in the present, although nothing that came to him was really all that horrible. He recalled watching the scene play out on the monitors in the van and everything had been going well. Ezra had been working his Oscar-worthy magic and Buck had put on his bodyguard’s mask, the one that looked both impassive and at the same time homicidal and one that always reminded JD of just how lucky he was to have the big man on his side. As his champion no less.
As he remembered Chris’ command for the offensive teams to move in that had been synchronized with Buck’s shout of "ATF freeze!", his heart started beating a little faster. He turned then to Buck, who now had a firm, reassuring grip on his wrist and asked the question burning a hole in his gut. "Is everyone okay?"
JD watched Buck shake his head, smile and look at him with an expression of wonder mixed with exasperation that his words seemed to induce in the man on a regular basis. "Everyone’s fine, kid, at least on our side. You’re the only one made it to the DL list this time," he said, his tone sounding just a little too scornful for JD’s liking. He let it pass though. It was hard to be pissed when Buck was the one always there watching over him in the hospital. Besides, he was glad to hear that none of his friends on the team or in the agency had gotten wounded.
Buck’s countenance remained serious as he continued. "What are you remembering?"
"You yellin’ freeze," JD answered too quickly. It was no secret that what JD hated most about being the agent left behind in the tech van during a bust, was the moment when his teammates revealed themselves as lawmen. Especially when one of those lawmen was Buck Wilmington. His speech remained rapid as he continued his account of the events apparently leading up to his being there in the hospital. "I remember some gunfire, Vin’s rifle, I think. Lots of shouting, um. . . the usual chaos, screeching tires. . . ‘n Chris—" The kid paused then, Buck’s grasp on his wrist suddenly so tight it damn near hurt. He was about to gripe about it too but two things stopped him dead in his tracks.
The first was the suddenly vivid imprint in his mind of Chris Larabee’s voice frantically yelling at him. It was just after he’d heard what he was pretty sure was gunfire from Vin’s M24 and around the same time he’d heard squealing, then screeching tires. And then his boss’ voice over the comm set. ‘JD, get the hell out of there! Now! Get out now!’
The second thing to stop JD cold was Buck. Or rather the look of complete and utter horror written all over the man’s face. Clearly he was recalling the events of that night along with JD and from what the kid could see, Buck’s version must have been a lot more graphic. He supposed without looking in a mirror he couldn’t know for sure, but right now he figured Buck looked worse than he did. The man was ashen, his eyes haunted and JD could feel slight tremors through the grip Buck still maintained on his arm.
Just what the hell had happened?
Lost in the nightmare that was his memory of the events of late Friday night, it took JD repeating Buck’s name one more time for him to even notice. The big man took a shuddery breath and released his grip on the kid so that he could run an equally shaky hand through his unkempt hair. Settle down, Buck, he chided himself. JD was going to be fine, no need dwell on ‘what ifs’ anymore. "I’m okay, kid, just remembering that I owe you an ass-kicking for scarin’ me like that."
"Like what?" JD pressed, totally ignoring Wilmington’s half-assed threat. "Just what exactly happened, Buck?"
Buck really did not want to put into words what he and the others had witnessed, but the confusion in JD’s eyes mixed with his rightful need to know spurred him on. He’d keep it short and simple though, for both their sakes. "Well, kid," he sighed. "Seems one of Dexter’s men decided to try ‘n make a break for it while all that lead was flying. He might’ve made it too ‘cept for Vin shooting out his tires."
Buck looked into JD’s eyes again then but no hint of remembrance was reflected in the hazel irises. Nothing but the burning question of how he wound up in a hospital room, when he’d been the agent sitting in a surveillance van well away from the action and the bad guys.
"Dexter kept on driving, kid. Lost control, took out a utility pole," Buck had to swallow to keep bile from climbing up into his already burning throat. "The pole, uh, it took out the van." Breathe, Buck. Breathe. He really wished those images would stop replaying in his mind. Neither his chest nor his stomach could handle it.
The pole took out the van? The van he’d been in?
JD sat dumbfounded. He didn’t remember any of this. Though that did explain the panicked shouts from Chris.
And given his current place of residence, he figured it was a safe bet that he hadn’t exactly gotten out fast enough.
"Buck?" JD spoke hesitantly, softly, not wanting to spook the man who was obviously still caught up in the memory. Buck looked awful. But JD had to know. "What exactly happened with the van?"
Buck’s gaze turned sharply in JD’s direction, a flash of near-anger there that made the kid flinch. But then the dark blue eyes softened. "Sorry, kid," he said, sounding abashed. "Just too many people have asked me that since it happened and it’s something I’d just as soon forget."
"’S okay, Buck." JD patted Buck’s arm and the older man chuckled, undoubtedly at the irony. After what had happened, it was JD doing the comforting.
"The pole caved in the van roof, kid," he finally continued. "It’s like everything suddenly slipped into slow-motion and that pole fallin’ looked just like a Redwood comin’ down. I swear I even heard someone yellin’ ‘timber’." Buck tried to make light of it, knowing now that JD had survived, but he simply couldn’t. The memory of almost losing the kid who was ‘son’ to him was just too fresh. But, even despite his tear ducts still having more to give on the subject, he concluded the story.
"It damn near split the van in two, JD. I still have no idea how you managed to survive that, but I am awful grateful that you did."
"Aw, damn it, Buck," JD groused, embarrassed by the tears now welling in his own eyes too. Hell, he couldn’t handle it when his mom had cried, how was he supposed to deal with the anti-smoking version of The Marlborough Man blubbering over him?
Well, he knew if their roles were reversed exactly what Buck would do for him. Raising his good arm to a tolerable level, the kid held it outstretched, inviting a hug that he wouldn’t necessarily deny at other times, but would normally be accompanied by a considerable amount of grumbling. "C’mere."
Buck laughed and gratefully leaned into the boy’s embrace, proud of him for the gesture. Although Buck knew Miz Dunne had raised up a son who didn’t shy from affection, he also knew the kid, simply by virtue of his youth, was more hung up on convention and what other people thought than he was. For JD to accept a hug was one thing, to offer it was another. Buck’s chest swelled with the honor. He didn’t push it though, and broke it off pretty quickly, ending with a feigned punch to the kid’s bad shoulder.
JD didn’t budge. He smiled though. He really knew Buck too well.
In that moment, Buck felt practically giddy. Between thinking he’d lost JD just two days earlier and then the roller coaster ride of emotions that followed afterwards: waiting for the boy to wake up and when he didn’t, having way too much time to think about what he could have lost. Then Josiah’s revelation, followed a few hours later by JD finally coming to, it was a wonder he had any of his sanity left. And no wonder he was riding on an emotional high.
Always one to live for the moment, and try to make light of it in the process, Buck spoke from his heart. "You sure know how to put on one hell of a Father’s Day, kid," he whispered.
Buck watched with mortification as the kid stiffened with his words. JD’s pale face blanched even whiter, then blushed red before he quickly turned his head into the pillow and away from Buck.
The poor kid had groaned at the action, but Wilmington wasn’t entirely sure if it was caused by the headache the kid had, the perceived betrayal of a confidence by Josiah or, a totally absurd embarrassment at being found out. Hell, truth be told, it was probably all three.
"JD, look at me." Buck wasn’t going to allow the kid’s misery to last, even if he had to throw his weight around some to do so. This wasn’t going to be too tough, though, Buck knew. Thankfully. "Okay, well, just listen then, you know I ain’t leavin’."
A resigned sigh.
All right. Ever the optimist, Buck took that as a sign of progress.
"Kid, do you remember this time last year me ‘n Josiah takin’ in a game?"
JD didn’t answer, but the slight shrug of his good shoulder Buck took as a ‘yes’.
"How ‘bout that pewter crucifix he’s been wearin’ ever since? You ever notice it?" Wilmington almost had to laugh. He could see through JD’s bangs that his brow was already scrunched up in curiosity. He knew he could count on the kid’s inquisitive nature.
"No, huh?" Buck continued. "It’s a real pretty little thing, ‘s got these bits of gemstones in it, like sapphires and amethysts." Buck kept his voice light and casual, knowing his eventual punchline would soon bring the boy around. "Yep, it’s real nice. Those gems aren’t just birthstones, you know. They’ve got meanin’ and different powers attributed to each of ‘em. Things like wisdom and balance, course I can’t remember which is which anymore."
JD turned his head. "Anymore? Wha--?" The kid stopped himself, obviously just now remembering that he was supposed to be pissed off. He carefully rolled away from his mentor, or rather tormenter in this case, sighing, "Never mind," as he did so.
Buck knew he had him, but felt enough sympathy for the hurt kid to stop himself from rubbing his hands together in glee. Now, for the punchline. "Well, sure. A man’s gonna buy something like that for Father’s Day, he better know the exact meaning behind the gift."
"You bought Josiah a Father’s Day gift?" Buck had JD’s full attention now. Incredulous as it was.
"Well, yeah. Last year, anyway." He wasn’t going to feel guilty. What Josiah said earlier was true. . . if JD never gave Buck anything for the holiday, just knowing that the boy held him in that highest regard was enough to make him feel ten feet tall and bullet-proof. Or like the luckiest man in the world.
"But he’s only ten years older than you!" JD practically squeaked.
"Twelve," Buck growled, playfully swatting at JD’s bangs and reveling in just how quickly the kid had come around. Despite his weakness, broken bones and concussion, the sparkle in the kid’s eyes was back. JD was looking at him with a new wonder, maybe even a new appreciation and admiration that made Buck feel like he could reach the stars if he tried.
He hoped he could make the kid feel just as good.
"Son." His choice of word was definitely intended. "Age doesn’t really matter when it comes to father figures. Least ways I don’t think it does. I ain’t ever really had one in my life ‘til Josiah came along and I sure as hell don’t plan on givin’ him up just because biologically he’s not old enough to ‘ve sired me."
Buck could see understanding dawning in JD’s eyes and a familiar warmth there he was sure could heat their entire building if ever there was a way to channel it. He only hoped the kid could see the same affection reflected in his own eyes. If not, words would surely help. "And God help anyone who tries to tell me you can’t be mine, just ‘cause you’re too old to bounce on my knee."
Buck hadn’t meant for his voice to crack right then. Hadn’t meant to get caught up in the emotion again and the conviction of his words but, damn it all, this was an emotional time.
It was for JD, too. He didn’t know why Josiah had shared his secret with Buck, was pissed with him a little about it too, although a hazy memory involving Buck, the preacher and nausea, told him he might have already paid him back the last time he woke up. He didn’t regret talking to Sanchez. He knew now that his friend had been right about Buck’s reaction. Hell, JD knew Buck loved him, knew he was proud of him and, in their case Buck was even technically old enough to be his dad.
And Buck had said "mine".
He was Buck’s kid. And that made JD feel like the luckiest kid in the world.
He also felt like he was going to bawl.
Buck looked into JD’s watery eyes, felt his own begin to well and decided it was definitely time to lighten the mood. What had he been saying? Right, he remembered. The corner of his mouth quirked involuntarily as images of an irate JD Dunne bouncing on his knee flashed before his eyes.
"What?" The kid asked, rightfully suspicious.
Buck couldn’t resist. "You did notice I said you were too old for my knee, not—"
"Too big?" JD interrupted with a smirk. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, Buck, take it on the road, why don’t ya?"
Buck laughed aloud. Was he becoming that predictable? Nah, JD just knew him too well. He supposed that happened quite a lot with fathers and sons.
At least with the lucky ones.
(June 15, 2003)